“I am about to die,” Jacob said to his favorite son, Joseph. Then he called for his sons and said, “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come” (Gen. 48:21; 49:1 NIV). With his twelve sons gathered at his deathbed, he began to recite his final blessings. What follows in Genesis 49:3-27 are prophecies which are so amazingly accurate that this part of Scripture has long been a hotbed of controversy over the idea that anyone could have written them without a historical perspective, thus denying their prophetic power and divine inspiration. But archeological recovery of ancient manuscripts has since validated this passage’s prophetic nature. In these verses Jacob passed on the blessing which his father, Isaac had given to him – the blessing which he had stolen from his brother, Esau (Gen. 27). Years after that, Jacob wrestled with God all night at Bethel, where he was then given a new name, Israel (Gen. 35), which literally means “he struggles with God.” He is the namesake of the modern nation of Israel and the patriarch of the twelve tribes of ancient Israel, whose names bear those of his twelve sons, here receiving his blessings.
Judah was the fourth son of Jacob by his first wife, Leah. He is ancestor to both Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Joseph, his adoptive father (Lk. 3:23-33; Mt. 1:2,16). So a closer look at Jacob’s blessing for Judah should prove fascinating as we seek to connect the dots between him and his distant descendant, Jesus of Nazareth. Let’s begin by reading 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 scepter 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.”
An Unequaled Warrior
“Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies” (49:8).
Little is revealed in Scripture about the ability as warrior either of Judah, or of the tribe that later came to be identified by his name. It might be inferred that they were very capable by the fact that this tribe inherited one of the largest tribal territories, which they successfully defended even against their mighty enemy, the Philistines, whose territory included part of Judah’s coastal plain.
It is true that Jesus’ first advent entailed a strategy to conquer the world by love, but in His second advent He will return both in glory and in power: “Out of His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations … He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty” (Rev.19:15). Single-handedly, this Lion of Judah will destroy the full might of earthly resistance against Him – truly a warrior without equal!
Superior To His Brothers
“Judah, your brothers will praise you … your father’s sons will bow down to you” (49:8).
The family blessing would have normally belonged to the eldest son, Reuben, so how is it that Judah, the fourth eldest received it? Reuben had defiled his father’s bed: “While Israel (Jacob) was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it” (Gen. 35:22). So that meant the next son in line would have normally been the recipient. But Simeon and Levi (the second and third sons of Jacob) took vengeance far in excess of what justice would have called for against their sister Dinah’s abductor who had violated her: “Two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male … looted the city where their sister had been defiled … and carried off all their wealth and all their women and children” (Gen. 34:25-29). Jacob didn’t reveal his intentions with regard to their inheritance at the time of these offenses, but here on his deathbed, he makes them very apparent. The blessing therefore fell to the next in line – the fourth son, Judah.
Besides this obvious example of Judah’s superiority over his brothers, we see other instances where his leadership was demonstrated. He assumed the duty of spokesman for his brothers as they persuaded their father to allow Benjamin, the youngest, to travel back to Egypt with them for food, guaranteeing his safety and offering himself to be held personally responsible for him (Gen. 43). Previously, when these brothers traveled together, the youngest, Joseph, was conspired against by his brothers, and Joseph was saved from death only by Judah’s intervention (Gen. 37). The next time, as they approached Egypt, it was none other than Judah whom Jacob sent “ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen” (Gen. 46:28).
Similarly, Scripture tells us that, like His ancestor, Judah, Jesus also possesses a superior worthiness. The writer of Hebrews declared that “Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses” (Heb. 3:3). And in The Revelation, John wrote: The angels proclaim, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being” (Rev. 4:11); and “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev. 5:12); and all heaven shouts, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory!” (Rev. 19:7).
The Lion’s Cub
“You are a lion’s cub, O Judah … who dares rouse him?” (49:9).
Something of Judah’s character made his father compare him to a lion – the mightiest and fiercest hunter of the animal kingdom – the proverbial king of the jungle! C.S. Lewis captured the essence of the Lion of Judah, in “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” (The Chronicles of Narnia) through the character of Aslan, whom he portrayed as a lion throughout:
“Aslan a man!” said Mrs. Beaver sternly. Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of a great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe?”
“Safe? Who said anything about safe? If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re braver than most or else just silly. Safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
And so it is with Christ as it apparently was with Judah, that He certainly is not safe, but He is good. He is the King who “has authority to judge because He is the Son of Man” (Jn. 5:27), and because He is the Lion of Judah.
The King Forever
“The scepter 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” (49:10).
From the coronation of King David to the deportation of King Zedekiah, the southern kingdom of Judah had but one dynasty – twenty kings, each one a descendent of Jacob’s son, Judah. But Ezekiel’s prophecy speaks also of another heir-apparent “to whom it (the scepter) belongs” from the tribe of Judah, who will one day be King. The prophet, referring to the Christ, said, “It (the king’s crown) will not be restored until He comes to whom it rightfully belongs; to Him I will give it” (Ezek. 21:27). This King, from whom “the scepter will not depart,” will reign forever, declares the psalmist: “The Lord is enthroned as King forever” (Ps. 29:10).
It is to Him, also, that the “obedience of the nations” is owed, which the prophet Isaiah proclaimed: “Before Me every knee will bow, by Me every tongue will swear” (Isa. 45:23). Yes, He will be a powerful and worthy King, indeed, who is predestined to reign – and His reign will last forever!
The King’s Passion
“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” (49:11).
Even if only vaguely familiar with the Gospel’s accounts of this King’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we cannot miss the significance of the phrase, “He will tether His donkey to a vine, His colt to the choicest branch.” It reminds us of these New Testament verses: “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away” (Mt. 21:2-3).
This, of course, was also the literal fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy: “See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9).
Then, at the Passover meal on the night of His betrayal, Jesus spoke of the wine as a symbol of His blood: “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mt. 26:28) – the blood which literally washed over His garments as He was beaten and scourged. His garments will one day again be stained crimson, but this time from the blood of His enemies upon His return in glory and judgment: “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is the Word of God” (Rev. 19:13). These pictures of the blood of both advents come vividly to mind as we read that “He will wash His garments in wine, His robes in the blood of the grapes.”
The Cross And The Glory
“His eyes will be darker than wine, His teeth whiter than milk” (49:12).
And finally, Jesus’ death – most cruel and pitiable among men – is described as darkness. On the cross, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21), and His glory faded with the words, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Lk. 23:46).
In contrast, He is seen in His heavenly perfection with a radiant smile of purity as He reaches out to grasp the scroll from the Father’s hand in Heaven – the only One worthy to break its seals – the King “whose scepter will never depart” – “the Lion of Judah (who) has triumphed!” (Rev. 5:5).
The Prophetic Connection
And so, we see that Jacob’s blessing to Judah proclaims with uncanny accuracy that the lion cub will fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. The one who sheds the blood of the New Covenant will one day return as a warrior without equal in power, judgment and glory to reign, not only over the nation Israel, but that “every knee will bow and every tongue will swear” that He is Lord. He will be worthy to reign as King forever – just as Jacob said. Likewise, we too, share in Jacob’s blessing to his fourth son Judah, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior – the Lion of Judah.
By Dan Faust
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org