Great Texts of the Bible
The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh come (R.V.m. till he come whose it is);
And unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be.—Genesis 49:10.
The passage is obscure and its meaning is still uncertain. But Jews and Christians alike have from very early times regarded it as Messianic. In order to bring out the special Messianic thought which it contains, let us (after glancing at the context) consider the position held in the line of prophecy by the tribe of Judah, let us next examine the meaning and application of the word Shiloh, and then let us see how the thought finds its fulfilment in Christ.
The text occurs in that important and difficult section of Genesis (Genesis 49:1-27) which is called the Blessing of Jacob. It is one of the oldest pieces of Hebrew poetry that we possess, and consists of a series of oracles describing the characters and fortunes of the twelve tribes of Israel, as unfolded during the ages of the Judges and under the early monarchy. That it was composed from the first in the name of Jacob appears clearly from internal indications; but that it was actually uttered by the patriarch on his death-bed to his assembled sons is a hypothesis which several considerations combine to render incredible. In the first place, the outlook of the poem is bounded by a particular historical situation, removed by many centuries from the supposed time of utterance. No reason can be imagined why the vista of the future disclosed to Jacob should open during the settlement of the tribes in Canaan, and suddenly close at the reign of David or Solomon; why trivial incidents like the maritime location of Zebulun, or the “royal dainties” produced by Asher, or even the loss of tribal independence by Issachar, etc., should be dwelt upon to the exclusion of events of far greater national and religious importance, such as the Exodus, the mission of Moses, the leadership of Joshua, or the spiritual prerogatives of the tribe of Levi.
It is obvious that the document as a whole has historic significance only when regarded as a production of the age to which it refers. (1) The analogy of O.T. prophecy, which has been appealed to, furnishes no instance of detailed prevision of a remote future, unrelated to the moral issues of the speaker’s present. (2) In the next place, the poem is animated by a strong national sentiment such as could not have existed in the lifetime of Jacob, while there is a complete absence of the family feeling which would naturally find expression in the circumstances to which it is assigned, and which, in fact, is very conspicuous in the prose accounts of Jacob’s last days. (3) The subjects of the oracles are not Jacob’s sons as individuals, but the tribes called by their names. (4) Nor is there any allusion to incidents in the personal history of Jacob and his sons except in the sections on Reuben and on Simeon and Levi, and even there a tribal Interpretation is more natural. (5) Finally, the speaker is not Jacob the individual patriarch, but Jacob as representing the ideal unity of Israel.1 [Note: J. Skinner.]
1. The place allotted to Judah by promise.—Let us consider the prophecy on Judah as a whole, and first, irrespectively of the disputed clause (in which the word “Shiloh” occurs). It forms one of a series of promises which are based upon an evident plan; and if it is to be properly estimated due regard must be given to its place in the series. The promise of an august future is first given to Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3): then it is limited to Isaac alone among his sons (Genesis 22:17, Genesis 26:4): then it is further limited to Jacob (Genesis 27:29). In chap. 49, while abundant blessings for both land and people are showered upon Ephraim, Judah is plainly singled out among the tribes as the heir of the supremacy and power promised before to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (compare especially Genesis 49:8 and Genesis 27:29); his father’s sons bow down to him, and the symbols of authority are retained by him till the period of contest is over, and peace (as described in Genesis 49:11) is secured. More than this, he is the leader of the tribes: but if this supremacy be attached to him, then he is the tribe on which the maintenance and future history of the theocracy depend. Thus the prophecy falls into its place in the series: and when, at a later stage of the history, there is promised first (2 Samuel 7:10-17) the permanence of a particular dynasty, and afterwards (Isaiah 7:9) a particular ruler of the same dynasty, both belong to the same tribe of Judah here singled out from among the whole group. However we interpret Genesis 49:10, then, the prophecy holds its rightful place, and is Messianic in that it promises an ideal future to Judah.1 [Note: S. R. Driver.]
Judea has been not merely a personal but a national force in the arena of the world’s destinies. All nations have taken their part in the grand sum-total of history, but it is Judea that has led the way, both in the understanding and in the shaping of the destinies of the world. Disraeli has boasted that “the most popular poet in England is the sweet singer of Israel,” and that “the Divine image of the most illustrious of the Hebrews” has been again raised amid the homage of kneeling millions in the most civilized of the kingdoms of Europe.2 [Note: J. Kelman, Ephemera Eternitatis, 237.]
