Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
(note to Civil War enthusiasts—Shiloh was the name of a significant battle in the War Between the States, but it originally came from the Old Testament)
This chapter records Jacob’s blessing on his sons who gather as the roots of the 12 tribes of Israel. I don’t know if they realized that the tribes of a great nation would bear their names. We just read Jacob’s blessing for his son Judah. A blessing is a wish for spiritual prosperity, based on what is known of an individual’s character and calling. In Bible days a formal blessing was as highly regarded as an inheritance. These are the last words of Jacob, spoken with his dying breath. Jacob blesses each of his sons—the words he says to Judah, his fourth son by Leah, are poetic and prophetic. The form is poetry, the substance is prophecy. Jacob’s sons died in Egypt and did not live to see the fulfillment of these prophetic words. Joseph maintained preeminence over his brothers for the remainder of his life. Only later in future generations did the tribe of Judah rise to a position of prominence. The descendents of Jacob gradually began to realize the promise of these words. They saw how they would remain a people until Shiloh comes.
In verse 8 Jacob foretells how Judah’s brothers will praise him. His very name became the name of this unique people—from the name Judah comes Judaism; the Jews were named for this son.
Even though Judah was the instigator foremost responsible for selling his younger brother Joseph into slavery, he later demonstrated a dramatic change of character. In Genesis 44 Judah pleads with Joseph, now a ruler in Egypt under Pharoah, and who has accused their youngest brother Reuben of theft. The brothers don’t know they’re addressing Joseph. Judah admits that it is God who has uncovered their collective guilt (vs 16), and then in remorse he asks to be Joseph’s slave in place of Reuben (vs 33). He cannot return to Jacob without the boy. Joseph is moved by this sacrificial commitment, and reveals his true identity.
In verse 9 Judah is called a lion’s cub. In the book of Revelation, Jesus is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah (5:5). In his wonderful children’s fantasy books, the Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis portrays Jesus as an fierce lion. One of the inhabitants of Narnia asks with some concern, “Is the Lion safe?” and is told, “Of course He’s not safe—He’s a lion; but He’s good—He’s the King, I tell you.” The lion is a symbol of majesty and might.
The adversaries of Judah are depicted in retreat: “Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies.” We’re also told that Jacob’s “sons will bow down to” Judah. This was fulfilled when the eleven other tribes acknowledged Judah’s superiority in David as king of Israel, and ultimately in Jesus, of the lineage of David.
Verse 10 is the key passage, a messianic prophecy. “The scepter will not depart from Judah…until he comes to whom it belongs.” Some translations use the title Shiloh; until Shiloh comes. Shiloh means “the one who brings,” “the son who prospers,” or “the “giver of rest.” Christian and Jewish scholars agree that this person is one who is sent by God on a mission of peace. We believe that this one who comes with authority is Jesus. Shiloh describes the inner peace, serenity and rest that come over a land or people or family when the owner or the highest authority comes to claim His rightful ownership. Our Messiah, the Rest-Giver, will accomplish this.
His purpose (still vs 10) is to secure “the obedience of the nations” We’re told that one day “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10-11). Shiloh is not merely a prophecy of the coming of Christ, but is a prophecy of the final acceptance of Christ’s authority. It is a prophecy of the end of the great struggle, the conflict between those who embrace and those who reject Christ.
The scepter held by the tribe of Judah is a symbol of royal authority, kingdom power, dominion and might. There were many kinds in ancient days; they were a kind of rod or staff. When we studied the book of Esther we saw how King Xerxes would extend his scepter to allow a person into his presence.
Jesus our Messiah came announcing His Kingdom rule. Many rejected His Kingdom, yet it continues within us and wherever the Gospel is proclaimed. The influence of the Kingdom offsets the secular, evil world around us, and this tension between the two kingdoms is the source of our spiritual warfare. Our mission is to pierce the spiritual darkness with the light of Christ and His message, by teaching the truth about God and pointing people to the Cross.
Charles Spurgeon offers this warning: “If you haven’t looked at Christ on the cross, you’ll have to look at Him on the throne—with great trembling. The sacrificial death of Christ will be brought before the eyes of all who refuse to accept His free gift of forgiveness and eternal life. In Bethlehem He came in mercy to forgive sin. In the future He will come on the clouds in glory to establish justice. What will we do without a Savior? On the day of judgment there is nothing we can do if we have not trusted Christ.”
Dr Charles Stanley gave a wonderful example of the pardon Christ purchased for us: What if I owe you a thousand dollars but I don’t have the cash...but then if someone from the Deacon Board pays you what I owe, would you come to me a week later and still ask for the money? If you did, I’d tell you that my debt was paid in full. Christ paid our debt through His death in our behalf upon the cross. In so doing, He made a far greater commitment to us than we could possible make to Him.
Many people hope to clean themselves up, but that isn’t possible. We are incapable of becoming sinless, of attaining perfection. We can’t purify our corrupt nature. Improved conduct can’t qualify us for heaven. The world’s way of salvation is “Do”; God’s way of of salvation is “It is all done for you—accept and believe.” We need forgiveness. We are not saved by our obedience but our faith (a faith that results in obedience). We cannot be obedient without the power of the Holy Spirit.
Verse 11 is seen as a prophetic, symbolic reference to the blood of Christ. The clothing of those who manage the grape harvest appears to be washed in wine. This shows the prosperity of the tribe. The clothing of the self-righteous is the good things they think will cause God to allow them into heaven. Our clothing is defiled, filthy. We need our garments washed in the blood of Christ—only then can we appear clean before God the Father as members of His family.
Several individuals joined our church today, and for that we rejoice. It is wonderful to be officially part of a family of faith. Yet I remind us all that church membership doesn’t save. When we stand before God, being a member of Cliftondale Congregational Church won’t get us into heaven—having a personal relationship with Christ will. The only label that truly matters is “Christian”. When I served in the Army that’s what I had put on my dogtags. The clerk wanted me to be more specific, so I said Conservative Congregational Christian Conference—and since there wasn’t enough room on the dogtags for that, he relented and put down “Christian”. I’m proud of our pilgrim heritage, but my identity rests in identifying with Christ, in being clothed in His righteousness. Having a personal relationship with our church isn’t enough—we need a personal relationship with Christ. Simply knowing about God is not a personal relationship but a distant one. Are we ready for Shiloh, the “Rest-Giver”, the “one who comes”?
Prayer: Lord, may our hearts not find rest until we find our rest in You. We try so many ways to ease our anxieties and stresses—help us to seek the answer to our distress in the compassion of Christ. We trust in Your promise of mercy and grace and rely on the completed work of Christ. Holy is His Name—Amen.