*Genesis 49:8-12 “Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness – who dares to rouse him? The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.”
Judah was the fourth in line of Jacob’s children. There was Reuben, Simeon and Levi and then Leah gave birth to Judah. When the first three grew up they were guilty of various forms of wickedness, and as a result they were not going to receive the birthright, they were not going to inherit, they were not going to get the blessing of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The one God promised to Abraham to be born through the line of his descendants, the Messiah, whose appearance and achievements would bless all the nations of the world, would not come through the lines of Reuben or of Simeon or of Levi. He would come of the line of Judah. Is that confirmed in the opening words of the New Testament? Does it say that in Matthew chapter one and verse two as Jesus’ genealogy begins? Yes. “Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah . . .” The Lord Jesus Christ will be the lion of the tribe of Judah.
And here in the words of Jacob he is compared to the king of the beasts, a lion, “You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness – who dares to rouse him?” (v.9). There had been a famous dream in the family that Joseph had had of twelve sheaves of wheat bowing down to another and a dream of the stars in heaven worshipping one star. The dreams were saying that Joseph’s brothers would bow in awe of their young brother, but see what we have in this prophecy, that the time is coming, his father says, when those same brothers will bow down to Judah and will praise him, the lion-king, the conqueror of his enemies. In this prophecy Jacob magnifies Judah before his brothers. He puts him in the place of leadership; the pre-eminence will be his.
HOW DID JUDAH GAIN THE BIRTHRIGHT BLESSING?
There were a number of influences that came together . . .
i] By the requirements of ‘the law of the land.’ We would say that Jacob had to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. In other words, the common law of the people required that there was a natural order of birthright. Reuben had committed lewdness and he forfeited the blessing. Simeon and Levi were serial killers and Jacob could not live with those fearful crimes even at the end of his life. He could not come to terms with such cruelty and violence. So the second and third also forfeited the birthright. Now the next in line was this man Judah, his fourth son. The others had forfeited it, and Jacob legally was prevented from musing, “Well . . . I think that I will give it to number nine son, or number eleven son.” No. There was an order; there were natural, proper priorities. So the birthright became his not because Judah was firstborn; there were three bigger brothers running round who always reminded him that they were older than him, “ . . . so watch your step Titch!” but he got it because of default and forfeiture and because of the laws and customs of his people. I say that that was a sad way to receive it.
There were villages which heard the gospel from the apostles of Jesus simply because other villages had forfeited the right to hear it by throwing out the preachers. “We don’t want you preaching your Jesus business here,” they shouted, and turned their dogs on them and picked up stones to hurl at them, and so the disciples brushed the dust off their feet and on they went to another village which was different; they heard them gladly. They then became the ones hearing of a Saviour who loved them, and who invited men to come to him for rest. They heard the good news because of the forfeiture of villages who rejected that same message. One evening I went to the university hall of residence Pantycelyn to talk to a student at the request of his mother, but the boy did not want to hear me, but his room-mate Martin (there were two sharing a room in those days too) listened intently and the following Sunday he came to church and in time he became a Christian and was baptized, and on top of that he found a wife in the congregation, and I married them. His room-mate defied and forfeited the blessings of the gospel, but he embraced it and his room-mate’s mother came up to Martin’s baptism.
Do you remember what happened when Judah was born? His mother Leah, neglected and rejected by his father Jacob, had had hopes when his three older brothers were born that they would be the means of making her husband love her. Their names spoke of her hope of winning Jacob’s affection, but it was all to no avail. Then Judah was born and she said, “I am going to call him ‘Judah.’” The name sounds like the Hebrew word of praise! “This time I will praise Jehovah.” That is the only thing that was left. She could not praise her husband for his kindness and love to her. She had nowhere to go for praise because her husband had one song, he was singing the praises of her sister Rachel; he was not praising her. In her loveless life she would no longer look to him, she would look away from everything else and look unto Jehovah and give him the praise alone.
So here is Jacob and if it hung on his choice then he would have given the birthright blessing to his beloved son Joseph, but the law was clear, it must be given to the first born son, or if he were unworthy through immorality, the second born, or if he were unworthy then the third born, and if he were unworthy then the fourth born, and so it came to Judah’s turn. Jacob was honouring the law and traditions of his fathers. So the birthright became Judah’s by the powers that be and by the default of those who were prior to him. How else did it become Judah’s?
ii] By utter mercy. It was not that Judah was a perfect man, anything but. One day he saw a young woman whom he thought was a temple prostitute and he bought her for a short time at the price of a young goat, which he did not have with him, so he gave her as a pledge of the goat coming tomorrow a seal and its cord, and also a staff. When he sent a servant to pay her the young goat the next day there was no sound or sight of a temple prostitute ever being there. Later on when h
is daughter in law Tamar was announced as being pregnant through acting the prostitute Judah calmly gave the command, “Burn her to death.” Then Tamar showed everyone Judah’s seal and its cord and a staff, saying, “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” and lustful, cold-hearted, hypocritical Judah was silenced and humbled, saying, “She is more righteous than me,” (Gen. 38:26).
