Home > Book of Genesis, History of Israel, The Gospel > J.C. Bellett on Jacob’s blessing of Judah

J.C. Bellett on Jacob’s blessing of Judah

January 6, 2013

The following is John Crosthwaite Bellett’s discussion of Jacob’s blessing of Judah in Genesis 49:8–12.

[John Crosthwaite Bellett. God’s witness in prophecy and history: Bible studies on the historical fulfilments of Jacob’s prophetic blessings on the twelve tribes. J. Masters, London. 1884. pp. 43–63.]

JACOB’S BLESSING ON JUDAH.

Gen. xlix. 8—12.

” Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise:
Thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies;
Thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.

Judah is a lion’s whelp:
From the prey, my son, thou art gone up:
He stooped down, he couched as a lion,
And as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?

The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,
Nor a lawgiver from between his feet,
Until Shiloh come;

And unto him shall the gathering of the people be.

Binding his foal unto the vine,
And his ass’s colt unto the choice vine;
He washed his garments in wine,
And his clothes in the blood of grapes:

His eyes shall be red with wine,
And his teeth white with milk.”

IT is a remarkable fact that a widely-spread opinion prevailed among the ancients that the souls of men on their death-beds were endued with prophetic power. Socrates, in his apology to the Athenian people shortly before his death, thus speaks: “Now I am desirous to prophesy to you who have condemned me, what will happen hereafter: for now I am arrived at that state, in which men prophesy most, when they are about to die.” [1] His scholar Xenophon puts similar words into the mouth of the dying Cyrus: “The soul of man at the hour of death appears most divine, and then foresees something of future events.” [2] “The soul,” says Aristotle, “foresees and foretells future events when it is going to be separated from the body by death.” [3] This opinion of the heathen sages of antiquity is as old as the days of Homer, [4] and it is referred to by Shakespeare (Hen. IV. 1st part, Act 5, Sc. 4):

“O! I could prophesy,
But that the earthy and cold hand of death
Lies on my tongue.”

Possibly this widespread opinion of the ancients may in part be traced to traditions of the fact which meets us in Scripture, that Jewish Patriarchs and others were not infrequently inspired on their death-beds to foretell events in the future history of those who were to come after them. But however this may be, the fact that such an opinion widely prevailed is a curious and interesting one; and this prophetic series of Jacob’s death-bed utterances is specially worthy of attention, not only as having been given by inspiration of God, but as possessing that sacred interest which has always been attached to the dying words of the great and the holy.

Of all the prophecies uttered by inspired seers on their death-beds, this prophetic blessing pronounced by the patriarch Jacob on his son Judah is perhaps the best known, and contains the plainest reference to the Messiah, as is admitted by Jewish and Christian expositors alike.

There is an essential difference between Judah’s blessing and that given to any other tribe. The essence of the blessing given to Judah, as distinguished from the other tribes, consists in this, that Jacob transmitted to him, and to him alone, that spiritual blessing which had been given by God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “In thy seed” (i.e. Christ) “shall all nations of the earth be blessed.” A blessing was given by Jacob to each of his sons: but the blessing, the birthright which Esau despised, and Jacob bought so dearly, the eagerly coveted distinction of being the progenitor of the Messiah, was conferred on Judah only. This is the meaning which runs through the words spoken by Jacob to Judah his fourth son. To Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob a double blessing had been promised by God, a temporal and a spiritual one: a temporal one concerning the promised land, a spiritual one concerning the promised seed—viz. Christ. The promise of the land of Canaan had been given them, and the promise of the seed in whom “all nations of the earth should be blessed.” This double blessing Jacob bequeathed at his death to his sons. He assigns to each of them a portion in the promised land, but he marks out Judah as the tribe through which Christ the promised Seed is to descend. The blessing is bequeathed by Jacob to his chosen son in much the same language in which it had been delivered to himself by his father Isaac in years gone by. Isaac had thus blessed Jacob, “Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee.” (Gen. xxvii. 29.) This blessing Jacob now transmits to his son Judah:

“Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise;
Thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies;
Thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.”

