Genesis is laying the foundation of God’s plans of redemption. His plans center on one individual. This individual’s profile is being revealed piece by piece. And after 49 chapters we have a lot to go on:
- Genesis 3 told us that he would be the seed of the woman, indicating he would be human, and implying that he would be born from a human woman but without a human father. We learned also that this human seed of the woman would be struck in the heel by Satan, and recover, and then would crush Satan’s head. In other words, at the moment of the Fall, God revealed his plan to send a Redeemer of fallen man who would crush the very enemy who had just led man and woman into sin.
- Then Genesis 12 introduced us to Abraham, and we learned more about this individual who would come. He would be the seed of Abraham and through him all nations of the earth would be blessed (22:18).
- Now in our passage of Genesis 49 we are learning that this human seed of the woman and Abraham, who would be the redeemer of fallen man and who would crush Satan’s head, and who would be the source of blessing for all nations of the earth, would come from the tribe of Judah, and that the scepter belongs to him, and all the nations of the earth will obey him. Genesis is giving us quite the profile of this Redeemer. I wonder who it could be?!
Chapter 49 is fascinating. We see macro-themes of Scripture running through this one chapter. We see the themes messianic majesty symbolized in the lion, the messianic rule symbolized in the scepter, messianic peace, joy and prosperity symbolized in the donkeys, wine and milk.
Now what’s happening in chapter 49 is the 147 year old Jacob is giving his last words to his sons. He is blessing most of them, cursing a some of them, and basically prophesying over them. We recall when Jacob was a young man and his aged father Isaac blessed him and cursed his brother Esau (ch 27). If you were to read the chapter some general fly-over observations can be made:
- The chapter lists each son and their appropriate word from Jacob, so in that sense you could divide the chapter into 12.
- Nine sons are blessed, but there are three sons who are cursed – Reuben, Simeon and Levi.
- Two sons receive the most blessing: Judah and Joseph. Both get 5 verses dedicated to them and they are jam-packed with good stuff from Jacob. No other son gets anywhere close to that much attention. But that is fitting, since Judah is the Messianic tribe and Joseph is the favorite son.
Today we will look at the first 4 sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. We’ll group the first three together, then spend the rest of our time and most of our time on Judah.
THE OLDEST THREE SON (3-7)
As was said, the first three oldest sons are the ones who are cursed by Jacob. Reuben, Simeon and Levi receive nothing good to look forward to. Follow along with me in verses 3-7.
The reason they are cursed rather than blessed is because these three sons sinned. Reuben defiled his own father’s bed with his own father’s wife. Jacob says emphatically, “you went up onto your father’s bed” – notice how there’s distance there as he speaks in the third person “your father’s bed.” Then immediately as if to drive home his disgust Jacob says, “onto MY couch and defiled it.” It’s almost as if Jacob had never said anything to Reuben about it until that point. His indignation had never left and at the end of his life, in front of all of his brothers, Jacob brings the issue back up. And now more consequences for it. He had already lost his birthright because of it (1 Chron 5:1). Now he was losing his blessing. Jacob specifically says, “you will no longer excel.” It’s like Jacob was saying, “From now on your star is on its descent, son. You did this to yourself.” Whatever was meant in that, there was real loss for Reuben and for his descendents.
He would leave his father’s bedside that day just like his uncle Esau left his father’s bedside long ago: in tears (27:38). But unlike Esau, Reuben would only have himself to blame. Proverbs 6:27 says, “can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished.” Reuben your feet are burning.
APPLICATION: There are consequences for actions. This is not that idolatrous idea of “karma,” it is justice dispensed by a God who is just and exercises justice in all the earth. Ecclesiastes 3:17 says, “there will be a time for every activity, a time to judge every deed.”
APPLICATION to the APPLICATION (This is a Father’s Day Application): Dads (and Moms) teach your kids not to commit adultery. The sons in Proverbs are learning from their FATHER to avoid adultery.
APPLICATION: Consider your actions because your actions may and often have consequences for others as well.
Consequences is the name of the game for Levi and Simeon too. Their sin was not sexual, but it was their anger. (Those two sins seem to be the most common and problematic don’t they?)
Anger is a serious sin. “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious” Galatians 5 says. And then it lists 15 specific sins and in there are “hatred… discord…and fits of rage.” Ephesians 4:31 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”
You know what anger leads to? Deceiving people so that you can then surprise them and slaughter them without them ever suspecting you. Levi and Simeon did just that with the Shechemites (ch 34). They slaughtered for revenge, not justice. And as a result they became guilty for slaughtering innocent life. Notice Jacob mentions the extent of their cruelty: they “hamstrung oxen as they pleased.” The fury of these two sons led them to commit a great crime.
Jacob says 3 things. First he doesn’t to be around them, verse 6 says “Let me not enter their council or join their assembly” Just keep them away from me! There almost seems to be a repulsion towards them. Maybe not. He may just no longer trust their advice or viewpoint on anything. Proverbs 22:24 says, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself easily ensnared.” With that saying I can understand why Jacob wants to avoid these two. Ecclesiastes 7:9 says “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” Fools and anger are partners, so no wise counsel could ever come from two angry sons. Let me not enter their council and keep me from their assemblies. I reject their advice.
