20181222 Parsha Vayechi – The Scepter Will Not Pass From Judah
Readings Genesis 49: 8-12
Matthew 1: 18-25
Today is 22 December 2018. I want to thank God for a miracle that occurred 28 years ago on this date. About 5pm I was working on a couple of wooden boxes for my boys and was cutting strips of hard maple and alternating with walnut. In an instant of inattention, I got my left hand too close to the table saw and instantly cut off three fingers. It is a long story that Pat would be happy to regale you with all the gory details. Suffice it to say, the prognosis was not good, infection, gangrene, amputation. But my heavenly Father had a different plan. Against all natural odds, he healed my fingers, much to the amazement of the surgeon. Just three months after the accident I was back on full duty. There is seldom a day goes by that I don’t thank God for this hand. There is a God in Israel and he is still in the healing business!
In today’s world we don’t do blessings on our children like was done by our forefathers. Perhaps something is lost as a result. We are much more legalistic and formal. We don’t lay our hands on our sons and pronounce a blessing/prophecy over them. No, we write out a will and let all the kids fight over our estate after we are gone.
You know the old saying. Where there’s a will there’s….relatives.
Our Parsha this week describes the blessings given to the sons of Jacob. The blessings were separate from birthright. Anyone could get a blessing. But generally speaking, the birthright was for the first born. That meant that he received a double portion of the father’s estate.
In the case of Jacob’s sons, they all received a blessing, but Joseph’s two sons Manasseh and Ephraim received the birthright. With Ephraim, the youngest, receiving the greater share.
The blessings outlined in Genesis Chapter 49 were actually quite prophetic. Reuben forfeited his natural position of prominence as the firstborn because of serious sin. The tribe of Reuben dwindled down to almost nothing.
Reuben not only lost his position as the head of the clan, he lost his position as the priest. Levi would eventually occupy that position after supporting Moses at Sinai.
Similarly, Simeon, because of his violent nature would eventually dwindle to almost nothing.
Genesis 49:8-12 Judah, so you are—your brothers will praise you: Your hand will be on your enemies’ neck. Your father’s sons will bow down to you. (9) A lion’s cub is Judah—from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He crouches, lies down like a lion, or like a lioness—who would rouse him? (10) The scepter will not pass from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs will come. To him will be the obedience of the peoples. (11) Binding his foal to the vine, his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he washes his garments in wine, and in the blood of grapes his robe. (12) His eyes are darker than wine, and teeth that are whiter than milk.
Judah was given a very good blessing. Whereas the three previous blessings prophesied problems for the recipients, Judah was all positive. Judah would become the leader of the tribes. He led all the other tribes when they would march from one place to another while in the wilderness.
However, Judah himself was not the most sterling of characters. Remember, he was the brother that suggested selling Joseph rather than killing him, so they could make a profit. Then later, he dealt unfaithfully with his daughter-in-law Tamar. But then he showed good character when he interceded and offered himself as a substitute for Benjamin. Overall, this blessing is an example of God’s grace to an undeserving individual.
This blessing/prophecy of Judah is a description of Judah’s greatest descendant, Yeshua HaMashiach. Charles Spurgeon said “The dying patriarch was speaking of his own son Judah; but while speaking of Judah he had a special eye to our Lord, who sprang from the tribe of Judah. Everything therefore which he says of Judah, the type, he means with regard to our greater Judah, the antitype, our Messiah Yeshua”.
Jacob continued his blessing. You are a lion…The scepter will not pass from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,…. To him will be the obedience of the peoples. Each of these refer to the ruling position Judah will have among his brethren. He inherited the leadership aspect of the firstborn’s inheritance. This leadership position among his brothers meant that the eventual kings of Israel would come from Judah and that the Messiah – God’s ultimate leader – would eventually come from the tribe of Judah.
The part about tying a donkey to a vine is a prophecy of the abundance and blessings that Judah would enjoy. No one would tie his donkey to a vine, (think grape vine) because the donkey would eat it. So, the ability to tie a donkey to one of your grapevines means that you have so many grape vines that you are not concerned with a donkey eating one of them. Washing garments in wine is also a metaphor for wealth in that Judah would be rich enough that wine was just as plentiful as water.
In Revelation 5:5 Yeshua is called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
The leadership prophecy took some 640 years to fulfill, in part with the reign of David, first of Judah’s dynasty of kings. The prophecy took some 1600 years to completely fulfill in Yeshua. Yeshua is referred to as Shiloh, the name meaning, He whose right it is or to Whom it belongs and a title anciently understood to speak of the Messiah.