Then, to give greater certainty and fuller meaning to his words, he adds,

“The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,
Nor a lawgiver from beneath his feet
Until Shiloh come,

And unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”

And he concludes with a prediction of the atoning work which Shiloh is to do when He comes: though the concluding words, like the rest of the blessing, doubtless refer both to Judah and to Christ.

Such are the general purport and meaning of the blessing here given by his father to Judah. It is an expansion of the old promise to Abraham, handed down to him about the promised seed with other details added: itself an expansion of the older promise given to our first parents at the gate of Paradise: it is as much a prophecy about the kingdom of Shiloh, the Prince of peace, as it is about the kingdom of Judah, as we shall see if we examine more closely the meaning of the words, and the manner of their fulfilment.

Judah was the fourth son of Jacob and Leah, being born the year after his brother Levi. His birth and the meaning of his name are recorded in Gen. xxix. 35: “Leah bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the Lord: therefore she called his name Judah,” i.e. “praise.” To this prophetic meaning of his son’s name Jacob refers, confirming it in a deeper, fuller sense, “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise;” Well art thou so called: for thy brethren have had, and ever shall have, cause to praise thee. We read in 1 Chron. v. 2, that, with the exception of Joseph, “Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him was the chief ruler or prince,” i.e. David: these words explain those of Jacob: Judah even in his lifetime did, next to Joseph, prevail above his brethren. In the story of their going down to Egypt to buy corn, Judah took his place among the patriarchal band as the “leader and spokesman” for the rest. As it has been said, “he is the Peter of the twelve, foremost in word and deed. His steady determination and generosity overcome his father’s reluctance to let Benjamin go; his confession of guilt, his ready self-sacrifice, and pathetic eloquence cause Joseph to weep aloud and make himself known to his brethren.” Thus while Joseph was pre-eminent among his brethren, Judah was always eminent among them. Jacob then in his blessing on Judah looks back to this eminent position which he had held among his brethren, and which the tribe ever maintained; and he looks forward to the future pre-eminence of the great tribe of Judah under David its “chief ruler” or prince; “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise.” It is in allusion to this old prophecy that S. Paul, in Rom. ii. 29, makes a similar play on the word Judah, or praise, when he says, “He is not a Jew which is one outwardly: but he is a Jew which is one inwardly, whose praise is not of men, but of God.” [5]

But the meaning of this word “praise,” and its use in this place have deeper teaching than this, and show that Jacob is speaking not so much of Judah as of Christ. This word translated “praise” is never used in Scripture in any other sense than that in which Leah used it when she so named her son, viz. that of praise or worship addressed to God [6] it never means praise given to a man. It occurs some hundred times in Scripture, and is always translated praising or giving praise to God, the only meaning of the word. We cannot suppose, then, that in ninety-nine of these hundred passages where the word occurs it means praising or worshipping God, and that in this one solitary verse it means praising or commending man. The word whenever else it is used involves in it the idea of divine honour ascribed to Him Who is praised: it as necessarily involves the idea of worship as the word Prayer does: Holy Scripture would no more speak of praise being addressed to one who was merely man than it would of prayer; when therefore Jacob, looking forward in the spirit of prophecy to what shall befall his sons “in the last days,” apostrophises Judah in these words, “Thou art he [7] whom thy brethren shall praise,” he in effect says, Thou art he to whom thy brethren shall offer the worship of thanksgiving, adoration, and praise. Whatever reference his words have to Judah himself or to David, they must in their full sense be spoken of One Who is God as well as Man, the Lord of Judah as well as the Son of Judah: when he predicts that divine honour shall be paid to One descended from Judah, Jacob is prophesying of Christ, of Him Whom in the verse following he speaks of as Shiloh: even as the words of i Chron. v. 2, may, according to the original, be translated, “Of Judah shall come the chief ruler, or prince,” i.e. Christ.