That was Judah, the fourth wretched son of Jacob by Leah. What a rotten crew! Jacob judged him not to have sinned as badly as his brothers, and perhaps if more were known of the other sons we would be even more shocked at how pathetic were this whole family of Jacob apart from Joseph and Benjamin. So God was merciful to Judah, and the Lord Jesus Christ is in his line. He is joined by the umbilical cord to him, and also to Rahab the prostitute, and to Bathsheba. That is the line of our Saviour according to the flesh. Sovereign blessings from heaven are not of human merit, not at all. Judah and his descendants are a deeply flawed human line of men and women who are of like passions to ourselves, so that none here might despair and say, “There can be no hope after my awful sin of me ever finding salvation through Jesus Christ.” Salvation is all of grace; it is a gift of God. How did the blessing come to Judah?
iii] By the anticipated fruit of new life. God knew the kind of man he would become, a much finer man. As the years went by Judah took the responsibilities of leadership with increasing seriousness. We are told in Genesis 44 of the time when he stood before Prime Minister Joseph in Egypt, not knowing he was Joseph but a great dignitary with life and death power over him and his brothers, and Judah made supplication for his arrested and charged younger brother Benjamin. He pleaded with this Egyptian despot to have mercy on a broken hearted father and on his kid brother. “I will become surety. I will become his bondsman. Take me! Let that child go, because I will be surety for him. I will be your slave, your bondsman for ever, but let the child go. I cannot look upon my father and see that his grey head goes into the grave consumed by the loss of another dear son.”
Men and women, here in the Old Testament you are getting a sight, and a foretaste of Jesus Christ. It was here in this man Judah. He came to his own and even his brothers received him, bowing down to him. Judah was going to rise far higher than the heights even Joseph attained. Judah was standing before that man in Egypt and he was pleading there as a surety. How different from a Reuben, Reuben who had said to his father, “Slay your two grandchildren, my boys, if I don’t bring him back!” “Oh,” said Judah, “I give myself, I’ll give myself unto death, into bondage for Benjamin liberty.”
Those are the things that the conception and continuance of divine grace in Judah’s life developed. That carnal man who had paid a visit to a prostitute was no more, and that spirit of pleading and leadership developed in the history of the people of God of the line of Judah. Here is the tribe that had the largest number of fighting men, who were the first to enter Canaan, who were predominant when the tabernacle was dedicated, from whom came a David and a Solomon. These are the ones who cause that kingdom of Judah to flourish. Here you find the sweet singer of Israel, the shepherd of his people, and the man who is also ready to build a house to the name of God. They were the centre of religious life in the nation. This was the man ready to give his life that another might live. Also in that same vein, as a suretyship of David, when that king had sinned against Bathsheba, and the prophet Nathan comes and says, “Thou art the man!” Then when a punitive pestilence raged for three days throughout Jerusalem David was the one who said “O Lord, why those sheep, why not me?” That’s Judah. David became the man after God’s own heart, a man with the blood of twice-born Judah running through his veins. Here we see pictures of Jesus Christ of the line of Judah appearing. So those are the reasons why the birthright passed to the lion of the house of Judah.
THE CLIMACTIC BLESSING TO COME ON JUDAH.
Hear the great words that his father Jacob used; “The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” (v.10). The exact translation is amongst the most disputed verses in Genesis or in the entire Bible, especially the phrase “until he comes to whom it belongs”. The Authorized Version translates it, “until Shiloh come.” This is the heart of the prophecy about Judah, from whom our Lord descends. What is being said?
