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. It 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. Like today, God has his reasons for doing things and He does not always tell us why.
Family lineage appears to be important to God. The Jewish nation is identified with its various tribes. As Christians, if we not already tied into this Jewish heritage by birth, we are 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 and all of Judaism was bestowed on son number four, Judah. This was to become realized through the line of David and later by the eternal king, Jesus Christ. Here is Jacob’s blessing:
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 of kingship until the Messiah comes. This messianic transfer took place after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, when all power and glory from the Father is bestowed upon Jesus. Many hundreds of years before Christ was born, the prophet Daniel had a vision of this future, kingly 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 a sign of kingship and was held in the line of Judah and David until Jesus Christ came. Upon his resurrection, Jesus returned to his Father, where he accepted the scepter of righteous kingship once and for all. 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 both as the Son of God and the descendant of King David, through both Mary’s and stepfather Joseph’s lineage. Begotten by God, both fully God and fully man, Jesus came to earth as a humble carpenter to die as the innocent sacrificial Lamb for our sins. He arose from the dead as Lord, to open a way for us to follow and be with Him forever. He said that He will come back to get us (John 14) to take us to Him. When Jesus returns, He will come with great power and glory so that everyone on earth will see it in an unmistakable manner (Matthew 24).
Other than being father of the chosen lineage through which the Jewish messiah, Jesus, would appear, the Bible does not have a lot more to say about the contribution of Judah to the family of Israel. He did speak up to spare the life of his brother, Joseph, when the other brothers wanted him killed him due to a resentment over father Jacob’s favoritism. Sparing Joseph’s life turned out to be an especially important step for the survival and growth of the family, as Joseph would later provide essential food for them in Egypt during a severe, seven-year famine.
God chose Judah to be a father in the lineage of Jesus Christ, but apparently did not choose his first wife, a Canaanite, to be mother in the line. That role fell to Judah’s widowed daughter-in-law Tamar. This makes for interesting, if unusual, reading in Genesis 38.
Many years later, the prophet Jeremiah spoke about the future Messiah coming 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 the coming of Jesus Christ, who would first die on the cross as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of man, then come in glory to reign as king forever in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21). His sacrifice will serve as the eternal burnt offering, as all earlier sin offerings were but symbols pointing to His ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross. More of these concepts can be discovered in the New Testament book of Hebrews.
God has 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 also evident in Judah’s family. His father, Jacob, had a well-meaning mother Rebekah and Jacob had a loving wife Rachel as well as a scheming, selfish father-in-law, Laban. Everyone in Jacob’s life had an impact on shaping his character and beliefs, and these were lessons were passed on to Judah and his eleven brothers.
Who were some of the key people God placed in your own life? Take a moment to reflect on the roles some of these people played in bringing your faith to the point where it is today.
How have your views, behavior and character evolved over the years? Likely some of the individuals who meant you harm in the past have changed, as well. Recently, I heard of a woman who hugged (before Covid-19) and comforted a struggling woman who had tormented her when they were both teenagers. This demonstration of humility, forgiveness and love was quite powerful. God wants us to pray for all of those around us, both friends and opponents, both those near to us now and those we knew in the past. His perspective is eternal and timeless.
The Lord has an intimate knowledge of each person’s heart and is in a good position to make choices for certain roles. There are many examples in the Bible of imperfect or apparently ill-suited people who are selected by God to fulfil a role. They often turn out to be just the right choice, though it may not appear so at the time. The Apostle Paul is a good example. Before his conversion, he was a fierce, determined persecutor of Christians. Yet God saw his potential and changed his heart to use that same passion to become the greatest, most determined Christian evangelist of all time.
Who around us might have more spiritual potential than we are giving them credit for? They are a good prayer focus.