One of the greatest early “legacy” passages in the Bible is when Jacob bequeathed land and blessing to his 12 sons when he was close to death. As Lance points out in his article, not everyone received an equal share or even a positive inheritance. What is most surprising to me, however, is how one of the sons rose to such unexpected prominence that his descendants became the line from which the Christ came.
Judah was that son. As the fourth child of Jacob, he probably could have expected minimal land and what was “left over” from some of his older brothers. But Judah showed himself remarkably able to mediate family disputes and, especially, to appeal to his brother Joseph, still in disguise, when it looked very bleak for all the brothers. His impassioned and humble confession of vulnerability to his brother Joseph in Gen 44 proved to be the key to Joseph’s revealing his identity to his brothers in Gen 45. This then led to a moving scene of family reconciliation in Gen 45. All of this was because Judah decided to step out of his role and show leadership when the family was in need.
The result of his action is seen in the blessing of Gen 49. Some of the blessing points to fraternal harmony (“your brethren shall praise you,” v 8); some describes his military prowess (“your hand will be on the neck of your enemies,” v 8). But what is most striking is the prophecy of v 10, interpreted by the Christian Church as referring to the Christ: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes…” (v 10). That is, Judah has now risen from a potentially unimpressive fourth position in the birth order to the stratosphere of inheritance.
We often see legacy as something fixed—by birth, parental expectation, past performance, desire to divide the estate equally. But the story of Judah shows us that special circumstances can sometimes change the destiny not only of one family but of an entire people. We are glad that Jacob was able to see and affirm that in his son, Judah.