i] There is a privilege in this prophecy. God is going to bestow on Judah and upon his descendants the symbol of rule and authority and eminence and might. The sceptre of kingship will be Judah’s. It is from Judah that the monarchy will come. It is from Judah that princes will rule and justice be dispensed. So at last from this tribe the King after God’s own heart will come and sit on the throne governing the people of God; the crown will be put on David’s head, David a descendant of Judah, as well as Solomon his son to succeed him. There is a very interesting detail given to us in the books of Chronicles. The books of Kings tell us Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, but the books of Chronicles put it like this, that Solomon sat on the throne of God in place of David his father. In other words, the throne that David sat on did not belong to David or to any of the other sons of Judah who sat on it. The throne was always God’s throne. He was always the King of his own people, and their kingship and rule was always a devolved authority that God gave. It was a symbol of their accountability to him and of his rule over them. They were always intended to be a theocracy governed by God. In the great words of Isaiah, “God is our King, he is our law-giver, he will save us,” and the salvation that the people of God enjoyed was to be enjoyed as a direct consequence of God’s rule over them, of being under his shepherding kingship. The privilege that Judah was to enjoy in his succession and in his generations and in his family was this, that God appointed this line to be the guardian of the sceptre of kingship and of rule and of dominion and of might and of power and of authority. The throne over the people of God is the throne of God. They are distinguished by the fact that they are in subjection to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
I am asking you if that isn’t what distinguishes the people of God still? Isn’t that what distinguishes the New Covenant Israel, the people that God has for his very own? At regeneration God translates them into the kingdom of his dear son. He becomes their Ruler and he is their Lord. They bow before him as believing Thomas did and they say, “My Lord and my God.” They take the position of suppliants and they kneel at the footstool of their great King. They are characterized and set apart and distinguished by the fact that God is their King.
I wonder perhaps if our ministry of reformation along with our prayers for revival ought not to be a call for all of God’s people in our churches and throughout our land to show their loyalty and their allegiance to their great King Jesus, to be subject to his laws, subject to his authority, subject to his power. All of you who are believers in Jesus Christ know that you never enjoyed liberty in your life until you became a subject to God’s law and he became your King. Your soul never knew rest until you took his yoke upon you. You didn’t know freedom until you came freely and gladly to serve under the royal dominion of your great King. He took you to his banqueting house; he unfurled his banner of love over you. You went out and you saw your king crowned and his coronation is your great hope that you have a king and that King is Jesus. We must be distinguished, as God’s people have always been distinguished, by our subjection to God’s rule and God’s law. In the Old Testament that rule was devolved to the line of Judah. It was not going to depart from Judah. Today it is devolved to Jesus Christ alone.
ii] There is a precision in this prophecy. It is a precise prophecy. “The sceptre will not depart from Judah . . . until . . .” (v.10). Now that is such an important nuance. The sceptre is not going to belong to Judah’s family indefinitely but it is going to belong to Judah for a determined period of time. It will not depart from Judah until a point comes when it is fitting that the sceptre should be handed over to someone else. So God guards the prophecy. All through the years of the Old Testament; all through the experiences of his people, through their high points and their low points God was guarding this prophecy. This sceptre did not depart from Judah; it was there constantly even in the years when the people of God are taken into exile and get as low as it was possible for them to get, well nigh extinguished, right near the close of the Old Testament history. Then the Redeemer King acted. Isn’t it remarkable that the whole of the Old Testament is structured by two great acts of redemption, redemption from Egypt on the one hand and redemption from Babylon on the other hand, and all the time God was guarding his sovereignty over his people. He allowed them the opportunity of governing themselves even when they were threatened by all kinds of foreign invasive powers that were trying to wrest that power from them. And even in the inter-testamental period when the power Judah had was infantile, even then, when we come into the New Testament when the Herods are there governing, and the whole might of the Roman Empire seemed to be ready to swallow up Judah, I say even then the sceptre had not departed. It is one of their own who governs them. He may not have a great deal of power; the country may have been on the brink of extinction, the sceptre may be about to depart but it would not depart until this moment of which Jacob speaks was fulfilled in the promise and plan and purpose and time-table of God. That is so remarkable; so much of the hostility of the people of the world against God was being focused on the people of God in the Old Testament period, trying to tear away the sceptre, and remove the symbol of authority and kingship, but God preserved it and God protected his own.
Doesn’t it thrill you to read the Old Testament? It is such an impoverishment of our Christian life not to read it. These things happened and were written for our benefit upon whom the ends of the age have come. This is our story; this is where our roots are. We are caught up in this great panorama of redemption, that begins with that embryonic promise about the ‘seed of the woman,’ and then more and more and more light is shed on it as the years go by and still more illumination appears. The focus is more and more clear. It is talking about one unique individual who will come from Judah’s line and he will belong to God’s royal line that God has ordained to brandish this symbol of his authority. Let’s seriously read the Old Testament! I think the New Testament would make so much more sense if we studied carefully and clearly the Bible in all its parts, as God gave his light to this people, giving it that it would illuminate his people everywhere so that they became the light of the world. So there is a precision to the time-table, that the sceptre will not depart until a certain event took place.
