Summary: Are we ready for Shiloh, the “Rest-Giver”, the “one who comes”?
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.