“The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs
and the obedience of the nations is his.”
Many believers have a favorite title for the Lord Jesus Christ, and Jacob, the ancient patriarch of Israel, was no exception. His favorite name was “Shiloh.” “Shiloh” does not appear in many modern Bibles (including the New International Version), which choose to render the Hebrew in some other way. But the Hebrew text says “Shiloh,” and a literal rendering of this verse is close to the King James translation: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”
This is a great passage, as most commentators on Genesis recognize—the last of three great prophecies of the Messiah found in Genesis. The first is Genesis 3:15, in which the prophecy of a deliverer was given to Adam and Eve in Eden. God is speaking to the serpent, pronouncing judgment: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Adam and Eve believed that promise and were saved by it.
The second prophecy is Genesis 22:18, the climax of God’s many revelations to Abraham. Early in the story God promised Abraham a land, a son, and posterity as numerous as the stars in heaven. But in the context of his testing of Abraham, recorded in Genesis 22, God surpassed these earlier revelations with the words “and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). This prophecy could have referred merely to a blessing of others through the chosen nation of Israel. But it is actually a reference to the Messiah, as Paul points out in Galatians 3:16. It was to be a singular descendant of Abraham (Jesus) through whom Gentiles as well as Jews would be saved. Abraham believed this promise just as Adam and Eve had believed the promise given to them in Eden.
The third prophecy is Genesis 49:10.
In the first prophecy it is said that the Messiah would destroy the devil and his works. In the second it is said that he would redeem his people, thus bringing salvation to both Jew and Gentile. In the third prophecy it is said that all rule is his and that all peoples of earth will eventually bow before him.
A Puzzling Name
In spite of the importance of this prophecy, which nearly all commentators recognize, the name Shiloh itself is puzzling. It is a name for the Messiah. But it is not merely a name. It means something, and that meaning is elusive. Here are the possibilities:
- “Shiloh” might mean “sent,” like that similar word that occurs in the New Testament in the story of the healing of the blind man: “ ‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the pool of Siloam’ (this word means Sent)” (John 9:7). I remember puzzling over this interpretation of Genesis 49:10 during graduate study in Switzerland, before I had made the connection with the New Testament passage. I pondered whether “Shiloh” might not be derived from the common Hebrew verb shalach, which means “send.” In this case “Shiloh” would mean “the sent one” or “the one whom God will send.”
This is a good meaning. It fits the text, which is a prophecy of the sending of the Messiah. Moreover, it fits with many other statements in Scripture, such as Isaiah 61:1–2, which Jesus quoted in Nazareth at the start of his public ministry: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jerome was attracted to this interpretation of Genesis 49:10, because the Latin Vulgate, which he produced, contains the words qui mittendus est (“who must be sent”).
The problem is that this involves a textual emendation. The Hebrew word for “send” contains the consonants sheen, lahmed, and chait. But the word “Shiloh” contains the consonants sheen, lahmed and hay. To be sure, the difference is slight. In print chait looks something like the scientific symbol pi. Hay is similar, except that one of the two legs does not quite reach the top bar. Nevertheless, hay is not chait, and there is no textual justification for the change.
- An old interpretation of “Shiloh,” going back to Jewish commentators, is that the word means “son.” This is based on the resemblance of the name to the Hebrew root shiljah, which is taken to mean “son.” This would be a wonderful meaning, since Jesus is certainly the son in all important senses. He is the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Son of Judah, the Son of David. Isaiah 9:6 would fit in well here: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” So would Matthew 3:17: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Unfortunately, although this was the preferred interpretation of “Shiloh” by both Martin Luther and John Calvin, it is based on a mistranslation of shiljah. Shiljah means not “son,” but “afterbirth.” So to derive Jacob’s name for Jesus from this word seems mistaken.
- During the last centuries the most popular interpretation of “Shiloh” has been to derive it from the same root word as Salem or shalom, which means “peace.” In this view “Shiloh” would mean “peace-giver” or “the one who brings peace.” I said earlier that “Shiloh” probably does not mean “the sent one,” because the final consonant is hay rather than chait. However, if hay is retained, then the word is the verb “to be quiet” or “to be at ease,” which is what peace involves.
Jesus is the Peace-giver. He is the one who made reconciliation between man and God by his death for sin on the cross. Robert Candlish liked this interpretation of the name. So did George Lawson. He wrote, “The peaceful one, or he that is the giver of tranquility, appears to be the true meaning.”2
Charles Haddon Spurgeon applied this meaning of the name eloquently: “Have you ever said to yourself, ‘There is nothing I desire—nothing that I wish for; I am satisfied—perfectly content; I am without a fear, without a dread’? ‘No,’ say you, ‘I never reached that elysium.’ You may be worth millions of money without ever coming to that pass. All the gold in the world will never fill a man’s heart; and you may have broad acres across which a swift horse could hardly rush in a day, but you will not have enough. All the land in the world cannot fill a heart. You may have all the beauty, rank, honor and fame that ever can come to a human being, and yet say, ‘Ah me! I am wretched still.’ But full many who have found Jesus have been able to say, ‘It is enough: I need no more.’ Believing in Jesus, and learning to yield up everything to his will, living to his glory, and loving him supremely, we do enjoy peace with God—a ‘peace that passeth all understanding,’ which ‘keeps our heart and mind’ by Jesus Christ.”
