Strong in character, Leah’s fourth boy grew up to have influence with his brothers and his father. When he suggested that Joseph’s life should be spared, “his brethren hearkened unto him’, Gen. 37. 26-27 marg. He was able to persuade bis father to let him be surety for Benjamin, 43. 8-9. Later again, in Egypt, he pleaded eloquently for the release of his youngest brother, offering himself as a bond-servant in Benjamin’s place, 44. 18-34. Such incidents point through the centuries to the greatest member of the tribe of Judah, Jesus of Nazareth, who, as the bond-slave of God, became surety for us.
The Words of Jacob. “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise”, Gen. 49. 8. The name signifies “the praise of Jehovah”, 29. 35. Taken together, the names of Jacob’s first four sons display the way of salvation: Reuben = “See a Son”; Simeon = “Hear Him”; Levi = “Joined to Him”; Judah = “Praise".
The word “Jew" has evolved from the title Judah. Paul had the meaning of the word in mind as he wrote: “he is a Jew, which is one inwardly … whose praise is not of men, but of God”, Rom. 2. 29.
Judah was told: “Thy brethren shall praise thee”. This statement expands when we see its supreme fulfilment in Christ. The words may be expressed: “He gave forth and was the recipient of praise”. How full such an expression becomes as we set it against the great exaltation of Revelation 5.13: “every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever”. God lays stress upon the superlative quality of praise, Ps. 50. 23; 100. 4; 147. 1. It was the man who bore this name who was destined to become the progenitor of the royal tribe in Israel, Num. 10. 14, out of which the Messiah came!
“Thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies”. After Joshua’s death, the tribe of Judah, numerically the strongest, took over the military leadership of Israel, Jud. 1. 2. The men of Judah had been accustomed to moving first since they, under the direction of God, had blazed the trail through the wilderness, having Nahshon, one of the Lord’s ancestors, as their prince, Num. 2. 3; Matt. 1. 4. An example of their valour may be seen in Caleb who fearlessly conquered Kirjath-arba (the city of the giants), Josh. 14. 7-15. At a later date, Benaiah was another who shone in battle, killing two giants of Moab and dealing with a trapped lion, 1 Chron. n. 22.
“Thy father’s children shall bow down before thee”. The verb here is elsewhere translated “worship”. The statement is to be applied in a complete sense only to Christ for “God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow”, Phil. 2. 9-10 (cf. Is. 45. 23).
“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”. Gen. 49. 9. The metaphor is initially of a young, conquering lion. Then Judah is likened to an adult beast prepared for a final kill. In his virility he is seen crouching for his prey, feasting upon it, and finally lying down satisfied, from which rest none dare arouse him. This lion-like description of Judah in general and of the Lord Jesus in particular is referred to frequently in Scripture, e.g. Numbers 24. 7-9; Micah 5. 2-8. In Revelation 5. 5 the Saviour is the personification of the lion depicted on Judah’s standard. The king of beasts is used, by the Holy Spirit, to teach us something of the power of the King of kings. (Compare the similar analogy used of Satan, e.g. 1 Pet. 5. 8.)
Note that in this dying blessing, bestowed in Egypt, Jacob referred specifically only to Judah as “my son’. So God the Father has said: “Out of Egypt have I called my son”, Matt. 2.15.
“The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet”, Gen. 49. 10. The tribal sceptre or staff was an emblem carried by the head of a family, Amos 1. 5, or the leader of a tribe, Num. 17. 2. It was quite natural for the idea to be carried over to a whole nation, Zech. 10. 11. Ultimately this rod became the symbol of complete power, Is. 14. 5; Est. 4. 11.
A curse having been placed upon the royal line in the time of Jechoniah, Jer. 22. 24-30., none of his seed can occupy the throne of Israel. Zedekiah, the one king to follow Jechoniah (or Jehoiachin, 1 Chron, 3. 15-17), was not in the direct line of succession, 2 Chron. 36. 10. Jechoniah is significantly described in Ezekiel 19. 5-9 as “a young lion” who “learned to catch the prey, and devoured men’. Since the time of the puppet regent, Zedekiah, no Israelite has been his country’s monarch. But upon Christ’s manifestation, “the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David”, Is. 9. 7; Luke 1. 32. Jesus, being the legal heir of Joseph but not his “seed”, is not embraced within the curse upon Jechoniah’s descendants (which prohibition, of course, prevented Joseph the carpenter from ever becoming the king). The sceptre will, during Christ’s reign, be universal as “all people, nations, and languages, should serve him’, Dan. 7. 14. “His dominion shall be … to the ends of the earth”, Zech. 9. 10.
A law-giver was one who wrote the rules; see Job. 19. 23, As the Lord Jesus extends His sceptre of authority towards us in grace, so also through the administration of the Holy Spirit, does He inscribe the law of love upon our hearts. Boaz, the one Bible character described as “a mighty man of wealth”, Ruth 2. 1, was an example of a law-giver in Judah, typical of our great Redeemer.
“Until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be”. Identification of Shiloh here with the Ephraimite town of that name seems to pose more problems than it solves. Consequently we look at the clause as appertaining to the Saviour whose right it is to receive the obedience of the peoples.
“Binding his foal unto the vine”. Gen. 49. 11. Having indicated, under inspiration, that through Judah the future national leader will emerge, the patriarch now pictured conditions during the reign of that Messiah. Both the common vine (Heb. gephen) and the choicest vine (Heb. soreq) will flourish to the extent that animals will be tethered to them. These luxuriant plants will produce so many good grapes that wine (typical of joy, cf. Neh. 8. 10) will be as plentiful as water. This is indicative of the peaceful prosperity that will mark Israel’s closing era, Gen. 49. 1.
“His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk”, Gen. 49. 12. This brightness of eye and whiteness of teeth is suggestive of good health and vitality.
The Words of Moses. On turning to Moses’ tribal blessing, we notice that the section for Judah has a slightly more elevated introduction than the nine other parts, highlighting the special place held by this community.
“Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah”, Deut. 33. 7. The cry of Judah has ever been one of praise and prayer. Solomon’s inaugural dedication of the temple, the Davidic psalms regularly sung there, the supplications of Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Manasseh; Daniel’s intercessions and the plea of Nehemiah all exemplify this. The epitome of Moses1 statement, prophetically, however, rests in the One who “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying … and was heard”, Heb. 5. 7. He could say to His Father: “thou nearest me always”, John 11. 42.
The last line of Old Testament history is the voice of a man of Judah: “Remember me, O my God, for good”, Neh. 13. 31.
“Bring him unto his people”. This wish, expressed after the man Judah had died, throws light on Genesis 49. 10, to the end that both passages point to the Messiah. Blind to the real situation, a pious Jew still prays: “O cause speedily the Branch of David, the servant, to sprout forth, and exalt this horn in Thy salvation, because we wait for Thy salvation all the day”. So the faithful Israelite waits “till He come”, and this He will do “with power and great glory’, having first caught us, the Church, into the clouds to be with Himself. Then He will destroy Antichrist, His hands will be sufficient (mighty) for Him. As the period of the great tribulation terminates with divine help for the beleaguered Israelis, the adversaries will be crushed by the One who is truly “mighty to save".
In tracing the fortunes of Judah, we follow the disgraceful young man of Genesis 38 until he becomes the family’s spokesman, Gen. 44. 16; we see the tribe which occupied the large tract of land, including Jerusalem, to the south of Canaan, separated from the remainder of the nation by rough, wild country inhabited by Gibeonites, Josh. 9, and Jebusites, Jud. 19. 10-13; and most importantly we glimpse our Lord who sprang out of Judah, Heb. 7. 14.