************ Sermon on Genesis 49:8-12 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 25, 2015
"Judah's Scepter and Ruler's Staff"
I Judah was Changed
A As you know, the Jacob of our Bible reading is old and dying. He has something to say before he dies – something from God and the Spirit of God. So, he called for his twelve sons and said:
(Gen 49:1-2) "Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come. (2) Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob; listen to your father Israel."After they gather around his bed, he speaks to each one of them from the oldest to the youngest.
First, he speaks to Reuben, his firstborn. Now, normally, the firstborn would receive the largest portion of his father’s goods and he would also receive the birthright which means he would be the head of the family. But Reuben had slept with his father's concubine so Jacob announced he was disqualified for leadership (Gen 35:22; 49:3-4).
Then Jacob spoke to his next two sons, Simeon and Levi. He told them they too were disqualified for leadership because of their sin of anger and cruelty and violence; they put an unsuspecting city to the sword (Gen 34:25; 49:5-7).
Following the order of birth, Jacob's next son is Judah (Gen 29:31-35). Will he, too, lose the right of the firstborn?
B As Judah listened to what Father Jacob said to his three older brothers, I suspect he started to think, "Oh, Oh. I am in trouble too."
Recall that Judah is the treacherous brother who suggested selling Joseph into slavery (Gen 37:26-28). Judah participated in the cruel deception of Jacob, who is led to believe that a "ferocious animal has devoured" his favorite son (Gen 37:33). Moreover, contrary to the covenant of his fathers, Judah married a Canaanite woman who bore him two evil sons (Gen 38:1-10). Then Judah wrongly judged his daughter-in-law to be responsible for the death of his sons, so he defrauded her with false promises (Gen 38:11,14). Later, Judah slept with his daughter-in-law, thinking she was a prostitute (Gen 38:13-15). When Judah discovered that his daughter-in-law was pregnant, he self-righteously and hypocritically condemned her for immorality and ordered her to be burned to death (Gen 38:24).
I am sure all of these sins and more flashed through Judah's mind as he listened to what was said to his brothers. "Oh, Oh. I am in trouble too." So Judah had every expectation of a severe reprimand from father Jacob.
We look at Judah and God wants us to conclude that Judah, too, is unworthy of rule. Judah, too, is unworthy of receiving the birthright. In fact, from a human point-of-view, the one who is worthy is Joseph. He was favored by God and man. He maintained his integrity in the face of betrayal by his brothers. He refused to fall into sin with his master's wife. He showed a loving concern for Pharaoh's officials in prison with him. He did not allow bitterness to consume him. He was ready and quick to forgive when he determined his brothers' repentance was real.
C However, as you know, God did not appoint Joseph to receive the birthright. Instead, God appointed Judah – lying, self-righteous, hypocritical Judah – to receive the birthright. How could this be?
Judah certainly was not much of an example. Why God chose Judah, we will never know. But one thing is clear: it is not about genes, its not about rules, its not about tradition; rather, it is about God's choosing and God's grace. Out of grace God chose someone unworthy like Judah. Even as, out of grace, God chooses unworthy people like you and me.
God chose Judah. Now, watch with me as we see the result of God's choosing. The result is that God's grace transformed Judah. So what happened? We know Judah confessed and repented of his evil deeds concerning his daughter-in-law (Gen 38:24-26). Furthermore, when Joseph's silver cup was found in Benjamin's sack, Joseph threatened to make Benjamin his slave. Remember what Judah did? Judah stepped forward and begged to take Benjamin's place (Gen 44:33-34). He was a type of Christ when he made this offer; he was acting as a redeemer. Compare Judah here to Reuben who foolishly offered the lives of both his sons if Benjamin was not returned to his father (Gen 42:37).
Judah confessed and repented. Judah offered to take Benjamin's place. Telling us what? Telling us Judah was selfless rather than selfish. Telling us Judah was Spirit-filled and Spirit-led. Telling us Judah was truly a child of God. Telling us Judah was born-again. Telling us that God's grace and God's choosing was making Judah a changed man.
II Judah Given a Scepter and a Ruler's Staff
A On this basis, as a changed man, as someone born-again by the Spirit of God, as someone chosen by grace, Jacob pronounces the firstborn blessing on Judah.
