1. Presumably, after Jacob speaks with Joseph and his sons, he calls all of his sons together (ESV uses the word “then” while other translations use the word ‘and” to begin the chapter.). This gathering was in order to tell his sons what would befall their families in the future (49:1). Jacob begins by telling of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi that their individual legacy has historical consequences (49:3-7).
2. Jacob speaks of Judah, his fourth son, with more words than toward any of the other sons, except Joseph (49:8-12). To Judah he spoke of his character, and because his character had shown forth, “the scepter shall not depart…” What is in view with these words? From the earliest of times, the Jewish people have pegged their hopes on these words. “Similarly, the current exile [speaking of the present day status of Israel], too, will be followed by a return of the Davidic dynasty, proving that Jacob’s blessing remains in force…This verse is a primary Torah source for the belief that the Messiah will come” (Chumash, p. 279). It is too bad they have failed to recognize that He did come!
3. To Zebulun, Issachar, and Dan (49:13-18), it is worth noting that Issachar is spoken of as becoming lazy in later days. Jewish theologians have interpreted this as the descendants of Issachar having become “indentured servants.” To Gad, Asher, and Naphtali (49:19-21) little is spoken. Gad was recognized as gallant warriors, Asher’s agricultural products would be highly regarded, and Naphtali would use “beautiful words” (NKJV). This is generally understood in relation to Judges 4 and 5. To Joseph and Benjamin (49:22-27), Jacob extends his praise to Joseph, but not to his youngest son Benjamin. To Joseph was given the status of firstborn (1 Chronicles 5:1-2), thus, he represented Israel to all (though there was no tribe of Joseph in the land distribution). “This history of Israel, both before and after the division, was most significantly influenced by the Joseph tribes and the tribe of Judah” (Jones, p. 237).
4. Application: The legacy of the sons, especially Simeon and Levi, brings consequences that others pay for. This does not mean that what the father were the sons had to be, but it does means that the sins of the father will be reaped by the following generation (or generations). This is surely seen throughout history and even experienced by families. Many things in life people are not proud of, but they can be proud of the changed course that they are now (or should be) walking on. This kind of physical legacy is a legacy that is not lasting, but instructive in a positive way.