English Standard Version
Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch!
King James Bible
Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.
American Standard Version
Boiling over as water, thou shalt not have the pre-eminence; Because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; Then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.
Thou art poured out as water, grow thou not: because thou wentest up to thy father's bed, and didst defile his couch.
English Revised Version
Unstable as water, thou shalt not have the excellency; Because thou wentest up to thy father's bed: Then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.
Webster's Bible Translation
Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; then defiledst thou it; he went up to my couch.
Genesis 49:4 Parallel
CommentaryKeil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament
When Joseph observed his father placing his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, the younger son, he laid hold of it to put it upon Manasseh's head, telling his father at the same time that he was the first-born; but Jacob replied, "I know, my son, I:know: he also (Manasseh) will become a nation, and will become great, yet (ואוּלם as in Genesis 28:19) his younger brother will become greater than he, and his seed will become the fulness of nations." This blessing began to be fulfilled from the time of the Judges, when the tribe of Ephraim so increased in extent and power, that it took the lead of the northern tribes and became the head of the ten tribes, and its name acquired equal importance with the name Israel, whereas under Moses, Manasseh had numbered 20,000 more than Ephraim (Numbers 26:34 and Numbers 26:37). As a result of the promises received from God, the blessing was not merely a pious wish, but the actual bestowal of a blessing of prophetic significance and force. - In Genesis 48:20 the writer sums up the entire act of blessing in the words of the patriarch: "In thee (i.e., Joseph) will Israel (as a nation) bless, saying: God make thee as Ephraim and Manasseh" (i.e., Joseph shall be so blessed in his two sons, that their blessing will become a standing form of benediction in Israel); "and thus he placed Ephraim before Manasseh," viz., in the position of his hands and the terms of the blessing. Lastly, (Genesis 48:21) Israel expressed to Joseph his firm faith in the promise, that God would bring back his descendants after his death into the land of their fathers (Canaan), and assigned to him a double portion in the promised land, the conquest of which passed before his prophetic glance as already accomplished, in order to insure for the future the inheritance of the adopted sons of Joseph. "I give thee one ridge of land above thy brethren" (i.e., above what thy brethren receive, each as a single tribe), "which I take from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and bow" (i.e., by force of arms). As the perfect is used prophetically, transposing the future to the present as being already accomplished, so the words לקחתּי אשׁר must also be understood prophetically, as denoting that Jacob would wrest the land from the Amorites, not in his own person, but in that of his posterity.
(Note: There is no force in Kurtz's objection, that this gift did not apply to Joseph as the father of Ephraim and Manasseh, but to Joseph personally; for it rests upon the erroneous assumption, that Jacob separated Joseph from his sons by their adoption. But there is not a word to that effect in Genesis 48:6, and the very opposite in Genesis 48:15, viz., that Jacob blessed Joseph in Ephraim and Manasseh. Heim's conjecture, which Kurtz approves, that by the land given to Joseph we are to understand the high land of Gilead, which Jacob had conquered from the Amorites, needs no refutation, for it is purely imaginary.)
The words cannot refer to the purchase of the piece of ground at Shechem (Genesis 33:19), for a purchase could not possibly be called a conquest by sword and bow; and still less to the crime committed by the sons of Jacob against the inhabitants of Shechem, when they plundered the town (Genesis 34:25.), for Jacob could not possibly have attributed to himself a deed for which he had pronounced a curse upon Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:6-7), not to mention the fact, that the plundering of Shechem was not followed in this instance by the possession of the city, but by the removal of Jacob from the neighbourhood. "Moreover, any conquest of territory would have been entirely at variance with the character of the patriarchal history, which consisted in the renunciation of all reliance upon human power, and a believing, devoted trust in the God of the promises" (Delitzsch). The land, which the patriarchs desired to obtain in Canaan, they procured not by force of arms, but by legal purchase (cf. Genesis 24 and Genesis 33:19). It was to be very different in the future, when the iniquity of the Amorites was full (Genesis 15:16). But Jacob called the inheritance, which Joseph was to have in excess of his brethren, שׁכם (lit., shoulder, or more properly nape, neck; here figuratively a ridge, or tract of land), as a play upon the word Shechem, because he regarded the piece of land purchased at Shechem as a pledge of the future possession of the whole land. In the piece purchased there, the bones of Joseph were buried, after the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 24:32); and this was understood in future times, as though Jacob had presented the piece of ground to Joseph (vid., John 4:5).
Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
thou shall not excel. Heb. do not thou excel.
he went up to my couch. or, my couch is gone.
While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine. And Israel heard of it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve.
"'Cursed be anyone who lies with his father's wife, because he has uncovered his father's nakedness.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'
"Let Reuben live, and not die, but let his men be few."
1 Chronicles 5:1
The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father's couch, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel, so that he could not be enrolled as the oldest son;
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ESV Text Edition: 2016. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.