Messianic Prophecy: Genesis 49

by Rabbi Jeffrey Adler

The Messianic prophecy found in the 49th chapter of Genesis is so extremely remarkable that it boggles the mind when one considers the issues involved, the context, and the Nature and Character of God.

In this chapter, Jacob, realizing that he will be passing away very soon, decides to gather his sons together and utter his final words to each of them. Some of these words are harshly critical; through their petty jealousies and impulsive actions of the past, these young men had brought great angst and pain to their father; the betrayal and sale into Egyptian slavery of Joseph would be an outstanding example. Reuven had acted unfaithfully with one of Jacob’s concubines; Simeon and Levi had acted treacherously and inappropriately in response to Shechem’s rape of Jacob’s daughter, Dinah.

This context makes the words of Jacob all the more stunning toward Judah. Judah had been at least as impulsive as, if not more than, the others. He had violated community practice by failing to give his daughter-in-law, Tamar, a younger brother in marriage after her husband’s death. He then fathered a child by her, thinking her to be a prostitute. This scandalous behavior was consistent with Judah. It was his idea to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites going to Egypt.

In Judah’s defense, he shows great contrition and repentance later when dealing with Joseph, whom he fails to recognize. Still bearing in mind Jacob’s harsh words to the other offending sons, one expects much the same to the Judah who arguably produced the most pain for his father.

Instead, Jacob, whose tongue is now obviously directed by the Spirit of God, predicts the royal dynasty of Israel to proceed from Judah. “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes. To him will be the gathering of the peoples.”

The right to rule the people of Israel will forever belong to Judah and his progeny, who will pass the throne from one generation to the next until it comes to rest forever in the hand of Shiloh, a title for the Messiah. Shiloh is a grouping of Hebrew particles, parts of speech that occur to enhance the meaning and nuance of words, much like prefixes and suffixes in English. Together, they mean “he to whom it belongs”. The Judahite line will pass along the crown of Israel, ultimately leaving it in the hands of Messiah, greatest descendant of Judah and David. Jacob’s rebuking words to his other sons make this unlikely except for the moving of God on the speaker.

Yeshua, fulfiller of so many prophecies, also fulfilled this one, being from the tribe of Judah, the dynasty of David, and the town of Bethlehem. He is the Messiah of Messiah against all odds.

Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is president of the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.