It is verse 10 that best sums up the firstborn blessing given to Judah and his heirs after him:
(Gen 49:10) The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.Did you hear the two key words? Joseph was promised a "scepter" and a "ruler's staff."
A scepter is a long staff with an ornamental head and other decorations used to represent royal authority. Remember Queen Esther? She approached King Xerxes in the inner court without being summoned. Xerxes normally killed those who dared to do this. But with Queen Esther he held out the gold scepter that was in his hand and thereby spared her life (Esther 4,5).
Judah is promised a scepter, a ruler's staff. Meaning what? Meaning God chose to give Judah rule and authority and kingdom. God chose Judah as the leader of the twelve tribes of Israel. Even though the sons of Jacob end up bowing before Joseph in Egypt, God's promise is that in the end the scepter of rule and authority will be given to Judah.
B To Judah is promised a scepter. Judah is told that someday he will be the ruler of Israel. Now, listen as this is further explained by a dying Jacob.
"Judah, your brothers will praise you" (Gen 49:8). Right now – as Jacob is saying these words – all the praise is going to Joseph as the savior of his family. But someday it will be going to Judah instead.
"Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies" (Gen 49:8). In other words, Judah will triumph over his foes.
"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?" (Gen 49:9). Judah is a like a lion who kills its prey and then crouches down to enjoy its meal, leaving other animals at ease because it has satisfied itself. Judah is compared, not to a lion rampant, always tearing, always raging, always ranging; but to a lion crouching, enjoying the satisfaction of its power and success.
"He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch" (Gen 49:11). You need to realize that vines are costly, the source of wine and income. But Judah's kingdom will be so blessed that donkeys will be tied to costly vines. These animals will surely chew upon such vines and damage them and even destroy them. But this is not a problem since the kingdom is so blessed that it can easily absorb the loss even of costly vines.
"He will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes" (Gen 49:11). Wine, like vines, is a measure of wealth and income. But in Judah's kingdom wine will flow in such abundance that it can be used for washing clothes.
"His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk" (Gen 49:12). A better translation, as we see it in a footnote to our pew Bibles, "His eyes will be dark from wine, his teeth white from milk." In other words, his kingdom will be marked with abundance and prosperity.
A scepter and ruler's staff for Judah. Judah is promised a kingdom. He is promised rule and authority. He is promised a victorious kingdom, a prosperous kingdom, an established kingdom. Right now – as Jacob is saying these words – the kingdom belongs to Joseph. But in the future it will belong to Judah.
III Fulfilled in the Wilderness and in David's Line
A A scepter and ruler's staff for Judah. How was this promise fulfilled? When was the promise fulfilled? I ask because the promise was given when the children of Israel first came to Egypt. After that came the 430 years of slavery in Egypt, then the Exodus, and then the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. It was only after all this that they enter the Promised Land.
Who remembers that long? Who remembers and keeps promises made years and decades and centuries and millennia earlier? Man doesn't but God certainly does. So, when was the promise fulfilled?
B A scepter and ruler's staff for Judah. We see an initial fulfilment of this promise in the wilderness already. I am sure you realize that the encampment and movement of 2.5 million Israelites in the wilderness took organization (cf Ex 12:37; Num 1:46). So God told the people how to set up camp. The tabernacle was in the center with three tribes on each side. And, when they moved out, they went in order: first, the tribes on the east, then the south, then the west, and lastly the north. As each tribe marched out, trumpets were blowing and flags or banners were flying. Guess which tribe led the way? The very first tribe, leading all the others, was the tribe of Judah.
C A scepter and ruler's staff for Judah. We see the promise fulfilled again when Israel is settled in the Promised Land. First comes Joshua and the Judges. Then comes the time when the people of Israel ask for a king like all the other nations. The first king did not come from Judah but from Benjamin. It was only when King Saul turned away from God that we see David, a descendant of Judah, sitting on Israel's throne.
