“Judah, your brothers shall praise you;your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub;from the prey, my son, you have gone up.He stooped down; he crouched as a lionand as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah,nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,until tribute comes to him;and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vineand his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,he has washed his garments in wineand his vesture in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine,and his teeth whiter than milk.
(Genesis 49:8-12, ESV)
This is anthropology 101 stuff — a very different culture than ours, with dramatically different customs. One of those customs was to give a “blessing” at the end of your life on your children. Sounds quaint, but it isn’t. It isn’t a “hallmark” moment; it’s family business. The “blessing” is a part of the estate, and Jacob is passing it out to the sons and grandsons before he dies. There’s a lot of them.
This passage describes Judah and how his dad, Jacob, blesses him. At this point in Genesis, you know that Judah is an evil character – he’s violent and cruel. He’s the one who comes up with the idea to sell his brother Joseph into slavery. It’s a bit of a dysfunctional family, and it might bear a striking resemblance to your own. That’s a good thing. If the dysfunctional families of the Bible have hope, then there’s hope for us.
The blessing on Judah sticks out. Why? It predicts advent. Some two thousand years before Jesus, in what I imagine looks like a Bedouin tent, surrounded by his sons, Jacob describes how one of Judah’s descendants will be a king forever. Eternal. Are these merely the bold and ambitious hopes of an elderly father for a son? You might think so – if it weren’t for Jesus. A ruler to come that is greater than all the nations! Wow. Isn’t it amazing what advent looked like back then? A simple promise. I especially love the description of this coming ruler, with eyes like wine and teeth like milk. In the ancient world, those are both beautiful images and meaningful. The striking images can’t be missed, but it means more than that – it is abundance in eyes and smile, it hints at joy and celebration, it describes the easy wealth and power of the strong and mighty. It was a promise of Jesus triumphant.
We don’t know how much Jacob could see into the future. Some intellectuals insist this prediction was added later to make Jacob look like a “prophet,” but that isn’t what the text says. Jacob says before he starts, “I will tell you about the things that will happen.” This is the same Jacob who saw the ladder up to glory, and the same Jacob who wrestled with God in the dark. He knows someone amazing is coming, and he describes Him. I know many of us want to know what is going to happen – we want to know what’s coming. God does not tell us that info very often. No, He doesn’t tell us what is coming, but He tells us who is coming. That is what He told Jacob, and that’s what Jacob told Judah, and it’s what He’s telling us. Praise Him!