INHERIT the DIVINE BLESSINGS through WORKS of FAITH: "Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's children shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; and as a lion, who shall rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people." (Gen. 49:8-10)
Towards the end of the book of Genesis, the patriarch Jacob concluded his life as many other saints who spoke words of blessing before their death, including stalwarts like Isaac (Gen. 27), Moses (Deut. 33), Joshua (Josh. 24), and Samuel (1 Sam. 12). Having reached an advanced age and knowing well that his death was near, Jacob first blessed the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh (48:13–22), and then his own twelve sons and their descendants (49:1–28).
Jacob’s pronouncements before his twelve sons included both prophecy (v. 1) and blessing (v. 28), but cannot be categorized as a father’s blessing on his sons. Rather, it was a prophecy of what his sons could expect in the future because of their individual characters and the decisions they had made at different times of their lives. Reuben, the natural firstborn son of Joseph, was lustful enough to defile his father’s bed (see 35:22) due to which he lost the firstborn privileges and blessings from God (49:3-4). After him, next in the line of birth came Simeon and Levi, who displayed unrestrained anger in killing all the males of Shechem for defiling their sister Dinah (35:25-29). Their anger and cruelty brought about a bad reputation for Jacob among their neighbors (35:30) as well as made them forfeit the blessings of birthright (49:5-7).
Judah was next in order of birth, so Jacob granted him the blessing of the firstborn. He would be a ruler over Israel and the nations. Judah would be the royal tribe, for the Messiah (Shiloh, “the peace-bringer”) would come from among his descendants. Judah (meaning ‘praise’) would be praised and respected by his brothers because of his victories over his enemies. Thus, of all the magnificent prophetic blessings of Jacob on his sons, the blessing on Judah is most theologically significant, for it identifies Judah as the tribe through which the future ruler would come (49:10–12). This regal person was first David (Ruth 4:12, 18–22), then his dynastic descendants (1 Chron. 3:1–24; Matt. 1:6–16), and finally and fully Jesus Christ, the Messiah (Acts 2:29–36).
How did Judah inherit the blessings of the firstborn? His superiority of character had appeared early, when he proposed to sell Joseph rather than take his life (37:26). Judah’s character rose higher when he offered himself to Jacob as a pledge for Benjamin (43:8-10) and then pleaded with Joseph on Benjamin’s behalf (44:16, 18-34). It was Judah’s moving intercession that broke down Joseph’s resolve not to reveal his true identity before his brothers, and we see that Joseph could not “restrain himself” any longer (45:1). So, Judah’s leadership qualities were revealed through his good works, especially when he put himself on the line before his nervous father Jacob and the stern stone-faced Egyptian official Joseph. Thus, Judah rose to the leadership of the twelve sons as Jacob passed over Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, and he started the royal line that culminated in the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Jesus Christ (Rev. 5:5).