If you were laying on your death-bed, what would be your final words to your family? Would you use the time to simply tell them how much you love each of them? Would you apologize for any hurt you might have caused in the past? I suppose in the end, your message might be different for each of them. For Jacob, while his life was cut short, he had a lengthy time of 17 years or more to say goodbye. Perhaps whatever emotion he may have had was replaced by a sense of urgency because all Jacob can think about is the future. During Jacob’s last few moments on earth, he gives a sort of prophecy for each of his sons. We don’t know if he knew the information beforehand and was waiting for the right moment, but we do know that he accurately predicted the future for all 12 men. Some futures were brilliant and glorious and others not so much. However, one stands out for me above all the rest…Judah.
“Judah, your brothers will praise you;
your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons will bow down to you.
You are a lion’s cub, Judah;
you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his.
Out of Judah would spring a mighty nation. King David would come from his seed. This is what is meant by “your brothers will praise you” and “your father’s sons will bow down to you”. In fact, it would mean that their tribes would be united under his banner when David became King. King David would be mighty in battle as well, and his victories would be celebrated and sung for generations. Of course this kingdom, as mighty as it is, would pale in comparison with the king “to whom it belongs shall come”.
Because of this prophecy, the symbol for the tribe of Judah became a lion. Not as a lion who is enraged, but as one who is aware of his power and authority and therefore lies down without fear. The great theologian Matthew Henry wrote this about these verses…
The lion is the king of beasts, the terror of the forest when he roars; when he seizes his prey, none can resist him; when he goes up from the prey, none dare pursue him to revenge it. By this it is foretold that the tribe of Judah should become very formidable, and should not only obtain great victories, but should peaceably and quietly enjoy what was obtained by those victories—that they should make war, not for the sake of war, but for the sake of peace. Judah is compared, not to a lion rampant, always tearing, always raging, always ranging; but to a lion couchant, enjoying the satisfaction of his power and success, without creating vexation to others: this is to be truly great.
Of course, this passage is also very prophetic. It’s not about Judah, but about his seed. Even though his time would not come for over a thousand years, this passage is referring to the Messiah. This is why Micah writes about his origins…
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” – Micah 5:2
Not only did the Messiah come from the tribe of Judah, but Jesus was given the title that had become symbolic of the tribe. As John beheld the throne of God, he saw a scroll in his right hand, and an angel asked who was worthy to open it. No one was found worthy, and John wept, until one the elders pointed him to Jesus…
Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” – Revelation 5:5
What I love most about this title given to Jesus is which two books it is referenced in. The entire Bible is a collection of 66 books, but it is meant to be one volume and that has never been more apparent than here. The entire volume points to one person – Jesus, the Lion of Judah – and his title, which found it’s origins in the first book of the Bible (Genesis), was fulfilled and given in the last book (Revelation). Like bookends to a great story, Jesus is presented as this mighty lion, who is destined to bring peace into the world.