iii] There is a person in this prophecy. When is the ‘until’? The A.V. says, “until Shiloh comes.” It is a most evocative phrase; for me it is full of the image of an awesome American Civil War battlefield – ‘Shiloh.’ But what is this Shiloh? I think it is better to translate it as the prophet Ezekiel does in a verse in his prophecy which has a remarkably similar construction to this. In Ezekiel 21:27 we read, “until he comes, the one to whom judgment belongs.” The word ‘shiloh’ is the transliteration of a Hebrew word that compresses that phrase in Ezekiel, “until he come to whom it belongs” and that is what the translators of the N.I.V. have decided; “The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his” (v.10).
From his deathbed Jacob, this great patriarch-prophet, catches a glimpse of the Seed of the woman appearing on the stage of human history as the one to whom the sceptre belongs. Who is that? He is the one of whom the psalmist would write, notwithstanding all the tumult and rebellion of the peoples against God and against his anointed, notwithstanding the native hostility of the human heart against God and his laws that continues to chant out, “We will not have this one to rule over us,” notwithstanding the plotting and the machinations of the world against its Creator – “he came to his own and they received them not” – notwithstanding all of that – Jehovah has said, “I have appointed him to be ruler, and I have appointed him as king over Zion,” the one whom God addresses as his own Son. “You are my Son; I have begotten you.”
Now Jacob, in Egypt, on his deathbed, with eyes closing in blindness and about to die, is given eyes to see the magnificence of the ultimate individual appearing in history. It is God’s great son who is also Jacob’s own Lord and his own Redeemer, to whom the sceptre belongs because it was always God’s intention that this Christ descended from this line, the legitimate heir of the covenant promise, should govern and rule over the nations. Little wonder that Matthew Henry said that God is to be praised in Judah because from Judah, when Judah and its line reached the point of extinction, and Jerusalem finally capitulates to the Romans, this prophecy of Jacob will have finally been fulfilled. The scepter will have finally departed from Judah, but not before the one whom God has appointed from all eternity to be King over all his people will have come into history; the Word was made flesh, and in the resurrection is declared with power to be the Son of Gog, the one who at last wears Judah’s skin and whose veins flow with Judah’s blood, and who inherits this rank from his place in this particular line, the one who was made flesh and dwelt among us, and was heir of all these covenant prophecies and predictions. God has set his eye on him whom he has appointed King of kings and Lord of lords.
I see him in the days of his flesh, not as a King but as a servant, and yet even in his servanthood he comes sovereignly to deal with sin, engaged in battle with Satan to crush Satan – isn’t that what the prophecy said, that he would crush the head of the serpent? Doesn’t the letter to the Hebrews take up that theme? Why did he come? He came to destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver them who through the fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. He came to fight with an angel, but to conquer the angel he had to become a man. He did not take on him the nature of angels, but he took upon him the seed of Abraham. He took upon him the nature of Judah and it is in our nature that the great Prince of Judah with this royal sceptre beckons us to come to him for our salvation. He first went marching into death in order to destroy death and its dominion for ever. Little wonder that on his deathbed Jacob can close his eyes in peace and know that better things await the people of God. There is a King of God’s providing. There is a King of God’s appointing. There is a King of God’s anointing who has taken his place in the midst of the throne and sits at God’s right hand of the majesty on high.
What we are being told is that the Son of God came for us and for our salvation and that he would be descended from Judah and that his kingdom would stretch from shore to shore until moons shall wax and wane no more. You see how Jacob describes it, that his kingdom would be so rich that you could tether your beasts of burden to any vine tree. Never fear, each one would be so strong it would hold it safe and sound. The wine from those vines would be so plentiful that it would be the washing water for your garments. The King himself will be the loveliest of ten thousand, the rose of Sharon; “His eyes will be darker than wine; his teeth whiter than milk” (v.12). The King in the kingdom would be the loveliest person in the loveliest place – the loveliest of ten thousand.
There are some great words of Hugh Martin that were drawn to my attention by Iain D. Campbell. He talks about the necessary separation of the divine and human natures of Christ in the act of his death. Hugh Martin uses this comparison; he asks if we’ve thought of a warrior going into battle, and the first thing he does is to take the sword out of its sheath in readiness for battle? He has to separate the sword from the sheath for the fight. It is impossible for him to fight with the sword still in the scabbard. So you remember the Eisteddfod symbolism of a sword half drawn from its sheath, and then the three times repeated question asked, “Is there peace?” “Peace,” all the people cry, and the sword is returned to its scabbard. For war and victory the sword has to be drawn and with an unveiled blade the warrior goes into battle to prosecute the war and triumph.