We could do worse than adopt the translation of “Shiloh” that sees it as “he who gives rest.” We do badly indeed if we do not find true rest in him, regardless of the meaning of the word.
- There is still a fourth possibility, and in the judgment of most modern translators it is to be preferred over the others. It derives “Shiloh” from the Hebrew particle of relationship, sher (or ʾasher), here rendered “whose” or “whom,” and l, which means “to.” The meaning would be “he to whom,” and the verse would read like the New International Version: “until he comes to whom it belongs.” This is the way the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, reads, using a phrase that literally means “until the things laid up in store come into his possession.” It would have an exact parallel in Ezekiel 21:27, which says, “It will not be restored until he comes to whom it rightfully belongs; to him I will give it.”
This is probably the right translation, in which case “Shiloh” refers to Jesus’ rightful rule and authority. It looks forward to the day when these will be his and the nations properly will bow before him (cf. Phil. 2:9–11).
Only One Shiloh
Thus far I have been assuming that “Shiloh,” whatever its meaning, refers to Jesus, who fulfills that meaning. But this is worth spelling out in detail. The point of this prophecy is that an eternal ruler should come in Judah’s line, that Jesus came in that line and fulfills the prophecy, and that if he has not fulfilled it, there will at least never be another person who can do so. The proof lies in Jesus’ genealogies.
In the previous study, as I spoke of the rulers who had descended from Judah in the line of David, I mentioned Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadok, Eliud, Eleazar, Matthan, and Jacob, who were the links between Zerubbabel and Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus Christ. Jacob was Joseph’s father, and Abiud was the son of Zerubbabel (cf. Matt. 1:13–16). This puts Jesus in the line of David, through David’s son Solomon.
There is a problem here, however, because one king in this line, Jehoiakim, received a curse from God saying that no descendant of his would ever sit upon the throne of David. “Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah” (Jer. 22:30). If Jesus had been a natural descendant of Jehoiakim (also called Jeconiah and Jechonias), the curse would have applied to him and he would not have been eligible to fulfill Jacob’s prophecy.
But there is another line through which Jesus’ descent from David is also reckoned: the line of Mary, Jesus’ mother. Mary was a descendant of King David through Nathan, Solomon’s older brother. In the chart called “The Adam and Eve Family Tree,” which I have mentioned before, Mary’s ancestors are printed alongside the ancestors of Joseph leading back to Solomon. Mary’s line contains forty-one names, counting Joseph, who is listed as a son-in-law of Heli, Mary’s father (cf. Luke 3:23). Joseph’s line contains twenty-nine names, omitting Joseph.
But notice this problem. Before the birth of Christ to Mary and his adoption by Joseph, there were two lines of descent, each of which had a claim to the Davidic throne but each of which would have been challenged by the other. Joseph’s ancestors had ruled, but they were under a curse. No children of Jehoiakim ever did rule in Jerusalem, nor did any of their sons rule. Jehoiakim died in Babylon. Mary’s line had no curse, but no one in that line had ruled. Any ancestor of Mary would have been challenged by those who had descended from Solomon.
How could this be resolved? In one line there is a lack of reigning royalty. In the other there is a curse. Humanly speaking, the problem is unsolvable. But when God the Father caused the Lord Jesus Christ to be born of the Virgin Mary without benefit of a human father, the child that was born became the seed of David according to the flesh. And when Joseph married Mary at God’s command and thus took the unborn child under his adoptive and protective care, the Holy One to be born became his heir also and thus took to himself the title that had come down to Joseph through his illustrious ancestor Solomon.
In this way Jesus exhausted both lines; he was the oldest son of both Joseph and Mary and he himself had no children. By this divinely simple means Jesus became the true Messiah, the royal Messiah, the uncursed Messiah, the only possible Messiah. So I repeat, if Jesus is not the fulfillment of Jacob’s prophecy, there will at least never be another to fulfill it. Anyone who should ever come into the world purporting to be the Messiah will actually be a false Messiah, a liar, and the Antichrist.
Lord of Lords
Yet we have not considered the central content of this prophecy. We have examined the possible meanings of the word Shiloh. We have seen that Jesus is that Shiloh, indeed the only Shiloh there can ever be. But the heart of the prophecy is that the nations of the world will be gathered to this one, will obey him, and will be prospered in so doing.
