In this Torah Portion, Vayechi we find the famous verse of Genesis 49:10:
“The sceptre (שֵׁבֶט = shevet) shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, as long as men come to Shiloh; and unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be.” – http://mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0149.htm
Or: “The staff shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh arrives, and his will be an assembly of nations.” – Genesis 49:10
Note: Google Translate translates שֵׁבֶט as ‘tribe’, not stick, staff, rod or sceptre.
I caught up with some very dear old friends, Gordon and Kathy during the week and Kathy pointed out to me that ‘sceptre’ was not really a good translation of שֵׁבֶט (pronounced ‘shevet’) which originally meant branch or staff.
Some support for her insight:
“Citing an explanation from Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Luzzatto (1800-1865), Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865) … explains that the word shevet originally referred to the leader of a tribe… The leader of a tribe is similar to a mast upon which a flag is mounted because all of the members of the tribe rally around the leader. In this way the word for a leader of a tribe is homonymous with the word for stick. Since all the members of a tribe are united behind their leader, references to them can be subsumed under the word used for the leader. Thus, the word shevet also came to mean members of a tribe because the leader of the tribe embodies the entire tribe itself. In terms of sticks, he argues that shevet and mateh can both refer to the exact same type of stick, but they refer to different parts of the stick. The word shevet refers to the top of the stick (just as the leader sits atop the hierarchal structure of a tribe), …
Malbim (to Gen. 49:28) writes that the word shevet does not literally mean “stick”, rather it means “branch,” which was the most common item used as a stick. Based on this, he explains that shevet means branch and tribe because each of the Tribes of Israel is simply a branch of the greater family tree of Jacob’s descendants.” – What’s in a Word?, “Tribesmen Stick Together” by Reb Chaim Haqoton
This verse is very often used as a prophecy about the Messiah given the interesting allusions to Shiloh and the fact that the eschatological Messiah will come from the tribe of Judah.
However, most Bible students who are critical thinkers will have recognized that this verse can not be used as a prophecy for Yeshua as Messiah or for any other Messianic figure for that matter.
But what Kathy pointed out is that when we see this word ‘shevet’ as staff or if you like as ‘flag-bearer’ for the Tribe of Judah and its allegiance to Yehovah, we can see that this prophecy was and is still true.
The Jewish people and in particular the Tribe of Judah (including of course Yeshua ben Yosef) have indeed been the flag-bearers for the ‘oracles of God’.
Romans 3:1-2 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.”
This was clearly true when the Apostle Paul made this statement and it has been true in the almost 2000 years since. However, unless Mashiach/Messiah returns soon, it may not remain true for many more years.
As Tal Keinan points out in his excellent book God Is in the Crowd: Twenty-First-Century Judaism (https://www.amazon.com/God-Crowd-Twenty-First-Century-Tal-Keinan/dp/0525511164/) the very survival of Israel and of Judaism is in serious jeopardy. I think his analysis is excellent and most disconcerting though I don’t see his solution, while perhaps of great merit, being implemented to any effective degree (see some comments in a footnote below).
Rabbi Mendel Kessin in his talk from just a few days ago ‘21st Century #61 | The Turmoil that Surrounds the Coming of Mashiach’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mHtGW_Q5Ds&feature=youtu.be) argues that of the world-wide 14 million Jews at most only 3 million are still in any way Torah observant. Clearly the remaining Jews place a much lower emphasis on the centrality and foundational importance of the Hebrew Bible and hence are not as likely to maintain and pass on the ‘Oracles of God’ that are really the very foundation of morality and and the successes and freedoms of the Western World.
So what hope the future?
I would recommend Tal Keinan’s book for some great background to this growing concern with respect to the end of Judaism and Israel, and Rabbi Kessin’s talk for some insights into the possible future.
God’s testimony to mankind is of key importance as testified repeatedly by the prophets. From my observation all our attention has been focused on the Messiah rather than God’s message of “the Way” to us.
May Mashiach come soon!!
PS: When I was writing this short reflection on Gen 49:10 I also emailed Kathy and asked if she had any supporting evidence for her insight with respect to this verse. Today I was blessed and thrilled to receive her comprehensive and most insightful reply. With her permission I have posted it below:
“Further to your question re Genesis – it’s simply my own study – from what I can see everyone assumes this verse applies to the Messiah. Anyway my reasoning is below and would welcome criticism as I certainly don’t place myself as some great authority here but this scripture has perplexed me for a long time.
