Israel in the "Last Days" (Genesis 49:1-28)
Genesis 49 details Jacob's last words to his sons shortly before he died. Jacob, under God's inspiration, describes the state of his descendants in the futureeach of the 12 sons of Israel is mentioned. Some commentaries look for the fulfillment of these prophecies for each tribe by looking at the history recorded in books of the Old Testament. Of course, some of the characteristics and destinies outlined by Jacob were fulfilled in small measure during those times. However, note when Jacob said these prophecies would come to pass: "Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days" (verse 1).
The phrases "in the last days" and "in the latter days" appear around 20 times in the Bible. They refer to the period of time at the end of the age leading into the establishment of God's Kingdom on Earth (e.g., Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1; 2 Peter 3:3). So, rather than foretelling the condition of the tribes at the times recorded in the books of Kings and Chronicles, Jacob describes the circumstances of the tribes at the end of the age. This tells us something very interesting: All of the tribes of Israel will exist as distinct peoples at the time of the end, shortly before the return of Jesus Christexcept for Simeon and Levi, of course, who will exist as peoples, but will be scattered throughout the other tribes.
Many of the prophecies about individual tribes prove difficult to apply with a specific meaning, due to the broad scope of the language employed. Of all the particulars mentioned, verse 10, regarding Judah, is more readily interpreted. Since the "scepter shall not depart from Judah," we know that a succession of kings descended from Judah would exist until a specified time, being that a scepter is a symbol of kingship. The specific time frame mentioned is "until Shiloh comes." Shiloh is interpreted as "Peaceable and Prosperous One," or as the "Savior," or even as "To Whom It [the Scepter] Belongs," all of which are clear references to Christ, to whom would be the "obedience of the people." Since the royal line would exist until the "last days," the coming of Shiloh here must indicate Christ's second coming. Indeed, this prophecy explains that Christ will assume the throne of Judah in the end timemeaning that there has to be a throne of kings of Jewish descent in existence for Him to return to. And indeed there is. (To learn more about it, please refer to "The Throne of Britain: Its Biblical Origin and Future" at www.ucg.org/brp/materials.)
Verses 22-26 give details about the blessings that would later come upon the descendants of Joseph. To see more about this, request or download our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.
Years later, other details about the future of the tribes would be given by Moses in Deuteronomy 33, shortly before the children of Israel entered the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. In fact, Moses, in relating the future of Joseph in that passage, actually quotes Genesis 49:26.