It is a wonderful thing that this prophecy of Jacob to his son Judah about the Messiah included the gentile nations, for most Christians today are Gentiles and are therefore included in this blessing. Thus far in Genesis the work of God seems to have moved in the opposite direction. We began with one world, indeed one race spreading out to take possession of that world. But the race became increasingly corrupt. So instead of a universal salvation, we have seen God stooping to call and bless one unique people. God called Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob, then Jacob’s twelve sons. It is a narrowing thing, and the book is to close with a focus on this small group of chosen people.
How wonderful is this last prophecy, for it opens our eyes to the other nations again! It tells us that although God is going to work through this one people for a time, the day will come when he will open the door of salvation to all people. Those from all nations will bow before Jesus.
And it is happening! Look at China, where the gospel of Shiloh has been ruthlessly suppressed for decades. When missionaries left China in the face of the Communist onslaught, there were less than one million professing Christians in that vast land. Today by some estimates there are more than fifty million who have professed obedience to Christ. The gathering of the people of China is to him.
I correspond with a woman who attended Tenth Presbyterian Church while in the United States to prepare for a ministry in her own country, the Philippines. I last saw her in India. She was on her way home to present Jesus to her family and village. She has written since that her father has become a Christian and has joined in her work. She has several weekly Bible studies and is active in a local church. Scores are now bowing the knee to Christ through her witness. The gathering of the people of the Philippines is to him.
On the same trip on which I saw this woman I visited Nepal. For years Nepal was closed to the gospel, and the best that Christians could do for that country was to camp on the border, pray for, and witness to those few Nepalese who crossed it in search of jobs or trade. In my lifetime Nepal has opened to the gospel, and missionaries have entered that land. It is illegal for a person to convert from one faith to another in Nepal. So even when Christians were allowed into the country, they were not to convert anybody, and Nepalese who left their faith for Christianity were imprisoned. Scores of native believers have suffered that punishment. They were imprisoned for bowing the knee to Christ. Yet they did bow before him. The rulers of Nepal set their faces against the Lord’s anointed. But still he rules, and to him shall the obedience of the Nepalese be.
There is a member of Tenth Presbyterian Church who has worked in Nepal for years. She is fluent in Nepalese. But suddenly another formerly closed country opened: Bhutan. So she went there to be a vehicle by which the people of that nation will learn the gospel and obey Christ’s call.
This is the flow of history. According to the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah in Genesis, Jesus was to defeat Satan, redeem his people, and gather the nations. The first two of these have been done. Jesus defeated Satan on the cross; he also made full and perfect atonement for his people’s sins. Today it is the last of these alone that is unfolding. This is the day of Christ’s gathering. It is the reaping time. It will continue until all Christ’s saints are gathered together around his throne, singing:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise.”
Do not miss that gathering. Do not shun that call. Fall before him. Praise him as your Shiloh.
10. The sceptre shall not depart. Though this passage is obscure, it would not have been very difficult to elicit its genuine sense, if the Jews, with their accustomed malignity, had not endeavoured to envelop it in clouds. It is certain that the Messiah, who was to spring from the tribe of Judah, is here promised. But whereas they ought willingly to run to embrace him, they purposely catch at every possible subterfuge, by which they may lead themselves and others far astray in tortuous by paths. It is no wonder, then, if the spirit of bitterness and obstinacy, and the lust of contention have so blinded them, that, in the clearest light, they should have perpetually stumbled. Christians, also, with a pious diligence to set forth the glory of Christ, have, nevertheless, betrayed some excess of fervour. For while they lay too much stress on certain words, they produce no other effect than that of giving an occasion of ridicule to the Jews, whom it is necessary to surround with firm and powerful barriers, from which they shall be unable to escape. Admonished, therefore, by such examples, let us seek, without contention, the true meaning of the passage. In the first place, we must keep in mind the true design of the Holy Spirit, which, hitherto, has not been sufficiently considered or expounded with sufficient distinctness. After he has invested the tribe of Judah with supreme authority, he immediately declares that God would show his care for the people, by preserving the state of the kingdom, till the promised felicity should attain its highest point. For the dignity of Judah is so maintained as to show that its proposed end was the common salvation of the whole people. The blessing promised to the seed of Abraham (as we have before seen) could not be firm, unless it flowed from one head. Jacob now testifies the same thing, namely, that a King should come, under whom that promised happiness should be complete in all its parts. Even the Jews will not deny, that while a lower blessing rested on the tribe of Judah, the hope of a better and more excellent condition was herein held forth. They also freely grant another point, that the Messiah is the sole Author of full and solid happiness and glory. We now add a third point, which we may also do, without any opposition from them; namely, that the kingdom which began from David, was a kind of prelude, and shadowy representation of that greater grace which was delayed, and held in suspense, until the advent of the Messiah. They have indeed no relish for a spiritual kingdom; and therefore they rather imagine for themselves wealth and power, and propose to themselves sweet repose and earthly pleasures, than righteousness, and newness of life, with free forgiveness of sins. They acknowledge, nevertheless, that the felicity which was to be expected under the Messiah, was adumbrated by their ancient kingdom. I now return to the words of Jacob.
