35 And she (Jacob’s wife Leah) conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she called his name Judah (meaning “Praise”). Genesis 29:35 (ESV)
Despite making a series of deceptions and questionable choices, Jacob was blessed by God with a large, though complicated, family. Its history makes for interesting reading and illustrates God’s generous grace despite our limitations and imperfections. Jacob fathered twelve sons and one daughter, and each of the sons would become one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The lineage of Jesus Christ comes through the fourth child, Judah, rather than the first-born, Reuben. This was the plan and the choice of God.
Family lineage appears to be important to the Lord. Prior to a global scattering, people from this Jewish line were at one time identified by one of the various tribes. As Christians, if not already tied into a Jewish heritage by birth, we are spiritually grafted into this “nourishing root” of lineage by the sacrifice of and our faith in Jesus Christ. (Romans 11:17)
As Jacob’s life drew near to an end, he blessed each of his twelve sons. The regal blessing of future kingship for the family, all of Judaism, and eventually for the world was bestowed upon Judah. This would become realized through King David and later through our eternal king, Jesus Christ.
8 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you, your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies, your father’s sons shall bow down before you. 9 Judah 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 and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Genesis 49:8-10 (ESV)
The line of Judah, including King David, will hold the scepter until the Lion of Judah, the Messiah, comes to receive it. This messianic transfer took place after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, when all power and glory from the Father was bestowed upon Jesus. Many hundreds of years before Christ was born, the prophet Daniel had a vision of this transfer:
13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days (God the Father) and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and language should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. Daniel 7:13-14 (ESV)
The scepter of Judah was the symbol of kingship. Upon His death and resurrection, Jesus returned to the Father where he accepted the scepter of righteous kingship once and for all. As we read in the book of Hebrews:
8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. Hebrews 1:8 (ESV)
Jesus Christ is the Lion of Judah, born as both the Son of God and descendant of King David in Mary’s (and stepfather Joseph’s) lineage. Begotten by God, fully God and fully human, Jesus came to earth first living as a humble carpenter. From there, He began a three-year ministry to announce the arrival of the kingdom of heaven, then died on the cross as God’s innocent sacrificial Lamb for the atonement of our sins. He arose from the dead as Lord and Savior, opening the way for us to follow to be with Him forever. He promised to return to us (John 14) to take all believers with Him. When Jesus returns, unlike the first time, it will be with great power and glory so that everyone on earth will see and recognize Him in an unmistakable manner (Matthew 24).
Many years after Jacob and Judah, the prophet Jeremiah spoke about this future Messiah who would come through King David in the house of Judah:
14 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ 17 “For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, 18 and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever.” Jeremiah 33:14-18 (ESV)
The prophet Jeremiah was looking forward to both the first and second coming of Jesus, who will one day return in glory to reign as king forever in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21). His sacrifice will serve as the eternal burnt offering for our sin, other sacrifices may be continued to glorify God in the eternal kingdom. The Old Testament sin offerings pointed to Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross. (More on these concepts can be discovered in the New Testament book of Hebrews.)
God placed or allowed certain people to be in our lives at key times. Some of these people meant to do us good, others meant us harm. This was evident in Judah’s family. His father, Jacob, had a well-meaning mother Rebekah and a loving wife Rachel, but also a scheming, selfish father-in-law, Laban. Each person in Jacob’s life had a powerful impact in shaping his character and beliefs, and these lessons were passed on to Judah and his siblings.
Who were some of the key people God placed in your own life who played a role in bringing you to the place of faith you have today?
Recently, I heard from a woman who hugged and comforted another struggling woman who had tormented her when they were teenagers. This demonstration of humility, forgiveness and love was quite powerful to hear. God wants us to pray for and forgive those around us, both friends and opponents, now and from the past. His perspective is eternal and timeless.
Lord, Lion of Judah, we thank You for all the people you have placed in our lives, including those who are a part of our lineage. Bless each and every one of them, and help us to forgive or make amends wherever we need to do so. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.