It says in Genesis 49:1 ”Then Jacob called for his sons and said: "Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come”.
We saw all the astonishing parallels between Joseph and Jesus in the preceding chapters. The sons of Jacob have left God's promise land and moved to Egypt to escape the big famine. God preserved the sons of Jacob by establishing Joseph as a ruler under Pharoah to meet the needs of His people with whom He has made a lasting covenant. At this point in Genesis 49 the whole family was in Egypt. Jacob was 147 years old and near to his death, his sons coming before him while he prophesied various details as to the fortunes and fates of the descendants of these men. Particularly significant is the oracle regarding the fate of his fourth son, Judah.
For many centuries it has been the conviction of both Jews and Christians that the prophetic announcement was focused upon the Hebrew Messiah. Jews believe this Messiah has not yet arrived, and is yet to come. Liberal Hebrews would disregard the reference to any real person, viewing the “Messiah” as a mere metaphor for a time of peace destined to arrive eventually. Christians contend that the declaration is fulfilled in Jesus Christ who lived as a human being two thousand years ago, who was crucified as an alleged law-breaker, but who rose from the dead and finally ascended to Heaven to be with God the Father. Jesus’s ancestry is traced back in the scripture to Judah in Matthew 1:1-16 and in Luke 3:23-34.
The prophecy also gives a timeframe in which the Messiah was to appear, that he would appear after a succession of rulers from the line of Judah. Such was also the view of George and Ray Konig, author of the popular book [100 prophecies].
Justin Martyr, another Christian writer, also described ".... until Shiloh come... (KJV)" in the middle of the verse as meaning the descendants of Judah were to have a continuity of rulers and lawgivers until the Messiah arrived. While many other commentators have similarly suggested that the Jews had a continuous succession of rulers in various forms, whether as kings or as governors, etc., from the days of King David through the time of Jesus, this continuity was broken during the time of Jesus. Martin Luther, for example, suggested in his writings that the non-Israelite “King” Herod, who was only appointed by the Romans to govern the Jews, marked the break in the continuity of rulers.
The Jews apparently lost all forms of civil government during the century in which Jesus lived. About 40 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, the Romans completely destroyed Jerusalem, the temple, and many towns throughout the land of Israel. The Romans also forced many Jews into exile.
On the other hand, non-Christian sources of commentary also regarded Genesis 49:10 as Messianic. In the Talmud, for example, the word "Shiloh" was interpreted directly as a reference to "Messiah".
A good interpretation of verse 10 can be as follows, according to 19th century Dutch theologian J J van Oosterzee:
“A ruler shall not depart from the tribe of Judah while Israel has dominion (The word lawgiver indicates the maintenance of the dominion). There will not be cut off a king in it belonging to David. (The staff is the covenant of vertical kingship), until the coming of the Messiah of rest and peace, from the branch of David, for to him and his seed has been given the Kingship over his people for everlasting generations” (J J van Oosterzee, English translation, 1874)
Recently I came across a video presentation by Rabbi Chief Binyamin, Brooklyn, New York, who had a slightly different interpretation of the Hebrew text but nonetheless was similarly "Messianic":
לֹֽא־ יָס֥וּר שֵׁ֙בֶט֙ מִֽיהוּדָ֔ה מִבֵּ֣ין A specter will not depart from Judah
וּמְחֹקֵ֖ק and a lawgiver
מִבֵּ֣ין רַגְלָ֑יו from between his feet
עַ֚ד forever (not meaning ‘until’ as in other commentaries, and matching with the context of ‘the scepter not departing from Judah’)
יָבֹ֣א כִּֽי־ (שִׁיל֔וֹ) Because peace will come (Shiloh is peace rather than Messiah))
וְל֖וֹ to Him
עַמִּֽים׃ with his people
[Lo-yasur shevet miyhudah, umechokek miben raglaw; ad ki-yavo "shiloh", welo yikhat amim]:
Translated into the English language would be: "The Specter will not depart from Judah or a lawgiver from his feet forever, because his peace will come and to him will be a gathering of His people".
Isn't this similarly "Messianic" although translated in a slightly different way?
Genesis 49:10 is probably one the oldest and clearest prophetic revelations about the coming of Messiah, although Jewish Church tend not to concede. The prophet Isaiah usually steals the show when it comes to Messianic "Christmas" prophecies (say Isaiah 9:6), but as a matter of fact the revelation in Genesis is forever laying the foundation for the proclamation on the coming of Christ (Genesis 3:15, 22:18, 26:1-5, 28:13-14).
Genesis 49:8-9 foretold that Judah will be prominent and ruling over His brothers (49:8). It would be through the line of Judah that the Messiah would come. One would be tempted to think that it would be more likely to be from the righteous and favoured line of Joseph. And is it not that God had preserved the lives of His people through him? No, it is not. It had come through Judah, the not so decent brother. If the fulfillment of “Christmas” was dependent on the character of the man it would never have come to fruition. His ways are much higher than man’s ways. It depends on Him.
Here is a reference to Jesus as “Lion” in verse 9: “Judah is a lion to be feared” (9). In Revelation 5:5, John wept because there was no one worthy to open the Scroll with the seven seals in heaven or on earth. “Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals." (NIV).
Onto verse 11, there is the imagery and fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9 and Matthew 21:6. The King comes riding on the foal of a donkey, and the shedding of blood as red as wine.
It brings us to our heels the real glory of Christmas can only be realized when we understand the theological and historical significance of the Messiah, who is the resurrected savior and who will be the one returning victorious King.
Surely Judah expected to hear from Jacob about his mishap in selling Joseph into slavery, that Judah had been a terrible father and the business about Tamar (Chapter 38). However, when Jacob spoke, he spoke only of blessings and praise. He spoke about the Lord, the lion and the law. He showered praises upon Judah and never did one time he mentioned the evil that Judah had done.
Why is this seeming unfairness? Why should Judah got off so easily when the others had been dealt with so harshly? Yes, the Bible tells us that he that comes will "wash his clothes in the blood of grapes." And we too, be cleansed in the blood of Christ. Judah had bowed at the feet of Joseph and had confessed (Genesis 44:18-34). He received the blessing at the judgment seat of Jacob. We too can repent, and we too, in His grace, mercy and fore-plan, will have our wrong-doings un-pursued at the judgment seat of Christ, being covered under His blood.
Genesis 49:8-12 is indeed an amazing and comforting story, particularly for us sinful believers.
And isn’t it amazing that verses written so many years ago, just mentioning some blessings in passing, are so immensely prophetic and with so many details exactly right.
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