“The Scepter Shall Not Depart from Judah”

My Christmas Op-Ed in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Genesis+49 10+The+Scepter+Shall+Not+Depart+From+Judah+brown

Merry Christmas, all! 

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” —Gen 49:10, NASB.

Over 1,500 years before Jesus’ birth, the children of Israel journeyed to Egypt, where Joseph ruled under Pharaoh. Joseph was the first to arrive in Egypt, though as a captive, and was the first son of Rachel and Jacob (Israel). When he was seventeen, Joseph shared two of his dreams (Gen 37:1–11).

In the first dream, Joseph and his brothers gathered bundles of grain, then his brothers’ bundles bowed down to his. In the second dream, the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed to Joseph himself. These dreams of Joseph reigning over his family angered his brothers, who plotted against him and sold him into slavery. He ended up a slave to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.

God providentially sent Joseph ahead to save the lives of many, including Abraham’s promised line. By the time Joseph was placed in command under Pharaoh, he prepared and provided during the years of famine. Joseph’s brothers traveled to Egypt for food and found their long-thought-dead brother alive.

Upon his arrival in Egypt and seeing Joseph alive, Jacob said, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive” (Gen 46:30). At his death, Jacob blessed all his sons (Gen 49) with both personal and prophetic words. Our opening quote was spoken to child number four: Judah.

Judah’s beginnings were anything but encouraging. He was involved in selling Joseph into slavery (Gen 37), and the events of Genesis 38 are reprehensible. However, Judah’s repentance was real and manifest in his vow to protect his youngest brother (Gen 43:8–10) to the point of offering himself in his place (Gen 44:33). The prophetic blessing he receives at Jacob’s death is astonishing: that the “scepter” will not depart from the line of Judah.

In ancient times, a scepter was a highly decorated staff or rod representing a ruler’s absolute authority. That sense is clear in the next statement: “Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet” (Gen 49:10). “Feet” were a common euphemism for genitals (e.g., Judg 3:24; 1 Sam 24:3; Isa 7:20). In other words, a descendant of Judah will always be a national leader.

Saul, a Benjamite, was the people’s choice as Israel’s first king. But God had a different plan, raising up the kingly line through David (of the tribe of Judah). God told David that his throne would be established forever and would never end (2 Sam 7:8–16). Through Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, etc., the line continued throughout the descendants of David.

Yet there is a surprise in Jacob’s decree about Judah’s scepter of authority. Judah’s line would continue “until…” It will continue “until Shiloh comes,” Shiloh being a title for Messiah.

At Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of Israel’s Messiah. Born in a barn with a feed trough as a crib, there was no physical scepter at Jesus’ incarnation. Nearing His crucifixion, the soldiers “stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff [scepter] in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him” (Matt 27:28–29). Christ wielded His first scepter in His death on the cross, yielding His life as an atonement for the sins of His people.

But the story doesn’t end there. Christians await His return in glory when He will be wielding another scepter. However, this time he will arrive not as a Lamb, but as the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev 5:5), reigning on the throne of his father David given him by the Lord God (Luke 1:32–33).

Hebrews 1:8 says of Messiah, “Your throne, O God will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.” Earthly power is temporary, shallow, fleeting, carnal, and often unjust. But not so with our Messiah. One day He will reign on earth, wielding righteous and just authority and power. 

Merry Christmas to all who join me in celebrating Christ’s birth and His future second coming.