Characteristics of the People

His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.

The pronoun “his” refers to Judah and not exclusively to the Messiah.

In verse 12, we come to rather common and unfortunate renderings of the Hebrew. The unfortunate translation is the one used by the King James Version (KJV) and other versions such as the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) version of 1917.

The unfortunate translation used in the KJV printed in 1769 goes like this:

His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.

The NASB says:

His eyes are dull from wine and his teeth white from milk.

And the Jewish Publication Society version (1917) states:

His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.

Let us allow Rabbi Hertz to deal with these renderings. His comments come from the Hertz Pentateuch:

This rendering is absurd. According to it, Judah’s eyes are red from excessive drinking, and Jacob’s blessing is that Judah should be a drunkard! The word rendered “red,” however, means “sparkling” (Septuagint, Gunkel, Gressman); and the correct translation of the verse is: “his eyes are more sparkling than wine.”[1]

The phrase compares the eyes of the people to the sparkling appearance of wine. The eyes of the people sparkle the way wine sparkles in the sun light. Their eyes are not bloodshot from drunkenness or dull from an alcoholic stupor.

In addition, we have to ask this question about the final phrase of the verse, “Does drinking milk make your teeth white?” Obviously the answer is no. You do not get white teeth from drinking milk. The correct translation of the final phrase is therefore, as the NIV states it, “his teeth whiter than milk.” Again, it is a comparative statement describing a healthy, flashing smile.

What is the point of verse 12? The point of the imagery is strength and health. Everyone living in the Messianic Kingdom will be vigorous and sturdy. Illness, all the way from a cold to cancer, will be a thing of the past. Doctors, nurses, dentists and dental assistants will be out of a job. Hospitals and clinics and convalescent centers will no longer be needed. This will be life during the Messianic Kingdom.

On this glorious note of hope and promise, Jacob’s message to Judah comes to its completion.

We will bring our exegesis of the prophecy to a close with a three part summary. Three important implications need to be kept in mind. 1) Messiah will be the final ruler of Judah’s royal supremacy. 2) The Messiah must be able to prove his tribal descent from Judah. 3) The Messiah had to come before the 70 AD destruction of the temple when the genealogical records were destroyed.

We have stated in very clear terms that we believe this prophecy portrays and predicts the coming of Israel’s glorious Messiah King. Are we accurate in this assessment? Is this just some wild notion that has no basis? Are there other views in the Jewish community that substantiates our position? With these questions in mind we need to move to the next section of our study: Rabbinic Support.

  1. ^ Hertz, p. 185