Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Jesus presents a real challenge to God-fearing Jewish people. For a normal Gentile, one can either take Jesus or leave him, maybe he existed or maybe he didn’t. However, for a Jew, Jesus has to be one of two things: either he’s a total lie or he is God. There is no middle or lesser options for him because, oddly enough, Jesus fulfills Jacob’s prophetic blessing of Judah amazingly well. While I was reading through this old Scripture, the Holy Spirit showed me just how well Jesus fits into the blessing of Judah. If Jesus was a real person, then he must be the messiah due to how well he fulfills the prophecy. Let’s check it out!
Ok, a little background first. Jacob was the father of the twelve tribes of Israel (in fact, God had renamed Jacob “Israel”). After moving to Egypt with his sons, Jacob, old and probably nearing death, blessed his children prophetically. One of those children (and eventually a tribe) was Judah. Anyway, Jacob starts his blessing of Judah by saying,
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 (Genesis 49:8).
At the time, the most royal of Jacob’s sons was Joseph, who was the prime minister of Egypt. It was he, not Judah, who was receiving the bowing. However, Jacob said that all would eventually bow to Judah. The New Testament says the same thing about Jesus. Paul wrote of Christ,
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
And gave him the name that is above every name,
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
In heaven and on earth and under the earth,
And every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord,
To the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
Theoretically, everyone includes…everyone; meaning that the rest of Israel bows as well. Sure enough, when John is given his vision of heaven, the sons of Israel also bow to Christ. We read,
And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (Revelation 5:8).
Who are the twenty-four elders? Well, Jesus tells us that twelve of them are the apostles (presumably number twelve being Judas’ replacement). Jesus explains to his followers,
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28)
Who are the other twelve? It’s not clear, but there’s only one other important twelve in the Bible and it’s not the days of Christmas, it’s the twelve sons of Jacob: Ruben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulum, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. So we find that not only is the blessing on Judah fulfilled in Christ, it is extended to more than just the sons of Israel. In fact, everyone one day will bow to Jesus, the Lamb of God; for it is written,
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
Be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever!”
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped (Revelation 5:13-14).
And so the first part of Jacob’s blessing to Judah is fulfilled in Christ.
Jacob continued his blessing,
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? (Genesis 49:9).
The lion is the symbol for Judah, and sure enough, Jesus fulfills this role as well. While in heaven, the saints were crying over the rock God couldn’t lift; but then Jesus showed up,
Then, one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth (Revelation 5:5-6).
Not only is Christ portrayed as the lamb that was slain, but also as the lion of Judah. He’s also portrayed as something somewhat horrifying (a bloody lion/lamb with seven eyes and seven horns, yikes!). So again, Jesus fulfils Jacob’s blessing to Judah.
Ok, what’s next? Jacob continues,
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 (Genesis 49:10).
This one is kind of fun to follow throughout the Bible. This particular blessing never came to pass until long after Judah was dead; as the ruler’s staff never came to the tribe of Judah until David came to the throne. David was of the tribe of Judah and the first major Judean leader in Israel. However, God renewed this covenant with Judah through David’s line by promising David always to let his family rule in Israel. God explains to Solomon, “I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel’” (1 Kings 9:5). However, there was a problem. The kings in the royal line became increasingly bad, to the point where God decided to revoke the kingship from the royal line. Prophecy records,
“As surely as I live,” declares the Lord, “even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off. I will hand you over to those who seek your life, those you fear –to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and to the Babylonians. I will hurl you and the mother who gave you birth into another country, where neither of you was born, and there you both will die. You will never come back to the land you long to return you to.”
Is this man Jehoiachin a despised, broken pot,
An object no one wants?
Why will he and his children be hurled out,
Cast into a land they do not know?
O land, land, land,
Hear the word of the Lord!
This is what the Lord says:
“Record this man as if childless,
A man who will not prosper in his lifetime,
For none of his offspring will prosper,
None will sit on the throne of David
Or rule anymore in Judah” (Jeremiah 22:24-30).
And so the royal line was cut off. Wait…so does that mean that Jesus can’t fulfill this part of the blessing? Nah, Christ has it covered. If you follow Matthew’s genealogy, Jesus is indeed part of the line of Jehoiachin (written as “Jeconiah” in my version of Matthew 1:11); this is the cursed line of David. However, David had many sons. Luke’s genealogy of Jesus follows the other side of Jesus’ family tree (as both his father and mother had different parents). According to that side of the tree, Jesus’ line traces back through, “…the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David…” (Luke 3:31). So, through his parentage, although being descended from the traditional (and cursed) royal line; Jesus is also a decedent of David through a non-cursed branch as well. So on one shot Jesus, the King of the Kings (we’ll get to that later), not only continued the royal line established by God through Judah and David, but also broke the curse on the other side of his family tree. The Bible makes sure to remind is that Jesus is also of the line of Judah; therefore his kingship is an extension of that blessing. We read, “For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests” (Hebrews 7:14). Furthermore, the blessing of royalty shall hold up indefinitely now; for it is written,
Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:23-25).
Having come back from the dead, death no longer holds any power over Christ the King. This means that indeed the scepter never will leave the house of Judah. Furthermore, Jacob noted that eventually one would come to whom the scepter would belong. Considering Jesus’ inability to lose his kingship, it would seem that he was the one prophesied about.
There’s more: Jacob continued his blessing over Judah by saying,
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 (Genesis 49:11).
In case you couldn’t figure it out, washing your clothes in wine or grape juice will result in some very red stained clothes. There is precedent for this in Scripture; for it is written in Isaiah 63:1-3,
Who is this coming from Edom,
From Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson?
Who is this, robed in splendor,
Striding forward in the greatness of his strength?
“It is I, speaking in righteousness,
Mighty to save.”
Why are your garments red,
Like those of one treading the winepress?
“I have trodden the winepress alone;
From the nations no one was with me.
I trampled them in my anger
And trod them down in my wrath;
Their blood spattered my garments,
And I stained all my clothing.”
This is part of a larger piece about God bringing his wrath down on folk. So to be sure, the dude with his clothes spattered with blood like wine is God…who, as it turns out, is actually Jesus. Scripture clarifies,
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:11-16)
The dude administering the wrath of God and showing up covered in blood while everyone else is clean, yeah, that’s Jesus. And so it does appear that Christ washes his clothes in the blood of grapes (or I guess just blood).
Finally, Jacob concludes his blessing over Judah by saying, “His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk” (Genesis 49:12). Honestly, I have no idea what this means; and since in the nine months between writing down the notes for this and actually posting the article the Holy Spirit hasn’t explained it to me, I won’t speculate. Maybe that part is for you to figure out (and post in the comments). Even how, it’s pretty impressive just to what ends God went to fulfill the prophetic blessing on the line of Judah. Remember that; if God went so far for a seemingly strange series of comments, think of how much of heaven and earth he’ll move for you when you pray to him and when you bless others. Our Lord is all powerful, and Christ stands King over all. Trust in him, accept his salvation, and see what happens when you’re friends with the Ruler of all Creation.
Rock on God!