2. Judah the Royal Tribe.—“The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet.” Is Judah here represented as possessing, not supremacy or hegemony only, but royalty? In answering this question we must not, of course, read the history into the prophecy; for to what it refers historically is just the matter in dispute. The question is, What image does the passage suggest? Is it the staff of a military leader or the sceptre of a king? It seems to be the latter. (1) It is true that shebet sopher, in Jdg 5:14, may signify a marshal’s staff, but shebet without any qualification would surely suggest a sceptre. (2) The staff “between his feet” presents the posture of a king seated on his throne rather than of a commander engaged upon active service. (3) This interpretation is supported by the phrase in Genesis 49:8, where, when Joseph’s brethren hear of the sheaves “bowing down” to him, they immediately ask, “Wilt thou be king over us,” or “rule over us”? It is difficult not to feel that the prophecy anticipates for Judah not hegemony only, but royalty.
3. Judah the Tribe of Jesus Christ.—“It is evident that our Lord hath sprung out of Judah” (Hebrews 7:14). The whole interest which gathers round this picture of royalty centres, for us, in Christ. Whatever interpretation we put on the word “Shiloh,” its position and meaning in the text, and how far the original thought of the writer must be connected with the ultimate fulfilment of the prophecy, we shall not go wrong in connecting the “Sceptre” of Judah with the reign of the Messiah Jesus. We know that the historic Christ of the Gospels, fore-shadowed in the Old Testament, has sprung from the royal historic tribe of Judah. “The lion that is of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, hath overcome” (Revelation 5:5). “And he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
What is the meaning of the words translated “until Shiloh come”?
1. The main difficulty of the passage centres round this clause. If “Shiloh” be a personal name, it must be significant; but it cannot mean “peaceful” or “peace-bringer,” which have been sometimes suggested; nor is there any allusion to “Shiloh” as a title of the Messiah in any other part of the Bible; nor is the word so taken here in any ancient version. The name as a title of the Messiah is first found in a fanciful passage of the Talmud (Sanh. 98b), where the present passage is quoted.
The rendering Until Shiloh come is found in no version earlier than those of the sixteenth century (Seb. Münster, 1534, and, following him, the “Great Bible,” 1539–41, and other English versions).1 [Note: S. R. Driver.]
2. The first margin of the Revised Version “till he come to Shiloh” is grammatically unexceptionable. It was proposed first in modern times by W. G. Teller in 1766, was adopted by Herder and Ewald, and also by Delitzsch, Dillmann (provisionally; for he thinks that a really satisfactory explanation is not to be found), and Strack, in their Commentaries. In favour of this view Delitzsch urges the great philological difficulty alluded to above, as attaching to the popular explanation of the name “Shiloh,” and observes that elsewhere in the Old Testament the word denotes regularly the place of that name in the tribe of Ephraim: then, looking at the history, he supposes the reference to be to the assembling of Israel at Shiloh described in Joshua 18, when, the period of wandering and conflict being now over, Judah, it may be supposed, lost the pre-eminence, or tribe-leadership held by it before: the “obedience of the peoples” was realized primarily in the victories of David, while at the same time it would include that ideal relation of Israel to the heathen, of which the prophets speak more distinctly. Upon this view, as no royalty attached to Judah at this early time, shebet in Genesis 49:10 will, of course, denote not a “sceptre,” but a “staff,” the symbol of military power, and must be rendered accordingly.
This view is set forth in a specially attractive form by Herder. We see Judah, the honoured of his brethren, victorious after battle, marching in triumphal progress to the national sanctuary (1 Samuel 1-4), and there laying down the emblem of authority in order to enjoy the fruits of peace, while the nations round bow submissive to his sway. It is, however, very doubtful whether it can be sustained; and in spite of the names that can be quoted for it, it has not been viewed with favour by recent scholars. Thus it is historically doubtful whether Judah really enjoyed that early pre-eminence in a united Israel, which this interpretation postulates for it: Judah had no particular connexion with Shiloh (which was in the tribe of Ephraim); and it seems natural to think of shebet in Genesis 49:10 as suggesting “sovereignty,” rather than merely tribal or military pre-eminence.1 [Note: S. R. Driver.]