Until Shiloh come, he says, the sceptre, or the dominion, shall remain in Judah. We must first see what the word שילוה (shiloh) signifies. Because Jerome interprets it, “He who is to be sent,” some think that the place has been fraudulently corrupted, by the letter ה substituted for the letter ח; which objection, though not firm, is plausible. That which some of the Jews suppose, namely, that it denotes the place (Shiloh) where the ark of the covenant had been long deposited, because, a little before the commencement of David’s reign, it had been laid waste, is entirely destitute of reason. For Jacob does not here predict the time when David was to be appointed king; but declares that the kingdom should be established in his family, until God should fulfil what he had promised concerning the special benediction of the seed of Abraham. Besides the form of speech, “until Shiloh come,” for “until Shiloh come to an end,” would be harsh and constrained. Far more correctly and consistently do other interpreters take this expression to mean “his son,” for among the Hebrews a son is called שיל, (shil.) They say also that ה is put in the place of the relative ו; and the greater part assent to this signification. But again, the Jews dissent entirely from the meaning of the patriarch, by referring this to David. For (as I have just hinted) the origin of the kingdom in David is not here promised, but its absolute perfection in the Messiah. And truly an absurdity so gross, does not require a lengthened refutation. For what can this mean, that the kingdom should not come to an end in the tribe of Judah, till it should have been erected? Certainly the word depart means nothing else than to cease. Further, Jacob points to a continued series, when he says the scribe shall not depart from between his feet. For it behoves a king so to be placed upon his throne that a lawgiver may sit between his feet. A kingdom is therefore described to us, which after it has been constituted, will not cease to exist till a more perfect state shall succeed; or, which comes to the same point; Jacob honours the future kingdom of David with this title, because it was to be the token and pledge of that happy glory which had been before ordained for the race of Abraham. In short, the kingdom which he transfers to the tribe of Judah, he declares shall be no common kingdom, because from it, at length, shall proceed the fulness of the promised benediction. But here the Jews haughtily object, that the event convicts us of error. For it appears that the kingdom by no means endured until the coming of Christ; but rather that the sceptre was broken, from the time that the people were carried into captivity. But if they give credit to the prophecies, I wish, before I solve their objection, that they would tell me in what manner Jacob here assigns the kingdom to his son Judah. For we know, that when it had scarcely become his fixed possession, it was suddenly rent asunder, and nearly its whole power was possessed by the tribe of Ephraim. Has God, according to these men, here promised, by the mouth of Jacob, some evanescent kingdom? If they reply, the sceptre was not then broken, though Rehoboam was deprived of a great part of this people; they can by no means escape by this cavil; because the authority of Judah is expressly extended over all the tribes, by these words, “Thy mother’s sons shall bow their knee before thee.” They bring, therefore, nothing against us, which we cannot immediately, in turn, retort upon themselves.
Yet I confess the question is not yet solved; but I wished to premise this, in order that the Jews, laying aside their disposition to calumniate, may learn calmly to examine the matter itself, with us. Christians are commonly wont to connect perpetual government with the tribe of Judah, in the following manner. When the people returned from banishment, they say, that, in the place of the royal sceptre, was the government which lasted to the time of the Maccabees. That afterwards, a third mode of government succeeded, because the chief power of judging rested with the Seventy, who, it appears by history, were chosen out of the regal race. Now, so far was this authority of the royal race from having fallen into decay, that Herod, having been cited before it, with difficulty escaped capital punishment, because he contumaciously withdrew from it. Our commentators, therefore, conclude that, although the royal majesty did not shine brightly from David until Christ, yet some pre-eminence remained in the tribe of Judah, and thus the oracle was fulfilled. Although these things are true, still more skill must be used in rightly discussing this passage. And, in the first place, it must be kept in mind, that the tribe of Judah was already constituted chief among the rest, as pre-eminent in dignity, though it had not yet obtained the dominion. And, truly, Moses elsewhere testifies, that supremacy was voluntarily conceded to it by the remaining tribes, from the time that the people were redeemed out of Egypt. In the second place, we must remember, that a more illustrious example of this dignity was set forth in that kingdom which God had commenced in David. And although defection followed soon after, so that but a small portion of authority remained in the tribe of Judah; yet the right divinely conferred upon it, could by no means be taken away. Therefore, at the time when the kingdom of Israel was replenished with abundant opulence, and was swelling with lofty pride, it was said, that the lamp of the Lord was lighted in Jerusalem. Let us proceed further: when Ezekiel predicts the destruction of the kingdom, (chap. 21:26,) he clearly shows how the sceptre was to be preserved by the Lord, until it should come into the hands of Christ: “Remove the diadem, and take off the crown; this shall not be the same: I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, until he come whose right it is.” It may seem at first sight that the prophecy of Jacob had failed when the tribe of Judah was stripped of its royal ornament. But we conclude hence, that God was not bound always to exhibit the visible glory of the kingdom on high. Otherwise, those other promises which predict the restoration of the