For the Jew living in Israel, 2,000 years ago, the idea that God would fail to keep His promise, was inconceivable.
At the time that Jesus came to the temple and allowed the people to proclaim Him as the Messiah, the prophecy of Shiloh from Genesis 49:10, was extremely meaningful.
The existence of Israel as a nation, and her survival in the world, is a fact that is directly promised by God. Despite the deportation of Jews to Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar; despite the deportation of the Jews from Israel in 70 A.D., no nation or people has the power to destroy the Jewish people.
While in their captivity at Babylon and during the 2,000 years in which the Jews were scattered over the face of the earth, God was protecting and preserving a remnant. This was so that He could fulfill His promise to return the Jews to their land once again in the last days. This prophecy from Ezekiel 36 an 37, was fulfilled in 1948 when Israel became a nation once again, in just one day.
At the time that Genesis 49:10b was written, the Jews who read this prophecy of Shiloh, understood who it applied to and what it meant. This chapter is dedicated to our understanding of this important prophecy.
Israel shall have the right to self-rulership. This authority will not be taken away until Shiloh, the Messiah, comes.
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” —Genesis 49:10b
New Testament Fulfillment:
And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. —Luke 2:40-50
During the period of history that Jesus was living as a child in Nazareth, the Romans had already conquered Israel and had placed the nation under their dominion, beginning in 63 B.C. In this prophecy from the Book of Genesis, the Lord promised Israel that they would not lose their right of self government, until the Messiah arrived at Jerusalem. In other words, the loss of their right to govern themselves, would be a sign that the Messiah had come, or that the word of God had failed.
“…the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to him shall be the obedience of the people.” —Genesis 49:10
The Messiah’s entrance into human history was intended by God as a sign that all of the prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah, were about to be fulfilled. The prophets who made these predictions in the Old Testament, often themselves, did not understand the events which they were writing about. These men looked at these events from afar, as they wrote about the one who would come and die for the sins of the world.
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” —Hebrews 11:13
This amazing and detailed prophecy of Genesis 49:10 by Jacob, reveals an incredible proof for the power of prophecy in the Word of God. Jacob speaks of the Scepter (Hebrew: Shebet), translated as tribe or tribes, 140 times, and on 34 occasions as a rod or staff. Jacob predicts that The Scepter (rulership) shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh comes… The word Shiloh in the Hebrew language is a code word for Messiah.
This prophecy by Jacob states that the right to self-rule and the ruler Himself shall always be from the tribe of Judah. When Rome captured Israel, they took away their right of self-government, meaning that the scepter was no longer in Judah’s hands. The ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, records that at about 7 A.D., after Israel had lost their right to self-government, the high priest of Israel went throughout the streets of Jerusalem, wearing sackcloth and ashes, crying woe to us, the scepter has been taken from us, and shiloh has not come.
Israel’s right to enforce their own laws was closely linked to their identity as a nation. The Torah gave the Jews the authority to put to death a person who was found guilty, according to the laws of God. The prophecy of Genesis 49:10 predicts that the scepter (rulership, the Torah, the law) shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes.
According to the word of God, the Messiah would arrive in Israel before they would lose the right to enforce the laws of God. The question would be: “Did Judah ever lose this right at any other time in history previous to Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem?”
When Nebuchadnezzar took-captive the people of Judah during the 70 years predicted by Jeremiah, Israel lost their sovereignty as a nation but maintained their judicial rule through the tribe of Judah. This is confirmed in the book of Ezra as the Jews maintained their own lawgivers or judges during the 70 years of captivity. Despite the sieged by Nebuchadnezzar, Judah did not lose their authority over their own people during that entire 70-year period.
We find that even in the subsequent conquering of Judah by the Persians under Cyrus, the Greeks under Alexander, and finally the Romans, Judah was allowed the ability to judge their own people.
This right of rule suddenly changed when Archelaus, the ruler of Judea, was banished to Gaul. His replacement was not a Jew, which was the normal policy under the Romans. Caesar Agustus was weary of the Jews and determined that he would take away their right of judicial authority when Caponius became the new ruler in Judea. This event is a matter of secular history, recorded by Flavius Josephus.
“And now Archelaus’ part of Judea was reduced into a province, and Caponius, one of the equestrian order of the Romans, was sent as a procurator, having the power of life and death put into his hands by Caesar”
When this took place, the chief priests of Israel believed they had lost the Scepter of Judah, and the word of God had failed.
The leaders of Israel were well acquainted with the fact that this event could happen. In the Babylonian Talmud, the Sanhedrin 98b, Rabbi Johanan wrote:
“The world was created for the sake of the Messiah, what is this Messiah’s name? The school of Rabbi Shila said ‘his name is Shiloh, for it is written; until Shiloh come.’ ”
The Rabbis of this era wrote extensively on the prophecy of Genesis 49:10. They believed that it was speaking of the coming Messiah, in relation to a loss of rulership that would occur.
- Targum Onkelos: “The transmission of domain shall not cease from the house of Judah, nor the scribe from his children’s children, forever, until Messiah comes.”
- Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: “King and rulers shall not cease from the house of Judah…until King Messiah comes.”
- Targum Yerushalmi: “Kings shall not cease from the house of Judah… until the time of the coming of the King Messiah… to whom all the dominions of the earth shall become subservient.”
This is a confirmation of Genesis 49:10 that the religious leaders in Israel believed that Shiloh and the Messiah were the same person.
When Archelaus was banished as ruler of Judea, the transfer of power away from the Jews, is 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.”
