When Jacob reached the end of his life, he brought forth one of the most remarkable prophetic messages in the Old Testament. He gathered his twelve sons together and spoke inspired words to and about each son and the tribe that would form from them. All twelve prophecies not only came true in the history of Israel, but will also result in ultimate accomplishment in the Seventieth Week of Daniel and into the Millennium. In addition, each tribe had a role to play in pointing to the Messiah.
In Chapter 2 of The Bible: You Can Believe It, John Schoenheit provides some clear examples of historically verifiable prophecies. After giving five brief examples from the Bible (in paragraph form), he then offers a bullet-point list of seventeen prophetic messages regarding Jesus Christ (in reference-only form) which were uttered in the Old Testament long before the birth of our Lord.
The second bullet point he listed was that the Messiah would be from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10). This reference is the one this article will expand upon to a certain extent. In Chapter 49 of Genesis, Jacob started prophesying regarding his eldest son Reuben, and then proceeded in order through Simeon and Levi to Judah, his fourth son. That part of the record picks up in verse 8, and this part of Jacob’s prophecy finds its primary fulfillment in the two comings of Jesus Christ.
8 “Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies! Your father’s sons will bow down before you.
9 Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion, as a lioness; who will rouse him up?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; and to him will the obedience of the peoples be.
11 Binding his foal to the vine, his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes—darker than wine, his teeth—whiter than milk.
– Genesis 49:8-12, REV
First, we notice that Judah was prophesied to receive praise from his brothers. The dictionary form of the word translated “praise” is yadah, and it occurs 114 times in the Old Testament. However, the specific form of the word is yōwḏūḵā, and it occurs 8 times. The other seven uses are all used of praise offered to God. That fact marks this use as significant because here, praise is being offered to a human being. Once we understand that this part of Jacob’s prophecy is the part most focused upon Jesus Christ, that unique praise makes sense. The praise otherwise offered to God is here directed to the Son of God (more than to Judah).
Second, we see that Judah would prevail over Israel’s enemies and the other sons of Jacob would bow before him. The first fulfillment of this prediction came through the reign of King David, who was of the tribe of Judah. Of course, in the future, Jesus Christ will prevail over Israel’s enemies, and all Israel will bow before him as well.
Third, we see the comparison of Judah to a lion. The tribe of Judah was fierce in battle – and did exercise rulership over Israel. In Revelation 5:5, Jesus Christ is specifically called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” The lion in Genesis 49:9 is at rest, not ramped up on his hind feet in action. As the king of beasts, the lion is awesome, regal, and potentially fierce. The potential power and authority of the type and antitype are thus highlighted.
Fourth, verse 10 predicted that the scepter and the ruler’s staff would stay with Judah until the Messiah came. The scepter and staff represent tribal, ruling authority. From God’s perspective, Judah had the right to rule even if others ruled at times. For instance, King Saul was not from the tribe of Judah. (The principle is similar to the land promise made to Abraham. Per Genesis 12:7, he had the right to the Promised Land even if he never actually settled in as the owner of it. According to Genesis 23, the only land Abraham received was a small burial plot that he purchased from the Hittites to bury Sarah). But the point is, once the Messiah arrived, no other ruler would be needed. But Israel did not accept Jesus as their king. Instead, they had him executed.
Fifth, the phrase “and to him will the obedience of the peoples be” looks forward to the Second Coming. The gap of time between the first coming of Christ and his second coming is not included in the Genesis 49 record. The gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 is not immediately evident either. Later revelation fills in those gaps. In Luke 4:19, Jesus stopped reading the scroll of Isaiah in mid-sentence because he understood there had to be a time-gap between “the year of Yahweh’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God.” Anytime we are uncertain of the meaning of any given prophecy, or when a given passage seems to be open to more than one interpretation, one viable approach is to consider if there may be a gap involved – something not explicitly spelled out in the immediate text.
Some readers of the Old Testament had not anticipated that when the Messiah showed up he would be killed instead of enthroned. They had understood many passages, but the big picture filling in some important gaps had escaped their notice. That reality should remind us that the word of God is to be searched with diligence. The assumption that we “get it” because we have read it doesn’t fly. It takes constant work to build better understanding, and there is no danger that we’ll ever run out of work to do.
Genesis 49:11 and 12 both mention wine. Judah had “vineyard keepers” in their vicinity (as mentioned in 2 Chronicles 26:10) but the greater fulfillment will be in Christ. Isaiah 63:1-3 and Revelation 19:15 associate the winepress with the wrath of God to come. Red wine looks like blood. The phrases in verse 12 culturally picture the abundance of Judah, and the abundantly equipped leader of the hosts of heaven when the time for divine fury arrives.
The prophecies of Jacob “killed two birds with one stone.” Tribal realities were present as the backbone of Jacob’s prophecy, and pointing to both comings of the Messiah was at the heart of it. We can trust the prophecies in God’s word, and the better we understand them, the stronger our faith can be. Our Father knows the end from the beginning, and as He declares in Isaiah 46:10, “My counsel will stand.”