Genesis 34-35: The Reason Jesus Emerged from the Tribe of Judah

Throughout the patriarchal narratives of Genesis, it has never been difficult to figure out who the son of promise has been.  God promised Abraham that he would have a son in his old age and God even supplied “Isaac” as his name.  While it took faith to wait (and Abraham even tried to “help” God fulfill his promise with Ishmael) it became obvious when Sarah’s son was born.  In the case of Isaac, he only had two sons who were eligible to carry on the promise and a prophesy was given to he and Rebekah that, “the older will serve the younger.”  In this text we are presented with the answer to a more complicated dilemma.  Which of Jacob’s son would become the son of promise who would be the forerunner of the Messiah of God.  In a sense, these events, nearly 2000 years before the birth of Christ set the stage to all that will follow throughout the rest of Scripture. 

We know from the Bible that Judah’s would emerge as God’s choice to carry forth the line of the messiah, Jesus Christ, who would be the Savior of the world.  But how was he chosen given that he had three brothers who were born before him and naturally had the claim to carry on the primary family line?  In a masterful way, this text, gives us the answer to this very important question.

As we begin looking at this passage we open with a very sad event.  After the family had moved into the area of Shechem, Dinah, one of the daughters of Jacob went out to “visit the women of the land” (34:1b). She caught the eye of the eye of a sick young man whose father was the ruler of the area.  This vile young man carried out an even more vile deed against Dinah — an act that was against her will.  After hearing of the news, Jacob’s sons were offended very deeply.  “They were filled with grief and fury, because Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter — a thing that should not be done” (34:7).  After this young man Shechem did this evil thing, he asked his father if he could arrange for a marriage between himself and Dinah and so the father came and began to negotiate such a deal with Jacob’s sons.  Realizing the great wealth of Jacob and his sons, Hamor ruler of the area made this proposal, “Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves.  You can settle among us; the land is open to you.  Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it.”  Hamor asked Jacob to make whatever proposal he desired so that his son Shechem could take Dinah as his wife.  

The sons of Jacob stepped forward and proposed one prerequisite for this intermarriage to take place: circumcision.  They would only make this deal to become one people if the men of Shechem would submit to this practice.  Like their father and their grandfather Laban, they had learned the art of deceit.  The men of the city, recognizing that this would be a painful price, though probably a far cheaper price than they had anticipated to acquire all the property of Jacob went with the plan.  They were all circumcised to man and three days into their pain, two of Jacob’s sons from the line of Leah, Simeon and Levi, went through the town and put every single man to death.  While Shechem deserved punishment, the killing of every man in the town was not something that was right before the Lord.  Jacob was obviously furious at his sons and he returned to Bethel, the place where he met with God on two of the most significant days of his life.  At this point in the text we see real spiritual growth in Jacob’s life as now before he returned to Bethel, he wanted to do so with a pure heart and a clear conscience.  He called on his giant family to, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes” (35:2).  Jacob, perhaps a little late, is beginning to understand that the spiritual health of his family is most important duty.  It is because of this event that Simeon and Levi were disqualified for carrying on the line of the messiah.  In Jacob’s final “blessings” to each of his sons, the following is what he prophesied for these two brothers: Simeon and Levi are brothers — their swords are weapons of violence.  Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased.  Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel!  I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel” (Genesis 49:5-6). While he has begun to make this type of commitment to his family, the worst is not over yet as he will find that another of his sons will commit a serious act of betrayal. 

The second act of betrayal in this text by one of Jacob’s sons took place in 36:21-22.  Jacob had just experienced the most dramatic loss in his life to this point in the narrative.  While Rachel, his beloved wife whose relationship he had treasured beyond any other lost her life when delivering Benjamin.  This was a crushing blow to him as they were living in the region close to what is now Bethlehem.  Subsequent to her death Jacob moved his family to a place called Migdal Eder.  While he was there, his eldest son Reuben went and violated the maidservant of Rachael who was also one of the wives of Jacob.  One wonders if Reuben did this out of his intense jealousy of Rachael and the special treatment that she had received from Jacob.  Whatever his reasoning, he did something that was grossly sick and the entire family, including Jacob, were made aware of his twisted actions. 

As a result of this terrible act, Reuben was disqualified to be the one from whom the savior of the world would spring.  Once again, Jacob made this abundantly clear in Genesis 49 in the final “blessing/prophesy” for each of his sons. “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power.  Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, on to my couch and defiled it.”  So we learn here, that Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, forfeited the blessing of God that would have been his through his gravely sinful behavior.

So, it is because of these events that Judah would receive the mantle of the son of blessing.  He was the next in line of Leah’s sons after Reuben, Simeon and Levi.  In Genesis 49:8-12, we read this prophesy of the great blessing that would come to the world through Him, the eventual lion of the tribe of 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 the lion’s cub, O 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 comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.  He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.”  Here of course, Jacob is speaking about the heir of Judah – Jesus the Christ. So, in conclusion these two chapters tell us two very sordid tales to help us understand why the messiah, who would be Jesus, would come from the tribe of Judah.

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