In my Bible, Genesis 49 has the man-given title of “Jacob blesses His Sons,” but so far there hasn’t been much blessing! Reuben has lost his preeminence due to his sexual immorality and Simeon and Levi are being scattered due to their anger! Now that we move onto Judah, we finally get to a son who will be blessed by Jacob.
Please read Genesis 49:8-12.
Judah receives the first blessing of all of Jacob’s sons, and it is also perhaps the greatest blessing. Included in his blessing are: the reception of the praise of his brothers, who will bow down to him; conquest over his enemies: and kingship among the nation. This is remarkable considering the most notable actions of Judah thus far are his engineering the sale of Joseph into slavery and wrongful treatment of his daughter-in-law, Tamar. If Reuben, Simeon, and Levi were cursed for their wrongful actions, surely Judah deserves similar curses. Why is he blessed while his brothers are cursed?
The answer to this question comes from a deeper look at the context of Judah’s blessing. We understand that, as with all the sons of Jacob, the blessing will not be experienced by Judah himself, but by the tribe that bears his name. Judah will die like his brothers, but his tribe will go on to lead Israel in military victories (as Scripture records in Numbers 2, 10, Judges 1, 2, and elsewhere). Judah will follow Joseph’s lead for the rest of his life as Joseph is second in command in Egypt, but Judah’s tribe will go on to rule over Israel (though Saul, a Benjaminite is Israel’s first king, David, a Judean, is promised a dynasty over Israel in 2 Samuel 7).
But again we are brought back to our first question: the tribes of Reuben, Simeon and Levi are cursed because of the actions of their Patriarch, so why is the tribe of Judah blessed when their Patriarch is just as sinful?
When we look deeper into this blessing, we see whom is really the object of the blessing: the lion of the tribe of Judah – the Messiah. Traditionally, both Jewish and Christian scholars understand these verses to be a prophecy of the coming Messiah. Christians understand that this Messiah has come, and His name is Jesus.
It is King Jesus who is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah; King Jesus who will be praised by Israel; King Jesus who will conquer all of his enemies; King Jesus who will rule forever. This last expression comes from verse 10, in which the Scripture says “the scepter shall not depart from Judah… until Shiloh comes…” Jacob is not saying here that Judah’s rule would end when Shiloh came, but rather he will continue ruling until this time when his rule will be multiplied so as to embrace all nations.
The term “Shiloh” itself means “place of rest” and is used elsewhere to refer to the Messiah, who will lead His people into this place of rest. This rest is described in verses 11 and 12, which picture a land of such peace, prosperity and abundance that there is an utter surplus of everything good. This is the kind of rest that King Jesus will bring to His people.
So Judah’s blessing is not given to him because he deserves it, but rather because no one deserves such a blessing. Yet, the Messiah, Jesus, will come and bless His people in abundance based solely on His own grace. All of us are utterly undeserving of this grace, but Jesus freely gives it to those whom He chooses. His reasons don’t have to make sense to us: it is simply a matter of the free grace of God.
I thank God that the Lion of Judah died in my place so that I too may experience His wonderful grace!
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