Thus the very word “praise,” which Jacob uses here teaches us to apply the first part of his blessing not so much to Judah as to our Lord, Who was hereafter to spring from that tribe, [8] of Whom it was afterwards foretold that “prayer should be made ever for Him, and daily should He be praised;” and Who was in poetic language said to “inhabit the praises of Israel,” to dwell in that temple where praises ascended. (Ps. lxxii. 15; xxii. 3.) And in our Eucharistic Sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, when with the silent raptures of faithful hearts, or with the loud strains of the organ, the praises of Him Who is our “Judah” ascend to God, then the words of Jacob are in their highest sense fulfilled, “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise.”

But further; having thus predicted that the thankful praises of his brethren shall be given to Judah, Jacob adds that dominion over them shall also be conferred upon him; that his enemies shall be subdued under his feet: that he shall wield the sceptre of a kingdom which shall not pass away; for that at a certain time One from out of Judah shall appear, to Whom the obedience of all nations shall be rendered: “Thy father’s children shall bow down before thee: thy hand shall be on the neck of thine enemies …. the sceptre shall not depart from Judah till Shiloh come, and unto Him shall the obedience (or the gathering) of the people be.” This prediction, like the other, has a twofold fulfilment, in David, and in Christ. First in David: the dominion over his brethren here promised to Judah was first given to him in the time of David; till then Judah had no authority over his brethren; Moses, of the tribe of Levi; Joshua, of the tribe of Ephraim; Barak, of the tribe of Naphtali; Gideon, of the tribe of Manasseh; Samson, of the tribe of Dan; Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin; each of these as lawgiver, or judge, or king, ruled over Israel for a time, and gave pre-eminence to the tribe from whence he sprang; but no prince of the house of Judah rose into eminence till after the death of Saul. [9] The tribe of Judah had not authority over the rest till David, belonging to that tribe, was made king by the whole nation; in him for the first time Jacob’s promise to Judah was fulfilled,

“Thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies,
Thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.”

It was, then, in the victories of David, the peaceful reign of Solomon, and the supremacy of the kingdom of Judah, with its long line of kings descended from this tribe, that Jacob’s prediction received its first fulfilment: Then the “sceptre” of kingly dominion was grasped by Judah; then of this tribe it could be said “Judah is my lawgiver,” (Ps. lx. 8;) then the tribe rose into a position of lasting pre-eminence. It is important to remember this, for it proves that Jacob’s words, “till Shiloh come,” cannot possibly mean ” till he come to Shiloh.” The sceptre could in no sense be said to depart from Judah when he came to Shiloh, for before the tabernacle was set up at Shiloh Judah had no sceptre of authority which could depart; but we are apt to forget this, and the simple answer it supplies to an unbeliever’s evasion of the force of this old prophecy; “We are so familiar with the supremacy of the tribe of Judah that we are apt to forget it was of comparatively recent date. For more than four hundred years of the nation’s life in Palestine, a period equal in length to that which elapsed between the Norman conquest and the wars of the Roses, Ephraim, with its two dependent tribes of Manasseh and Benjamin, exercised undisputed pre-eminence; to the house of Joseph belonged the first great leader of the nation, Joshua, and the greatest of the judges, Gideon; to the house of Benjamin belonged Saul the first king; the great sanctuary of the house of Joseph, and during the whole period of their supremacy, of the nation also, was Shiloh; the spot where for so many centuries was ‘the tent which God had pitched among men.’ (Ps. lxxviii. 60.) It was not till the close of the first period of Jewish history that ‘God refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim, but chose the tribe of Judah, even the hill of Sion, which He loved.’” (Sinai and Palestine, ch. v.)

