Jesse Tree 8. “Judah: Royal Promise”

Scripture: Gen 49:1, 8–12

Jacob blessing his sons in the Vienna Genesis Codex (6th cent. AD). The text is Gen. 49:31–33a (LXX) (Bild-Archiv des Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, Vienna)

Twelve sons of Jacob fathered the twelve tribes of Israel, so we think that their father Jacob must have blessed them all (Gen 49). But let’s not forget their despicable behavior with their brother Joseph—and we won’t detail their other misdeeds. So some of them got some strong talk, for example Reuben, Simeon, and Levi (Gen 49:3–7).


Narrowing the Seed Promise

Jacob Blessing His Sons
“Jacob Blessing His Sons”, by Adan Van Noort (1562–1641)

By blessing and cursing, God kept focusing his covenantal line so that he promised not only a blessing to Abraham’s seed but also promised a messianic line through one particular tribe.1

Not the Obvious Choices

It’s interesting to note God’s pattern of transmitting the Abrahamic blessing. He didn’t just stick with the “obvious” choices, like eldest son—or even the one we would think the most deserving son. By his own sovereign decision, the Lord selected Isaac not Ishmael, Jacob not Esau, and then Judah not Reuben the eldest or Joseph the finest of Jacob’s sons.

Royal Promise

Judah’s Blessing

Judah (Russian icon)

Judah got the blessing that included a royal promise (Gen 49:8–12). The natural way of thinking would be to say that belonged to Reuben, the eldest (Gen 2); however, his sin of taking one of his father’s concubines ruled that out (Gen 35:22; 49:4). But then you might think the honor would go to Jacob’s greatest son, to Joseph. But while Joseph’s blessing was indeed profuse, it didn’t include kingship (Gen 49:22–26), even though it included “the right of the firstborn” (1 Chr 5:2, ESV).

No, the royal promise went to Judah, the fourth son. Perhaps it was because he worked it so that his brother’s didn’t kill Joseph (Gen 37:26–27); , or perhaps it was because he proved a leader among his brothers in other ways as well (Gen 43:3–10; 44:14, 16–34; 1 Chr 5:2). We don’t know. It’s probably best just put it down to divine and unmerited election, as had been the case in God’s choice between his father Jacob and his uncle Esau (Gen 25:22–23; Rom 9:10–12). And if someone would suggest that this was unfair, we would respond with Paul, “Of course not!” (Rom 9:14).

Scepter for Judah

Jacob prophesied that Judah would enjoy the respect and allegiance of his brothers during his own lifetime (Gen 49:8)—and this group of brothers had not always been too keen on bowing before brothers (Gen 37:1–11). Jacob said he would also gain victory over his enemies during his lifetime (Gen 49:8, 9). Then Jacob looked into the future and said, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants, until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, to the one whom all nations will honor” (Gen 49:10).

Fulfillment in the Davidic Dynasty

To some degree, that promise was fulfilled in David, who descended from Judah, and whose rule developed into an empire that could count “nations” as subjects (see Ps 2). But the ultimate fulfillment of that promise was in Jesus Christ, the Son of David.

Fulfillment in Jesus the Christ

An Ancient Promise

So when we think of Jesus’s eschatological rule over all the nations, we should remember that God promised it ages ago in his promise to Judah. And for that matter, he had hinted at that even in his promise to Abraham (Gen 17:16). The branch of Jesse descended from the Judah branch in Abraham’s family tree. This would be the line from which the Messiah would come (Matt 1:1–16; Heb 7:14).

Humility and Exaltation

When this came to fulfillment in Christ, it came about in unexpected ways. Jesus was born in the dynastic hometown of Bethlehem, but he was born in decidedly un-royal circumstances (Matt 2). And things didn’t appear to work toward a coronation throughout his lifetime; rather, his life and work moved relentlessly toward a horrifying and shameful crucifixion. That appeared to be conclusive evidence of God’s curse rather than divine blessing and royal appointment (Deut 21:23; Mark 11:20–21; Gal 3:13). But the story continued with resurrection and ascension, which the New Testament depicts as enthronement.2

The original royal promise included victory over all enemies and rule over all nations, and that promise still stands. So when that will ever be finally true? Even during Jesus’s earthly ministry, God had placed all things under his authority (John 3:35–36; 5:22–29). And the resurrected Jesus gave a royal commission to his disciples, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” then sent them to make disciples of all nations (Matt 27:18–19). Finally, John’s vision included this language: “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory” (Rev 5:5). God keeps working out his messianic promise.

Celebrating Fulfillment at Christmas

When we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the coming of the Son from Judah’s line, from whose hand the scepter will never part. We celebrate God’s move to bring to fulfillment his promises about the kingdom of God, which were entirely wrapped up in the messianic hope that Jesus the Christ is even now fulfilling and will bring to utter completion at the last trumpet call.

Questions, Meditations, and Commitments

  • Note that the Babe in Bethlehem was named Jesus but titled “the Christ.” This English term transliterates the Greek term χρίστος/christos, which in turn translated the Hebrew royal title מָשִׁיחַ/meshiach (“Messiah”), which means “anointed one.”
  • Note how patient and persistent God is in bringing his promises to fulfillment. The original royal promise to Judah’s line came around 1650 BC and waited till about 1000 BC before even its initial fulfillment in David, then until the time of Jesus for the initiation of its fullest realization.

Ornament for the day

  • Click here to download cross-stitch patterns for all the daily ornaments.
  • Click here to download a simple coloring book for all the daily ornaments.


  1. God would later do that with the priestly line as well when he chose Aaron and his sons (Exod 28; Lev 8; Num 16–17). Note that we also see the promise of movement in the other direction: in democratization with the role of prophet (Joel 2:28–32; cf. Num 11:25–29), and even democratization the priestly and royal office (1 Pet 2:9, see Exod 19:5–6).
  2. Acts 2:29–36; 5:30; 13:32–34; see Ps 2.

Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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