The sceptre will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from beneath his feet
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations is his. (Genesis 49:10, NIV)
In the UK we do start the build-up to Christmas early. The lights have been up for ages now – when they were switched on, the autumn leaves were still falling.
If we think this is early, though, the Lord God began announcing the first Christmas not months, but millennia earlier. In Genesis 49 we read how, some time in the 1700s BC, the elderly Jacob gathered round him his twelve sons (the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel) to tell each what would happen in days to come. In the midst of these prophecies come the remarkable words about Judah I’ve quoted above.
Here is a promise that Judah’s line will be a royal line (with a sceptre), and that it will culminate in one whose rule will extend across the world.
Until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations is his – that is a remarkable prediction. It is also, in its context, a surprising one. For of his twelve boys, Judah is neither the firstborn (that is Reuben) nor the one to whom Jacob wishes to give most of his blessing (Joseph). Jacob was neither making an informed guess nor telling us how he hoped things would work out. There is no obvious reason, then, why it should be from Judah that a world Ruler should emerge.
Yet the prophecy came true. It was from the tribe of Judah that King David came; and from David’s line came our Lord Jesus. In their accounts of Jesus’ life, both Matthew and Luke trace His lineage back through Judah. And there are now countless people, from all over the world, who know Him as their King.
One of the most astonishing things about Christ’s coming into the world is just how much it was prophesied in advance. This is true not just at the level of individual prophecies – such as Isaiah’s about the virgin being with child and Micah’s about Bethlehem – but of the whole shape of the Old Testament, which in countless ways has the expectation of the Christ, the Messiah, written all over it. By this device of prophecy and fulfilment, is not the living God identifying Himself, and showing us it can only be He who stands behind the events of the first Christmas?