Thus was Jacob’s prediction first fulfilled in David. And it was also, and more fully, fulfilled in Christ. It is of Him that Jacob specially speaks as having His hand on the neck of His enemies; as it is He Whom His brethren praise and adore on earth, and shall praise for ever in heaven, so it is He Who is the ruler of His Father’s children, the conqueror of all His Father’s enemies. It is of our Lord and of His ascension into Heaven; of His past and coming triumphs, that Jacob speaks, when, telling Judah what shall befall him in the last days, he says, “Thine hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies, thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.”

But the divine inspiration under which Jacob uttered the prophecy of Judah’s future greatness, and the accuracy with which it was fulfilled, come out very strongly if we reflect on the illustration which he uses to describe the future career of the tribe, viz. that of a lion lying down after devouring his prey:

“Judah is a lion’s whelp:
From the prey, my son, thou art gone up:
He stooped down, he couched as a lion,
And as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?”

Here is the origin of the well-known title of “The Lion of the tribe of Judah,” given to our Lord by the heavenly hosts in the vision of Rev. v. 5; but no better image could have been used to describe beforehand the position of the tribe of Judah between the death of Joshua and that of Saul than that of a sleeping lion gorged with prey. As the Greek and Latin poets speak of the lion descending from the mountains into the plain on his prey, and then going up into the mountains back to his lair again, so Jacob, with the same accuracy of illustration, says, “From the prey, my son, thou art gone up.” In this lies the force of the figure and the accuracy of the prediction; for when once the prey had been seized, when once Judah had gone up from it, in other words, after the conquest of Canaan was completed, he reposed, none making him afraid. Like a fierce lion gorged with food, which having satisfied his hunger does not attack the passing traveller, but is harmless if not roused, so was Judah formidable. “In the natural fastnesses of his native mountains Judah dwelt undisturbed throughout the troubled period of the Judges,” reposing after his victories in his lion’s share of the Holy Land allotted to him. “Othniel was partly a member of this tribe (Judg. iii. 9—11), and the Bethlehem of which Ibzan was a native, may have been Bethlehem-Judah (Judg. xii. 8—10), but even if these two judges belonged to Judah, the tribe itself was not molested, and with the one exception mentioned in Judg. xx. 18, when they were called by the divine oracle to make the attack on Gibeah, they had nothing to do during the whole of that period but to settle themselves in their home. Not only did they take no part against Sisera, but they are not even rebuked for this by Deborah. Nor were they, on the other hand, disturbed by those incursions of the Philistines which during the rule of Samuel and Saul were made upon the territories of Benjamin and Dan.” (Bible Dict. Art. “Judah.”) As, then, the tribe of Judah during all this period held an independent position of its own, keeping aloof from the rest, neither offering nor asking aid, neither attacked nor attacking, independent of its friends, unmolested by its enemies, what better prophetic illustration could Jacob have used in his blessing upon him than that which he has employed, that of the king of beasts lying down, not cruel and aggressive like a hungry lion, but like one sleeping gorged with prey?