One day the skirmishes were over and onto the battle field came this Captain of our salvation. He was all alone, none of the people were with him to help him, and his garments were soon stained with blood. He entered the battle fighting on behalf of his people. He had to draw his sword. How could the God-man achieve our redemption except by separating spirit from body in death, dismissing his spirit, commending it to God, and then pouring out his lifeblood until he was dead. There could be no salvation for us unless he tasted death for every man. The only means of his conquering death was by his own death, by hanging lifeless on the tree while his spirit was commended into God’s hands. He has already descended into hell in the anathema of God on the cross before ascending to God. He has been forsaken judicially. What happens when sin that needs to be accounted for meets the naked flame of God’s holiness and righteousness? Hell is what happens. God is a consuming fire and must burn up the dross and will do so for all eternity in the experience of all those who are not united to this one who in his infinite person takes the cup of God’s wrath and tastes the cup of God’s wrath and drinks the cup of God’s wrath and empties the cup of God’s wrath and descends into hell without leaving the cross. So at last, when he breathes his last he has made atonement full and perfect and complete, and experienced the wrenching separation of his soul and his body for the warfare ahead and its perfect weapon.
I wonder so often what Paul meant when he talked of “the weakness of God.” It is scarcely an attribute that you would use of God, but the apostle says that the weakness of God is stronger than men. There it is! See that weakness behind the stone of Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, the dead lifeless body of Jesus our Saviour, the weakness of God, but it is stronger than men because it is what affects the atonement. This great King will rule from the cross, and he will triumph over sin, and over death and over Satan and over hell. The earth shook when King Solomon was crowned, you remember, and when God declared Christ to be the Son of God with power the earth shook again, there was a great earthquake as this King was resurrected from the dead when it was no longer possible for death to hold him. He who had seen no corruption in the womb saw no corruption in the tomb, and for us and for our salvation he stood with his foot on the neck of death as the great King of glory.
All my salvation derives from the exercise of his great sovereignty, and as for the King, didn’t he subdue me with his sceptre, this magnificent gracious authority that he exercises in love. Didn’t he come into my heart? Didn’t he take away the enmity? Didn’t he deal with the hostility? Didn’t he deal with every power that was holding me in its chains? Didn’t he free my will? Didn’t he make me willing in the day of his power to enable me to embrace Jesus as he was freely offered me in the gospel? Apart from that I could never have believed. “If any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in.” It is magnificent isn’t it? How on earth can a sinner open the door? A sinner doesn’t want to open the door and share his life with the Son of God, living his life under the dominion of the Lord of Glory. The sinner cannot open the door. Left to himself he would never open the door, but there is a sovereign power in the voice. “If anyone hears my voice . . .” The voice penetrates beyond the door. The voice penetrates through the door of the will and the door of understanding, and when it does, that person who has kept the door shut all those years is freed; “Now we’ll open it, aided by the power of the voice.” And he will come in, this King of glory, and will sup with him. He will become the host, “he with me” . . . and aren’t you glad he did? Aren’t you glad that he came and made a throne for himself in your heart?
Remarkable isn’t it, but sometimes I think it is more remarkable that he stayed there. When I think of the reasons I’ve given for him to walk away, the things I’ve done, the man I’ve been, my disloyalty to my King, how he could so easily have turned his back on me, but he is still there . . . still shepherding . . . still governing . . . still saving me from myself, still keeping, still directing, still leading, still guiding – this royal Son of Judah, my Lord and my God. What is your own hope for those areas where you work, your family, the Christian Union, these for whom you pray? Is it not that the one to whom the sceptre belongs will receive the obedience of the people? And he is able to subdue stubborn hearts and sin-bound wills, and he is able to set sinners free, the power of his voice speaking through the gospel, speaking through you, and speaking through me, and at last every eye seeing him, and every tongue confessing that he is Lord to the glory of God the Father. God grant that we will do it now in a day of grace and mercy, and that we will see many more doing it while mercy dawns and is proclaimed in our hearing.
Yes, blind Jacob saw much in the form of Judah his son before him. The sceptre wasn’t going to depart from Judah until the one to whom it belongs for ever and ever does appear, and he our Jesus shall have tribute from all the people for ever.
2nd October 2011 GEOFF THOMAS
*This sermon is heavily dependent in using the fine material of Rev. Paul Thangiah on the Twelve tribes of Israel from the websitehttp://www.fgag.tv/tiym/index. php/videos/series