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.
Questions for children:
What do the words “scepter” and “ruler’s staff” tell us about the one who’s coming?
Into which tribe of Israel will he be born?
What is the “obedience of the nations”?
Explanation and Meditation:
Our last reading introduced us to Abraham and to God’s promise to make him into a great nation which would bless the whole earth. The distance between Abraham and today’s reading (37 chapters) is roughly two centuries compared to the two millennial leap between Adam and Abraham. God is slowing the story down, marking the key players in the unfolding drama. And there was no shortage of drama.
First, how could Abraham be a father to anyone when he was “as good as dead”? (Heb 11:12). But God easily overcame infertility and old age to grant Abraham and Sarah their son of promise, Isaac. In Isaac’s old age, his own wife and son deceived him into bestowing the blessing of the firstborn onto Jacob rather than Esau. After his deceit, Jacob (later renamed Israel after wrestling with God) fled for his life from his brother Esau, and was himself tricked into working 14 long, difficult years for his father-in-law in order to marry Rachel, the woman he loved. Her older sister Leah came along with the marriage deal and the rivalry between the sisters added two more servant wives. Those four wives produced 12 sons. Many of those sons were liars and deceivers like their dad. Some were even violent murderers. Read those 37 chapters of Genesis and see just how bad their behavior was for yourselves. Abraham’s nation was growing at last, but could the great hero of history really descend from this lot?
There was still more drama to be played out. Jacob had a favorite son. His name was Joseph. You can imagine how that made the rest of Jacob’s sons feel. In their jealousy and anger, they sold Joseph into slavery–a crime they meant for evil, but it was God’s good hand working behind the scenes to use that wicked act in order to send Joseph ahead of his family into Egypt. God was preparing a safe place for the nation of Israel to grow and he was also setting the world’s stage so that he might reveal himself with mighty wonders as the great God of Israel.
So today’s text finds the fledgling nation of Israel in Egypt, waiting out a famine. Jacob is old and dying. He summons each of his sons to his bedside to prophesy about their futures. It is in his prophetic word to his son, Judah, that we eagerly seize on new information about the one who is coming to rescue and redeem. We learn that He will descend from Judah. He will take up the scepter and all nations of the world will submit to his leadership. God is slowly revealing the identity of the great protagonist of history’s story: Snake-destroyer, Human seed of Eve, Son of Abraham, Son of Judah. And now we know that he will also be a King–an Israelite king to rule the world.
Song of hope: First verse of Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”