Jacob’s Blessing to Judah
This week we begin a series on the Davidic Covenant. This promise God made with King David is a foundational truth that touches so much of Scripture, including Jesus’ birth, identity, and Kingdom reign. But instead of starting with David, we’re beginning with Jacob’s blessings to his sons. Chris walks us through these unconventional blessings this week, examining why Judah, Jacob’s fourth son, received his father’s inheritance over his first three sons.
While Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, was first in line to receive the inheritance, he and his brothers Simeon and Levi were passed over due to their sins. Yet Judah, who had his own sin issues, received a blessing with the wonderful promises of kingship, dominion, eternity, and prosperity. Through the tribe of Judah came David and, ultimately, the fulfillment of Judah’s blessings: the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Listen to this week’s broadcast to learn more about Judah’s role in God’s covenant with David!
Chris Katulka: Thank you for joining the Friends of Israel Today. I'm Chris Katulka, and I just want to remind you before we get started to visit foiradio.org to keep up with all that's happening in Israel, and you can also hear nine years of Friends of Israel Today teaching for free, that's right, free, by going to our archives page at foiradio.org. Now, today we're going to start a new series, and that series is all about God's promise to David, to King David, from 2 Samuel chapter 7. But before we can get to that promise, we first have to go back further into the Old Testament to see really the bedrock, the foundation of this promise that wraps up and goes all the way back to the time that Jacob blessed his son Judah, to be the tribe of the king. So today we're going to be looking at that, going to Genesis chapter 49.
But before we get there, let's look at what's going on in the news. Egyptian news personality and former Egyptian member of Parliament, Tawfik Okasha, criticized Hamas over their actions on October 7th and the consequences that followed in an interview with KAN News. He said, "The people of Gaza are paying the price for Hamas' stupidity." Here's my take. This isn't the first time Okasha was punished for having good relations with Israel. He was expelled from Egyptian parliament eight years ago after having a meeting with then Israeli ambassador to Egypt, which he called a good meeting. Over the years, Okasha has faced extreme backlash for supporting Israel and criticizing Hamas.
We are starting a new series today on the amazing promise that God made to King David. I was going through our nearly nine years of radio content that we've developed, and I noticed we've talked about the promise God made to Abraham. We've talked about the Mosaic Covenant. We even talked about the New Covenant, but in all the years of talking about these foundational biblical covenants in the Old Testament, I've never spent time on the promise, the covenant that God made to King David. The promise that God made to King David is bedrock to understanding why Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, why He's called the son of David, why He's to rule over God's kingdom forever. It's why Jesus is called the King of kings. It's the reason Jesus is called the King of Israel, the Messiah. It's even the reason He's called the Son of God and the Son of Man.
All of this wraps back to a single promise that God made to King David. Now you might think that we should start with King David if we're going to talk about his promise, but we're not today. Yes, actually, the Davidic covenant that was made with David is actually grounded in Jacob's blessing of his 12 sons, blessings that prophesy his 12 sons unique destinies individually within their common destiny as a nation, the nation of Israel, as the famed Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke wrote. What's interesting is that these blessings to Jacob's 12 sons can also be read as anti-blessings, which I guess you would consider a curse. For instance, as we're going to see here in a moment, Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, the first three sons of Jacob with Leah, don't fare that well with Jacob in his blessings.
Now remember, in the days of Jacob, your first son was the one who would receive the blessing. He's the one who is guaranteed rights to a double portion and the right to lead. In fact, the law of God prevented a father from choosing a son from a wife that he loved more. You can read about that in Deuteronomy 21:15-17 when it says, "Suppose a man has two wives, one whom he loves more than the other, and they both bear him sons, with the firstborn being the child of the less loved wife. In the day he divides his inheritance, he must not appoint as firstborn the son of the favorite wife in place of the other wife's son who is actually the firstborn. Rather, he must acknowledge the son of the less loved wife as firstborn and give him the double portion of all he has for that son is the beginning of the father's procreative power." It says, "To him, should go the right of the firstborn."