3. The rendering “until that which is his shall come,” proposed as the second alternative in the margin of the Revised Version, is grammatically quite legitimate. It is more legitimate, on the whole, than the third alternative, “till he come whose it is.” But this last rendering seems to give the best sense. The “it” would refer to the kingdom, and the meaning would be that the government shall not depart from Judah till He comes to whom of right belongs all authority and power. Ezekiel almost certainly is thinking of this early prophecy when in a Messianic passage he says, “And thou, O deadly wounded wicked one, the prince of Israel whose day is come … thus saith the Lord, Remove the mitre and take off the crown: this shall be no more the same: exalt that which is low, and abase that which is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: this also shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it to him” (Ezekiel 21:25-27).
We obtain a prophecy, in flowing, parallelistic rhythm, of that ideal, Messianic king, whom Isaiah saw in prophetic vision, and of whom he said that “His rule should be ample” (Genesis 9:7), and that “unto him should the nations seek” (Genesis 11:10).
The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the staff (of authority) from between his feet,
Until he come for whom it (i.e. the dominion) is appointed,
And to him be the obedience of peoples,
the meaning of which will be, “The dominion granted to Judah shall give place only to a far wider monarchy, viz. that of the Messiah.”1 [Note: T. K. Cheyne.]
i. The Coming
1. Now turn from questions of exegesis, with their necessary limitations and Jewish colouring, to the thought of Messianic prophecy and its fulfilment from a purely Christian standpoint. St. Paul says, “When the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son” (Galatians 4:4). This is the light in which the New Testament writers view all Old Testament prophecy. It is certain that God’s revelation of His plan was gradual, but how gradual, and when men were first permitted to participate in the unfolding of His plan, it is impossible for us to know. The advent of the Messiah has been compared to the growth of a plant; we cannot discern its beginning, but we can watch it through successive stages until it comes to the perfect bloom. So with the approach to the “fulness of the time” of which St. Paul speaks. One “Anointed One” after another succeeded to the throne of Judah, but the long-expected Messiah tarried. And yet through all these darker ages may be traced the growth and development in the unfolding of God’s plan until it reached the full fruition in the Messiah Jesus. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” But “He came unto His own and His own received Him not.”
For as warm love falls wholly unperceived
Into our hearts
Amid the careless riot of our days,
So came He then.
And at the sweetness of His infant smile
The hallow’d earth
Thro’ all her being thrilled with pulse of spring.
Each little bulb
Hid in the dark recesses of her heart,
And ev’ry seed
And root, felt it and trembled, and they said,
“Now is He come
That knows and loves us all.” And on fields,
And on the hills
Around, there shone the glory of the Lord;
And no one knew.1 [Note: Ruth R. Chadwick.]
2. Do we say that there is a great leap between the teaching of the Old Testament and that of the New? Perhaps this is true, but the leap is not unprepared for. No one can read the Book of Wisdom without being struck with the many points of similarity between its teaching and the theology of the Apostle Paul. There can be little doubt that it was one of the most important sources from which he drew the materials out of which he constructed his philosophy of the Christian religion. In this book there is a wonderful passage about the Divine Word which, though figurative in language, and set in the midst of Jewish thought, seems to transport us into Christian Theology and the language of St. John. It bridges the gulf between the Old Testament and the New: “For while peaceful silence enwrapped all things, and night in her own swiftness was in mid course, thine all-powerful Word leaped down from heaven out of the royal throne” (Wis 18:14-15).
The sun sets on the 24th of December on the low roofs of Bethlehem, and gleams with wan gold on the steep of its stony ridge. The stars come out one by one. Time itself, as if sentient, seems to get eager, as though the hand of its angel shook as it draws on towards midnight. Bethlehem is at that moment the veritable centre of God’s creation. How silently the stars drift down the steep of the midnight sky! Yet a few moments, and the Eternal Word will come.1 [Note: F. W. Faber.]
Like silver lamps in a distant shrine,
The stars are sparkling bright;
The bells of the city of God ring out,
For the Son of Mary was born to-night;
The gloom is past, and the morn at last
Is coming with orient light.
