We've all heard: A picture paints a thousand words. Intuitively we know this is true. Yet we seldom ponder its reversal: a few well-chosen words can paint an unforgettable picture.
This is the task of every speaker and writer – to colorfully mix the palette of words to paint a memorable masterpiece. Words are the paint and brush strokes of the rhetorical artist – whether through speaking or writing.
Or, perhaps another metaphor will do? To borrow from my ol' high school Physics textbook: "potential energy (stored energy) will turn into kinetic energy (energy in motion)" ... when ... a communicator paints word pictures to trigger a nuclear reaction in the mind of his listener or reader.
This is why I was so stunned today while reading Genesis 49. There are so many powerful word pictures.
Genesis 49: Jacob Blesses His 12 Sons
Genesis 49 is a mysterious, cryptic chapter in the Old Testament. Jacob has 12 sons, whose lineage are the 12 tribes of Israel (and reminds me that Jesus had 12 apostles). As Jacob nears death, he gathers his grown boys and pronounces a verbal blessing over each one. You can read the account here.
Each son receives a unique "blessing," which turns out to be positive or downright ominous. I can't help but wonder what the sons thought after hearing Jacob's words.
But what struck me hardest was this: Jacob uses concrete visual images to convey deep truths to his sons. Consider the following unforgettable pictures Jacob paints of his sons:
- Reuben is like ... Unstable Waters.
- Simeon and Levi are like ... Violent Swordsmen.
- Judah is like ... a Reigning Lion.
- Zebulun is like ... a Port Haven for Ships.
- Issachar is like ... a Laboring Donkey.
- Dan is like ... a Judge and a Serpent nipping at Horse's heels.
- Gad is like ... a Raider.
- Asher is like ... a Chef.
- Naphtali is like ... a Doe, birthing beautiful Fawns.
- Joseph is like ... a Fruitful Vine, an Agile Archer, and a Prince.
- Benjamin is like ... a Ravenous Wolf.
Do you think the 12 sons ever forgot the image (usually an animal) their father recited over them? Do you think they mused long upon the merits and demerits of their father's comparisons? If your father's final words to you compared you to unstable waters, a reigning lion, a donkey, a Prince, or a ravenous wolf ... would you ever forget it?
Words Have Power
I happen to share two of the 12 sons' names: Daniel Joseph Flynn. These two names have heroic forebears in the Bible, who literally lived into their names.
- Jacob named his fifth son Dan, which means "God is Just/Judge." We see in the OT Prophet Daniel a man who was tenaciously resolute to do things God's way, even if it cost his life. His integrity constantly "nipped at the heels" of compromised leaders. And so, for the "crime" of kneeling three times/day in prayer to God, Daniel was unjustly thrown into a den of lions. Daniel cast himself upon God the Judge, and was rescued for his trust.
- Jacob named his eleventh son Joseph, and declared him to be a Fruitful Vine and a Prince. It seemed wherever Joseph went, the people and events around him prospered. He became head slave over Potiphar's household – because his master recognized that all Joseph touched yielded fruit and prosperity. Eventually, Pharoah snatched Joseph out of prison to become Prime Minister over all of Egypt, literally becoming Egypt's Prince. Clearly Joseph also lived into his name.
- Finally, one last name deserves a word: Judah, whose name means "Praise." He is described as a Lion who has come to reign. Indeed, Judah increasingly takes leadership among his brothers throughout the multiple deliberations seeking food during the famine (Genesis 44:11-34). It is said Judah is not just a lion, but a lion with a scepter (i.e. a king who reigns). This King will be gentle and lowly, tethering his foal and colt to a vine and washing his garments in the blood of grapes. Sound like anyone you know?
Indeed, the Great Lion of the Tribe of Judah, who holds in his hand the Scepter of sovereign rule, is Jesus Himself! Such an early prediction of the coming One, who would rescue all who call on Him.