What does Genesis 49:5 mean?On his deathbed, Jacob is providing an oracle. This will predict the fates of the twelve tribes descending from his sons (Genesis 49:1–2). First, he explained why the eldest son, Reuben, would lose the privileges of being firstborn (Genesis 49:3–4).
Now, the focus shifts to Jacob's second- and third-born sons: Simeon and Levi (Genesis 29:33–34). Although all Jacob's sons were "brothers" by definition, Simeon and Levi were sons of the same mother, Leah. And yet, Jacob's description of them indicates an especially close relationship. Unfortunately, this also implies they were closely linked in their violent tendencies. Their response to the rape of their sister, Dinah, by a local prince (Genesis 34:1–2), was to slaughter the entire town in a planned ambush (Genesis 34:25–29). This brutally violent revenge is condemned and results in consequences.
This verse contains an often-debated Hebrew word only used once in the Old Testament. Most translations render the word mekērōtē as a reference to a weapons, such as "swords" or "knives." The term is apparently related to an older word referring to digging, stabbing, or piercing. Since it would be redundant to point out that swords are weapons, some interpreters believe Jacob is implying something else. Suggestions range from Jacob referring to schemes, to the circumcision knives involved in the brothers' deceptive tactics towards Shechem (Genesis 34:13–15, 24–25). Others note that mekēra is also translated as "habitations," so this could be a veiled reference to the sons' reproductive members.
Regardless of such details, Jacob is clearly condemning these two sons generally for their fierce and violent anger. More specifically, he is reprimanding them for their massacre of Shechem. The fate of their two tribes will be a form of scattering (Genesis 49:6–7).