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Intro: A promise that is a mystery. That is an intriguing concept. It is also descriptive of the promise that God made to Abraham beginning in Genesis 12. It was a promise that was not fully revealed until later. In fact, as we have noticed several times, the Patriarchs did not see the fulfillment of the physical elements of God’s promise in their own lifetime. But the prospect of God’s working was a driving force in their lives. What God said to them about what He was doing helps us as well. As we look back from the other side of the coming of Jesus we can more fully appreciate God’s plan and how it was revealed in the promises.
- note: it is important to recognize that the promises of God are often contained in the form of a prophecy, or in the divine prediction of a future event. Thus when we speak of promises as they are revealed in the text of the Bible, we often refer to the prophetic statements of scripture. There are several times when the elements of the promises made to Abraham are repeated in specific Messianic prophecies of the OT. There is just such a case in Genesis 49 in Jacob’s prophecy of the Lion of Judah.
I. The Blessing of Jacob – Genesis 49; Near the end of the book of Genesis, when Jacob’s family were living in Egypt, Jacob’s death is imminent. At the time of his death it had not been disclosed through which of his sons the promise (“In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed”) would be fulfilled. So he called together his twelve sons to tell them what would befall each in the days to come .Genesis 49:1- And Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days: The words of Jacob reflect more than just a prophecy of the future. He is depicting the characteristics of his 12 sons as the future traits of their children and even the subsequent tribes that will emerge from them. In view of the promise made to his grandfather, Abraham, he can now see the avenue through which the seed will multiple as the sand of the sea. But now removed from the land of promise, to seek refuge in Egypt, Jacob is firmly convinced that God will take his family back to the land and fulfill what He has promised. (48:21) His words to his sons reveal to him what God intends to do.
A. v. 3 – Rueben, the firstborn had disqualified himself from the blessing (you shall not excel) because he had committed incest.
B. v. 5-7 – Simeon and Levi had, as well, committed acts of cruelty against Hamor and the Shechemites (Gen. 34) that Jacob mentions here. This did not remove them from the blessings of the promise altogether. Consider the prominent place of the tribe of Levi in Moses, Aaron and the priesthood later on. But it would not be through Levi or Simeon that the promise of God would be fulfilled.
C. v.8-– Which brought Jacob to his fourth son, Judah. Judah was not a perfect son either, was he? He gravely mistreated his daughter-in-law, Tamar, and was known to visit the prostitutes in town. But Judah had proven himself to be a noble leader among Jacob’s sons in several instances:
- He influenced his brothers not to kill Joseph.
- He persuaded Jacob to send Benjamin to Egypt so that Simeon might be released and acted as spokesman in Egypt (Genesis 43:3-10)
- He interceded on Benjamin’s behalf before Joseph (unknown as his brother), offering himself as a slave in his younger brother’s stead. (Genesis 44:18-34) He demonstrated an unselfish vicarious intercession on behalf of another.
- He acted as guide in bringing Jacob into Goshen (46:28).
D. The words of blessing given to Judah become one of the most prominent and meaningful Messianic prophecies of the O.T. Read these words: Genesis 49:8-12 – Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s children shall bow down before you. 9 Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; And as a lion, who shall rouse him? 10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people. 11 Binding his donkey to the vine, And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, He washed his garments in wine, And his clothes in the blood of grapes. 12 His eyes are darker than wine, And his teeth whiter than milk.
II. “Judah, You are He…” Jacob prophetically identifies Judah as the one through whom the promise would develop. This prophecy is almost universally accepted among scholars and rabbis to refer to the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise and specifically to the coming David from the tribe of Judah and the Messiah who would come from David’s lineage. Many Rabbis consider this to be THE most significant of the Messianic prophecies. What does it mean?
A. In verse 8 there is a three-fold blessing revealed. (vs. 8)
1. “Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise” – Some see a play on words here. The name Judah means praise, and as such he will be the subject of praise or worship. Judah as a son and brother gained prestige among his brothers. But this statement looks beyond Judah himself, or his tribe, to the Messiah, Jesus.
2. “Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies” – Grasping an enemy by the neck indicated complete defeat. (Joshua 10:24-25). Judah, and those from his seed would be successful conquerors, subjugating their enemies. This becomes most visible in the time of David’s ascension to the throne about 800 years later. David later wrote in the 18th Psalm –For You have armed me with strength for the battle; You have subdued under me those who rose up against me. 40 You have also given me the necks of my enemies, So that I destroyed those who hated me. But a greater warrior than David would come from Judah.
