Verse 33. "He gathered up his feet into the bed" - It is very probable that while delivering these prophetic blessings Jacob sat upon the side of his bed, leaning upon his staff; and having finished, he lifted up his feet into the bed, stretched himself upon it, and expired! And was gathered unto his people.] The testimony that this place bears to the immortality of the soul, and to its existence separate from the body, should not be lightly regarded. In the same moment in which Jacob is said to have gathered up his feet into the bed, and to have expired, it is added, and was gathered unto his people. It is certain that his body was not then gathered to his people, nor till seven weeks after; and it is not likely that a circumstance, so distant in point both of time and place, would have been thus anticipated, and associated with facts that took place in that moment.
I cannot help therefore considering this an additional evidence for the immateriality of the soul, and that it was intended by the Holy Spirit to convey this grand and consolatory sentiment, that when a holy man ceases to live among his fellows, his soul becomes an inhabitant of another world, and is joined to the spirits of just men made perfect.
1. IT has been conjectured (See "chap. xxxvii. 9") that the eleven stars that bowed down to Joseph might probably refer to the signs of the Zodiac, which were very anciently known in Egypt, and are supposed to have had their origin in Chaldea. On this supposition Joseph's eleven brethren answered to eleven of these signs, and himself to the twelfth.
General Vallancy has endeavoured, in his Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis, vol. vi., part. ii., p. 343, to trace out the analogy between the twelve sons of Jacob and the twelve signs of the Zodiac, which Dr. Hales (Analysis, vol. ii., p. 165) has altered a little, and placed in a form in which it becomes more generally applicable. As this scheme is curious, many readers who may not have the opportunity of consulting the above works will be pleased to find it here. That there is an allusion to the twelve signs of the Zodiac, and probably to their ancient asterisms, may be readily credited; but how far the peculiar characteristics of the sons of Jacob were expressed by the animals in the Zodiac, is a widely different question.
1. RUABEN-"Unstable (rather pouring out) as waters"-the sign AQUARIUS, represented as a man pouring out waters from an urn.
2. SIMEON and LEVI-"The united brethren" the sign GEMINI or the Twins.
3. JUDAH-"The strong lion"-the sign LEO.
4. ASHER-"His bread shall be fat"-the sign VIRGO or the Virgin, generally represented as holding a full ear of corn.
5. ISSACHAR-"A strong ass" or ox, both used in husbandry-the sign TAURUS or the Bull.
7. DAN-"A serpent biting the horse's heels"-Scorpio, the Scorpion. On the celestial sphere the Scorpion is actually represented as biting the heel of the horse of the archer Sagittarius; and Chelae, "his claws," originally occupied the space of Libra.
8. JOSEPH-"His bow remained in strength" -the sign SAGITTARIUS, the archer or bowman; commonly represented, even on the Asiatic Zodiacs, with his bow bent, and the arrow drawn up to the head - the bow in full strength.
9. NAPHTALI-by a play on his name, hlf taleh, the ram - the sign ARIES, according to the rabbins.
10. ZEBULUN-"A haven for ships"-denoted by CANCER, the crab.
11. GAD-"A troop or army"-reversed, dag, a fish - the sign PISCES.
12. BENJAMIN- "A ravening wolf"-CAPRICORN, which on the Egyptian sphere was represented by a goat led by Pan, with a wolf's head.What likelihood the reader may see in all this, I cannot pretend to say; but that the twelve signs were at that time known in Egypt and Chaldea, there can be little doubt.
2. We have now seen the life of Jacob brought to a close; and have carefully traced it through all its various fortunes, as the facts presented themselves in the preceding chapters. Isaac his father was what might properly be called a good man; but in strength of mind he appears to have fallen far short of his father Abraham, and his son Jacob. Having left the management of his domestic concerns to Rebekah his wife, who was an artful and comparatively irreligious woman, the education of his sons was either neglected or perverted. The unhappy influence which the precepts and example of his mother had on the mind of her son we have seen and deplored. Through the mercy of God Jacob outlived the shady part of his own character, and his last days were his brightest and his best. He had many troubles and difficulties in life, under which an inferior mind must have necessarily sunk; but being a worker together with the providence of God, his difficulties only served in general to whet his invention, and draw out the immense resources of his own mind. He had to do with an avaricious, procrastinating relative, as destitute of humanity as he was of justice. Let this plead something in his excuse. He certainly did outwit his father-in-law; and yet, probably, had no more than the just recompense of his faithful services in the successful issue of all his devices. From the time in which God favoured him with that wonderful manifestation of grace at Peniel, chap. 32., he became a new man. He had frequent discoveries of God before, to encourage him in journeys, secular affairs, &c.; but none in which the heart-changing power of Divine grace was so abundantly revealed. Happy he whose last days are his best! We can scarcely conceive a scene more noble or dignified than that exhibited at the deathbed of Jacob. This great man was now one hundred and forty-seven years of age; though his body, by the waste of time, was greatly enfeebled, yet with a mind in perfect vigour, and a hope full of immortality, he calls his numerous family together, all of them in their utmost state of prosperity, and gives them his last counsels, and his dying blessing. His declarations show that the secret of the Lord was with him, and that his candle shone bright upon his tabernacle. Having finished his work, with perfect possession of all his faculties, and being determined that while he was able to help himself none should be called in to assist, (which was one of the grand characteristics of his life,) he, with that dignity which became a great man and a man of God stretched himself upon his bed, and rather appears to have conquered death than to have suffered it. Who, seeing the end of this illustrious patriarch, can help exclaiming, There is none like the God of Jeshurun! Let Jacob's God be my God! Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his! Reader, God is still the same: and though he may not make thee as great as was Jacob, yet he is ready to make thee as good; and, whatever thy past life may have been, to crown thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies, that thy end also may be peace.