Anyone who has studied evidential apologetics will see that many apologists have laid a great emphasis on messianic prophecy as one of the keys to demonstrating Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. One thing that is left out of these discussions is that when it comes to prophecy, it is not always predictive. The Greek word for fulfill is πληρόω (pleroo) – which has a much broader usage than “the prediction of an event.”

For example, in Matthew 5:17- Jesus says he came to “fulfill” the Law and the Prophets. In this passage “fulfillment” has a sense of embodying, bringing to completion, or perfecting. Fulfillment is one of the main themes of the New Testament, which sees Jesus and his work bringing to fruition the significance of the Hebrew Bible. However, let’s look at a case of predictive prophecy. For a prophecy to be predictive it must meet the following criteria. I am thankful for Robert Newman’s work in this area.

1. A biblical text clearly envisions the sort of event alleged to be the fulfillment.

2. The prophecy was made well in advance of the event that was predicted.

3. The prediction actually came true.

4. The event predicted could not have been staged but anyone but God.

5. Clear Prediction: Is the prophecy publicly available with a reliable text and evident interpretation?

6. Documented Outcome: Is the prophecy documented by publicly available facts?

7. Is there evidence for it in world history?

8. Proper Chronology: Is there empirical evidence that is available presently and publicly to document that indeed the prophecy does predate its fulfillment? (1)

It must be remembered that the strength of this evidence is greatly enhanced if the event is so unusual that the apparent fulfillment cannot plausibly explained as a good guess

One of the most pivotal texts that speak to a time frame about the first coming of the Messiah is Gen. 49:8-12:

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s sons shall bow down to you. “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Gen 49:8-12)-NASB

In the previous context (Gen. 49: 1-7) we see the following issues:

1. Jacob, prophesied various details as to the fortunes and fates of the descendants of these men.

2. God is revealing to Jacob the future history of his descendants.

3. The older brothers are disqualified from the birth-right (i.e., Reuben, Simon, Levi).

4. Jacob foretold a future for the tribe of Judah that pictures him as the preeminent son – the prominent tribe.

5. Judah: is the name of the son of Jacob/or the name of the southern kingdom of the divided nation of Israel.

We see the following about this passage:


1. The Messiah has already been declared to be a man, descended from Abraham (Gen. 22:18)

2. His decent is now limited to being a son of Judah

3. He is going to be a King

4. The rule of Judah is envisioned by Jacob as extending beyond the borders of Israel to include the entire world.

5. The nations of the earth shall benefit (i.e., on the idea of a beneficial rule see comments on v. 11, 12) is in keeping with the author’s view of God’s covenant promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:3: “in you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”

The first step at looking at this prophecy is to see how the rabbinical literature has treated the passage. This is a similar approach that Michael Brown has taken in his five volume set- Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus. First of all, let me introduce what is called a Targum. So what is a Targum?

1. Targums are the Aramaic Translations of the Jewish Scriptures (The Tanakh), that were read in the synagogues on the Sabbath and on feat or fast days.

2. Scholars usually assume the Targums were needed because the loss of Hebrew fluency by Jewish people growing up during the exile.

3. Targums are supposed to represent rabbinic Judaism after C.E. 70. Targums originated in Palestinian Judaism but later editions were done in Babylon.

4. All of the extant Targums seem to date from 2nd century C.E. and later, yet a number of the translations would preserve readings that were current in the first century.

Let’s see how a couple of Targums read Genesis 49:8-12:

Targum Onkelos
“The transmission of dominion shall not cease from the house of Judah, nor the scribe from the children’s children, forever, until the Messiah comes, to whom the Kingdom belongs, and whom the nations obey. He binds the foal to the vine, his colt to the choice vine; he washes his garment in wine, and his robe in the blood of grapes. He shall enclose Israel in his city, the people shall build his Temple, the righteous shall surround him, and those who serve the Torah shall be with him. His raiment shall be of goodly purple, and his garment of the finest brightly -dyed wool. His fountains shall be red with his vineyards, his vats shall drip with wine; his valleys shall be white with corn and with flocks of sheep.” (The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation, Samson L. Levy (New York: Hebrew Union College, 1974), 7.

Targum Psuedo Jonathan

“Kings and rulers shall not cease from the house of Judah, not scribes teaching the Torah from his seed, until the time when the youngest of this sons, the Messiah, shall come and because of him the peoples shall flow together. How lovely is the king Messiah, who is to rise from the house of Judah.” (The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation,  Samson L. Levy (New York: Hebrew  Union College, 1974), 7.

  

Also, Midrash Rabbah 97 says the following about the prophecy:

“Furthermore, the royal Messiah will be descended from the tribe of Judah as it says [quoting Isaiah 11:10]. Thus the tribe of Judah were descended from Solomon who built the first Temple Zerubbabel who built the second Temple and from him will be descended the royal Messiah who will rebuild the Temple. Now of the Messiah it is written [quoting Psalm 89:37].

Even Rashi who was a leading Tanakh and Talmudic exegete of the Middle Ages who also had a particular affection for the Targums — says of Shilo that,

“He is the Messiah-King and his (shelo) is sovereign power. This is how Onqelos understood the matter.”