When a father would change the inheritance from the firstborn son during the time of Jacob, it was never subject to the father's whimsical decisions. The father didn't just go, "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, you'll receive my inheritance." No, it was actually designated to the firstborn son, unless, here it is, everybody, unless the father changes it to another son because of a serious offense against their family, if the son brings a serious offense against the family. That's what Jacob does here in Genesis 49. Technically, the kingly line of Israel should have come through Jacob's firstborn son, Reuben. Reuben was Jacob's firstborn. Jacob calls him the beginning of his strength, who is outstanding in dignity and power in Genesis 49. Jacob then turns, though, and he says this, "Reuben, you are destructive like the water and will not excel." Why? Probably because of his sexual immorality. Without saying it, Jacob is telling Reuben, "This disqualifies you from receiving the double portion. It disqualifies you from leading."
Now, according to the law, Reuben will remain Jacob's firstborn son, as seen here in the list of the 12 sons in Genesis 49. But Jacob is moving the inheritance from Reuben down. So then you'd think, "It's going to be Simeon, his second born son." That's when Jacob then turns to Simeon and then his third born son Levi all at one time, his second and third born sons, and because they uniquely share the same kind of, are you ready? Criminal traits of violence, it says in Genesis 49:5-6, anger and cruelty.
They share the same condition. They share the same condemnation and fate that would come upon Reuben, and Jacob prophesizes this against them, "I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel." This is better translated to divide or a portion, this word here, when Jacob uses the word to divide them and scatter them because Simeon's descendants are eventually absorbed into the territory of Judah. You can read about that in Joshua 19. Levi's descendants, they become the priests of Israel, and they're given 48 towns and pasture lands among the 12 tribes. They actually don't get a plot of land because they are the priests of Israel.
Now we turn to Judah. Finally, a blessing. This is what Jacob says to his third born son, "Judah, your brothers will praise you. Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies. Your father's sons will bow down before you. You are a lion's cub, Judah. From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He crouches and lies down like a lion, like a lioness, who will arouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs, the nations will obey him. Binding his foal to the vine and his colt to the choicest vine, he will wash his garments and wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be red like wine and his teeth white from milk."
It looks like Jacob has transferred the blessing of inheritance of a double portion from Reuben to Simeon and Levi, right down to Judah. Remember what I said earlier? The father didn't just go, "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, you're going to receive my inheritance." It was designated to the firstborn son unless the father changes it to another son because of a serious offense that was brought against one's family. Jacob moves that inheritance from Reuben, Simeon, Levi right to Judah. Genesis 49:8 literally begins, "As for Judah." Jacob blesses Judah with the rewards of wisdom. What is that? Kingship, dominion, and prosperity. The blessedness of this ideal ruler was evidenced in Judah's victories, his wealth from his land, which you can read about in Genesis 49:11, and also his beauty.
Now, if you've read about the life of Judah, you know he was no perfect child either, but it seems to be that Jacob completely overlooks Judah's sins of his youth, possibly because of Judah's willingness to sacrifice himself for Jacob's wellbeing when Joseph demands Benjamin, Jacob's beloved son, to stay in Egypt. You can read all about this in Genesis 44:18-34. It's Judah who's willing, begging Joseph, when he doesn't even know it's his brother at that point, to keep him in Egypt and send Benjamin back for the wellbeing of his father Jacob. But unlike Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, Judah is told, "Judah," Listen to this, "Your brothers will praise you." Which is an interesting wordplay in the Hebrew up here.
The name Judah sounds in Hebrew like the verb translated to “praise.” So it's almost a wordplay that's going on there to draw attention to the statement as having special significance. Your brothers are going to praise you. So the same is said about Judah when Leah, his mother, gives birth to him. Leah finds out she's pregnant, and she says, do you remember? "This time I will praise the Lord." This is why she named him Judah. The firstborn son is the one to be praised, but here, it's Judah who's the one praised.
Now, when we return, we're going to look at some of the qualities of kingship found in Jacob's blessings to Judah in Genesis chapter 49. We've been looking at the blessings that Jacob has been giving to his 12 sons from Genesis chapter 49 as we've entered into this new series on the Davidic promise, the promise that God made to King David, but again, that promise wraps all the way back to this blessing that Jacob makes to his 12 sons, and that's why I want to introduce to you a fan favorite of the Friends of Israel, a very famous book that we have that we've had around for a very long time called Jacob's Dozen: A Prophetic Look at the Tribes of Israel.
