While some of what Jacob says in Genesis 49 before his death at age 147 is mysterious, this is not the rambling of a man with early stage dementia. Rather, he speaks to his sons as a prophet, looking ahead to various stages, including the time when his heirs would receive their inheritance of the promised land and even events far beyond that. Focus on what he says to Judah, Genesis 49:8-12, as it points to the distant future when a mysterious ruler would appear.
The promised rule could be expected to go the firstborn. But Reuben, the eldest, was bypassed because of his earlier sin, and the next two brothers, Simeon and Levi, were too violent. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son, and Joseph’s two sons each received a share of Jacob’s blessing, equivalent to the double portion of the firstborn, cf. 48:5. Yet, God sovereignly picks his own. Parallel to the way that God had chosen Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau, he now chooses Judah over his brothers. This process includes you. You belong to God because he has chosen you, not because of who you are or what you have done.
Jacob spoke about the success of Judah’s Descendant against the background of the failures recorded earlier in Genesis. The primary one was Adam’s sin. But the hopes that Adam and Eve might have had that Cain would be the promised seed of the woman were dashed when he gave in to sin that crouched at the door. Notice the contrast when Judah’s Descendant is described as a crouching lion (Gen. 49:9)! Noah had stepped out of the ark onto a clean earth–but he sinned. Jacob and his own family could not be the ultimate Redeemer. But, with the eye of faith, Jacob recognizes that from Judah’s line such a one will come.
Judah was chosen for the sake of his descendant. From his line David would come. Ultimately the Christ would be born of this line. The position of dominance belongs to the tribe of Judah. The scepter and ruler’s staff belong to Christ. The scepter and staff are symbols of authority, of lawgiving. They belong to Judah, but not just to the tribe generally, but more specifically to One who would come in the future. This coming One (“Shiloh” or “the one to whom it belongs”) would personally exercise this authority, cf. Ezekiel 21:27. In him, the dominion that had been given to Adam would be exercised and used to the glory of God.
The right to use this royal power belongs to Christ because he humbled himself. He was born in the stall and laid in the manger because he humbled himself to become the sin-bearer. The successful completion of his work is rewarded by the messianic authority and rule he receives.
Dominion belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. “It is not ‘he will rule until someone else takes the rule out of his hands and deposes him’; but it is ‘he will rule so long until at last the mysterious figure appears who, as descended from Judah, imparts the character of eternity to Judah’s rule.’” (Geerhardus Vos, The Eschatology of the Old Testament, p. 100, on Gen. 49:10). The world is happy to let you have your religious beliefs as long as you confine them to the space between your ears. But the expression of those beliefs, particularly the conviction that Jesus Christ is a King, a ruler whose influence must be felt in every area of life, that is more difficult to take. His kingly power has implications for the way you conduct your daily life. It determines the way you get along with your family and your neighbors. It determines your view of education. Its principles are the standard, the foundation for societal relationships. The knowledge that the scepter belongs in the hands of Judah’s Son comforts you.
The cradle in the stall leads inevitably to the ruler’s staff. Submit to the kingship of Jesus. Reflect his authority in the sphere in which God has placed you.
He is the Lion! The imagery is majestic, and the title belongs to Christ, Revelation 5:5. He is both the Lion and the Lamb. He is dangerous to his foes. Those who resist him, even those who ignore him, do so at their own peril. What was said about Aslan can be said of him: “Safe? . . . Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But He’s good, He’s the King, I tell you.” Serve this King because it is dangerous not to. But also serve him because he is the sovereign King who has redeemed you, and who commands your willing loyalty. How does your life relate to the rule of this Lion of the tribe of Judah?
He is blessed. Jacob was speaking first of Judah. The “praise” of v.8 puns on the name, Judah. That tribe would become the first among equals, the most prominent of the tribes, especially as the northern kingdom of Israel went into captivity. The hyperbolic description of vv.11,12 picture the rich inheritance which would fall to the descendants of Judah. Don’t be put off by the realistic, physical language. Christ was born, not to take you to an immaterial world in which you will float on a cloud, but to redeem you and restore his creation, with you serving him in it. Tie this language with Gen. 3:15. The effects of the curse are reversed in the work of this powerful Messiah. He is the second Adam, succeeding where the first failed, beyond that, undoing the damage wrought by the first and by each of us.
The blessing focuses on an individual. Ultimately it belongs to a particular person, who would one day come to claim it. As you submit to this gracious ruler (which you can do only because he calls you to himself and redeems you), you find that his blessings become yours as well.
Serve him, not first of all for what you get out of it, but because he is the blessed King. Make your life become an increasing part of the praise that redounds to him. Don’t take the scepter our of the stable!
[In preparation for a message on Genesis 49:8-12]