David Baron (1857 – 1926) a Jewish believer and scholar was author of “The Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah”, “ Types Psalms and Prophecies,” and “The Servant of Jehovah.” He says the following about Gen. 49:8-12:

“With regard to this prophecy, the first thing I want to point out is that all antiquity agrees in interpreting it of a personal Messiah. This is the view of the LXX Version [Septuagint—KB]; the Targumim of Onkelos, Yonathan, and Jerusalem; the Talmud; the Sohar; the ancient book of “Bereshith Rabba;” and among modern Jewish commentators, even Rashi, who says, “Until Shiloh come,that is King Messiah, Whose is the kingdom.” (see Israel and the Plan of God (Oxford, England, Kregal Classics, 2000).

It is also worth noting that The Dead Sea Scrolls help shed some light on this text as well: In 4Q Patriarchal Blessings, the interpretation of the Genesis text reads:

“A ruler shall not depart from the tribe of Judah while Israel has dominion. There will not be cut off a king in it belonging to David. For the staff is the covenant of the kingship; the thousands of Israel are the feet, until the coming of the Messiah of Righteousness, the branch of David, for to him and his seed has been given the covenant of kingship over his people for everlasting generations.”

A Closer Look at the word “Scepter” and “Shiloh”

The precise meaning of “Shiloh” is challenging. It is either a reference to a place, as it is elsewhere in the Old Testament (e.g. Joshua 18:1,8,9; 19;51; I Samuel 1:13, etc.), or as we have already seen, it may refer to the person of the Messiah. In Judaism, Names describe the nature of the Messiah’s mission.

In the Midrash on Proverbs 19:21 (c 200-500 AD) it says: Rabbi Hunah said, “Eight names are given to the Messiah which are: Yinnon, Shiloh, David, Menachem, Jehovah, Justi de Nostra, Tzemmach, and Shiloh.”

The NIV may have the best translation which says NIV: “until he comes to whom it belongs.” In this case, “Shiloh” is taken as a possessive pronoun. This translation favors the LXX (Greek Septuagint) reading. Furthermore, in Ezekiel 21: 25-27. We see that Ezekiel uses the Shiloh text as part of a judgment oracle directed against Zedekiah to declare the Lord’s intention not to put a ruler on David’s throne ‘until he comes to whom it belongs.’ Since both Genesis 40:10 and Ezekiel 21:27 deal with Judah and the government or ownership of that tribe, the argument becomes quite compelling.

We see in the prophecy that “Scepter” is a “symbol of kingly authority” and will remain in Judah’s hand until “Shiloh comes.” In the minds of the Jewish people, “Scepter” was linked with their right to apply and enforce the law of Moses upon the people, including the right to adjudicate capital cases and administer capital punishment. . The prophecy declares that Judah will finally lose his tribal independence, and promises a supremacy over at least some of the other tribes until the advent of the Messiah.

When did Judah lose their tribal independence?

Judah did have possession of the sceptre and staff until Herod obtained kingship over Israel in 38 B.C. While Judah ceased to be an independent tribe, they did still continue to be a self-governing nation within the Roman Empire. They did lose the right to administer capital punishment. This is seen at the rial of Jesus in that it was the Romans who enforced the death sentence. This transfer of power is even mentioned in the Talmud: “A little more than forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the power of pronouncing capital sentences was taken away from the Jews.“–Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin, filoi 24.

What Are the Strengths of Prophecy?

1. This verse indicates that He (The Messiah) will have to come before the Tribe of Judah loses its identity.

2. Tribal identities were kept in the Jewish Temple. All of these records were lost in with the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.

3. The rabbis passed laws which would preserve the identity of the tribe of Levi, but Jews from other tribes lost their identity.

4. Therefore, the Messiah will have to come before 70 A.D.

5. If someone comes into the word today and claims to be the Jewish Messiah, there is no way to objectively verify they are from the tribe of Judah.

6. The “Scepter” did depart in the sense that at the coming of Jesus we see the Jewish people lost their power to adjudicate capital cases and administer capital punishment.

But let’s look at another aspect of the prophecy:

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s sons shall bow down to you. “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Gen 49:8-12)-NASB

Remember, “Until” in vs 10 is inclusive in the sense that the dominion of the tribe of Judah would not end with Shiloh’s coming, but would continue on after the arrival of this divine world ruler. In other words, Shiloh himself must belong to the tribe of Judah.

Apparently, an individual from Judah’s seed is coming who will rule over both his own nation Israel and the peoples of the world who will come to him in submissive obedience!

If the Messiah has come, are all nations into submissive obedience to him? No. And this fits with other prophecies that speak of a universal rule of the Messiah across the nations. In other words, Jesus will return and establish the earthly, national aspect of the kingdom of God. (Is. 9:6; Amos 9:11; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; 27; Is. 11:11-12; 24:23; Mic. 4:1-4; Zech.14:1-9; Matt. 26:63-64; Acts 1:6-11; 3:19-26). Therefore, one day the Messiah will be King over His people (Matt. 19:28).

Conclusion:

We should be thankful for God’s actions within human history. If God has brought to pass the first coming of His Son, He will surely bring to pass His glorious return. May we all wait with eager anticipation.

1. R. D. Geivett and G.R. Habermas, In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case For God’s Actions in Human History. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 1997, 221-223