We notice that three words are here used for lion, expressive of three steps of the animal’s growth; mention is made of a lion’s whelp, a lion, and an old lion: in other words, the gradual growth of the power of the tribe of Judah is prophetically compared to the whelp growing in age and strength. Between the times of Joshua and David the lion’s whelp, nursed among the hills of Judah, grew in strength and fierceness, and “when the men of Judah came and anointed David king over the house of Judah, in that great hero of the tribe the warlike spirit of ‘the lion of the tribe of Judah,’ seemed really roused for the first time since the days of Caleb and Othniel.” (Stanley’s Lect. p. 313.) “In Othniel, the lion of Judah, which had won the southern portion of Palestine under Caleb, appears for the last time, till the revival of the warlike spirit of the tribe by David; all the other notices of the tribe during this period indicate a peaceful spirit: the pastoral simplicity of Boaz and Ruth; its absence from the gathering under Barak; its retiring demeanour in the story of Samson, all point in this direction,” (ib. 16.) It is interesting to notice that all this receives confirmation from the glimpses which we get of the peaceable habits of the tribe of Judah in the old genealogical records of Simeon and Judah, given us in i Chron. iv. As we glance down those venerable family records of the two associated tribes of Simeon and Judah, reaching as they do from a remote past down to the times of the Captivity, we are struck by the contrast which thus incidentally comes out between the tribe descended from him who was the ringleader in the massacre of the Shechemites, and in the intended murder of Joseph, and that descended from him who saved the life of Joseph by his plea, “What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood?” (Gen. xxxix. 26.) The records of the Simeonites contain accounts only of some desert raids and exploits of cruel rapine and murder, as if the old founders of families in Simeon were men of the sword, and nothing more; men who looked down on any profession but that of arms; who held in contempt the “potter’s wheel,” or the “weaver’s beam.” But the founders of families in Judah figure as skilled in the arts of peace and industry, as well as brave in war; as wealthy tradesmen, artizans, and farmers, as well as soldiers. Among the ancient worthies of Judah we find one known as “the father of the valley of the craftsmen,” i.e. of the valley, or street, inhabited by families of Smiths, to use a modern word. (1 Chron. iv. 14.) From another verse we learn that the tribe of Judah furnished the best weavers in the kingdom (v. 21), from another (v. 23), that there was at Jerusalem a royal establishment of potters, a potter’s guild, perhaps, from which the well known “potter’s field” was named; and that others were specially known as florists, or royal gardeners, or agriculturists. These old genealogies we cannot always unravel, but they throw great light on history; they enable us to see why the tribe of Judah was one whom his brethren praised —why it was fitted to be a rising one, and to outlive all the others ; its members rose to eminence in the arts of peace and trade; they were not ashamed of these things then or afterwards. And all this shows the accuracy of the prophetic picture of the tribe which Jacob drew in his blessing on it, when he represented it as powerful yet peaceful, and as holding aloof from aggressive wars on its neighbours. After the conquest of Canaan it settled down for four centuries in the arts of peace; so far from engaging in aggressive war, so far from assuming authority and dominion over its brethren, it gave itself to the pursuits of industry, excelling and delighting as much in them as in war. Thus the great tribe of Judah lived on and gathered strength, waiting God’s time to call it into notice. Even as David, the great hero of the tribe, knowing that God had called him to the throne, quietly waited till God’s time came, keeping sheep, or studying the arts of music and song till God called him to fight; so the whole tribe, destined by prophecy to rule over its brethren, waited in industrious obscurity, till its hour had come; not like Benjamin, ravening as a wolf; not like Gad, tearing as a lion its prey; but like a couching lion whom none would care to rouse, powerful enough to repose on its victories.

The words which follow are so well known, and so much has been written about them, that little need be said now about them:

“The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,
Nor a lawgiver from between his feet,
Until Shiloh come,

And unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.”