throne, which was cast down and broken, were false. Behold the days come in which I will “raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof, and I will raise up his ruins.” (Amos 9:11.) It would be absurd, however, to cite more passages, seeing this doctrine occurs frequently in the prophets. Whence we infer, that the kingdom was not so confirmed as always to shine with equal brightness; but that, though, for a time, it might lie fallen and defaced, it should afterwards recover its lost splendour. The prophets, indeed, seem to make the return from the Babylonian exile the termination of that ruin; but since they predict the restoration of the kingdom no otherwise than they do that of the temple and the priesthood, it is necessary that the whole period, from that liberation to the advent of Christ, should be comprehended. The crown, therefore, was cast down, not for one day only, or from one single head, but for a long time, and in various methods, until God placed it on Christ, his own lawful king. And truly Isaiah describes the origin of Christ, as being very remote from all regal splendour: “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Isaiah 11:1.) Why does he mention Jesse rather than David, except because Messiah was about to proceed from the rustic hut of a private man, rather than from a splendid palace? Why from a tree cut down, having nothing left but the root and the trunk, except because the majesty of the kingdom was to be almost trodden under foot till the manifestation of Christ? If any one object, that the words of Jacob seem to have a different signification; I answer, that whatever God has promised at any time concerning the external condition of the Church, was so to be restricted, that, in the mean time, he might execute his judgments in punishing men, and might try the faith of his own people. It was, indeed, no light trial, that the tribe of Judah, in its third successor to the throne, should be deprived of the greater portion of the kingdom. Even a still more severe trial followed, when the sons of the king were put to death in the sight of their father, when he, with his eyes thrust out, was dragged to Babylon, and the whole royal family was at length given over to slavery and captivity. But this was the most grievous trial of all; that when the people returned to their own land, they could in no way perceive the accomplishment of their hope, but were compelled to lie in sorrowful dejection. Nevertheless, even then, the saints, contemplating, with the eyes of faith, the sceptre hidden under the earth, did not fail, or become broken in spirit, so as to desist from their course. I shall, perhaps, seem to grant too much to the Jews, because I do not assign what they call a real dominion, in uninterrupted succession, to the tribe of Judah. For our interpreters, to prove that the Jews are still kept bound by a foolish expectation of the Messiah, insist on this point, that the dominion of which Jacob had prophesied, ceased from the time of Herod; as if, indeed, they had not been tributaries five hundred years previously; as if, also, the dignity of the royal race had not been extinct as long as the tyranny of Antiochus prevailed; as if, lastly, the Asmonean race had not usurped to itself both the rank and power of princes, until the Jews became subject to the Romans. And that is not a sufficient solution which is proposed; namely, that either the regal dominion, or some lower kind of government, are disjunctively promised; and that from the time when the kingdom was destroyed, the scribes remained in authority. For I, in order to mark the distinction between a lawful government and tyranny, acknowledge that counsellors were joined with the king, who should administer public affairs rightly and in order. Whereas some of the Jews explain, that the right of government was given to the tribe of Judah, because it was unlawful for it to be transferred elsewhere, but that it was not necessary that the glory of the crown once given should be perpetuated, I deem it right to subscribe in part to this opinion. I say, in part, because the Jews gain nothing by this cavil, who, in order to support their fiction of a Messiah yet to come, postpone that subversion of the regal dignity which, in fact, long ago occurred. For we must keep in memory what I have said before, that while Jacob wished to sustain the minds of his descendents until the coming of the Messiah; lest they should faint through the weariness of long delay, he set before them an example in their temporal kingdom: as if he had said, that there was no reason why the Israelites, when the kingdom of David fell, should allow their hope to waver; seeing that no other change should follow, which could answer to the blessing promised by God, until the Redeemer should appear. That the nation was grievously harassed, and was under servile oppression some years before the coming of Christ happened, through the wonderful counsel of God, in order that they might be urged by continual chastisements to wish for redemption. Meanwhile, it was necessary that some collective body of the nation should remain, in which the promise might receive its fulfilment. But now, when, through nearly fifteen centuries, they have been scattered and banished from their country, having no polity, by what pretext can they fancy, from the prophecy of Jacob, that a Redeemer will come to them? Truly, as I would not willingly glory over their calamity; so, unless they, being subdued by it, open their eyes, I freely pronounce that they are worthy to perish a thousand times without remedy. It was also a most suitable method for retaining them in the faith, that the Lord would have the sons of Jacob turn their eyes upon one particular tribe, that they might not seek salvation elsewhere; and that no vague imagination might mislead them. For which end, also, the election of this family is celebrated, when it is frequently compared with, and preferred to Ephraim and the rest, in the Psalms. To us, also, it is not less useful, for the confirmation of our faith, to know that Christ had been not only promised, but that his origin had been pointed out, as with a finger, two thousand years before he appeared.
And unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Here truly he declares that Christ should be a king, not over one people only, but that under his authority various nations shall be gathered, that they might coalesce together. I know, indeed, that the word rendered “gathering” is differently expounded by different commentators; but they who derive it from the root קהה, to make it signify the weakening of the people, rashly and absurdly misapply what is said of the saving dominion of Christ, to the sanguinary pride with which they puffed up. If the word obedience is preferred, (as it is by others,) the sense will remain the same with that which I have followed. For this is the mode in which the gathering together will be effected; namely, that they who before were carried away to different objects of pursuit, will consent together in obedience to one common Head. Now, although Jacob had previously called the tribes about to spring from him by the name of peoples, for the sake of amplification, yet this gathering is of still wider extent. For, whereas he had included the whole body of the nation by their families, when he spoke of the ordinary dominion of Judah, he now extends the boundaries of a new king: as if he would say, “There shall be kings of the tribe of Judah, who shall be pre-eminent among their brethren, and to whom the sons of the same mother shall bow down: but at length He shall follow in succession, who shall subject other peoples unto himself.” But this, we know, is fulfilled in Christ; to whom was promised the inheritance of the world; under whose yoke the nations are brought; and at whose will they, who before were scattered, are gathered together. Moreover, a memorable testimony is here borne to the vocation of the Gentiles, because they were to be introduced into the joint participation of the covenant, in order that they might become one people with the natural descendents of Abraham, under one Head.
10 The crux in vv. 8–12 is v. 10, particularly the third line of the verse. The first two lines suggest that Judah will continue to enjoy eminence, the tribe will never lose its place of primus inter pares, until he possesses that which belongs to him.
Without emending the Hebrew text in any way, one may read this line as “until Shiloh comes.” But this reading is strange for several reasons. First, it combines a feminine subject (“Shiloh”) with a masculine verb (“comes”). More importantly, what would such an expression mean? As a person, whom would Shiloh represent? Elsewhere in the OT Shiloh is only a place. Why represent an individual by a city, and why represent someone in a message to Judah by a city that falls within the territory of Ephraim?
It is also possible to read the Hebrew phrase as “until he [i.e., Judah] comes to Shiloh.” Taking Shiloh as a representative term for northern Israel, the verse would point to the extension of the Davidic kingdom in Judah to include the northern tribes. In other words, the phrase foretells a great future for David and his kingdom. A modification of this interpretation suggests that the verse originally foretold the expansion of Judean tribes over Israel as well. When Solomon’s empire broke up and this expansion became less and less of a possibility, however, some annotator inserted the sarcastic remark, “until a man of Shiloh comes” (ʿaḏ kî-yāḇōʾ ʾîš šîlōh, i.e., inserting ʾîš, which had dropped out through haplography). The problem with the first interpretation is that the people of Israel never did become monotribal although they were for a while a united kingdom. The problem with the modification is that it is arbitrary, since it has no textual support. Even if it be granted that the placement of these blessings in the mouth of the patriarch Jacob is entirely fictive, what would be accomplished by this blatant anachronism, by having the patriarch speak of Shiloh, a city that, unlike others nearby such as Bethel and Shechem, had no apparent significance before the conquest?
The early versions were as baffled by the phrase as are modern commentators. For example, the LXX could easily have read “until Shiloh comes.” Instead, it read “until there come the things stored up for him” (héōs án élthē tá apokeímena autṓ). This reading presupposes Heb. šellōh for MT šîlōh, that is, “that which belongs to him” (the relative particle še plus the preposition le plus the pronominal suffix, and the “him” would be a coming scion of Judah). How did the LXX come up with this reading? Did the Alexandrian translators, familiar with the targumic and rabbinic traditions on Gen. 49:10, create a redaction of the Hebrew text so as to produce a messianic sense? Or is this an instance where a biblical word was explained according to its meaning in Aramaic or postbiblical Hebrew? That is, at the time of the tranlators, šel was used in places where Biblical Hebrew employed ʾašer le.
