This prophecy concerns the last words of Jacob uttered to his sons after he had blessed Joseph’s sons. Jacob commences with his firstborn Reuben, and then Simeon and Levi, before giving a blessing to Judah in Genesis 49:8-12. Regarding Judah, Jacob initially speaks of the tribe of Judah and the scope is then extended to the coming Messiah, and finally the peaceful conditions of the Messianic reign which is yet future.
Some view this as a clear reference to Messiah whilst others do not. Nonetheless if we look at this verse in context and in the light of related passages and also carefully evaluate interpreters both ancient and modern, that will help us to ascertain the meaning and significance of this prophecy.
HaDavar ministries list and cite significant Rabbinic support for this verse relating to Messiah, considering that the Targum Onkelos, Targum Palestine, Targum Jonathan, Rashi et al, have identified this verse in connection with Messiah.[i]
The Targum Jonathan states.
“Kings shall not cease, nor rulers, from the house of Jehuda, nor sapherim teaching the law from his seed, till the time that the King the Meshiha, shall come, the youngest of his sons; and on account of him shall the peoples flow together.”[ii]
The Talmud also links Shiloh with Messiah.
Other commentators link this verse with both David and the Messiah including Tur HaAroch;[v] Sforno mentions David and then later the nations subordinating themselves to Messiah[vi] and Or HaChaim anticipates the coming of the monarchy of Messiah.[vii]
Midrash on Genesis 49:10
If we compare Genesis 49:10 with Numbers 24:17 and Micah 5:2(1), there are noticeable similarities which help us to build a clearer picture of the identity of Messiah.
Numbers 24:17 reads.
“I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near;
A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel,
And batter the brow of Moab, And destroy all the sons of tumult.”
This prophecy speaks of the coming Messiah who would come from Jacob and would rule Israel. Like the Genesis 49:8-12 passage, the last action relates to prophecy further down the line. Though the Numbers 24:17 prophecy was fulfilled by David’s victory over the Moabites and the Edomites (2 Samuel 8:2-14) it foreshadows the greater victory of Messiah’s coming.[viii]
Micah 5:2 reads.
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old, From [everlasting.”
In addition to prior knowledge of the Messiah coming from Judah (Genesis 49:10) and ruling (Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17), it is now revealed that Messiah will be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah and His goings forth are from everlasting.
Nevertheless it is worth considering that there has been debate over the meaning of ‘Shiloh’ to which Warren Wiersbe helpfully summarises.
‘The name “Shiloh” in verse 10 has given rise to many interpretations and speculations, but the most reasonable is that is refers to the Messiah (Num. 24:17). ‘The phrase could be translated “until he comes whose right it is.” The ancient rabbinical scholars took Shiloh to be a name of the promised Messiah, who alone had the right to claim rule over God’s people Israel.’[ix]
Also Wiersbe notes that Judah was the ruling tribe that remained faithful to the Davidic line even when the nation divided.[x] Walvoord & Zuck agree with Wiersbe, though helpfully add that similar words occur in Ezekiel 21:27 referring to the crown in v26, “until He comes to whom it rightly belongs and that was addressed to the last King of Judah.[xi]
From Prophecy to Fulfilment
We have established that Genesis 49:10 awaits the Messiah to come from Judah and to rule and for the people to obey Him. We have compared this verse with Numbers 24:17 and Micah 5:2 which enlighten us further concerning the identity of the Messiah. We have linked this verse with the Davidic line and also the reign of Messiah. God made a covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7:16-17 stating “And your house and your Kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.” The sceptre clearly relates beyond political rule to Messianic reign.
How would the Davidic covenant find fulfilment? In Matthew 22:41-46, the Pharisees correctly identified Messiah as the Son of David. Yeshua referenced Psalm 110:1 where David calls him Lord and asked, yet how is He his son? Yeshua is therefore David’s greater Son and the promised Messiah. He is the Son of David (Matthew 1:1), who was born in Bethlehem and came from the tribe of Judah (Micah 5:2(1); Matthew 2:5-11; 1:1-17). Through Yeshua there is obedience to faith among all nations for His name (Romans 1:5). The writer to the Hebrews confirms that it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah (Hebrews 7:14a). Yeshua is the Rod from the stem of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1) and the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David (Revelation 5:5; c.f. Genesis 49:9-10). He is both Messiah Ben Joseph and Messiah Ben David. He suffered and died and made atonement and He is coming back to the Mount of Olives to reign in Jerusalem and unto Him shall be the obedience of the nations.
[i] HaDavar Messianic Ministries http://www.hadavar.org/critical-issues/messianic-prophecy/the-torah/genesis-49-the-lion-of-judah/rabbinic-support/
[ii] Targum Jonathan on Genesis 49:10 https://www.sefaria.org/Targum_Jonathan_on_Genesis.49.10?lang=bi
[iii] Rashi on Genesis 49:10 https://www.sefaria.org/Rashi_on_Genesis.49.10.3?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en
[iv] Sanhedrin 98b William Davidson Talmud https://www.sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.98b.14?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en
[v] Tur HaAroch on Genesis 49:10 https://www.sefaria.org/Tur_HaAroch%2C_Genesis.49.9?lang=bi
[vi] Sforno on Genesis 49:10 https://www.sefaria.org/Sforno_on_Genesis.49.10?lang=bi
[vii] Or HaChaim on Genesis 49:10 https://www.sefaria.org/Or_HaChaim_on_Genesis.49.9?lang=bi
[viii] KJV Prophecy Study Bible Edited by Grant Jeffrey (Zondervan, 1998; Grand Rapids), p201
[ix] The Wiersbe Bible Commentary (David C. Cook, 2007; Ontario), p137
[x] Ibid, p137
[xi] John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck The Bible knowledge Commentary (Victor Books, 1989; USA), P98