Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – Israel Blesses His Sons: The Promise Given to Judah (Genesis 49)

Despite Judah’s treachery and the redemption story of Joseph, the messianic promise continues in Judah (vv. 8-12). This might seem rather odd to us. We spend thirteen chapters (37-50) reading Joseph’s story—26% of the Book of Genesis is dedicated to Joseph’s story. By the time we get to this second to last chapter in Genesis, we’re deeply invested in Joseph. We’ve empathised with him, especially as Americans whose country has a tragic history with slavery. And now, near the close of the first book of the Torah, the promise of the Messiah is given to Judah and not Joseph? Sure, Joseph gets a double portion of land whereas all his other brothers only get a single portion, even Judah, but having the promise of the Messiah being granted to your tribe is by far the greatest blessing God could bestow.

We probably don’t like Judah very much, even though he has his own redemption arc in his efforts to protect their youngest brother, Benjamin. After all, it was his idea to sell Joseph into slavery (37:26-27). Joseph forgave him for this, realising God had intended this for good (45:8; 50:19), but as readers, we probably haven’t forgiven him.

Even more, we’ve seen numerous times already God’s habit of choosing the lowly for His acts of salvation. So, perhaps it comes as a surprise to us that Israel, by God’s decree, passes down the promise of the Messiah to Judah rather than either of Joseph’s lowly tribes (even though we’ve known the promise would continue through Judah since chapter 38). For some reason known only to God, He selected Judah to give rise to the Messiah. How do we know Genesis 49:8-12 is God’s promise that the Messiah will come through Judah? Well, let’s take it one verse at a time.

First, Genesis 49:8, “‘Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you.‘” Isaiah prophesies similar words in Isaiah 45:23, “‘By Myself I have sworn; from My mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.”‘” Later, St. Paul would cite this prophecy, “for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God'” (Romans 14:11). Then again in Philippians 2:10, “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” And finally in the Book of Revelation, this bending the knee takes place at Jesus’ Parousia, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. Even so. Amen… And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!'” (Revelation 1:7; 5:13). In the end, all will praise Him.

Second, Genesis 49:9, “‘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?'” Christ as the Lion of Judah should be a familiar image to us; many artists have depicted this title attributed to Jesus. It appears most clearly in Revelation 5:5, “And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that He can open the scroll and its seven seals.'”

Third, Genesis 49:10, “‘The sceptre 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.'” This is strikingly similar to the first messianic psalm, “I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to Me, ‘You are My Son; today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will make the nations Your heritage, and the ends of the earth Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel'” (Psalm 2:7-9).

Lastly, Genesis 49:11, “‘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.'” This brings to mind Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem:

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden‘” [Isaiah 62:11; Zechariah 9:9]. The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before Him and that followed Him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

Matthew 21:1-11

This Lion of Judah would also “wash his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes,” which is quite indicative of Christ bringing His wrath against His enemies at His Parousia: “So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle [about 6 feet/2 metres], for 1,600 stadia [about 184 miles/296 kilometres]” (Revelation 14:19-20). Jesus being covered in such blood as thick and dark as red wine depicts the utter destruction He will triumphantly bring upon His enemies.

From this wide testimony of Scripture, then, it is clear that Israel is speaking proleptically of Jesus, the Messiah, who came from the tribe of Judah. For what purpose? To be worshipped (v. 8), to conquer (v. 9), to reign supremely (v. 10), and to be our victor (v. 11) with His eyes “darker than wine and his teeth whither than milk” (v. 12)—even that His stomping the winepress got the blood of His enemies in His eyes—yet He smiles toward His people for pure salvation.

Theology Terms Used

  • Parousia: Jesus’ second coming.
  • Torah: literally, from Hebrew, “law.” The Torah is the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Another word for the Torah is “Pentateuch” (penta means “five”).

Bibliography

Featured image from “Jacob Blesses His Twelve Sons” by Harry Anderson.

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