There is no doubt about how the Qumran community understood Gen. 49:10. In 4Q Patriarchal Blessings (4QPBless) the interpretation of Gen. 49:10 reads as follows“A ruler shall not depart from the tribe of Judah while Israel has dominion. There will not be cut off a king [lit., ‘enthroned one,’ ywšb] in it belonging to (the line of) David. For the staff [hmḥqq] is the covenant of the kingship; the thousands of Israel are the feet, until the coming of [ʿd bwʾ] the Messiah of Righteousness, the branch of David, for to him and to his seed has been given the covenant of the kingship over his people for everlasting generations.”
Both LXX and 4QPBless would agree then that the phrase be understood as “until he comes to whom it [the scepter, the kingship] belongs.” The Hebrew would have to be read as “until that which is his comes.” If that is what Gen. 49:10 is saying, then we are faced with a Hebrew grammatical anomaly for which the Hebrew Bible offers no parallel.
Other scholars have attempted to isolate in šîlōh some word meaning “prince” or “ruler.” This sense is accomplished by appeal to the Akkadian word šēlu, “ruler, counselor,” or by emending to mōšelōh, “his (or its) ruler” (cf. mōšelô in Isa. 52:5 [Ketib], and in Jer. 30:21). This second suggestion assumes that the text is corrupt (a mem has dropped out). So, the colon reads, “until its ruler comes.”
Yet another viable option is faithful to the consonantal pattern of 49:10: š(y)lh. The cluster may be divided into šy and lh. Reading šy as šay and lh as lōh, the result is “tribute to him.” If yāḇōʾ is revocalized as a Hophal (yûḇāʾ), then the phrase would read, “until tribute is brought to him.” Thus the phrase forecasts the tribute and the subjection of the world to Judah, or to one of Judah’s own. šay indicating a gift offered as homage is present in Isa. 18:7; Ps. 68:30 (Eng. 29); 76:12 (Eng. 11).
There are, then, four major approaches to Gen. 49:10c: (1) attempt to make sense of MT by retaining “Shiloh”; (2) follow the reading of the ancient versions (“that which is his”); (3) emend šîlōh to šay lōh (“tribute to him”); (4) discover in “Shiloh” some Semitic word meaning “ruler” or “prince.” Of course, many other interpretations have been suggested, including those who see Judah’s son Shelah in Shiloh, and those who resort to yet other redivisioning of the consonants.
10. until Shiloh come—Shiloh—this obscure word is variously interpreted to mean “the sent” (Jn 17:3), “the seed” (Is 11:1), the “peaceable or prosperous one” (Eph 2:14)—that is, the Messiah (Is 11:10; Ro 15:12); and when He should come, “the tribe of Judah should no longer boast either an independent king or a judge of their own” [Calvin]. The Jews have been for eighteen centuries without a ruler and without a judge since Shiloh came, and “to Him the gathering of the people has been.”
Ge 49:13. Zebulun was to have its lot on the seacoast, close to Zidon, and to engage, like that state, in maritime pursuits and commerce.
Ge 49:14, 15. Issachar—
10 In this verse, the imagery changes yet again, but still the message of Judah’s future leadership is plain. He will carry the symbols of authority, “the staff” and “the scepter” (cf. Num 24:17; Ps 45:7 ; Zech 10:11; Num 21:18; Ps 60:9 ). From this verse alone it is not obvious whether Judah is being invested merely with a tribal leader. However, v 8 makes it likely that Judah is being promised that their leader will lead all the tribes. “From between his feet.” This obscure phrase has attracted much discussion. SamPent’s change to “between his standards” does not clarify the text. Skinner pictures the tribal leader sitting in state propping up the scepter with his feet. But more likely is the view of the ancient versions (LXX, Vg, Tgs.; see Caquot, Sem. 26  5–32; Sarna), which apparently, on the basis of Deut 28:57, take this as a reference to Judah’s descendants: children come out from “between your feet.” “Feet” are a regular euphemism for the private parts (e.g., Judg 3:24; 1 Sam 24:3; Isa 7:20). In other words, a descendant of Judah will always be a national leader.
