The Scepter of Judah, Shiloh and the Messiah
The text of Genesis 49:10, "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 peoples," appears to say that a Jewish sovereign authority will end, following the coming of the Messiah. Since the termination of Jewish self-government occurred in 70 C.E. does this imply that the Messiah came prior to this time?
Answer: Christians often use this verse as a prooftext for their messianic claims. But if this text is taken to mean that the scepter shall not depart from Judah until the Messiah comes, as the Christians assert, we are faced with an insoluble historical inaccuracy. The last king from the tribe of Judah, Zedekiah, was taken captive about 586 B.C.E. Following the return to Zion from the Babylonian exile, the Jews were continually subject to foreign domination--Persian, Greek, Roman--with only a brief interlude of independence during the Maccabean period (165 B.C.E. to 63 B.C.E.), whose rulers were members of the tribe of Levi. Thus, there was a period of some six hundred years, prior to the birth of Jesus, during which the scepter of leadership had departed from the tribe of Judah.
In view of this incontrovertible fact, we are compelled to interpret the verse under discussion somewhat differently from the reinterpretation imposed upon it by Christian theology. What is meant by the phrase "the scepter shall not depart" is that the right to the scepter of leadership shall always remain within the tribe of Judah, regardless of who is actually exercising authority over Israel at any given time. What is meant by the phrase "until Shiloh comes" is not that at this time the scepter of leadership will depart from Judah, but, on the contrary, from that time on, the scepter will remain in actuality within the tribe of Judah.
The adverb 'ad ("until") is used in a similar sense in a number of instances; for example: "For I will not leave you until I have done that which I have spoken to you" (Genesis 28:15), and "No man shall be able to stand before you until you have destroyed them" (Deuteronomy 7:24). Did God leave Jacob after doing all that He promised him? Were the enemies of Israel who were killed able to stand after they were destroyed?
Even after the Messiah comes the scepter will still belong to Judah. The right to the scepter will never depart from Judah until the Messiah comes, at which time his scepter will be wielded over all nations (Isaiah 11); up to that time it was wielded over Israel alone. That this Messiah is not Jesus can best be seen from the investigation of the various messianic claims made by Christians on his behalf. As for Genesis 49:10, there is nothing in it to suggest that it applies to Jesus.
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