Before he died, Jacob gathered his sons and prophesied about their future. Beginning with the oldest, he worked his way through each son, speaking of what would happen to their families. His longest blessing was reserved for Judah, the son through whom the messianic promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be fulfilled.
Jacob began by saying that Judah’s brothers would praise him and that his father’s sons would bow down before him. At this time, such statements would have been more appropriate to describe Joseph, who was running Egypt and was using his authority to take care of his family. When the children of Israel returned to the Promised Land and defeated the Canaanites, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (descended from Joseph) dominated northern Israel while the tribe of Judah dominated in the south. The first king, Saul, came from the tribe of Benjamin, but the most successful dynasty of Israel was that of David, who came from the tribe of Judah.
Jacob spoke of that dynasty and of the messianic King who would come from David’s family. “Judah is a lion’s cub,” Jacob said. “From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?” Revelation 5:5 associates Jesus with this verse, saying, “Behold: the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Satan is also called a lion in the Bible, though he is more often connected with a serpent, the form he chose to use to deceive Eve. Yet Jesus is also represented by a serpent in Numbers 21, as Jesus himself affirms in John 3:14-15.
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes,” Jacob said. Commentaries on Genesis devote pages to deciphering the identity of Shiloh. A city of this name was built and for a time was home to the Tabernacle, but the city was probably named for the promise, rather than the promise predicting the city. “Shiloh” appears related to “Shalom,” which means peace, and some interpreters have suggested that the promise was fulfilled with Solomon, the son of David. Yet the best interpretation of this verse is that Shiloh is another name for the Messiah, the Prince of Peace. Solomon was only another picture of Jesus, but Jesus himself is the fulfillment of this promise. When Roman authority placed Herod, the Idumean, over the Jews, then it was time for the true King of the Jews to be born.
“To him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.” All these images are fulfilled in Jesus. He rode a colt, the foal of a donkey, into Jerusalem. He declared to his followers, “I am the Vine, and you are the branches.” He shed his blood on the cross to rescue sinners, but a few hours earlier he held a cup of wine in his hands and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new testament in my blood” (Luke 22:20). Before he died, his own clothing was taken away by the soldiers; but through his death, Jesus has clothed his people in his righteousness. As Adam and Eve were clothed by God, and as Jacob was accepted by Isaac because of Esau’s clothing, and as the brothers of Joseph brought the blood-stained robe of Joseph to their father, so we are clothed in Christ, washed clean in his blood, and made acceptable to our Father.
By his prophecy, Jacob prepared his family for the coming of the Messiah. Jesus is the Son of David, the Prince of Peace, the Redeemer of the world. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, set to rule all nations under his scepter and to bring peace to the entire world.