Having foretold that to Judah should be given authority over the other tribes—a prediction which was fulfilled in the coronation of David—Jacob goes on to say, that the sceptre, when once grasped by David, shall be held in trust by him down the ages, till it is claimed by One whom all nations shall obey. The word here translated “sceptre” is the same as that translated “tribe,” in the 16th and 28th verses of this chapter, and in other parts of Scripture. Our word “tribe” means a “third part,” and is merely a word taken from the old division of the Roman people into three parts or “tribes.” But the Hebrew word translated “tribe” in Scripture is the rod or staff of office which belonged to any particular tribe or clan as an ensign of its authority; thence the word comes to signify that particular tribe itself as being united under one rod or staff of authority. The prophecy therefore means that the people of Israel should be represented and governed by Judah till a certain Person belonging to that tribe should arise, Whom the nations of the world, Gentiles as well as Jews, should obey; that till then the house of Judah should preserve its separate independence among the tribes of Israel, and among the nations of the earth; that till then the family of David should not be extinct, nor the tribe of Judah lose its supremacy or existence as a separate political body, governed by its own princes and its own laws; that Judah should not cease from being a governing and representative tribe till One came, to Whom the sceptre of the kingdom of Judah should be transferred. That Person, at Whose coming the tribe of Judah is to be dissolved, is called Shiloh, the same name by which that place was called where the tabernacle “rested” after the wanderings in the wilderness; as applied to this place the word means “rest;” and there is every probability that when here applied to the Messiah it means the same also. “Because the word had this meaning, it was the name given to the place which was the seat, or resting-place of the ark of God after its wanderings, from the time of Joshua till the establishment of the monarchy. Shiloh was a spot unmarked by any natural features of strength or beauty, or by any ancient recollections; recommended only by its comparative seclusion, near the central thoroughfare of Palestine, yet not actually upon it. It is called in Joshua xvi. 6, Taanath-Shiloh, and in Josh, xviii. 1, Shiloh, the explanation being that its old Canaanite name was Taanath, and its Jewish name Shiloh; [10]the title of Shiloh being probably given to it in token of the ‘rest’ which the weary conquerors found in its quiet valley.”[11] Appropriately then is this name with this meaning, given by Jacob to our Lord, our Shiloh, in Whose presence the ark of the Church finds rest; nothing turns on the true meaning of the word: the only important point being that the words “till Shiloh come” cannot possibly mean “till Judah come to Shiloh,” which is historically as well as grammatically untrue, as we have seen; but Shiloh, as a name of our Lord, most probably means the rest giver, or the peace-giver—the giver of rest, the “Prince of peace.” One, Jacob says, is to come of this tribe, Who shall be able to say to every weary and heavy-laden soul, “Come unto Me, and I will give you rest;” and to Him, Jacob adds, the gathering, or obedience of the people shall be; the word “obedience” occurring only here and in Prov. xxx. 17, and meaning the loving, reverent, obedience which a child renders to its mother.

The manner in which God providentially fulfilled Jacob’s prophecy about the preservation of the Jewish monarchy and people “until Shiloh came,” has often been described, and it forms one of the most interesting chapters in the history of the world. The four successive monarchies which ruled the world after the Captivity, the Babylonian, the Persian, the Macedonian, and the Roman, alike respected the integrity of the kingdom of Judah. Storms of change and conquest, which swept away other kingdoms of the earth, passed harmlessly over the head of the little kingdom of Judah; the rival kingdom of Israel was dissolved after the Captivity, (for it was never promised that the sceptre and lawgiver should not depart from the tribe of Joseph,) but the kingdom of Judah, through many changes, lived on till Christ came. The truth of Jacob’s prediction does not depend on the right interpretation of the promise of the sceptre not departing from Judah till Christ came, the meaning of which is a matter of much controversy: whether the royal authority was preserved in Judah after the Captivity; whether it was for a time suspended; or whether it was altogether in abeyance, it could not be said that the sceptre had departed from Judah in our Lord’s time, for our Lord Himself held it; the angel’s message at the Annunciation was, “The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David f and our Lord holds it still; for it was added, “He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.”[12] Pilate unconsciously gave Him His true title on the Cross; as man He was lineally descended from David, and while known as “the Carpenter’s Son,” was actually the heir to the throne of David and Solomon; He was, as Pilate wrote, “The King of the Jews.” [13]

In the concluding words of the blessing on Judah, there is most probably the same double allusion to Judah and to our Lord, which runs through the rest of the prophecy. After saying that the sceptre should not depart from Judah till Shiloh come, Jacob adds these concluding words:

“Binding his foal unto the vine,
And his ass’s colt unto the choice vine;
He washed his garments in wine,
And his clothes in the blood of grapes;

His eyes shall be red with wine,
And his teeth white with milk.”