Secondly, Jacob in an impassioned way curses their anger. Verse 7, “Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel.” There is nothing good about their tempers. Their rage can bring nothing about that is a blessing and nothing that could be blessed. Some of you are already thinking of James 1, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteous life that God desires. Get rid of all moral filth…” Where there is rage there is no righteousness.
Thirdly, Jacob’s curse on them specifically means scattering them. Verse 7 says, “I will scatter them in Jacob, and disperse them in Israel.” It’s a couplet, saying the same thing twice in two different ways. Bottom line: the boys will be scattered in the land. Scattering is a consequence of sin, not a blessing. God scattered humanity away from the tower of Babel because of their sin. Israel was threatened with scattering if they disobeyed the covenant (Lev 26:33; Dt 28:64; 29:28). God made good on that threat and so the Israelites were removed off the land. In Zechariah 7:14 after their Exile God said “I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations…”
Now Jacob is here cursing Simeon and Levi and saying he will scatter them among the other tribes of Israel. They, with Reuben, will walk away dejected. If they never regretted massacring Shechem, they may have right then and there for the first time.
APPLICATION: Avoid anger. If we are honest then we will admit our anger 99% of the time is off-based, an overreaction, petty, selfish and/or not the product of any righteousness going on inside of us. Avoid anger. 1911 is not just a great gun, it is a great proverb, “A person’s wisdom yields patience, it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”
When we come to Judah I want to divide his blessing up into three parts: 1) The Lion Tribe, 2) The Lion of Judah, and 3) The Lion’s Abundance.
The Lion Tribe (8-9)
While Joseph was most prominent in Genesis, Judah is going to be the most prominent for the rest of biblical history and even into the future. God’s redemptive plans will be carried out through Judah. Of all the tribes of Israel the Christ would come from Judah. King David was of Judah’s tribe. When the nation of Israel split later on, the southern kingdom would be called “Judah.” Jesus, as a descendent of David, was of the tribe of Judah. In Revelation 7 when the twelve tribes of Israel are listed Judah is listed first.
In verses 8-9 Judah is described like a lion. Issachar is compared to a donkey, Dan a snake, Naphtali a doe, Benjamin a wolf. But Judah is a lion. Not a lamb meek and mild, not a cow fat and provided for, not a bird finding shelter, but a lion – an animal portraying victory, power, dominance, danger, kingship, fearlessness. Along with that we see his brothers would bow down to him (v8). Before it was Joseph who would have his brothers bow down to him (37:5-11; 42:6). That was fulfilled. Now, Judah would excel beyond his brothers and they would bow to him. His power is seen even in the fact that his enemies would be subject to him. Judah is the Lion Tribe.
The Lion OF the Tribe (10)
Then we see the Lion of Judah in verse 10, “….” Here the passage gets Messianic. The point here is that the tribe of Judah would hold the scepter of rulership until a certain, specific ruler comes. The scepter ultimately belongs to this someone who belongs to the tribe of Judah. But it won’t only be the scepter that belongs to him – the obedience of the nations will belong to him also. Lets break it down carefully into three parts.
First, the scepter stays in Judah. Notice the phrase, “the scepter will not depart from Judah.” The scepter was held by rulers. When a king sat on his throne he held his scepter with his hand while the bottom of it was planted between his feet. It’s the picture of a king sitting with power and authority, ruling his kingdom, making judgments, administering justice, and giving decrees. The verse says that the scepter will not depart from Judah. It would stay in Judah.
What does it mean though? Scholars say in one sense it refers to the leadership of Judah among the tribes from then on. In the wilderness Judah took the lead and whenever the camp of Israel moved Judah was the first tribe in the procession (Nmb 10:14). When fighting the Canaanites Judah was sent first (Judg 1:1-2). Israel’s history in the land would be characterized in many ways with Judah preeminent among the tribes. This connects with verse 8, “Your brothers will praise you…your father’s sons will bow down to you.” Pairing Judah and the scepter in other ways, God says in Psalm 60:7, “Ephraim is my helmet, Judah is my scepter.” . Psalm 78:68 says, “God rejected the tents of Joseph, He did not choose the tribe of Ephraim; but he chose the tribe of Judah.” God chose Judah to hold the scepter.
Another sense, however, scholars point out that the scepter staying in Judah is also evidenced by the Davidic Dynasty. King David was of the tribe of Judah, and after him he always had one of his sons sit on the throne. The Christ would be a descendent of David’s. The scepter would stay in Judah.
Second, the rightful ruler will come for it. The scepter would stay in Judah, it says, “UNTIL” – until the one to whom it belonged came for it. Notice verse 10’s anticipation of a coming ruler, “…..” If you’ve ever heard of Jesus referred to as “Shiloh” this is the verse it comes from. Some translations say, “The scepter will not depart ….until Shiloh comes.” Whether the translation says “Shiloh” or “he to whom it belongs” all translations are saying the same thing: Someone is coming for that scepter because it belongs to him. It may be that “Shiloh” is a name for the Messiah here, it may not be. There’s a lot of debate over that. It can be edifying to try and figure it out. But don’t get sidetracked over that and miss the point of this passage that is clear no matter what translation is used: A ruler is coming for his scepter. Shiloh is a wonderful name for him.