Never fell melodies half so sweet
As those which are filling the skies;
And never a palace shone half so fair
As the manger bed where our Saviour lies;
No night in the year is half so dear
As this which has ended our sighs.
ii. The Purpose of the Coming
The ultimate purpose of His coming is expressed by St. Paul in two sentences, one of which is found in the Epistle to the Ephesians, the other in the companion Epistle to the Colossians.
1. It is God’s purpose, says the Apostle, to “gather together in one all things in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10). This corresponds with the Authorized translation of our text: “Unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” Christ is the centre. God will exalt Him. The world may despise Him. In Psalms 62 we read, “They only consult to cast him down”; and in Psalms 2, “The kings of the earth and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his Anointed.” But Jehovah has said, “My purpose shall stand, and I will fulfil all my pleasure.” Though earth and hell conspire to prevent it, “Unto him”—the Christ of God—“shall the gathering of the people be.”
This is a gathering together of scattered things, sundered things, things which ought to be living in fruitful harmony, but which are rioting in alienation and revolt. It is the gathering together of distracted and wasteful members round about the governance of a common head. It implies the ending of a riotous independence, and of sluggish and selfish apathy, and a welding together of many members into a blessed and prosperous unity. How is the gathering together effected? Let me illustrate. You take a handful of steel filings and scatter them over the surface of a sheet of paper. There they lie, severed and apart, each one by itself, having no communion with the others. Now take a strong magnet and draw it beneath the under surface of the paper. What happens? Each of the steel filings stands erect, and the whole company moves across the page in orderly and co-operative movement. Each item was first of all pervaded by the common power of the magnet, and then in the strength of the common pervasion all the items moved in fellowship.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
It is most essential to heaven, that the material universe should be brought into perfect harmony with it; and it is just as essential to the peace and glory of the material universe that it should become harmonious with heaven. Neither can be complete without the other. “As it is in heaven, so on earth.” Is not this sweet equilibrium between the material and the spiritual, and between both and God, precisely the mystery of His will “which from everlasting he purposed in himself”?2 [Note: J. Pulsford.]
2. The second sentence is found in Colossians 1:18, “That in all things he might have the pre-eminence.” This corresponds with the translation of our text which has been adopted in the foregoing exposition: “Until he shall come whose it (the kingdom or dominion) is.” Our lives are failures if we give not Christ the first place. He is the beginning and the ending. If we fail to exalt Him and give Him the pre-eminence, work must be barren, souls must be famished, all must come to naught; if we are not one with God in this great purpose, we must be defeated. But oh, how blessed when, by the gracious leading of the Holy Ghost, we are in communion, in sympathy with the Father, and we let Him whom He will exalt take the first place.
Christ is King and Lawgiver. To Him all government rightly belongs. He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet. He came once in humility and weakness; He will come again “with power and great glory.” He is gone away, like the king in His own parable,” to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.” The blessing of God rests on the nation or family in which Jesus Christ reigns supreme. If His empire is established in a family, then nothing else matters; no trials or bereavements or losses are of any real importance if we can truly say, “Jesus Christ is the real Master in this house.” And what is true of the family is true of the individual soul. If Christ is reigning in the soul, nothing else matters; so the practical question for each of us is just this, Does Jesus Christ reign in my heart? If Christ were to come again this month, this week, or this very day, whom would He find occupying the throne of my heart? Would He find every thought brought under His obedience? If we cannot say as much as this, can we truly say that we are aiming at this ideal, that we are struggling towards it, that we are beating back pride and worldliness and lust, and striving to keep our imagination and thoughts in check, owning as His loyal subjects the empire of Jesus Christ in the soul?1 [Note: B. W. Randolph.]
Browning’s conception of Christ’s supremacy does not rest on any morality He may have possessed or taught, though
Morality to the uttermost,
Supreme in Christ we all confess,
but upon His own person, as He Himself claimed.
Does the precept run, “Believe in good,
In justice, truth, now understood
For the first time”?—or, “Believe in me
Who lived and died, yet essentially
Am Lord of Life”?
