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JACOB'S PROPHECIES CONCERNING HIS SONS, PARTICULARLY
JUDAH. IT is an opinion of great antiquity, that the nearer men approach to their dissolution, their souls grow more divine, and discern more of futurity. We find this opinion as early as Homer,* for he represents the dying Patroclus foretelling the fate of Hector, and the dying Hector denouncing no less certainly the death of Achilles. Socrates, in his Apology to the Athenians a little before his death, asserts the same opinion. “ But now," saith he, “ I am desirous to prophesy to you who have condemned me, what will happen hereafter. For I am arrived at that state, in which men prophesy most, when they are about to die.”+ His scholar Xenophonf introduces the dying Cyrus declaring in like manner, “ that the soul of man at the hour of death appears most divine, and then foresees something of future events.” Diodorus Siculus allegeth great authorities upon this subject : “ Pythagoras the Samian and some others of the ancient naturalists have demonstrated that the souls of men are immortal, and in consequence of this opinion that they also foreknow future events, at the time that they are making their separation from the body in death.” Sextus Empiricus || confirms it likewise by the authority of Aristotle : “The soul,” saith Aristotle, “foresees and foretels future events, when it is going 10 he separated from the body by death.” We might produce more testimonies to this purpose from Cicero, and Eustathius upon Homer, and from other authors, if there was occasion ; but these are sufficient to show the great antiquity of this opinion.* And it is possible that old experiencet may in some cases attain to something like prophecy and divination. In some instances also God may have been pleased to comfort and enlighten departing souls with a prescience of future events. But what I conceive might principally give rise to this opinion, was the tradition of some of the patriarchs being divinely inspired in their last moments to foretel the state and condition of the people descended from them; as Jacob upon his death-bed summoned his sons together, that he might inform them of what should befal them in the latter days' or the last days ;' by which phrase some commentators understand the times of the Messiah, or the last great period of the world; and Mr. Whiston particularly asserts, that it is generally, if not always, a characteristic and KpitnoLov of prophecies not to be fulfilled till the coming of the Messiah ; and accordingly he supposes that these prophecies of Jacob more properly belong to the second coming of the Messiah, at the restoration of the twelve tribes hereafter. But the phrase of the latter days' or 'last days' in the Old Testament signifies any time that is yet to come, though sometimes it may relate to the times of the Messiah in particular, as it comprehends all future time in general: and hence it is used in prophecies that respect different times and periods. “I will advertize thee,' saith Balaam to Balak, Numb. xxiv. 14, “what this people shall do to thy people in the latter days :' but what the Israelites did to the Moabites, was done long before the times of the Messiah. I know,' saith Moses, Deut. xxxi. 29, ‘that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded ycu, and evil will befal you in the latter days :' where, the latter days' are much the same as the time after the death of Moses. There is a God in heaven,' saith Daniel, ĉi. 28, that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar, what shall be in the latter days :' but several particulars are there foretold of the four great monarchies of the earth, which were fulfilled before the coming of the Messiah. And in like manner these prophecies of Jacob were, many or most of them, accomplished under the Mosaic economy, several ages before the birth of our Saviour.
* Hom. Iliad. XVI. 852 et Iiad. XXII. 358.
+ Το δι δη μεθα τελο επιθυμω υμιν χρησμωδησαι, ώ καταψηφισαμενοι με' και γαρ είμι ήδη ένταυθα εν ω μαλις άνθρωποι χβησμωδυσιν, οταν μελλωσιν αποθανεισθαι. Jam vero, O vos, qui me condemnastis, cupio vobis earum rerum, quæ vobis sunt eventura casus quasi oraculo prædicere : in illum enim temporis statum jam perveni, in quo homines divinandi facultate maxime pollent, quando nimirum morituri sunt.--Platonis Apolog. Socr. Op. Vol. I. p. 39. Edit. Serrani. [Translated in the text.]
+ Η δε τε άνθρωπο ψυχη το7ε δηπο θειοτατη καιαφαιν ελαι, και το7ε τι των μελλοντων @poood, Ac hominis animus tum scilicet maxime divinus perspicitur, et tum futurorum aliquid prospicit.-Xenoph. Cyrop. lib. 8, prope finem, p. 140. Edit. Henr. Steph. 1581. [Translated in the text.]
9 Πυθαγορας ο Σαμιος και τινες ετιροι των παλαιων φυσικων απεφηνανίο τας ψυχας των ανθρωπων υπαρχειν αθανατος, ακολοθως δε τω δουμαk τωτω και προγιγνωσκειν αυλας τα μελλονία, καθ' όν αν καιρον εν τη τελευθη τον απο το σωματος χωρισμον σοιωνlαι. Pythagoras Samius, et quidam physicorum veterum alii, immortales esse hominum animas confimarunt: et quod hujus sententiæ consectarium est, prænoscere futura, cum, imminente vitæ exitn, jamjam a corpore segragantur.-In initio, lib. 18, tom 2, p. 586. Edit. Rhodomani. [Translated in the text.]
Η “Η ψυχη, φησιν 'Αριςοελης, τρομανλευεται και προαίος ευει τα μελλοία- εν τω θαναλον χωριζε σθαι τι
---Adv. Mathem. p. 312. [Translated in the text.]
* Shakespear alludes to this notion in Henry IV. First Part,
--0, I could prophesy,
Lies on my tongue. The same notion is also happily expressed in a most excellent Latin poem, • De Animi Immortalitate,' which is deserving of a place among classic authors, in richness of poetry equals Lucretius, and in clearness and strength of argument exceeds bim.
