Jacob, aware of his age and frailty and knowing that he had not got long left to live, called together his twelve children and had a word of prophecy for each one of them (Genesis 49:1-2). We can learn the lessons from these prophecies if we are prepared to evaluate ourselves soberly.
There were three sons that had messed up their lives. Reuben was Jacob’s first born son, he should have been the ruler of the family but his instability and consistent sin caused him to be disinherited (vs 3-4). Simeon and Levi (vs 5-7) had ruined their lives by acts of aggression, violence and temper (see 34:25-26).
There was one son with a magnificent destiny namely Judah who had now become the leader of the family. Look back to the story of his incestuous relationship with his daughter in law in chapters 35 and 38. He was disgraced and shown to be a man of brutality and hardness of heart. Yet later we find a very different man, the next time we meet him in chapter 43 he has become tender, merciful and compassionate. His speech in chapter 44 shows us how much he has learnt and changed. He is now a respected and trusted member of the family.
“Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? Genesis 49:8-9
Judah will become the royal tribe, honoured by all, the lion amongst the tribes of Israel.
The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Genesis 49:10
Judah would hold the title of royal tribe until another comes. This clearly speaks of a person, but who? In some texts they insert a description ‘Shiloh’. The phrase is difficult, it can mean, ‘He who is right’ or it can be a name. I am not a Hebrew scholar but my simple attempt is that the person would have a title, ‘The peaceful One.’ So let’s write that again. The royal tribe will continue until the one who is right, the ‘Peaceful One’ comes. It makes you think of this prophecy.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
There was a town called Shiloh, it was the place where the tabernacle was kept for many years. It was called the ‘City of Peace.’ Interestingly the tabernacle was moved to Jerusalem which also means ‘City of Peace.’ Whatever its precise meaning Shiloh will be a person, a great ruler as the obedience of the peoples shall come to Him. He will be a person of great riches as he has washed his garments in wine (vs 11). Look again at these verses they are stunning. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk (vs 12).
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. Revelation 19:11-12
Judah himself had lost his way, but God had not lost His way and the tribe of Judah would eventually look as if it had lost its way but God had not lost his way. From this tribe would come Jesse and from Jesse, David, Israel’s greatest king. At times it looked like the house of David would fall, but God had greater plans. David’s kingdom would suffer division and lose its influence but God’s plans would continue unhindered by man and from the line of David a child would be born to Joseph and Mary.
So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. Matthew 1:17
God had a much bigger plan and that plan is still active and working in our world today. It is bigger and stronger than any of the plans of mankind and will not, or ever, be stopped.
People will be saved, the kingdom of God will be advanced and the church will be built not because of the efforts of man but because God has a glorious, magnificent plan.
So back to the prophecy. There will be eight sons that will be undistinguished. Zebulun was given a piece of land by the sea (vs 13). Issachar was given land that was good for farming (vs 14-15). Dan was a small tribe but it’s strength would be greater than it’s size (vs 16-17).
A slight interruption, but a good one.
I wait for your salvation, O LORD. Genesis 49:18
Whatever happens to each tribe, salvation will come. Each tribe had that in sight and that should be our expectation ‘salvation will come.’
Gad would have to fight (vs 19). Asher would become prosperous (vs 20). Naphtali would live a peaceful but nomadic life (vs 21). Joseph, despite being like a fruitful tree (vs 22) and suffering much in his early years (vs 23) would remain strong (vs 24), not on his own but with the help of God (vs 25). Benjamin, the last to be mentioned, is described as a violent storm (vs 27)!
The prophecy ends with Jacob’s request to be buried near the family of Abraham.
When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people. Genesis 49:33
None of the tribes would produce anything of great significance except one, that being Judah and out of this tribe would come Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. We read this from Revelation,
And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Revelation 5:5
Sam Storms comments:
“In Revelation 5:6 He is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah,” but in Revelation 5:7 also portrayed as the “Lamb” who had been slain,
So, which is he? Both! Jesus is both Lion and Lamb. And it is in this glorious juxtaposition of what appear to be two contrasting images that we find the answer to our question. Think about this for a moment:
The Lion in whom we find unimpeachable authority is also the Lamb who embodies humility and meekness in the highest degree.
The Lion who wields power and strength that none can resist is also the Lamb who walked this earth in weakness and suffering, resisting none.
The Lion who rules the world and governs its every move is also the Lamb who was meekly led to slaughter by his enemies.
The Lion who is known for his uncompromising commitment to righteousness is also the Lamb who overflows in love to sinners like you and me.
The Lion whose majestic beauty captivates the human heart is also the Lamb who condescended to take upon himself the likeness of a man and was, in appearance, quite ordinary and unimpressive.
The Lion who commands total obedience from everyone is also the Lamb who in his earthly life submitted himself in obedience to the law of God.
The Lion who is holy and pure beyond our wildest imagination is also the Lamb who is gracious and kind and tender-hearted to all.
The Lion who could silence a raging storm with a single word is also the Lamb who refused to speak or revile against those who nailed him to a cross.
The Lion who is life itself is also the Lamb who willingly dies for his enemies.
The Lion who is exalted high above the heavens, immeasurably beyond all of creation and myriads of angels, before whom the greatest and most powerful kings and commanders on earth are but a speck of dust on the balance, is also the Lamb who stooped low, who condescended to become one of us and suffer the trials and challenges put upon him by weak and sinful men.
The Lion who is in himself infinite holiness and righteousness and purity and power is also the Lamb who welcomes broken sinners into his presence and makes intimate friends of his enemies.
The Lion who in himself needs nothing, being altogether self-sufficient, is also the Lamb who gives and gives and then gives yet again so generously and abundantly.
The Lion who is in himself of such blinding glory and brilliance that adoring angels cover their faces is also the Lamb who humbled himself and identified with his creatures so that they might behold him and enjoy him forever.
The Lion who, as Paul says in Philippians 2, exists from all eternity in perfect equality with the Father and the Spirit, equal in all respects as to his divinity, is also the Lamb who in time and history humbled himself and took on the likeness of sinful men and women.
The Lion who is known for his majesty is also the Lamb who is known for his meekness.
The Lion who drove the robbers and thieves out of the Temple is also the Lamb who only days later allowed those very robbers and thieves to nail him to a cross.
The Lion who commands absolute obedience from his creatures is also the Lamb who in obedience honored every command of his Father.
The Lion who rightly burns with wrath against the rebellious and unbelieving is also the Lamb who in the place of the rebellious and unbelieving endured in his own body and soul that very wrath.
He is at one and the same time a Lion-like-Lamb and a Lamb-like-Lion without any inconsistency or contradiction.”