A sermon preached on Genesis 49:8-12, November 10, 2019 by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD. Week nineteen of “Genesis: The Big Read,” a continuing sermon series through the book of Genesis, Ordinary Time 2019.
Introduction: The End’s Beginning (vs. 1-2)
We come now to the beginning of the end of Genesis. Jacob and his sons have been reconciled and saved by Joseph, the very one they tried to get rid of. They have come to dwell in the land of Goshen, outside of Egypt, being spared from the great famine in the land. How will Genesis now come to an end?
Well, remember that through out the book we have been tracing a scarlet thread. Right from the moment sin entered the world, the Lord proclaimed that a snake-crusher would come and undo the curses of Genesis 3. Following that thread through every winding twist and turn of the narrative and into Genesis 49, what we find is that an even finer point is now put upon God’s promises: salvation will come through a lionly king of the tribe of Judah.
Here, Jacob, who is about to die, prophetically blesses his twelve sons. It’s interesting here, Nahum Sarna notes, “It is fitting that the Book of Genesis, which opened with the creative power of the divine word, closes with the notion of the effective power of the inspired predictive word of the patriarch.” (Genesis, pg. 331) The word of God which brought creation into being is now spoken through Jacob and focused on to Israel’s sons and their descendants. It’s interesting too to note how different this is from the last time a patriarch died. Remember how that went down? The blessing there happened behind closed doors as Jacob deceitfully stole the blessing rather than having it given to another. It’s a real contrast.
So again, God’s promises of salvation are, incredibly, and in a way that could never be achieved by human effort, now going to be handed-off and given to Judah and his descendants. The promises made are extraordinary and could never be fulfilled by anyone less than King Jesus himself. We’re going to focus on this prophecy given to Judah in verses 8-12 and on three things it tells us about Jesus and his reign as messiah.
I. Rebuking the Eldest (vs. 3-7)
As we make our way to verse 8, it is interesting to note in passing how some these blessings are actually “anti-blessings.” Reuben, the eldest, is severely rebuked here and so are Simeon and Levi. This is one reminder that, left to themselves, this group of people would not have made it very far! This is one of those moments where you know Genesis is telling you the truth! The very nature of these prophecies underscores how good and gracious and merciful God is with this group, so that his purposes of salvation might be accomplished. And that brings us to the Lion of Judah.
II. The Lion of Judah & Three Aspects of His Reign (vs. 8-12)
9Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
Verses 9 and 10 give us the picture of the original Lion King! In Jewish thought, a lion was a symbol of both kingly rule and the messiah. Who but Jesus could fulfill this prophecy? In Revelation 19, we get that awe-inspiring picture of our Lord as the rider on the white horse. “His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems…On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:12, 16) This is how we should think of Jesus – once humbled for our salvation, but now reigning and ruling, and preparing to bring that reign and rule to bear on the earth as the world’s true king. This is the Real Jesus. I come back here to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:16. He says, in so many words, I used to think about Jesus like anyone else – but I don’t make that mistake anymore. He’s God’s true and lasting king. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
C.S. Lewis was so right to give us that unforgettable picture of Jesus as Aslan, the mighty lion, who was not safe, but good. He is more powerful than the strongest enemy, and more tender than the most caring parent. Cyril of Jerusalem says here: “He is called a Lion; not a man eater, but, as it were, showing by this title his kingly, strong and resolute nature. Then too, he is called a Lion in opposition to the lion, our adversary who roars and devours those who have been deceived. For the Savior came, not having changed his own gentle nature, and yet as the mighty lion of the tribe of Judah, saving them that believe but trampling upon the adversary.” (Catechetical Lectures, 10.3)
When we look closer at the passage, we find that it expresses the reign and rule of this king of Judah in three ways:
1. Permanency (v. 10a)
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;”
David was a descendant of Judah, but he certainly couldn’t fulfill these words. His reign ended. Judah eventually declined in prominence as a tribe. But these verses speak of One whose reign will never end. In fact, “until tribute comes to him” is probably better rendered “until he comes to whom it belongs.” Judah’s prophecy is pointing to the finality of Jesus Christ – the Lion and the Lamb whose work can never be undone. And let’s just remember – this promise of a permanent king was given in the second millennium B.C. You think politics are unstable now? Try then! So, the good news of God’s king who reigns forever should be just as a reassuring today as it was when it was written.
2. Scope (v. 10b)
“And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”
Now, this is an incredibly bold statement here by Jacob. Back in chapter 46, we’re told that all the people of the “house of Jacob” were seventy people. Seventy. And here we’re told that the Lion of the tribe of Judah will own the obedience of the peoples. Of the nations! How can Jacob be so bold? Because he knows his God. Here we stand today in 2019, having the great privilege to see this prophecy partially fulfilled. No one in history has ever or will ever own the obedience of more hearts than Jesus Christ.
He is that great Son and King from Psalm 2, of whom the Lord said: “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”
This is also inherently exclusive. No one is exempt from recognizing him for who he is. Every knee shall bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. We pray for more and more to willingly do that now.
3. Peace & Prosperity (v. 11)
11 Binding his foal to the vine
and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
Binding my foal, scrubbing my garments
I never understood the first two pictures given here until now. The first is the picture of a donkey being tied to the choicest vine of grapes available. What in the world does that signify? Well, if you’re the kind of guy that lets his donkey nibble on the best crops you’ve got, you’re not worried about too much, are you?
I have a long-running battle with our cat Wilma over half-and-half in the morning. Every morning she annoys me until I pour her the smallest amount possible of, what is to her, liquid gold. And every morning she wants more. And sometimes I just have to look at her and say, no – it’s too scarce and too important! The kingdom of this King never knows such want. There is no hint of need or want.
Secondly, this picture of the king washing his garments in wine says much the same – choice wine is as bathwater to him. What powerful pictures – the kingdom of the Messiah is one of full peace, joy, wealth, security, and abundance!
Now for us, of course, that kingdom is already and not yet. But already, in Jesus, we lack no good thing. How much more so then when he appears?
Blood of the grapes
Lastly, we get this image of the blood of grapes. It speaks to the full and complete vanquishing of the enemies of this king and his subjects.
This very image is in invoked of Jesus at least twice in the book of Revelation. Chapter 19 says, “He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”
When the king returns, not one enemy will be left standing.
We recently saw the updated Lion King with kids. There’s one scene that is quite moving in the updated version. You probably know this part of the story. Young Simba is not told not wander off past the borders of his Father’s kingdom, but he does anyway. He finds himself in the shadowlands, surrounded by thugs. Just as the hyenas are about to pounce, Mufasa shows up and utterly scatters Simba’s enemies. All I could think of was Aslan, that greater lion! That’s a true king, I thought to myself. The justice of Judah’s king will be utterly perfect and complete. We’re here reminded of how much we need to bind ourselves to the Lamb of God because, apart from his work, we don’t stand a chance with the Lion of God. Thanks be to God, they are one and the same.
So here, at the beginning of the end, we have a poem and a prophecy, looking forward to when all that’s gone before and all that will come after, will be healed and restored. In Joyce Baldwin’s words, “This poem is looking forward to the day when food shortages are no more, harvests are abundant, and wars have ceased because everyone gives allegiance to God’s king, and enjoys the sheer bounty of his provision. God’s intention for humanity is nothing less than paradise restored.” (The Message of Genesis 12-50, pg. 209)
And so we give all praise, honor and glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Now and forever. Amen.