Reading through the Bible together
This is poetry – Hebrew poetry! But unlike a Western modern understanding of poetry that looks at it in terms of literary artistry, the Old Testament often uses poetic texts to express something of utmost importance. Here almost at the end of the book of Genesis we find one of the four major poems that mark important historical thresholds in the story of the Pentateuch (Genesis 49; Exodus 15; Numbers 23-24; and Deuteronomy 32-33). Moses blesses the tribes of Israel as a nation in Deuteronomy 32-33, whereas Israel (Jacob) blesses his sons in Genesis 49. In this way, the story of the patriarchs in Genesis moves to the story of the people of Israel in the book of Exodus but ultimately reaches across time into our stories as well. Some of Jacob’s “blessings” are rather sobering and demonstrate that forgiveness cannot always erase the consequences of our wrongdoings. However, the poem points beyond the immediate story of the sons of Israel to somebody who will come out of the line of promise: the Shiloh (vs. 10), the shepherd (vs. 24), and the stone of Israel (vs. 24) – all of them messianic images. It is Jesus Christ who is foreshadowed here and who will come to save his people and who will bless us.
Professor of Biblical Studies and Archaeology
Southern Adventist University