In Jacob's Dozen, a study of the biblical history and prophecies associated with each tribe of Israel, you'll get a better understanding of Jacob's deathbed prophecies concerning each of his 12 sons found in Genesis 49. The remarkable manner in which each prophecy was fulfilled in that tribe's history is clearly explained in Will Varner's Jacob's Dozen. Other fascinating subjects, such as the Lost Tribes of Israel, the role of the tribes, and the end times, are explored as well. You will be amazed and blessed by this scholarly yet readable prophetic look at the 12 tribes of Israel. Again, it's called Jacob's Dozen by Dr. Will Varner. You can get your copy of Jacob's Dozen by visiting foiradio.org. Again, that's foiradio.org.
Welcome back, everyone. We're continuing our study on the Davidic covenant, but before we can dive into the promise God made to King David, we first have to go back to the bedrock of the promise, and that doesn't begin with David. It actually begins with his tribe, the tribe of Judah. In the previous segment, we saw that Judah was Jacob's fourth-born son, so why did he receive the inheritance of the firstborn son? Reuben, Simeon, and Levi committed serious offenses against their family, which moved the inheritance down the line, right to Judah. We also read through the blessing of Jacob and Judah, and we saw that Judah would be rewarded with the wisdom of kingship, dominion, and even prosperity in Genesis chapter 49. Let's talk about a few of these.
First, Jacob promised Judah kingship. In Genesis 49:10, Jacob says to Judah, "The scepter will not depart from Judah nor the ruler's staff from between his feet." The scepter is a symbol of eminence and kingship, and when a king was seated, the staff would actually rest between his feet, which showed his rulership. It showed his reign. The first two lines of verse 10 suggest that Judah will continue to enjoy a place of eminence, that the tribe will never lose its place or its kingship because, at the end of verse 10, it says, "Until he possesses that which belongs to him." So the scepter and the staff showed Judah's kingship among the 12 tribes of Israel.
Now, here's something that's interesting. The latter half of verse 10 has different translations among various Bible translations. The NKJV, for instance, along with the KJV, the NASB, and the ASV, they all say, "Until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the people." While the ESV, along with the NIV, NET, and CEB, they all change it a bit. They write something like, "Until the tribute comes to him and to him shall be obedience to the people." Or, "Until he comes to whom it belongs." So what's the problem here? The word Shiloh has some major interpretive problems in the Hebrew. There are at least four major opinions. Some prefer to leave the text as it is, reading Shiloh as the actual place where the arc would rest for a while during the time of judges.
While others, by repointing the Hebrew text, arrive at a different translation which says, "Until his ruler comes. Until..." Or, "The ruler comes." A reference to the Davidic ruler or the Messiah, which, if we fast-forward to the actual series that we're doing, the Davidic promise or the promise that God made to David, this is very important. Another possibility, the third possibility that does not require any corrections to the Hebrew vowel pointings or anything like that, is that it says, "Until tribute is brought to him." Which has the advantage of providing some good parallelism with the following line, "The nations will obey him." The nations will obey him and bring tribute.
But the final one, the one that I think actually makes the most sense, follows the present translation, and it says this, "To whom it belongs." It's based on the ancient versions of Hebrew, and again, this would refer to that promise that God made to David, his dynasty, and ultimately, the coming of the Messiah. I believe that Shiloh is not the actual location, Shiloh. I don't believe that's what it's saying here, but speaking specifically about a future ruler of Israel from the line of David, who would be Israel's messiah. Next, notice his dominion as the king. The tribe of Judah wouldn't just rule over the 12 tribes of Israel. Did you hear what was said earlier? The vision that Jacob has for Judah is much bigger. It's one that would come to rule the nations of the world. His dominion would be a global dominion that the nations will obey him.
Look, the next is the king's prosperity, so we've seen his kingship, we've seen his dominion, and next, his prosperity. Jacob says this to Judah in his blessing in Genesis 49, it says, "Binding his foal to the vine and his colt to the choicest vine, He will wash his garments in wine and robes in the blood of grapes." The vine is a symbol of fertility, of joy, of peace, and prosperity in the kingdom. Here, it shows tremendous prosperity. No one but an incredibly wealthy individual would ever tether a donkey to a choice vine because the donkey would eat all of the valuable grapes. The text says that he'll wash his garments in wine. This again, another image of incredible prosperity or power. The wine will be so plentiful and common that it will be used for washing your clothes. That's what it's saying.