Under this image of the wine-stained warrior of Judah, we may probably see, first, a prediction of Judah’s future possession of the south wine-growing district of Palestine. The position of the tribe of Judah on the map of the Holy Land is too well known to need description. One chapter of the Book of Joshua (ch. xv.) is taken up with an exact survey of the boundaries of the tribe, and with catalogues of its cities, with their “villages,” or “farmpremises” attached. So thickly was it peopled, that as many as a hundred and twenty-four cities are enumerated as comprised within its borders; and judging from the ruins which now meet the eye there must have been many more. Jacob’s description of the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” going up to his mountain-lair in the Holy Land is accurately applicable to the features of the country, both because of the contrast between the “hill country of Judea,” and its beautiful gardens and corn-fields on its western side, and because the lion had its favourite abode in the jungles of Judah, as comes out in the history of David, and the writings of the prophet Amos, the herd-man or sheep-breeder of Tekoah, belonging to Judah. So the latter part of the prophecy was here fulfilled. The once famous “cities of Judah” present now a scene of ruin and desolation; but the wine-presses still to be seen lying at their gates testify to Judah having been essentially a wine-growing country; to this allusion seems to be made, when Jacob speaks of him as washing his garments in wine, while the prophecy which speaks of the abundance of wine and milk in Judah had a fulfilment in the fruitfulness of its soil, as in the royal vineyards of Engedi, and of Carmel (Cant. i. 14; 2 Chron. xxvi.10 [14]), “wine and milk were the riches of Judah’s tribe.” In its territory were the most extensive vineyards and wine-growing districts, though the “wine of Lebanon” was the most highly prized. The vineyards still to be seen on the slopes of Bethlehem have often been described ; the elevation of the hills and table-lands of Judah is the true climate of the vine, and that winding valley of the Hebron, on which Caleb set his heart, and which he received as his special inheritance, was famous for its vintage; its terraces were covered with the rich verdure and golden clusters of the Syrian vine in Bible times, and in its rocky hills are still to be seen hewn the ancient wine-presses of the cities of Judah. Thence came the gigantic cluster, the one relic of the promised land which was laid at the feet of Moses, (Numb. xiii. 22—24.) That valley of vineyards was supposed to be the primeval seat of the vine itself. The vine was the emblem of the Jewish nation, as seen on the coins of the Maccabees, and in the colossal golden cluster which overhung the porch of the temple in our Lord’s time; while the grapes of Judah still mark the tombstones of the Hebrew race at Prague in the oldest of their European cemeteries;1 and travellers describe the enormous size of the vine-branches of Judah, which would be thick enough to bind asses to them, and so to load them with fruit, as Jacob describes. But through the concluding words of Judah’s blessing, as through the first part of it, there runs another and a deeper meaning. The Jewish Rabbis of our Lord’s time were eagerly expecting the coming of a great national deliverer, the central point in all their teaching was the certain advent of the Messiah, the Anointed of God, Who should “restore again the kingdom to Israel” in more than all its former glory. And this prophetic blessing of Jacob on Judah was one of the prophecies on which these eager expectations were principally built; [17] for it was but one link, though a very ancient one, in a chain of prophecies, which pointed to the tribe of Judah, the family of David, and the town of Bethlehem, in connexion with the birth of our Lord. In this image of a wine-stained warrior, as in the former one of a couching lion, Jewish Targums and Christian Fathers are alike agreed in seeing a prophetic reference to our Lord;— They interpret the vine to mean the Jewish people, of whom it is the constant symbol, and the wild ass to mean the Gentile converts brought into the vineyard of the Church; the washing here mystically spoken of to refer to our Lord, “the true Vine,” washing the Church in His Blood, and to His treading alone the wine-press of man’s salvation. This is no doubt the true interpretation of Jacob’s words; he foretells the atoning work which Shiloh is to do under much the same imagery which Isaiah employs, in Isa. lxiii. 1—3. In the words which follow, “His eyes shall be red with wine,” &c., we may perhaps see a prediction of the glory and beauty of Christ after His resurrection; but at any rate it is impossible not to connect Jacob’s prophecy about Shiloh “binding His foal unto the vine, and His ass’s colt to the choice vine,” with Zechariah’s similar prophecy that the Messiah, when He came, should ride into Jerusalem upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. The King of the Jews is to ride into His capital, not in a chariot, or on a war-horse, but on an ass, an animal symbolical of peace and of ancient Jewish royalty combined. The two prophecies throw light on one another; Jacob says, Shiloh, the Prince of peace, shall bind His ass to the vine when He comes; Zechariah says, “Thy King cometh, riding upon an ass . . . He shall speak peace to the heathen,” (Zech. ix. 9.) Zechariah speaks more plainly than Jacob, but each speaks of the same event, the triumphs of Shiloh “the Prince of peace;” each makes mention, in connexion with the Messiah, of the ass, the symbol of peace; each, though not with equal plainness, refers to the triumphant entry of our Lord into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Some have gone further than this; they think we may infer from Jacob’s words about Shiloh binding the ass to the vine, that it was to a vinetree that the two disciples “found that ass tied and the colt with her,” on which, in obedience to His command, they set our Lord when He was about to fulfil Zechariah’s ancient prophecy about Him, and to enter Jerusalem as Shiloh, “the Prince of peace,” in fulfilment of this still more ancient prophecy of Jacob.