“Until tribute is brought to him” has been described as the “most famous crux interpretum in the entire OT” (Moran, Bib 39  405). So many suggestions have been put forward that Westermann says (3:231), “The whole discussion has not yet reached even a limited consensus.” In order to keep our comments within bounds, we shall concentrate our attention on those suggestions that are congruent with the context and require the minimum of textual emendation. Thus, interpretations that depend on postulating major disruptions of the consonantal text (e.g., Margulis, VT 19  202–10) or unusual meanings of rare words (e.g., עד “throne” [Sabotka, Bib 51 (1970) 225–29] or s̆ēlu Akk. “ruler” [so various scholars]) will be discounted. Within these limits, there are four main ways of understanding this line. First, it may be translated without emendation: “Until he comes to Shiloh,” i.e., until a Judean ruler controls Shiloh (so Jacob; cf. Delitzsch; Dillmann; Emerton, “Difficult Words”). Shiloh was for a while in the judges period an important sanctuary some miles north of Jerusalem in the tribal territory of Ephraim and was apparently destroyed by the Philistines (see discussion by D. E. Schley, Shiloh, JSOTSup 63 [Sheffield: Academic Press, 1989]). As far as is known, it was not an important center in the period of the united monarchy, when the Davidic dynasty (of Judah) ruled over all Israel. So it is not obviously relevant to that era, though certainly Shiloh was then under Davidic control. A weightier objection to taking this Shiloh as a place name is that it is spelled differently; here it is plene שׁילה, whereas elsewhere the place name is written defectively שׁלה. However, some Hebrew, MT, and the SamPent manuscripts and some of the versions have or presuppose this defective spelling.
But the versions, in reading שׁלה, evidently take it as לּה + שֶׁ “which is to him.” The line must then be translated “until he comes whose it is,” i.e., “until the owner of the scepter comes.” On this understanding, we have at least a reference to the Davidic dynasty, if not to a king superior to that dynasty, i.e., the messiah. Favored by rsv, niv, reb, Skinner, this view faces two main objections. First, it makes a rather poor poetic line: something better to balance the next line, “the peoples obey him,” would be preferable. Second, it is hard to understand why, if שׁלה were the original reading, it should have been changed into שׁילה, the more difficult reading.
The third possibility is that שׁילה means “ruler” or is a corruption of משׁלה “his ruler” (so Westermann, von Rad). The line would then read “Until his (the) ruler comes”; once again this would be announcement of a Davidic king or messianic figure. The supposed Akkadian etymology of שׁילה “ruler” has been demolished by Moran (Bib 39  405–25), but Seebass (ZAW 96  346) has suggested that שׁילה may go back to Egyptian śa “prince,” which is written šiāra in an Akkadian text from Boghazköi. Given the Egyptian setting of the blessing, this etymology cannot be ruled out, but it seems remote. The inner Hebrew explanation posits a double corruption of the consonantal text, which would be better avoided.
The fourth possibility, “until tribute is brought to him,” which we have adopted, requires no alteration of the consonantal text but only some repointing. It has an old Jewish pedigree (Yalkut and Lekah Tov), but in modern times it was proposed by Moran and accepted by Speiser, nab, Vawter (neb, Monsengwo-Pasinya (Bib 61  357–76), jps, Sarna, Criado (EstBib 24  289–320). This splits the words and repoints them as follows: לה “to him” שַׁי “tribute” יֻבָא “is brought.” The advantage of this proposal, aside from its minimal changes in pointing, is that it produces a good poetic line in parallel with the next line, “and the peoples obey him”: tribute from foreign nations expresses their submission to the Judean king. Furthermore, these two lines take further the leadership promised in the previous two lines, which spoke of a Judean always heading the nation. “The staff will not desert Judah”: now the verse promises rule over foreign nations, who will bring him “tribute,” a term used also in Pss 68:30(29); 76:12(11); Isa 18:7 of gifts brought by foreigners to Jerusalem. The idea that the Davidic king was appointed to rule the nations is of course often celebrated in the psalms (e.g., Ps 72:8–11) and the prophets (e.g., Isa 2:2–4). But interestingly, Ezekiel apparently alludes to this blessing of Judah, not only in chap. 19 (n.b. lion and vine) but also in 21:32(27), “until he comes whose right it is.” In all these passages, Ezekiel is predicting the reversal of Jacob’s blessing on Judah: because of sin, the lion of Judah will be captured and put in a Babylonian zoo, the Judean vineyard will be uprooted, and instead of ruling, the nations will be subject to them.
Whichever of these interpretations is adopted, and, though we prefer the last, we acknowledge that the alternatives are possible, all at least agree that this line is predicting the rise of the Davidic monarchy and the establishment of the Israelite empire, if not the coming of a greater David. And if the primary reference is to David, traditional Jewish and Christian exegetes would agree that like other Davidic promises it has a greater fulfillment in the Messiah.
“The peoples obey him,” lit. “the obedience of the peoples.” The noun “obedience” is only attested once elsewhere in Prov 30:17, but the verbal root wqh “obey” is attested in several cognate languages (KB, 411). “Peoples” (עמים) in the plural probably refers to non-Israelite nations, not just Israelite clans (e.g., 17:16; Exod 15:16; Deut 32:8).
 Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: an expositional commentary (pp. 1196–1201). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Calvin, J., & King, J. (2010). Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis (Vol. 2, pp. 452–460). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Hamilton, V. P. (1995). The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18–50 (pp. 658–661). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, p. 47). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 Wenham, G. J. (1998). Genesis 16–50 (Vol. 2, pp. 476–478). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.