The parallel, however, is the blood of grapes. This idea actually connotes his violent trampling of enemies, which you can see in Isaiah 63:2-3, perhaps a deliberate pun here for both kinds of laundry that you're going to take out. As one scholar puts it, "To his own, this will bring joy and fullness. To those who reject him, he will bring terror." Judah receives the blessings to rule from his earthly father Jacob and from his heavenly Father. It's here. Think about this. It's here that we see the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, is also, who? The lion from the tribe of Judah, and this will be the foundation for the promise that God makes to King David.
Steve Conover: Now, Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life and ministry of Holocaust survivor, Zvi Kalisher.
Mike Kellogg: Recently, a friend who was deeply depressed asked me to visit. When I arrived, he told me about his problems and lamented, "No one ever listens to me." I said, "There is someone who is always there to listen to your difficulties. I have experienced many hard situations in life, and I always go to him."
"Tell me who it is." He said. I opened my Bible and read Psalm 34:18, "The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of the all." He seemed surprised that I had found just the right words. He asked, "How did you find this?" I said, "I have put my trust in the living God, and He enables me to understand His Word. You should know this passage. You told me you go to the synagogue often."
When he asked if other people suffered like he had, I opened my Bible and read Isaiah 53. I explained, "This chapter describes the Lord's great suffering and crucifixion. He suffered and died for people like us." He became defensive and said, "This is not written in the Jewish Bible. It is only written in Christian books." I showed him my Bible, and he saw I had been reading from the Old Testament. I then read Zechariah 12:10, "They will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son."
"Who is pierced," I ask, "If not the Lord Jesus Christ? Our prophets foretold all of these things."
"Perhaps I will go to the rabbi and ask him what he thinks." He commented. I responded, "It is certainly your privilege to do so, but you have been listening to rabbis all your life, and they have never explained to you how to have true faith in God." He asked if I had any other books, and I replied, "No. The Bible tells me everything I need to know about God." I then turned to Psalm 22 and read how they pierced Jesus' hands and feet. I said, "This happened when the Lord was crucified for the sins of mankind. If you still do not believe the Old Testament speaks about the Lord Jesus, then take this Bible, cast it into the garbage, and continue to dance around the golden calf of your commentaries. You told me no one would listen to your troubles. Turn to the Lord, do what King David did when he was in trouble. If you read the Psalms, you'll find that David prayed, asking God to lead and strengthen him when he was weak. The choice is yours. Will you do what I have told you or not?"
His deaf ears were beginning to open, and his blind eyes were beginning to see. His sour expression became joyful as the truth began to penetrate his heart. I believe this man is very close to accepting Jesus as his savior and Messiah. Please pray for him and for me.
Chris Katulka: Thanks for joining us on this episode of The Friends of Israel Today. I want to encourage you to go to foiradio.org, and there you can purchase your copy of Jacob's Dozen, an in-depth look at the 12 tribes of Israel, their blessings, and also their future by Dr. Will Varner. Again, that's foiradio.org.
Now, next week, we're going to pick up our series, The Davidic Promise, the promise that God made to King David, by looking at 2 Samuel chapter 7. It's going to be a great, in-depth dive into this covenant to see how it works its way all throughout the scriptures.
I'm your host and teacher, Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, engineered by Bob Beebe, edited by Jeremy Strong, who also composed and performs our theme music. Mike Kellogg read Apples of Gold, and Steve Conover is our executive producer. Our mailing address is FOI Radio, PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. Again, that's FOI Radio, PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. Our web address is foiradio.org, or you can call our listener line. We want to hear from you, 888-343-6940. Again, that's 888-343-6940. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We're a worldwide evangelical ministry proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
Jacob's Dozen is a study of the biblical history and prophecies associated with each tribe of Israel. You'll get a better understanding of Jacob's deathbed prophecies concerning each of his 12 sons found in Genesis 49. The remarkable manner in which each prophecy was fulfilled in that tribe's history is clearly explained as well as an exploration into other fascinating subjects such as the Lost Tribes of Israel, the role of the tribes, and the end times.
Apples of Gold: The One Who is Always There
Zvi found a visit with a friend suffering from depression to be a perfect time to share the love of God. Though his friend felt like no one cared or listened to him, Zvi introduced him to the One who always hears our prayers. He used Old Testament passages to perfectly capture how God was near to his friend and how Jesus had gone through trials, too. He could relate to the man’s pain! Zvi’s knowledge of the Old Testament caught his friend’s attention. Through this meeting, Zvi introduced his friend to the One who could give salvation and joy in the saddest moments.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.
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