The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.
This verse is an extremely significant Messianic verse.
Quoting from the Artscroll Tenach Commentary, an orthodox Jewish commentary and one of the editors, Rabbi Zlotowitz, makes this remark:
The general consensus [with a few exceptions] of rabbinic interpretation is that this phrase refers to the coming of the Messiah. This passage accordingly constitutes the primary Torah source for the belief that the Messiah will come.
…the overwhelming consensus of Rabbinic Commentary interprets this verse to allude to the Messiah.
According to Rabbi Zlotowitz, this verse is the foundation verse. This is the bedrock verse from which our understanding of the Messiah’s coming will grow. At least 13 prominent rabbinic commentators agree that this is a Messianic verse, and to get 13 Jewish people to agree on anything is a miracle in itself.
Rashi says that the verse refers to the Messiah. Targum Onkelos renders the verse as referring to the Messiah. Nachmanides agrees, as does Rabbi Ashtruc in the commentary Midrashei Torah, and Gur Aryeh, and Rabbi Sforno, and Midrash Tanchuma, the Jerusalem Targum, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Yalkut, the Talmud, and Midrash Rabbah.
It is no wonder that Shlomo Riskin concurs:
…our sages understood that the initial reference to the emergence of a messianic line in Judaism is to be found in the blessing to Judah, who is the progenitor of Boaz, Yishai, and David, model and ancestor of the long-awaited Messiah.
Let us examine such an important verse of Sacred Scripture. We begin with the scepter in verse 10.
The scepter first began as the shepherd’s staff. Israel’s rulers are also considered to be the shepherd of their people. This may be one of the reasons why God chose David to be Israel’s king. David had been a shepherd. As such, he gained a proper understanding of the leadership role. This is also why Yeshua referred to Himself as the “good shepherd.”
The scepter is also an emblem of kingship and a symbol of regal command. In the hand of the ruler, it became a symbol of his power. The king held the scepter in his hand while speaking in public assemblies. When he sat upon his throne, he rested it between his feet and inclined it toward himself. This idea is clearly seen in Psalm 60:7 and Psalm 108:8. Both verses read:
Gilead is Mine, and Manasseh is Mine; Ephraim also is the helmet of My head; Judah is My scepter.
The concept has carried over into our day, into the body of the Messiah. The leaders of a local congregation are considered to be the under-shepherds of the “good shepherd.”
At this point, we come to a phrase in verse 10 that has caused the spilling of untold gallons of ink on paper. The phrase is the statement rendered by the NASB, “until Shiloh comes.” Five different positions have been generated by this difficult phrase, each with its own supporters. We will not develop all five positions. Suffice it to say, we will look at the position that has the most textual support and that fits the context.
The exact wording of the statement varies between translations. Many English versions render the statement something like this: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes…” This approach makes “Shiloh” a title for the Messiah. As such, Genesis 49:10 became the source for the rabbinic name of the Messiah.
For example, Sanhedrin 98a says:
What is the name of the Messiah? They of the school of Rav Shila said, “His name is Shiloh.”
Unfortunately, using the word “Shiloh” as if it were a proper name for Messiah obscures the meaning of the phrase.
This word “Shiloh” should be taken as a possessive pronoun, not a proper name. This is how the Septuagint translates the verse, as does the Syriac version. This reading is further supported by a comparison with Ezekiel 21:27. In Ezekiel 21:27, a similar phrase and construction is used.
Therefore, the best translation has been done by the New International Version (NIV):
The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs…
The point is that Judah’s identity and right to rule cannot be lost until someone who has full rights to the scepter comes. Judah’s superiority cannot be lost until someone comes who has full claim to the right to rule. Those who reign from the house of Judah will do so in anticipation of the one to whom the kingship truly belong.
Now we need to turn our attention to that little time indicator “until.” The prophecy pivots around the word “until.”
The scepter (the ruler’s staff and Judah’s dominance) will not depart “until” after the Messiah appears. This is the real key and significance of the verse. The Messiah will have to come before the tribe of Judah loses its prominence and identity. This establishes a clear time period for the prophecy. The timing of the Messiah’s appearance is the most important point.
When did the tribe of Judah lose its prominence and identity? The records of tribal identities were kept and maintained in the Temple. All of these records were lost with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Within a few generations, all the tribes of Israel, with the exception of Levi, had lost their identity. Since the tribe of Judah lost its preeminence and identity in 70 AD, it can clearly be seen that Messiah must have come sometime before 70 AD. It is not possible for the Messiah to come after 70 AD.
A fascinating comment is found in the book Pugio Fidei by Raymond Martin.
A little more than 40 years before the destruction of the Temple, the power of pronouncing capital sentences was taken away from the Jews. When the members of the Sanhedrin found themselves deprived of their right over life and death, a general consternation took possession of them; they covered their heads with ashes, and their bodies with sackcloth, exclaiming, “Woe unto us, for the Scepter has departed from Judah and the Messiah has not come.”
