13 ¶ Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon. 14 Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens: 15 And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute. 16 Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward. 18 I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD. 19 Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last. 20 Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties. 21 Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words.
Zebulun’s border of Zidon, also spelled Sidon, was an ancient Phoenician city, north of the famed Tyre, that led a nearly worldwide trading empire. Controversial authors have claimed that the Phoenicians of trading fame were Jews. Later, in Exodus we will explore the origin of words written with letters rather than pictures as being delivered to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. History tells us that the so-called Phoenicians spread the alphabet.
Sidon was a son of Canaan in Genesis 10:15. Tyre and Sidon are mentioned together several times in the New Testament. Is it possible that the glories given to the ancient Phoenicians for a trading empire that finds hotly contested authors claiming that Phoenician coins were found in Brazil, tin mines in England, and that they circled around Africa in their quest for markets should be attributed to Hebrews or at least a Hebrew influence rather than Canaanites? Does not the accolades given to Phoenicia as a trading empire go along with our stereotypes regarding the Jewish people as excelling in business? Carthage, Rome’s mortal enemy until destroyed, saw 300 babies sacrificed to Baal’s superheated arms in one day to try to placate the Devil and end a Roman siege while musicians blared drums and horns to drown out the screams of the agony of the infants. Carthage was a colony of Phoenicia. Could there have been a strong Hebrew influence? We know that many of the Hebrews would eventually descend into Baal or Devil worship from the Bible.
Issachar is linked with Zebulun’s trading efforts later by Moses.
Deuteronomy 33:18 ¶ And of Zebulun he said, Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out; and, Issachar, in thy tents. 19 They shall call the people unto the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness: for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand.
Perhaps Issachar’s people will work with Zebulun in selling goods imported by the latter tribe. Zebulun goes out but Issachar stays on land. It is also suggested that Issachar will be an agricultural laborer in a fruitful land and have the burden of tribute or taxation. Perhaps the two burdens mentioned have to do with their subordinate position as a laborer and taxpayer. It is interesting to note that the laboring classes in England suffered heavily under the rigors of taxation. The working class has always been the one carrying the greatest burdens. But, there are many opinions on the meaning of these verses regarding Issachar.
Dan is likened to a lion cub in Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy 33:22 And of Dan he said, Dan is a lion’s whelp: he shall leap from Bashan.
The tribe of Dan falls into idolatry as we will see in Judges 18. Some commentators have spoken of this as a reference to Samson, the judge, who was of that tribe and made trouble for the Philistines not through open battle but through the vexations he caused them, like a poisonous serpent biting a horse and causing its rider to fall.
Judges 16:30 And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.
Matthew Henry said that verse 18 is interjected by a dying Jacob and is not part of the prophecies of his sons. This verse has special significance, though, as the words of a dying man.
Hebrews 11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. 15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. 16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
Let us remember that these fallible, sinful men have their names inscribed on the gates of that city.
Revelation 21:12 And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: 13 On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates.
And what is Jacob waiting for in verse 18?
Isaiah 59:2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
Psalm 79:9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name’s sake.
Psalm 130:7 Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. 8 And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
Matthew 1:21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
Gad became a warlike tribe, some underscore, but weren’t all the tribes warlike? Yet, there seemed to be something peculiarly fierce about this tribe.
1Chronicles 12:8 And of the Gadites there separated themselves unto David into the hold to the wilderness men of might, and men of war fit for the battle, that could handle shield and buckler, whose faces were like the faces of lions, and were as swift as the roes upon the mountains; 9 Ezer the first, Obadiah the second, Eliab the third, 10 Mishmannah the fourth, Jeremiah the fifth, 11 Attai the sixth, Eliel the seventh, 12 Johanan the eighth, Elzabad the ninth, 13 Jeremiah the tenth, Machbanai the eleventh. 14 These were of the sons of Gad, captains of the host: one of the least was over an hundred, and the greatest over a thousand. 15 These are they that went over Jordan in the first month, when it had overflown all his banks; and they put to flight all them of the valleys, both toward the east, and toward the west.
Asher is said to become a provider of gourmet food items for the kings. And, after all, the king was served from the field in an agricultural society.
Ecclesiastes 5:9 ¶ Moreover the profit of the earth is for all: the king himself is served by the field.
Naphtali’s promise, John Gill wrote, was a thinly veiled reference to the events of Christ’s time. He referred to;
Matthew 4:12 ¶ Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; 13 And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: 14 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, 15 The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; 16 The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. 17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Which contains a reference to this passage;
Isaiah 9:1 ¶ Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations. 2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
In any event, these prophecies given by Jacob are obscure to us, in the main, and subject to much varying interpretations which must not slow us down as we move forward. But, clearly they will become apparent and obvious when we are instructed by our Lord directly upon our meeting with Him in Heaven.