Topic: “messianic hope”

The End of the Beginning

I am making an ongoing discipline out of writing up reflections on my devotions—hopefully a majority of the days each week. This is one of those posts.

Tonight I came to the end of the book of Genesis. (I would have done so last week, had I not gotten sick. Alas.) The last four chapters of the book range from the proasic details of Joseph’s dealings with the Pharaoh and the Egyptian people to the poetic content of Jacob’s blessings for his sons. As far as conclusions go, the book ends, but there is not exactly a sense of denouement: Jacob dies, and then Joseph dies; this part of the story is at an end, but there are so very many promises unfulfilled. Indeed, the ending is something of a cliff-hanger for the attentive reader, who will have in the back of his or her head Yahweh’s promises to Abraham—both that his offspring would inherit Canaan and that first they would be slaves in a different nation. There are other promises, too: of the “offspring” (or “seed”) of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head, of future kingship in Judah’s line, of blessings not only to Abraham’s family but also to the nations.

There are a few passages that highlight the God at work throughout the book as this first section of the Torah comes to a close. Jacob, blessing Joseph’s sons, speaks of Yahweh: “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, / the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, / the angel who has redeemed me from all evil…” Jacob began his journey speaking of God wholly as his father’s God, surprised to find him still present far from his family’s worship. He ended his journey aware that the God of his fathers had watched over him from Canaan to Padan Aram and back again, and then on the trek down into Egypt. Yahweh was no longer only his father’s and grandfather’s God, but his God.1

Finally, of course, one cannot—or at least, ought not!—pass over these chapters without stopping to read Jacob’s blessing on Judah very carefully:

Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Binding his foal to the vine
and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth whiter than milk.
(Genesis 49:9–12)

This language is evocative in its own right, but how it grows in power as one considers the rest of the Scriptures! The glimpses of fulfillment that come in David and Solomon—too quickly shattered by their fallenness and foibles, and then wrecked almost entirely in the kings that followed in their wake—only make the longing for the real king that much stronger. And right here is the font of so much imagery throughout the rest of the scriptures, both of messianic hope and fearful judgment. It is hard to read of garments washed in wine and in the blood of grapes without thinking of sin staining Christ on our behalf and the pure white garments he has given us instead.

If Genesis ends with the conclusion unwritten, bidding us look forward into Exodus to see what will come next, this particular prophecy still bids us look forward to see what will come next. Jesus has filled it up with meaning, and the Revelation gives us a glimpse of how he will fill it up finally—but that ultimate reality of “the obedience of the peoples” awaits our proclamation of the gospel to the ends of the earth and his coming again to reign in glory. Genesis looks forward; and so do we.

Maranatha. Lord, come soon.

  1. I believe this is also this very first time that the image of God-as-shepherd appears in the Bible. The way the Pentateuch in general and Genesis specifically establishes the baseline for the rest of the Scriptures is nothing short of amazing: this kind of internal unity and consistency is hard to come by from a single author—still less the dozens who authored the Bible.