D A scepter and ruler's staff for Judah. We see the promise fulfilled again in the kings that follow David. It started with David's son, Solomon. All the kings from that time to the captivity in Babylon also came from David's line. When the Jews returned from captivity, it was the tribe of Judah, once again, which gave leadership to the Jewish nation. Even when the nation was subject to other powers – like the Babylonians, the Medes and Persians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans – it retained a degree of autonomy and was mostly ruled by Jewish administrators.
IV Fulfillment in Christ
A "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" (Gen 49:10).
In fulfilment of this promise, we have seen Judah leading the camp of Israel in the wilderness. We have seen the throne of David. We have seen Solomon and the line of David rule over the Jewish nation until the Babylonian exile. We have seen the leadership of Judah after the exile. Yet, this all ended when the Herodian line was deposed by Rome in 6 A.D. After this, the Jews were governed by men like Pontius Pilate.
But what of God's promise? Didn't God promise "the scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet"? (Gen 49:10). What happened to this promise? Furthermore, didn't God promise that "the obedience of the nations is his" (Gen 49:10)? What of this promise too?
B I want to end by looking at the fulfilment of God's promise in Christ.
Do you remember how Matthew starts his Gospel? With "a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Mt 1:1). Matthew carefully shows how Jesus is related to both David and Judah.
Do you remember what else Matthew tells us? After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?" (Mt 2:2). In response, the chief priests told King Herod the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem because out of her "will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel" (Mt 2:6; cf Micah 5:2).
Matthew wants to establish that Jesus is the promised ruler – the ruler with the scepter and ruler's staff of Judah.
Luke does much the same thing. He also has a genealogy in which he establishes that Jesus is of the tribe of Judah and of the line of David (Lk 3:23-38).
Luke's Gospel also tell us that the angel Gabriel met with Mary. Gabriel told Mary that God would give her son "the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" (Lk 1:32-33). And, after Jesus is born, Luke tells us about angels who announce that Jesus is born in "the town of David" (Lk 2:11).
Like Matthew, Luke wants to establish that Jesus is the promised ruler – the ruler with the scepter and ruler's staff of Judah.
Do you hear what is being declared by the New Testament? In Jesus God fulfils His promise that the "scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet" (Gen 49:10). Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah (cf Rev 5:5). It is Jesus Who receives the obedience of the nations.
The term "nations" is significant. Highly significant. It is plural. It sees a rule that covers far more than David's empire. It sees the universal rule of Christ over all places and all kingdoms and all peoples. In fact, it sees the rule of Jesus over all the universe. Which means Jesus rules you. Jesus rules me. Jesus rules Washington and Sacramento and Moscow and London and Beijing and Ottawa. He rules over every tribe and language and people and nation. There is not one square inch in this universe over which His rule does not extend.
With a few exceptions, most kings and queens today are mere figureheads. But not King Jesus. His is all power, all authority, and all the universe. He is the mighty King and the eternal King.
C Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah. Jesus is King. Yes, He suffered and died. But then comes Easter and the Ascension. At that time, Jesus, of the tribe of Judah, of the line of David, was exalted to the right hand of God (cf Acts 2:29-33). He was given a place far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church (Eph 1:20-23).
In Jesus we see the scepter and ruler's staff that was promised to Judah.
Do you believe this? Do you profess this? Do you believe Jesus is the eternal King?
D So, Jesus is King. Jesus is the fulfilment of the promise first made to Judah about a scepter and a ruler's staff. Jesus is the fulfilment of the promise partially fulfilled in David and the other kings of Israel.
So what? What difference does this make in my life and your life? Did you notice the last words of Jacob's prophecy in our text for this morning? Jacob concludes with, "and the obedience of the nations is his" (Gen 49:10).
Did you catch that word "obedience"? There are two kinds of obedience. First, there is the obedience given to Rome and the Muslim faith. It is obedience that arises out of brute force and intimidation and military might. Second, there is also the willing obedience given by loving subjects. This is the obedience we find in the church and kingdom of Jesus Christ. This is the obedience we promise when we join the church and profess our faith.
Jesus is King. His is the scepter and the ruler's staff. Therefore, the obedience of the nations is His.
Do you give Him this obedience? Whole-hearted obedience. Total obedience. Loving obedience. Do you serve and obey Him Who has the scepter, the ruler's staff, the crown, and the throne?
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