Saturday, March 30, 2019

Jacob's Blessing

If we think of Genesis and the whole of the Torah as a single literary piece, it is not hard to see that Genesis 49 plays a key role in Moses’ overall strategy. Jacob’s last words, written as poetry, are the occasion for the first full statement of the book’s theme: God’s plan is to restore the lost blessing through the offspring of Abraham. In the beginning narratives, a promise is made of a coming “seed” who will set aright God’s world (Gen. 3:15). Moses does not reveal the identity of this seed; rather, he leads the reader with calculated suspense through the remainder of the narratives, ever so slowly revealing who this seed will be. As the narratives unfold, however, Moses leaves little doubt that the promised seed would be an individual, a son of Adam, of Abraham, and of Jacob. The tapestries of genealogy that form the backdrop of the various narratives beat a trail to the chosen king of Jacob’s blessing.

The key to Moses’ understanding of Jacob’s blessing lies in the narrative framework that surrounds it. In 49:1 we learn that Jacob spoke about what would happen “in the last days.” The same expression recurs in the Torah as an introduction to the oracles of Balaam (Num. 24:1–24) and the last words of Moses (Deut. 31:29), both also poems. On all three occasions, the subject introduced by the phrase “in the last days” is that of God’s future deliverance of His chosen people. At the center of that deliverance stands the King (Gen. 49:10; Num. 24:7; Deut. 33:5). In Genesis 49 we are told this king will be of the house of Judah.

At the close of Jacob’s words (v. 28), Moses draws a line connecting Jacob’s words to the theme of universal blessing in the opening chapter of the book, Gen. 1:28. He does so by repeating the word blessing three times in the short span of one verse: “And he blessed them, each according to his blessing, he blessed them.” By framing Jacob’s words between verses 1 and 28, Moses shows where his interests lie. Jacob’s blessing looks to the future—“in the last days”—and draws on the past, God’s blessing of mankind.

Jacob’s blessing falls into two parts. The first part, 49:2–7, shows why Judah, and not his elder brothers, received the promise. They were disqualified by the sin of hubris. The second part, 49:8–27, stresses the theme of blessing in two repeated images. First, the reverse side of the blessing is stressed in the imagery of the victorious warrior. The defeat of the enemy is the prelude to future peace. 

The positive side of the blessing is stressed in the imagery of great prosperity. Behind such imagery lies the picture of the Garden of Eden—the Paradise lost. “In the last days,” when the One comes to whom the kingship truly belongs, there will be peace and prosperity as “in the beginning.”