The Scepter and the Birthright [Genesis 47-50]

Hello, Scroll Eaters! In the last few chapters of Genesis we get a few newspaper accounts, such as Joseph’s leadership during the famine, Jacob’s death and burial, and Joseph’s death and burial. But the weight of this section lies on Jacob’s blessings (and a couple of curses). Jacob blesses Pharoah, then Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim, then his twelves sons. We’ll focus on his promises to Joseph’s sons and to Judah.

Manasseh was the older and Ephraim the younger. Like Cain and Abel/Seth, like (possibly) Ham/Shem, like Ishmael/Isaac, and like Esau/Jacob, once again we have the Genesis paradigm of the younger being bless over the elder. Jacob crosses his arms when he places his hands on their heads, and pronounces that Ephraim’s tribe will be the greater. The covenant promise of that’s passed from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob is passed to Ephraim and Manasseh 48:15-16, so they become the “sons of promise.”

Of all the brothers, Judah is giving a particularly interesting blessing in 49:10, where Jacob states, “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, the one whom all nations will obey.” The “scepter” is a synecdoche, a figure of speech where one thing is substituted to stand for another, and the two things are related. For instance, when we in America hear on the news that the White House has issued a statement, we don’t mistakenly think the building started talking; we know that the President or his staff issued a statement. White House is a synecdoche for the president. Similarly, in the U.K. it’s said that the Crown does this or that. The crown is a piece of jewelry; it doesn’t do anything.

The scepter is the right of rule. Whether or not they ever had a physical scepter is not the point. Judah’s descendants will rule the nation. Think about this for a second. This is the earliest mention of an impending monarchy. Once Israel is constituted as a nation some 335 years later, they’ll have a period of 13 judges before they pick Saul as king. Now, Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin. He was replaced by David, who was of the tribe of Judah. Careful attention to the wording says the scepter will not “depart” from Judah. Once David became king, the Judaic/Davidic dynasty continued until Babylon destroyed the kingdom in 587 BC. Getting ahead of ourselves a bit, God cut a covenant with David that David would always have an heir on the throne before God. The Hebrews were very confused when Jerusalem fell. They could not yet see what we who have the completion of the promise can see looking backwards – that the Messiah was of the line of David, and therefore was also of the tribe of Judah. In Hebrew thought, the lion was symbolic of kingship, so in Revelation 5:5 Jesus is referred to as “the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” He is the one that according to Jacob in 49:10 is the end of the lineage, as we read: ““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, the one whom all nations will obey.”

Well, my dear friends, that wraps up Genesis. If you’re thinking that Exodus comes next, you’re a little premature. Job is next. Remember we’re doing this chronologically, and Job lands squarely in the time of the Patriarchs. We’ll look at the details when we get there. So, have a great weekend, and for Monday read Job 1-2.

The Lord bless you and keep you.

This entry was posted in Bible, Bible 2011, Bible Reading, Bible Reading Plan, Christian, Christianity, Histories, Law, Old Testament, Religion, Theology, Torah and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Scepter and the Birthright [Genesis 47-50]

  1. Darren Scoggin says:

    Great post. As I read that this morning, I hoped that there would be something in the post today regarding Judah’s extraordinary blessing over his brothers. Thanks for the insight.

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