S. Peter, in a well-known passage, tells us what is the use to be made of every Old Testament prophecy; he says, “Whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a dark place;” i.e., a dark, or murky, desert. (2 S. Pet. i. 19, Revised Version.) This is the use which the Psalmist says is to be made of the Old Testament generally, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Ps. cxix. 105.) In each case God’s Word is compared to a lamp, because as lamps are lighted at night to guide the traveller in passing through the Eastern deserts, or held up on high as beacons at the head of an Eastern caravan on a night-march, or during the night-watches, so is God’s Word the light of His people in passing through the dark wilderness of this world. If this is true of all Old Testament prophecies, it is more especially so of this wondrous fortyninth chapter of Genesis; in it there are set as many as twelve such lamps of prophecy casting a more or less bright light before and around them : and this prophetic blessing on Judah shines with a light brighter, and seen further off, than any of the rest. It is a lamp with a brightness peculiarly its own, to which the Old Testament believers must often have turned for comfort as to “a light shining in a dark place.” But for us it is more than this; for us, (so far reaching is this ancient prophecy,) it spans, like a lovely rainbow of hope, the dark sky of this world’s history.

Author’s Notes

1. Platonis Apolog. Socr., quoted by Bishop Newton, Vol. I. p. 51.

2. Xenoph. Cyrop. lib. viii. ad finem. Ib.

3. Sextus Empiricus Adv. Mathem. Ib.

4. II. xvi. 852; xxii. 355—360. Ib.

5. Quoted by Bp. Wordsworth ad loc. The words, “and circumcision …. in the letter,” are in a parenthesis.

6. Noticed by Obbard.

7. Even if Othniel, the first judge, be regarded as an exception, he did not descend from Judah, but from Kenaz, a duke of Edom, grandson of Esau. See Bible Dict. Art. “Caleb” and “Kenaz.”

8. According to the Jerusalem Targum.

9. Stanley’s Lect. p. 276.

10. S. Luke i. 33.

11. See Bp. Wordsworth ad loc.

12. The Carmel, in which Uzziah had husbandmen and vinedressers, was Carmel in Judah, see Josh. xv. 55, and I Sam. xxv. 2.

13. See Sinai and Palestine, p. 162.

14. See Geikie’s Life of Christ, Vol. I., pp. 88—94.

15. The Carmel, in which Uzziah had husbandmen and vinedressers, was Carmel in Judah, see Josh. xv. 55, and I Sam. xxv. 2.

16. See Sinai and Palestine, p. 162.

17. See Geikie’s Life of Christ, Vol. I., pp. 88–94.

Advertisements