JACOB'S LAST WORD

by Efraim Goldstein |March 01, 1990

As he lay dying, Jacob's spirit rose to prophetic stature. The words he spoke to his sons were his testament. Unlike the material or financial gifts associated with bequests today, Jacob's bequests consisted of prophetic utterances and a series of blessings and curses. These had their roots in God's earlier promise to Abraham. The inheritance involved a land, a nation, and the coming of the Messiah (Genesis 12:1-3). While the promises did not involve wealth in the ordinary sense, they were the highest spiritual blessings that God would ever bestow upon a people.

Jacob's sons represented Israel's future tribes, so the fate of the entire nation was being spelled out in Jacob's last words. He had a special word for each of his sons—a prophetic aspect about his future. In Genesis 49, a certain harshness bordering on sarcasm pervaded Jacob's words. The actions of each son and their consequences were now brought into account.

To Reuben, Jacob said that his blessing as the firstborn had been forfeited because of his affair with his father's concubine. The blessing of the inheritance had also departed from Simeon and Levi, Jacob's second and third sons. In their case, it was judgment for their acts of violence against the Canaanite people. Jacob prophesied that Simeon and Levi would be scattered throughout Israel. This happened to Levi's tribe when it was set apart as the priestly tribe. Its inheritance consisted of scattered cities in the territories of each of the other eleven tribes.

 

Nevertheless, for them, God turned the judgment aspect of that prophecy into a blessing. Their dispersion among the various tribes became symbolic that they had been chosen to represent the entire nation before God. Then Jacob spoke to Judah, the fourth son of Leah. Logically, Judah did not deserve the family inheritance. He had ever done the best thing to persuade his brothers not to kill Joseph but to sell him into slavery instead. With a little more persuasion, Judah might have convinced them to give up the whole idea, but at best, he had been only half-hearted in his attempt to save Joseph. Judah also had family problems. His sons, who had childless marriages, would not provide properly for their sister-in-law Tamar. There was also the unsavory incident involving Tamar and Judah. Dressed as a prostitute by the roadside, Tamar enticed Judah. Later, when she proved to be pregnant with his child, the whole deception was revealed, and Judah recognized the bitter fact that his sons had let the family down.

Tamar had two sons, Perez and Zerah, who became the chief ancestors of Judah's tribe. The messianic line was traced through Perez.

As predicted by Jacob, Judah's inheritance was not the typical inheritance involving money, land, livestock, and family heirlooms. Rather it involved promises of things to come. If Judah were not a spiritual person, he might have been disappointed with his father's last gift."The greatest part of Judah's gift or inheritance pronounced by Jacob came in the form of the tightly-worded prophecy in Genesis 49:10. This passage, however, is a subject of debate over the centuries. 

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. The scepter was a symbol of regency or leadership over the nation.  It was a kind of rod that showed that its holder had the right to punish. From this prophecy, it appears that Judah, who was merely Jacob's fourth son, was to be the ancestor of the dominant and ruling tribe in Israel. This did not come to pass or a period of more than 800 years. Judah became identified with the throne of Israel when David became king. Shall not depart conveys the idea that no one would remove Judah's scepter or Judah's rulership over the people until a certain climax or objective had been reached. From between his feet is more difficult. One interpretation is that as a king sat on his throne to pass judgment, the scepter or staff was placed between his feet. As long as the king was meting out judgments, the scepter remained in place as a visible symbol of his power.

Until Shiloh come is the most difficult

segment of the whole verse. Who or what is Shiloh?

In most Scripture translations, the Hebrew word is left as a proper noun because its exact meaning is unknown. One translation (The Hebrew Publishing Company) renders the phrase until he comes to Shiloh, which some feel may have been an attempt by the translator to de-emphasize the text's messianic import. While there was a city in Israel called Shiloh, it never assumed lasting significance, so we can speculate that the phrase had little to do with that city.

Omitting the tiny Hebrew letter yod from Shiloh as a possible variant, the word might be read  literally "of him," which could then interpret the phrase as "until he comes whose it is." The basis of this interpretation comes from a passage in Ezekiel 21:27 (21:32 in the Masoretic text) which seems to echo the words of the Genesis 49 passage: I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, and it shall be no more until he comes whose right it is; and I will give it to him.The Shiloh phrase in that Ezekiel 21 passage reads asher lo, which translates into "which is to him." Deep knowledge of Hebrew is not necessary to recognize the similarity between shell and asher lo.

The question is, who is Shiloh?

 

The rabbis have a terrific answer: He is Messiah. The ancient paraphrase, the Targum of Onkelos, says, "the Messiah, whose is the kingdom." This is traditionally accepted in rabbinic circles. Even Rashi, the most respected and influential of all rabbinic commentators, said that Shiloh means the Messiah. Again, in Numbers 24:17,m we see the idea of the Messiah coming from Judah: I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near: There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel, And shall smite the corners of Moab...The people's gathering—the word that translated "gathering" refers to an inner submission that is cheerfully rendered by all the people. The people (amim) would include the Gentiles as well as the Jews.What does this mean?

First, that the legitimate leadership of the nation Israel will fall to the tribe of Judah. Then, the tribe of Judah will maintain visible authority until the Messiah comes. Finally, the Messiah will be given the willing obedience of both Jews and Gentiles. Genesis 49:10 has long been understood as an important messianic prophecy for centuries.  

Joseph Wolf, a missionary to the Jews in the early 19th century, recorded a trip from Austria to the Holy Land in his journals. He had many interesting witnessing encounters. One discussion he recorded was his encounter with a rabbi in Gibraltar in 1812 over this very verse. The rabbi translated it, “The chastisement shall not depart from Judah...”Wolf showed the rabbi how this was inconsistent with the text. He then asked, "Who is Shiloh?" The rabbi used gematria (a numerical system of interpretation) to show that the letters in the word Shiloh signified Moses.It seems that the same discussions we have today over this passage we were going on almost two centuries ago.

As a Jewish believer in Yeshua, I offer my interpretation of this verse: The Messiah was to come to our people while Judah's rulership was still visible. The last time there was any indication that Judah was a ruler ended in 70 A.D. with the destruction of the Second Temple. Since then, there has been no pretense of anyone in Israel attempting to rule with the right and authority of Judah's tribe, for the records of the genealogies have been lost. Anyone who might come onto the scene and claim to be the Messiah would have no proof of his credentials because we lack the proper documentation.

Yeshua came at a time when the genealogies were still well kept and in order.  In fact, the whole reason for Yeshua's family's trip to Bethlehem before his birth was because they were from the tribe of Judah and the Davidic line,  and for census and tax purposes, they had to return to the city where the records were kept (Luke 2:1-5). In Yeshua's time, the Davidic right to rule was understood, but the Romans prevented a Davidic king from acceding to the throne. King Herod and his family made a pretense of linking the Davidic bloodline to give more legitimacy to their rule. Concerning the obedience of the people to Shiloh, Jews and Gentiles have willingly given Yeshua their obedience. What has another Jew in history ever had so many Gentiles give him their allegiance? Only Yeshua!! Certainly, the prophecy in Genesis 49:10 that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Juhah has been fulfilled in Yeshua.