Hermeneutics and Judah’s Scepter

Let me bring some of our tools (you know, all that good stuff we’ve said so long ago) to bear on this small portion as an example of my unifying principle at work.

Pattern, I mentioned, is repetition that informs our meaning of the text; structure informs our understanding of how the Author has organized his material; and thought-flow would be the idea the author carries through the text.  So any constant repetition of themes winds up informing us to the meaning of the text but to do that we have to use the Reader’s Tool to understand what the author is literally saying.

For example if Scripture says that the Scepter will not pass from Judah (Gen 49:10) what can the text mean?

I f I were to read it woodenly it would mean that there was a scepter (made of what; I don’t know) that was supposed to remain with Judah wherever he went. But that’s not reading the text correctly since, in an effort to maintain my wooden literalness, I’ve ignored the context.

Textually speaking, there were no scepters mentioned in Genesis before chapter 49 but there were references to Kings (Gen 14), Pharaohs (Gen 12), princes (Gen 23) and rulers (Gen 34).  In fact, Abraham himself is told that he would become the father of nations and kings (Gen 17:6).

As for the immediate context in Genesis 49, all of the other brothers receive a different set of words and promises. Asher, for instance, was told he would have access to food production for royalty (Gen 49:20) but that’s the closest any of the boys (besides Judah) come to anything dealing with scepters.

Moreover, the message to Judah doesn’t end at this scepter.

Jacob calls him a lion’s whelp, lying in his kill and no one daring to wake him up. His scepter is said not to depart from him, nor is his ruling staff to depart from his feet. These will remain with him until Shiloh arrives and then to him will be the obedience (respect or subjugation) of the people.

The text goes on, but the point is repeatedly being underscored with metaphorical language. Those people with scepters are kings; those people with a ruler’s staff are ruler’s; the lion conquers his prey with strength, teeth and violence. The literal meaning is that Judah is being anointed as the King-line: it’s going to happen through him and it’s not for anyone else.

Now, of course, we can get into discussion with the euphemism of “feet” and it possibly meaning the privates and how this can imply that even though Judah is made tribal leader the message is that the actual King will come through Judah’s line but that’s beyond the purpose of this post (though not far beyond). The point is to show that the literal meaning is directly related to Judah, to the Kingship not departing from his line and that was how it was to be understood by Judah and later by the Israelites. So much so that the divided Kingdoms named the South “Judah”.

But here the later fulfillment comes into play. Christ enters the scene and we have very long genealogies tying Christ’s ancestry back to David of the line of Judah (Mat 1; Luke 3). The point was such an obvious one that the author to the Hebrews actually has to argue how a Judahite is now a priest (Heb 7:14). For goodness sakes, John (Rev 5:5) calls him the Lion of Judah directly tying Genesis 49 together with Hosea 5 and Isaiah 5 or 11. Christ is not only a Jew, He was a descendant of David, and a direct relative of Judah. The fulfillment didn’t supersede the text by offering up a Gentile from none of the tribes:  it was a direct correlation to what was specifically written.

So, I would argue that this is precisely how the Big Author works behind the Little authors. They know they’re recording what they’re writing for a specific purpose and, more often than not, God intends to fulfill that writing  in a way greater than the little authors have imagined but not so outside of the scope of their imagination that it would have been foreign to their thinking. The way to pick up on this fact is to read the texts (1) how they stand; (2) in the spaceotempoal locale in which they stand; (3) with a heavy understanding of the interpretation of the initial audience; (4) and a heavy understanding of the interpretation of the secondary audience (ie: in Christ’s day).

The little author, the first (and secondary) interpreters might have been surprised by an undying, eternal, God-man, born of a virgin but neither would have been surprised that the man was a Judahite. God isn’t double-minded: He says what He means.

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1 thought on “Hermeneutics and Judah’s Scepter

A book of pedigrees was found in Jerusalem, wherein it was stated that Hillel was a descendant of King David.–Gen. Rabba 98.

The effects of the blessing bestowed upon Judah by his father are to be seen even at the present time. Jacob said (Gen. 49. 8), ‘Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise.’ If an Israelite describes his race, he says, ‘I am a Jew, i.e. a Judaite,’ he does not describe himself as a Reubenite or a Simeonite.–Gen. Rabba 98.

Slander is compared to an arrow, not to any other handy weapon, such as a sword, etc., because like an arrow it kills at a distance. It can be uttered in Rome and have its baneful effect in Syria.–Gen. Rabba 98.

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