Why did Jesus refuse the kingship offered to him in John 6? Why did he tell Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world in John 18? Why did he tell the disciples “never mind” when they asked about restoring Israel’s kingdom in Acts 1?
Third, all nations will obey him. “And the obedience of the nations shall be his.” Oh man that is powerful. When the Christ comes all the nations will obey Him. In Psalm 2:8 God the Father says to God the Son, “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance….you will rule them with an iron scepter.” They will know that He is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev 19:16). When he takes his scepter and sits on his throne and begins ruling over the nations then finally Psalm 117:1 will come true, “Praise the Lord all you nations, extol Him all you peoples!” The time will begin for what Psalm 45:17 says, “the nations will praise you forever and ever!” The nations “will clap their hands and shout for joy to God as Psalm 47 declares, “the nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham, for the kings of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted.”
That is not now. That is when Jesus comes to take the scepter that is rightfully his and he begins his reign upon the earth.
Jesus is called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. How fitting that the lion should come from the lion tribe.
How fitting that Judah would be described as the Lion-Tribe in the first book of the Bible, when in the last book Jesus is called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev 5:5). The same power Judah is described with in Genesis is also seen in Jesus: after calling him the Lion of the Tribe of Judah Revelation 5:12 says all of heaven declared, “Worthy is the Lamb, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, who was slain, to receive power and wealth, and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” The ultimate lion would come from Judah, the Lion Tribe.
The Lion’s Prosperity (11-12)
Finally, look at the Lion’s Prosperity in verses 11-12. Read with me….
I’ll point out the peace, the joy and the abundance of his prosperity:
When the Lion comes He will bring a revolutionizing prosperity. It says this ruler will have a donkey. That’s a symbol of peace. Revelation says Christ will come on a white war horse. After he makes war he will make peace. The Conquering King will put the horse in the stall and then as the Prince of Peace hewill ride a beast of peace. We often quote Isaiah 9 for Christmas, but it is a Millennial passage through and through. Verse 7 says, “Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end.” When He has his scepter, and is sitting on His throne, and the nations praise and worship Him, His peace will prevail over the whole earth.
But we also see his prosperity means joy. These two verses explode with wine references, “tether’s his donkey to a VINE,” the “choicest branch,” he “washes his garments in WINE, the blood of GRAPES, His eyes will be darker than wine…actually, one way of translating that is that his eyes “will be dull FROM wine” indicating his enjoyment of it.
Wine is often a symbol of joy and associated with joyfulness. Ecclesiastes 7:7 says, “Drink your wine with a joyful heart,” and Psalm 104:15 says wine “gladdens a man’s heart.” Remember, Jesus didn’t turn wine into water at a wedding celebration- he turned water into wine.
[APPLICATION: Does this mean we should start getting drunk on wine? Of course not – let’s not be stupid about this sermon point and take me for advocating for drunkenness. The point in these verses is that when Jesus comes He will usher in an unparalleled joy and the usual symbols of joy that Scripture uses it uses a lot right here.
One of those reasons for joy will be the abundance that accompanies his presence. When he takes over one of the ways we see his prosperity is in the abundance symbolized here. He’s going to wash his clothes in wine – which could mean he’s washed in joy. However it is definitely conveying that abundance of wine which is an abundance of material prosperity. “You’re gonna wash your clothes in wine. You’re gonna wash your donkey in wine. Martha is gonna wash the dishes with wine. New babies are going to be bathed in wine. There’ll be so much wine it’ll seem like all the water in the world has been replaced by wine. Abundant blessing.
But another way we see this abundance is in how the Christ parks his donkey: he will tether his donkey to a vine, verse 11 says, the choicest branch. Now what I’m reading is that that would not ever happen now because you would be worried about the donkey pulling and ruining the best producing vine. You’re putting that vine and your wine at risk. It would be like parking your bull in your wine cellar. And what I’m reading, and what seems to make sense, is that its a picture of abundance: clearly the Christ will not worry about that vine being ruined because there will be so many choice vines. Or you could say that there are so many choice vines and branches around that the only thing to tie your donkey to is one of them! This abundance when the Christ comes is seen later in the prophets as well:
“In that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the LORD’s house and will water the valley….” (Joel 3:18)
The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when … New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills.” (Amos 9:14)
Ezekiel 36 says that people will look at the restored land of Israel and say it rivals the Garden of Eden (v35).
Jacob blesses Judah. And in blessing Judah he prophecies the coming Ruler who will come from Judah. That Ruler will come from Judah, will take the scepter that is His, and he will bring in an abundance on the earth unlike anything ever before seen.
Genesis has built for us a detailed profile of the Redeemer of mankind. We should walk away with a clear idea of who He is and what He was coming for.
And this ruler is coming again. But he already came once. He came the first time to take away sins. In doing so he took away the barrier between you and Him. The barrier has been removed so that there is now nothing keeping you from stepping towards Him. Except you. Make the decision today to go to Him. He will wash away all your sins and receive you as His own.