The Sanhedrin was wrong. In 30 AD, the Messiah had come, exactly as Genesis 49:10 had predicted. The point is that the ancient Jewish interpretation recognized unmistakably that a time frame for the Messiah’s coming is clearly laid out in Genesis 49:10. However, the Jewish people refused to heed the information. The scepter was taken away from Judah at that precise moment so that the Romans would crucify Yeshua. Psalm 22 and Yeshua (Matt. 20:19) both predicted that he would be crucified. Therefore, the scepter was removed from Judah at that precise moment to fulfill God’s word.
Verse 10 to this point, brings us to the first coming of the Messiah. This passage can only be speaking of one person. There is only one person in history that lived before 70 AD, who fulfills the requirements of the passage, and who claimed to be the Messiah. That person is Yeshua. Yeshua‘s earthly career began with His birth in 6 or 7 AD and terminated with His ascension in 30 AD.
In Luke 3, we have a record of His genealogy, His tribal identity. We know what tribe and family Yeshua came from. Yeshua is a descendent of Judah as well as a descendent of the royal family of David. In Luke 1, Yeshua is stated to be the final king of Judah’s royal supremacy.
The angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Messiah to Mary. He makes this statement in Luke 1:31-33:
You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Yeshua. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.
Judah’s prominence reaches its greatest glory with the coming of Yeshua. However, we the Jewish people rejected Yeshua as our Messiah/King when He came the first time. Yeshua went back to His heavenly throne until the time when the Jewish people shall call on Him to return. It is at that time, sometime in the future, that He will return to destroy His enemies, save His people, and institute the Messianic Kingdom. Because of this fact of history, we have a time gap between what we have seen so far and the last phrase of the verse.
Please refer to the following diagram. This is how the timing of each phrase breaks down.
“The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,” refers to the time period from 1,700 BC to 6-7 BC.
The word “until” brings us to Yeshua‘s First Coming. His First Coming extended from the years 6 or 7 BC until the year 30 AD. Jacob told us when the Messiah will appear – before 70 AD and that was exactly when Yeshua arrived on the scene.
Please note, as you look at the chart, that the very important word “until” does not mean that Judah will possess the scepter and then loose royal authority when the Messiah comes. Rather, the word “until” speaks of the apex of Judah’s rule. It speaks of the enlargement of Judah’s rule and the perpetuity of Judah’s rule through the Messiah. Judah’s rule will reach its greatest glory when the Messiah appears. The first part of verse 10 describes the First Coming segment of this Blend Prophecy.
Then a time gap exists between that phrase and the final phrase of the verse. That time gap is covered by that little connective word “and.” That little word “and” covers the time from 30 AD until the return of Yeshua and the institution of the Messianic Kingdom. That little word “and” summarizes approximately 2,000 years.
It is during the Messianic Kingdom that the final phrase of verse 10 will be fulfilled, “the obedience of the nations is His.” Not only will Yeshua reign over Israel, but He will, likewise, reign over all the nations of the world as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The last phrase of verse 10 takes us into the Second Coming segment of this Blend Prophecy.
In the words of Rabbi Munk from the Artscroll Tenach Commentary:
Until the Messiah’s coming Judah will hold the royal scepter in the midst of his own nation, but the Messiah, the descendent of David will reign over the gathered nations.
We have already stated our understanding that the word “Shiloh” would be better rendered “to whom it belongs.” Before moving on, it would be appropriate to explain in more detail these two understandings of the verse.
- ^ Zlotowitz, vol. 6, p. 2152
- ^ Ibid., p. 2153
- ^ Silbermann, p. 245; Zlotowtiz, vol. 6, p. 2152; Fruchtenbaum, Dr. Arnold G., Messianic Christology (Ariel Ministries, 1998), p. 20
- ^ Ibid.; Ibid.; Frydland, Rachmiel, What the Rabbis Know About the Messiah (Columbus, Ohio: Messianic Publishing Co., a division of Messianic Literature Outreach, 1991), pp. 16-17
- ^ Cohen, p. 305
- ^ Zlotowitz, vol. 6, p. 2152
- ^ Ibid., p. 2150
- ^ Ibid., p. 2153
- ^ Ibid.; Frydland, p. 17
- ^ Yellin, Burt, Messiah: A Rabbinic and Scriptural Viewpoint (Denver, CO: Congregation Roeh Israel, 1984), p. 90; Frydland, pp. 16-17
- ^ Frydland, p. 17
- ^ Ibid.; Fruchtenbaum, p.20
- ^ Riskin Shlomo, The International Jerusalem Post, January 12, 2001, “Awaiting the Messiah,” p. 39
- ^ Hertz, p. 185
- ^ Keil and Delitzsch, vol. 1, p. 393
- ^ Van Groningen, p. 172
- ^ Gaebelein, vol. 2, pp. 279-280
- ^ Ibid.
- ^ Fruchtenbaum, p. 19; Logos 2.0, New Bible Dictionary, article “Shiloh”
- ^ Fruchtenbaum, pp. 19-20
- ^ Lemann, MM, Jesus Before the Sanhedrin, (Neck City: Giving and Sharing) www.giveshare.org/library/sanhedrin/1.2.html
- ^ McDowell, Josh, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1972, 1979), pp. 168-169, Other possible sources, J. Tal. Sanhedrin 24 recto, B. Tal. Sanhedrin 4
- ^ Zlotowitz, vol. 6, p. 2153-2154