Namque ubi torpescunt artus jam morte propinqua,
And with prophetic voice the dying lips inspiren.") † Alluding to these lines of Milton,
Till old experience do attain
To something like prophetic strain. Boyle's Lectures, Vol. II. p. 311.
Jacob, as we have seen, received a double blessing, temporal and spiritual, the promise of the land of Canaan, and the promise of the seed in which all the nations of the earth shall be blessed ; which promises were first made to Abraham, and then repeated to Isaac, and then confirmed to Jacob; and Jacob a little before his death bequeaths the same to his children. The temporal blessing or inheritance of the land of Canaan might be shared and divided among all his sons, but the blessed seed could descend only from one; and Jacob accordingly assigns to each a portion in the promised land, but limits the descent of the blessed seed to the tribe of Judah, and at the same time sketches out the characters and fortunes of all the tribes.
He adopts the two sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, for his own, but foretels that the younger should be the greater of the two, Gen. xlviii. 19: and hath not the prediction been fully justified by the event ? The tribe of Ephraim grew to be so numerous and powerful, that it is sometimes put for all the ten tribes of Israel.
-Of Reuben it is said, · Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.'—Gen. xlix. 4. And what is recorded great or excellent of the tribe of Reuben? In number, Numb. i, and power they were inferior to several other tribes. Of Simeon and Levi it is said, “I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel :'-- ver. 7: and was not this eminently fulfilled in the tribe of Levi, who had no portion or inheritance of their own, but were dispersed among the
other tribes ? Neither bad the tribe of Simeon any inheritance properly of their own, but only a portion in the midst of the tribe of Judah, Josh. xix. 1-9; from whence several of them afterwards went in quest of new habitations, 1 Chron. iv. 39, &c; and so were divided from the rest of their brethren. A constant tradition too hath prevailed among the Jews, (which is also confirmed by the Jerusalem Targum) that the tribe of Simeon were so straitened in their situation and circumstances, that great numbers were necessitated to seek a subsistence among the other tribes, by teaching and instructing their children.* Of Zebulun it is said, 'He shall dwell at the haven of the sea, and shall be for an haven of ships :'-ver. 13; and accordingly the tribe of Zebulun extended from the sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean, Josh. xix. 10, &c., where they had commodious havens for shipping. And how could Jacob have foretold the situation of any tribe, which was determined 200 years afterwards by casting of lots, unless he had been directed by that divine Spirit, who disposeth of all events? Of Benjamin it is said, • He shall raven as a wolf:'-ver. 27. and was not that a fierce and warlike tribe, as appears in several instances, and particularly in the case of the Levite's wife, Judg. xx, when they alone waged war against all the other tribes, and overcame them in two battles ?
In this manner he characterizes these and the other tribes, and foretels their temporal condition, and that of Judah as well as the rest : Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine, he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes. His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk:'-ver. 11, 12: and not to mention the valley of Eshcol and other fruitful places, the mountains about Jerusalem, by the account of the best travellers, were particularly fitted for the cultivation of the vine, and for the feeding of cattle. “The blessing,” says Dr. Shaw,* “ that was given to Judah, was not of the same kind, with the blessing of Asher, or of Issachar, that ' his bread should be fat,' or ' his land should be pleasant,' but that his eyes should be red with wine, and his teeth should be white with milk.' He farther observes that “ the mountains of the country abound with shrubs and a delicate short grass, both which the cattle are more fond of, than of such plants as are common to fallow grounds and meadows. Neither was this method of grazing peculiar to this country; inasmuch as it is still
* Tradant quoque Hebræi, scribas, pædotribas, pædogogos, et doctor es puerorum fere omnes ex tribu Schimeon fuisse, qui, ut haberent unde viverent, sparsim et oppidatim pueros informare cogebantur. Cui sententiæ adstipulatur et Tbargam Hieros &c. Fagius. [Translated in the text.
+ Shaw's Travels, p. 366, 367.
practised all over mount Libanus, the Castravan mountains, and Barbary; in all which places the higher grounds are set apart for this use, and the plains and valleys for tillage. For, besides the good management and economy, there is this farther advantage, that the milk of cattle fed in this manner, is far more rich and delicious,' as their flesh is more sweet and nourishing. It may be presumed likewise, that the vine was not neglected, in a soil and exposition so proper for it to thrive in.” He mentions particularly “ the many tokens which are to be met with, of the ancient vineyards about Jerusalem and Hebron,” and “ the great quantity of grapes and raisins, which are from thence brought daily to the markets of Jerusalem, and sent yearly to Egypt.”
But Jacob bequeaths to Judah particularly the spiritual blessing, and delivers it in much the same form of words that it was delivered to him. Isaac had said to Jacob, · Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee; be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee,'--Gen. xxvii. 29: and here Jacob saith to Judah, • Thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise; thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee,'-ver. 8. And for greater certainty it is added, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and unto him shall the gathering of the people be,'-ver. 10. I will not trouble the reader or myself with a detail of the various interpretations which have been put upon this passage, but will only offer that which appears to me the plainest, easiest, and best; I will first explain the words and meaning of the prophecy, and then show the full and exact cumpletion of it. They who are curious to know the various interpretations of the learned, may find an account of them in Huetius* and Le Clerc :t but no one hath treated the subject in a more masterly manner than the present Lord Bishop of London, and we shalı principally tread in his footsteps, as we cannot follow a better guide.
Demonstratio Evangelica, Prop. 9. Cap. 4 + Comment. in locum.
See the third Dissertation in Bishop Sherlock's Discour ns of the Use and lolent of Propecy.