The Jewish historian Josephus confirms this in his writings from The Wars of the Jews, Antiquities 20:9:
“After the death of the procurator Festus, when Albinus was about to succeed him, the high priest Ananias considered it a favorable opportunity to assembly the Sanhedrin. He therefore caused James the Brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, and several others, to appear before this hastily assembled council, and pronounced upon them the sentence of death by stoning. All the wise men and strict observers of the law who were at Jerusalem expressed their disapprobation of this act… Some even went to Albinus himself, who had departed to Alexandria, to bring this breach of the law under his observation, and to inform him that Ananius had acted illegally in assembling the Sanhedrin without the Roman authority.”
For those who claim that there are no extra-biblical texts that speak of Jesus, other than the Bible, this is one of many proof texts that controvert this claim. We notice that the right to put Jesus to death by stoning was refused by the Roman authority, a confirmation that the judicial law in Israel was at an end—in fulfillment of the prophecy of Genesis 49:10. What the Jews did not know is that the one whom they were seeking to kill by stoning would be put to death according to the other prophecies of the Old Testament Book of Psalms, Isaiah, and many others; that predicted the Messiah would be crucified.
When Josephus records, in 7 A.D., that the high priest of Israel went throughout the streets of Jerusalem wearing sackcloth and ashes, crying, “woe to us, the scepter has been taken from us, and shiloh has not come…”, it was because they believed that the word of God had been breached. Because their right to self-rule had been taken away and Shiloh had not arrived, the leaders of Israel believed that the prophecy of the Messiah’s arrival before they lost their rulership, had failed. This would mean that the word of God was not reliable and what God had said in His word could not be trusted.
What the Jewish leadership did not realize: at that very moment when the high priest was lamenting that Shiloh had not come, a young boy of about 7 years of age was amongst them—who was Shiloh, their promised Messiah.
Just five years later, Jesus is seen in their Temple in Jerusalem—a boy of about 12 years old, teaching the scriptures to the leaders of Israel. This young boy is Shiloh, and He had come in fulfillment of God’s promise. Jesus the Messiah had arrived at the moment that Judah had lost their right to self-rule, and they did not know it. The Word of God had not failed; it had been kept just as He said that it would.
“And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.’ And He said to them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.” —Luke 2:40-50
The importance of Bible prophecy is understood by the reaction of the High Priest who went through the streets of Jerusalem in sackcloth and ashes. If in fact the word of God had failed, this would have been a profound event in the history of Israel. They would no longer be able to trust what God had said. If the word of God, as spoken in these hundreds of prophecies, was ever proven to be unfulfilled, then the entire Bible would be invalidated.
In this, we see why this book and our understanding of all Bible prophecy is so important. Prophecy and its fulfillment is our only method of confirming that the entire Bible is the word of God and reliable. Thankfully, over the thousands of years that the Bible has been scrutinized and judged in the area of predictive and fulfilled prophecy, not a single prediction has ever failed.
In every occasion where there seems to be a fracture, or a supposed inconsistency, the word of God has always been proven true. Not one word of all God’s promises has ever failed. Even when men sincerely believed that God had not done as He had promised, later it was discovered that it was men who were wrong—not God.
…not one thing has failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spoke concerning you…. —Joshua 23:14
Much in the same way that the High Priest in Israel misunderstood the fulfillment of this prophecy of Genesis 49:10, when he went through the streets of Jerusalem crying out that God’s word had failed. Jesus, the Messiah, was already there with them when Israel lost their right to self-rule, just as God had spoken.
This is a subtle principle that should not be overlooked: the importance of God always keeping His word.
We must understand that Israel was accustomed to the word of God always coming to pass, exactly as He had said. Not one promise that the Lord had stated had ever failed, up to that point. When their nation was taken from them and rulership was given to the Roman government, they looked around and noticed that the Messiah was not there. Their assumption was that God’s word was no longer reliable.
When we consider that all of these prophecies have been fulfilled by Jesus Christ, we understand what this should mean to every Jew. In fact, out of the thousands of prophecies made in the Bible, not one word that God has spoken has ever failed to be fulfilled exactly as He had said. It is truly amazing today that every Jew has not already received Jesus as Messiah and King. The evidence for His claim as the Messiah is overwhelming—simply by the testimony of fulfilled prophecy, that history has verified.
Israel was chosen by God as His own unique people. He set the Jews apart and carefully formed them into a nation of Holy people, through whom; He could bring His own dear Son. The biggest obstacle to the Jews of today—in receiving Jesus as the Messiah, is their unwillingness to accept that Jesus claimed to be The Son of God. This remains a stumbling block despite the fact that the Messiah is described as the Son of God in several Old Testament Passages.
1 “The world was created for the sake of the Messiah, what is this Messiah’s name? The school of Rabbi Shila said ‘his name is Shiloh, for it is written; until Shiloh come.’ ”
2 Flavius Josephus, Antiquités 17:13
3 “Evidence That Demands a Verdict”, Josh McDowell. Here’s Life Publishers, p 168
4 See Ezra 1:5,8 the priests and prince of Judah, were still in existence after seventy years away from Israel.
5 1. Fla”vius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews”, Book 2, chapter 8
2. The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation: The Messianic Exegesis of the Targum”, Samson H Levy (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Jewish institute of Religion, 1974), p. 2
6 The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation: The Messianic Exegesis of the Targum”, Samson H Levy (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Jewish institute of Religion, 1974), p. 2
10 Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin, filoi 24.
11 Josephus confirms this in his writings from “The Wars of the Jews”, Antiquities 20:9:
12 Flavius Josephus, Antiquities 17:13