Before he passes, Moses gives his final blessings to each of the twelve tribes. We saw a father on his deathbed giving blessings to his sons back in Genesis 27 when Isaac did it. Then we saw a transitional form in Genesis 49, where Jacob blessed his own sons who also happened to be the patriarchs of each of the twelve tribes. In that chapter, the blessing given to each son was both personal and meant to be understood for the tribe he represented as well. The process is complete here, where Moses offers his blessing directly to the tribal identity.

The Death of Moses, from the Jami al-Tawarikh, 1307

The Death of Muhammad, from the Jami al-Tawarikh, 1307

It’s fairly standard, starting with a with a bit about how awesome God is, then blesses each tribe in turn, and finishes up with how great God is.

But there are some interesting bits. The biggest is, of course, that Simeon is missing. The twelve tribes are: Reuben, Judah, Levi, Benjamin, Joseph (with both Ephraim and Manasseh mentioned), Zebulun, Gad, Dan, Naphtali, and Asher. So what happened to Simeon?

My study Bible says: “In its present form it probably comes from the early period of the monarchy, though it may reflect slightly earlier tribal circumstances. Simeon, for example, is not mentioned, perhaps because the tribe had already disappeared” (p.259). There may be a hint of this in Jacob’s “blessing” of them, where he says of Simeon and Levi: “I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel” (Gen. 49:7).

Which brings me to Levi, who are described in the Gen. 49:5-7 blessing as being very aggressive and warlike – clearly different from the scholar/priest/teacher role they are given in Deut. 33:10. So it seems like we had two very war-like tribes who were destroyed, losing all of their land. Simeon simply vanished, while Levi carved out a new place for itself, supported by the other tribes.

If you’re reading along with a King James, you’ll notice a reference to a unicorn. There’s a brief discussion of the matter at Sansblogue that may be of interest.