3. “Your father’s children shall bow down before you”-probably indicated Jacob’s descendants, who, under Judah’s leadership, would bow in submission to him. Again these words look clearly to the time of the united kingdom of David and Solomon, at the Zenith of the nation of Israel.
III. Judah is a Lion: In v. 9, Jacob praised the lion-like courage and character of Judah. Genesis 49:9 – 9 Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; And as a lion, who shall rouse him? “Judah is a lion’s whelp,” – The text gives a threefold picture of a lion (seen more clearly in the NIV)
A. first, Judah is lion’s whelp – Not a little cub, but a young lion that is reaching maturity. This is an animal to be feared and respected. A young lion that is getting stronger, and ascending to his place. Learning to hunt his prey, the lion becomes the top of the food chain.
B. secondly, he is seen as a successful lion after he has taken his prey. Keil and Delitzch make these comments… he (Jacob) quickly rises “to a vision of the tribe in the glory of its perfect strength,” and describes it as a lion which, after seizing prey, ascends to the mountain forests … and there lies in majestic quiet, no one daring to disturb it. He has no fear. In complete control, satisfied and peaceful.
C. Thirdly, he is “… as a lioness; who shall rouse him up?” In this figure is set forth the fierce, protective character of the female lion in defending her cubs. Who dares disturb her?
IV. The Lion Becomes Strong: We recognize that this prophecy has its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus, not Judah. But we can gain an appreciation for God’s ability to keep his promises by noticing how the fulfillment of His prophecies are developed in time.
A. Later, Balaam is driven by the Spirit of God to pronounce a blessing on the nation of Israel (to the chagrin of Balak, king of Moab.) He attributes the characteristics of the lion to the nation of Israel. Num 23:24 – Look, a people rises like a lioness, And lifts itself up like a lion; It shall not lie down until it devours the prey, And drinks the blood of the slain.” Num 24:9 – He bows down, he lies down as a lion; And as a lion, who shall rouse him?’ “Blessed is he who blesses you, And cursed is he who curses you.” Those words combine Genesis 49 with Genesis 12. Israel would take on lion-like characteristics through the fulfillment of the promise of God to Abraham, further delineated to Judah.
B. The Preeminence of the tribe of Judah develops. Judah was positioned in the first spot as the tribes camped around the tabernacle (Num. 2:2-3). When the leaders of the tribes offer dedication sacrifices in Number 7 (as God directed) it was Judah who went first. (Num. 7:12) When Israel departed Sinai in Numbers 10, it was the tribe of Judah who led the way. (Num. 10:14)
1. “Judah First“- After the death of Joshua, the people asked God how to proceed in fighting against their remaining enemies in Canaan. God told them to follow Judah – Judg 1:2 – And the Lord said, “Judah shall go up. Indeed I have delivered the land into his hand.” When they asked God who should lead the way in their battle against the Benjamites in Judges 20, the answer was “Judah first” (20:18). Keil says… It was also a sign of the future supremacy of Judah, that the first judge and deliverer from the power of their oppressors was raised up to Israel from the tribe of Judah in the person of the Kenizzite Othniel (Judg 3:9) Judah’s descendants proved to be like lions, fearless leaders, growing stronger.
2. Judah became strong as a lion. 1 Chron 5:2 – Yet Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came a ruler, although the birthright was Joseph’s — But the true strength and power of Judah did not become apparent until the election of David, the son of Jesse, to the throne over all of Israel. The Lord disposed the family of Saul, and thus the tribe of Benjamin from their position of kingship, and placed that authority in Judah’s family. When God refused to allow David to build a house for Him, David said… – But God said to me, ‘You shall not build a house for My name, because you have been a man of war and have shed blood.’ 4 However the Lord God of Israel chose me above all the house of my father to be king over Israel forever, for He has chosen Judah to be the ruler. And of the house of Judah, the house of my father, and among the sons of my father, He was pleased with me to make me king over all Israel. (1 Chron 28:3-4) God had placed the scepter of a king in the tribe of Judah, just as He promised.
- How long would it remain there?
- How would this prophecy be ultimately fulfilled?
- Who is the true Lion of Judah?
Conclusion: That is what we will pursue further tonight, as we look at the rest of this powerful passage in Genesis 49.