And this carries with it the faith that the Gospel brings to man, not merely
A motive and injunction
For practising what we know already,
A new truth; no conviction gains
Of an old one only, made intense,
By a fresh appeal to his faded sense.
iii. The Consummation of the Kingdom
1. Though Christ reigns a King for ever, we have still to look forward to the time when all shall own His universal sway. “Weep not,” said one of the Elders to St. John, “behold the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah hath overcome.” In Genesis we read, “Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up.” And how does this describe the Saviour—that “Lion of the tribe of Judah”—that strong and mighty Lion who entered into conflict with the lion of the pit and overcame him? From the prey He has gone up again, up into His glory, gone up beyond the stars, up to the Right Hand of the Infinite Majesty, there to sit in perpetual peaceful triumph. “He stooped down, he couched as a lion, as an old lion.” The lion may have been an emblem that befitted the son of Jesse. The lion couchant might have been fitly chosen for his heraldic device, when the Lord had delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies and of Saul. Yet with how much more propriety may this emblem be emblazoned on the arms of Prince Emmanuel! Did He not stoop down? Was ever such a stoop as His? Let Him be crowned with majesty who bowed His head to death. It is for this that He deserves to conquer, because He was willing to submit to shame and death itself for the sake of His people. How glorious it is to think that He has gone up, seeing that He once came down!
2. What are the ideas associated with this title, “Lion of the tribe of Judah?” Chiefly these two—(1) Personal strength and courage, and (2) Deliverance.
(1) Take, first, the idea of personal strength and courage. You may search the annals of bravery through, and you will find no bravery comparable to that of Jesus Christ. Our Lord’s gentleness was not weakness, and His love was not effeminacy. Beneath the gentleness and the love—nay, in it, there was a courage the like of which the world has never seen. And our Lord’s courage displays itself most gloriously in the fact that He faced the Cross.
(2) And the other idea associated with the name “Lion of the tribe of Judah” is that of deliverance. That is perhaps the principal idea suggested by the title. The Lion of the tribe of Judah was to be a great Liberator, a great Emancipator. And though perhaps the Jews of our Lord’s day did not realize it, all the prophets’ predictions as to the liberating and emancipating side of Messiah’s work were fulfilled in the Lamb slain. The Lamb slain was the Lion who delivered. Only it was a better and fuller deliverance than the Jews had expected. For the deliverance the Jew expected was merely a national and political deliverance. The emancipation he looked for was emancipation from the foreign yoke. But, as a matter of fact, the Jew suffered from a far more awful bondage than the bondage of Rome. He was in bondage to sin. Yes, and not he only, but all the wide world, lay groaning beneath this terrible burden of sin. And it was from this far more grievous burden and from this far more galling bondage that Jesus came to deliver men. You remember that it was as a Deliverer that He was announced. “Thou shalt call his name Jesus,” said the angel to Joseph, “for it is he that shall save his people from their sins.”
“The Lion and the Lamb.” This illustrates more than the contrast between the Christ of Jewish expectation and the Christ of history; it illustrates the contrast between Jewish expectation and the Divine purpose. The Jews looked to see power and force, whereby all their foes should be destroyed, and instead of that they saw gentleness and tenderness and sacrificial love. Their method of realizing the kingdom was, shall I say, “the mailed fist”; God’s method of realizing the kingdom was by the sacrifice of the Cross. While the whole nation was on the alert, waiting for some voice to announce the advent of the Deliverer and to say, “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah,” the voice of John the Baptist fell upon their ears with quite a different announcement. “Behold,” he said, “the Lamb of God”—the Lamb of God’s own providing. It was not God’s purpose to subdue the world by force; it was His purpose to win it by love.1 [Note: J. D. Jones.]
Both guns and swords are strong, no doubt,
And so are tongue and pen,
And so are sheaves of good bank-notes
To sway the souls of men.
But guns and swords, and gold and thought.
Though mighty in their sphere,
Are sometimes feebler than a smile,
And poorer than a tear.
Blackwood (A.), Conference Memories, 51.
Harrison (B.), Patiently Waiting, 79.
Plumptre (E. H.), Biblical Studies, 36.
Randolph (B. W.), Christ in the Old Testament, 29.
Robertson (F. W.), Notes on Genesis, 175.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xx. No. 1157.
Stanford (C.), Symbols of Christ, 35.
Tait (A. J.). Christ and the Nations, 30.
Thorne (H.), Bible Readings on the Book of Genesis, ii. 269.
Great Sermons of the Great Preachers, 385 (Erskine).
Journal of Philology, xiv. No. 27 (Driver).