Judah – Genesis 49:8-9
Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness – who dares to rouse him?
Judah, the fourth son, was the first to receive a rich and unmixed blessing, the blessing of supremacy and power. Judah’s name means “praised.” Jacob foretold a future for the tribe of Judah that pictures him as the preeminent son – the prominent tribe. This is a promise of leadership, of victory, and of tribal stability. In the future history of the tribe, Judah would become all that his name implied; the tribe would be praised. In verse 8, Judah is also described as a victorious warrior. He returns home from battle to be greeted by shouts of praise from his brothers.
These shouts of praise indicate that Judah’s leadership and supremacy will be emphasized by his victories over Israel’s enemies and by his dominion over his brothers. David’s military victories could be summed up in a Psalm he wrote praising God for empowering his triumph in battle. Of the 51 verses that comprise II Samuel 22, verses 38-41 speak very strongly of David’s and therefore, Judah’s success.
I pursued my enemies and destroyed them, and I did not turn back until they were consumed. And I have devoured them and shattered them, so that they did not rise; and they fell under my feet. For You have girded me with strength for battle; You have subdued under me those who rose up against me. You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me, and I destroyed those who hated me.
Judah’s dominion over his brothers is also revealed by other factors as well. Five characteristics emphasize this supremacy. 1) Judah was first in population. When God ordered a census taken of all the men, 20 years old and older, who could go to battle, Judah heads the list at 74,600 (Num. 1:27, 2:4). Forty years later the new generation undergoes another census and Judah still heads the list at 74,500 able-bodied men. 2) Judah was first in marching order. Judah was given the number one position and led the march of Israel (Num. 2:3-4, 10:13-14). 3) Judah was also the first to fight for the Promised Land – Judges 1:1-2.
Now it came about after the death of Joshua that the sons of Israel inquired of the Lord, saying, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” The Lord said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.”
4) The tribe of Judah was also the first tribe to supply a judge for the nation. Soon after the death of Joshua, Israel finds herself disciplined for sin by Cushan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia, for eight years. At the end of the period they call out to God for deliverance. God responds by raising up Othniel from the tribe of Judah, to lead the nation to freedom. 5) Finally, Judah is the first to have royalty permanently reside in the tribe. The first king of Israel was Saul from the tribe of Benjamin. However, he was soon replaced by king David of Judah. After that succession, the unconditional, eternal Davidic Covenant was instituted with David. In that covenant, David is promised an eternal throne, an eternal kingdom and an eternal dynasty (II Sam. 11-16; I Chron. 17:10-14). The fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant is found in the Messianic King, who guarantees the permanence of David’s throne, kingdom and dynasty.
The Messianic nature of this prophecy is stressed through a comment on verse 8, found in the Midrash Rabbah.
- Midrash Rabbah, Numbers XIIII, 14.
Judah, thee shall thy brethren praise… thy father’s sons shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp, etc. (Gen. XLIX, 8 f.). The tribe of Judah – the wise and great among them – possessed a tradition from our father Jacob as to all that would befall the whole tribe until the days of the Messiah. Every one of the tribes similarly possessed such traditions from their father Jacob as to what would happen to them until the days of the Messiah… How do we know the same of King Messiah? Because it is written, He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. (Ps. LXXII, 8). How do we know that He will hold sway on land? Because it is written, All kings shall prostrate themselves before him; all nations shall serve him (Ps. LXXII, 11) and it also says, Behold there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man… and there was given unto him dominion… that all the peoples… should serve him, etc. (Dan. VII, 14); And the stone which smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth (Dan. II, 35)… since the nations brought gifts to Solomon and will in time to come to bring similarly to the King Messiah; as you read, the Kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts (Ps. LXXII, 10).
The idea of the victorious warrior is extended and enlarged through the image of Judah as a lion in verse 9. There is a progression, a process of development apparent in the lion metaphor. Judah is pictured as a playful, frolicking, fighting, and vigorous young one who develops into a powerful and awesome animal. Growth and development are part of the picture here. A rhetorical question brings the image to a close, “who dares to rouse him?” No answer is needed, it is too obvious. You do not mess with a mature, healthy lion. Only the most foolish of fools would dare disturb such a dangerous beast.
As a person, Judah was not perfect; he had his flaws. For example, he was partner to selling his brother Joseph into slavery in Genesis 37. He also wronged his daughter-in-law Tamar in Genesis 38.
However, Judah possessed a basic nobility of character that grew in strength as the years passed. This growth in personal character and moral integrity enabled him to overcome the flaws in his personality. Unlike his three older brothers, he overcame his deficiencies. For example, he offered himself to Joseph as a guarantee of Benjamin’s safety in Genesis 43. He followed through on that pledge in Genesis 44 by offering to become a slave in Benjamin’s place.
For this growth, for this direction of his life, he is commended. This basic nobility of character will mark his tribe for years to come. They will grow to become the single most dominant tribe in the centuries to follow.
Our personal character growth will determine our rewards in this world. If we mature in character, like Judah, we will reap the rewards of character as well.
Turning to the Midrash once again, we see that the rabbis considered verse 9 to be highly Messianic in nature.
- Midrash Rabbah, New Version XCVII:
- Midrash Rabbah, Genesis XCVIII, 7:
… JUDAH IS A LION’S WHELP (XLIX, 9). R. Hama b. R Hanina said: This alludes to Messiah the son of David who was descended from two tribes, his father being from Judah and his mother from Dan, in connection with both of which ‘lion’ is written: JUDAH IS A LION’S WHELP; Dan is a lion’s whelp (Deut. XXXIII, 22).
… Others explain: From Perez unto Zedekiah, HE STOOPED, HE COUCHED; from Zedekiah until the Messiah, ‘He couched, he lay down.’ In this world, ‘He stooped down, he lay down’ in the Messianic era, HE STOOPED DOWN, HE COUCHED; when he had no enemies, HE STOOPED, HE COUCHED; until all his enemies are no more, ‘He couched, he lay down.’
(A footnote in the Midrash to the era from Zedekiah to Messiah reads of Judah: In this period he is powerless, until He will actually be redeemed.)
Now Jacob continues his remarks, and as he does, he begins to speak about another of his sons. This son is not one of the 12 gathered about his bed. This is a descendant that will come from the tribe of Judah some 1,700 years in the future.
In verses 10-12, Jacob now begins to describe the Messiah and the Messianic Kingdom. He begins by informing us about the timing of the Kingdom in verse 10.
- ^ Wood, D.R.W., and Marshall, I.H., The New Bible Dictionary, “Judah” (Electronic Ed., Logos 2.0)
- ^ Wood, D.R.W., The New Bible Dictionary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1962)
- ^ Lapides, Louis. “The Rabbinic and Hebrew Christian Views on Messianic Prophecy Outline,” Ariel Ministries.
- ^ Huckel, T., The Rabbinic Messiah, (Gen. 49:8). (Philadelphia: Hananeel House, 1998).
- ^ Van Groningen, Gerard., Messianic Revelation in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990), p. 171
- ^ Huckel, T., The Rabbinic Messiah, (Gen. 49:9). (Philadelphia: Hananeel House, 1998).