Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Royal Promise

Gen 49:1, 8–12


It’s wonderful to note the patriarchal blessings, but I suppose we should also pay some attention to the curses as well. We get so used to thinking of Jacob’s sons as the twelve tribes of Israel that we automatically think that their father Jacob must have blessed them all (Gen 49). But let’s not forget their despicable behavior with their brother Joseph—and we won’t detail their other misdeeds. So we see at least Reuben (49:3–4) and Simeon and Levi (49:5–7) getting some strong talk instead. And it might repay some study if you wanted to spend some time thinking about the patriarchal pronouncements over the other sons throughout this chapter, especially if you also looked up their earlier acts and then their subsequent history. But we’ll not do that in this study.


It’s interesting to note God’s pattern of transmitting the Abrahamic blessing. He never seemed to make the “obvious” choices, like eldest son—or even the one we would think the most deserving son. By his own sovereign decision, the Lord selected Isaac not Ishmael, Jacob not Esau, and then Judah not Reuben the eldest or Joseph the finest of Jacob’s sons.

By this means, God kept focusing his covenantal line so that he promised not only a blessing to Abraham’s seed but also promised a messianic line through one particular tribe. (Notice that God would later do that with the priestly line as well when he chose Aaron and his sons [Exod 28; Lev 8; Num 16–17]. This might also be a good place to note two other things: [1] just the opposite move with the role of prophet [Joel 2:28–32], and [2] the eventual democratization of even the priestly and royal office [1 Pet 2:9, see Exod 19:5–6]).

Judah got the blessing that included a royal promise (Gen 49:8–12). The natural way of thinking would be to say that belonged to Reuben, the eldest (29:32); however his sin of taking one of his father’s concubines ruled that out (Gen 35:22; 49:4). So then you might think the honor would go to Jacob’s greatest son, to Joseph. But while Joseph’s blessing was indeed profuse, it didn’t include kingship (49:22–26), even though it included “the right of the firstborn” (1 Chr 5:2, esv). No, the royal promise went to Judah, the fourth son. Perhaps it was because he worked it so that his brother’s didn’t kill Joseph (37:26–27); perhaps it was because he proved a leader among his brothers in other ways as well (43:3–10; 44:14, 16–34; 1 Chr 5:2). We don’t know. Perhaps it’s best just put it down to divine and unmerited election, as had been the case in God’s choice between his father Jacob and his uncle Esau (Gen 25:22–23; Rom 9:10–12). And if someone would suggest that this was unfair, we would respond with Paul, “Of course not!” (Rom 9:14).

Judah was promised the respect and allegiance of his own brothers during his own lifetime (49:8a, c). And this group of brothers had not always been too keen on bowing before brothers (37:1–11). Judah was also promised victory over his enemies during his lifetime (49:8b, 9). Then Jacob looked into the future and said, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants, until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, to the one whom all nations will honor” (49:10). To some degree that promise was fulfilled in David, who descended from Judah, and whose rule developed into an empire that could count “nations” as subjects (see Ps 2). But the ultimate fulfillment of that promise was in Jesus Christ, the Son of David.

When we think of Jesus’ rule over all the nations, we can remember that God promised it ages ago in his promise to Judah. And for that matter, he had hinted at that even in his promise to Abraham (Gen 17:16). The branch of Jesse was to come from the Judah branch in Abraham’s family tree—and of course that meant this would be the line from which the Messiah would come. And that’s the way it happened (Matt 1:1–16; Heb 7:14).

Of course, he came to the royal home town of Bethlehem as a little baby born in decidedly unroyal circumstances (Matt 2). And things didn’t appear to work toward a coronation during his lifetime either; rather, it worked toward a horrifying and shameful crucifixion, which appeared to be conclusive evidence of God’s curse on him (Deut 21:23; Mark 11:20–21; Gal 3:13), rather than divine blessing and royal appointment. But the story continued, with resurrection and ascension, which the New Testament depicts as enthronement (Acts 2:29–36; 5:30; 13:32–34; see Ps 2).

When we think of the original royal promise and its mention of victory over all enemies and rule over all nations, we think, “When will that ever be finally true?” The promise still stands. Even during Jesus’ earthly ministry, God had placed all things under his authority (John 3:35–36; 5:22–29). And the resurrected Jesus gave a royal commission to his disciples, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” then sent them to make disciples of all nations (Matt 27:18–19). Finally, John’s vision included this language, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory” (Rev 5:5).

When we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the coming of the Son from Judah’s line, from whose hand the scepter will never part. We celebrate God’s move to bring to fulfillment his promises about the kingdom of God, which were entirely wrapped up in the Messianic hope that Jesus the Christ is even now fulfilling and will bring to utter completion at the last trumpet call.

Questions, Meditations, and Commitments

  • Note that the Babe in Bethlehem was named Jesus but titled “the Christ.” This English term transliterates the Greek term Christos, which in turn translated the Hebrew royal title Messiah, which means “Anointed One.”
  • Note how patient and persistent God is in bringing his promises to fulfillment. The original royal promise to Judah’s line came around 1650 bc and waited till about 1000 bc before even it’s initial fulfillment in David, then until the time of Jesus for the initiation of its fullest realization.

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