From David until the Herods, a prince of Judah was head over Israel (even Daniel in captivity). The promise was that Israel would keep this scepter until Shiloh comes. Even under their foreign masters during this period, Israel had a limited right to self-rule, until 7CE. At that time, under Herod and the Romans, their right to capital punishment – a small but remaining element of their self-governance – was taken away.
At the time, the rabbis considered it a disaster of unfulfilled Scripture. Seemingly, the last vestige of the scepter had passed from Judah, and they did not see the Messiah. Reportedly, rabbis walked the streets of Jerusalem and said, “Woe unto us, for the scepter has been taken away from Judah, and Shiloh has not come.” Yet God’s word had not been broken.
In the blessing for Judah, Jacob is prophesying about Yeshua. This is the season where most of the Christian world and much of the secular world celebrates or at least acknowledges the birth of Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah.
We know for a variety of reasons that Yeshua was not born on the 25th of December.
1. It was too cold to be out in the fields with sheep.
2. The lambing season is in the springtime. Makes sense that the Lamb of God would be born when the lambs were being born.
3. Calculating the birth based on John the Immerser brings us to either Sukkot or the weeks prior to Pesach.
The Bible does not specify the day. I believe that was on purpose so that we would not begin to venerate the day and adding all sorts of secular customs that would obscure the significance of the earthly birth of the Son of God our Messiah. Oh, wait…that may have already happened….my bad.
On that very first night when the Messiah was born, an angelic choir turned out to celebrate and announce the auspicious occasion. Heaven celebrated Yeshua’s birth so should we.
We should acknowledge basic but critical aspects of prophecy that make His birth unique in all the universe.
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore Adonai Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will conceive. When she is giving birth to a son, she will call his name Immanuel.
Matthew 1:18-21 Now the birth of Yeshua the Messiah happened this way. When His mother Miriam was engaged to Joseph but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Ruach ha-Kodesh. (19) And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, made up his mind to dismiss her secretly. (20) But while he considered these things, behold, an angel of Adonai appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Miriam as your wife, for the Child conceived in her is from the Ruach ha-Kodesh. (21) She will give birth to a son; and you shall call His name Yeshua, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Micah 5:1 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah—least among the clans of Judah—from you will come out to Me One to be ruler in Israel, One whose goings forth are from of old, from days of eternity.
Matthew 2:1 Now after Yeshua was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, magi from the east came to Jerusalem,
Psalms 72:10 May kings of Tarshish and the islands bring tribute, kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts.
Matthew 2:11 And when they came into the house, they saw the Child with His mother Miriam; and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
There are many more prophecies that point to Yeshua. Every book of the Bible prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. For these reasons I think we should celebrate the birth of the Messiah. Notice that I didn’t say celebrate Christmas. The observance we call Christmas has been diluted to the point that very little of it is recognizable.
Right now, our children are being taught about the birth of Yeshua. They are being taught straight out of the Bible. NO Santa, no reindeer, no decking the halls. Just Yeshua and his miraculous birth. This is the perfect time to give our children the truth, when they are being bombarded every day with the secular foolishness of this season.
Let me restate some ideas from my sermon last year.
For many Believers, especially those who grew up celebrating Christmas, the idea of abandoning the most popular of Christian holidays just leaves them empty. Some feel that not honoring the Messiah’s birth would be a sin. Of course, we know that it is not, but this is a real feeling for many.
What I tell people who ask if they must stop celebrating Christmas is that we as a congregation will not be putting on plays of the nativity, and singing “Oh Christmas Tree, oh Christmas Tree, but “In your home, by all means celebrate how you feel best. No one is going to judge you. We have no Messianic police!” I know many Messianic couples where one spouse is not Jewish. For the non-Jews, often there is an emptiness by not celebrating something with which they grew up—that was pure and honoring to God. Several have told me that in recent years they have quietly celebrated.
I would like to leave you with a couple of thoughts.
Your family is the most important physical entity you have been given on earth. All of us had a mother and father. Some of us had siblings, aunts and uncles, and cousins. Do all your relatives know Yeshua? Are they living a holy life before the Lord? Instead of isolating yourself from them, would getting together with them give you an opportunity to be a witness of the goodness of Adonai? Look at every family get together as one more chance to win the lost. Don’t let a division in beliefs rob you (and them) of a blessing.
Your particular belief regarding Christmas should not be a platform from which you can theologically pummel poor old aunt Bertha and Uncle Al. The particular day Yeshua was born is not a salvation issue. The FACT that he was born IS a salvation issue. I wish we would celebrate the birth and life of Yeshua every day with the fervor we see at Christmas. If we did, perhaps we would see more people born into the kingdom of God.