Genesis 49:10 The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. NKJ
The sceptre shall not depart from Judah not a scholar from among his descendants until Shiloh comes and his will be the assemblage of nations. Artscroll
Of all the brothers, Judah’s prediction is unique in that it lasts through perpetuity. In retrospect we know that the messianic line was be through Judah so translators conclude it describes kingship. There is also the enigma that no one seems to know what the term “Shiloh” means. In the Hebrew it could be “Shiloh coming” or “Coming to Shiloh” it is unclear. However, we understand “the gathering of nations” will occur in what we believe at the “end times”.
However, this has always been a troubling verse and nagging contradictions persisted at the back of my mind.
- Historically perpetuity of kingship was not the case as Judah only had a king for 538 years. It was probably around 500 years after Judah’s death that David become king. During the Babylonian exile there was no king right through to the 2nd Temple period.
- What has always been poignant is Israel’s rejection of God as their King. God expresses sadness and betrayal in this verse. If God preordained a messianic line there is no hint here.
1 Samuel 8.7 And YHVH said to Samuel, Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say: for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.
- Jacob’s message is somewhat enigmatic. From my research scholars seems to agree that Jacob was prevented from telling his sons what would happen at the “end times”. He goes on to describe the attributes of his sons and how these would influence them. Certainly, we do not have solid evidence of most of these tribal predictions manifested today or in the last 2500 years.
In checking the definition of “latter days” can mean: “end, posterity or remainder”. It implies stating an outcome, as in Moses giving his last admonitions to Israel in Deuteronomy. Today, prophetically we do not know the identity of the scattered lost tribes since their dispersal. We do know through Ancestry.com that most of us are a great mixture across Europe Scandinavia, the Steppes, the Baltic, UK. We recognise some of those prophecies in reading the history of Israel.
- Despite Israel’s rejection, God still claims to be King over Israel. Isaiah 43.15
I am YHVH, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King.
And YHVH shall be King over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and His Name One.
- In future: Ezekiel 34: 23-24 I will establish over them a single shepherd and he will tend them – My servant David; he will tend them and he will be a shepherd unto them. And I, YHVH, I will be a God to them, and My servant David a prince among them, I YHVH have spoken it.
What exactly was Jacob wanting to communicate to Judah? What was Judah to understand? Biblical accounts record Judah’s life. Despite his errors of judgement eg. with Tamar he responded honourably when tested and the tribe of Judah became the national standard bearer to this day after the reign of Solomon and the dispersal of the northern kingdom by Assyria.
We naturally make the connection of “kingship” when we read “sceptre”. In Hebrew the word is shevet. Virtually every translation of Genesis 49.10 translates the word as sceptre. The concept of Messiah became a dominant theme due to the oppression by Greeks and Romans during the 2nd Temple period and the subsequent birth of Christianity.
The word “mchkek” (Mem Chet Kuf Kuf) comes from the Hebrew word “chok” – it means “statute”. So, it seems Judah was to be the statute bearer/administrator. “Lawgiver” is outside Judah’s prerogative therefore this term is not strictly correct.
What is special about Judah and that claim of perpetuity?
Out of all the tribes, it is only Judah and part of Levi that remains to this day.
Therefore, felt I needed to more closely examine what indeed could be meant by the 2 biblical terms of “sceptre not departing from between Judah’s feet” (feet possibly indicating halacha or “the way”) and “lawgiver” in this verse.
The only way we can define a word is to observe its scriptural use. According to Strong’s “8275” there is a specific Hebrew word for sceptre “shavrit” and it is only found in 4 places in the book of Esther and the sceptre is carried by a Gentile king. There is no record of an Israelite or Jewish king having such a sceptre.
Hebrew “Shevet” SHIN BET TET (Strongs 7626) –can mean: rod, staff, power, correction, tribe.
In scripture the principal use of this word is “tribe” we find that use around 140 times.
The other uses of “shevet” are found below: a total 41.
Based on the King James “shevet” is interpreted as “sceptre” in six other places:
For example, Artscroll and other translations we see sceptre can be used interchangeably and I have bracketed other translations of this word.
Numbers 24:17 A star has issued from Jacob and a sceptre bearer from Israel and he shall pierce the nobles of Moab. (Balaam’s prophecy when Balaak feared Israel could conquer Moab)
Psalms 45.6 Your throne is from God it is forever and ever, for the sceptre of fairness is the sceptre of your kingdom. (Psalm written by sons of Korah)
Isaiah 14.5 YHVH has broken the staff of the wicked and the rod (power)of rulers
Amos 1:5,8 the one who holds the sceptre from Beth Eden…I will turn My hand and the one who holds the sceptre (rules/ symbol of power/leader) from Ashkelon
Zechariah 10.11 the pride of Assyria will be brought down and the staff (power/taskmasters/dominion/ruler) of Egypt will depart
Ezekiel 19.11 It has strong rods for sceptres of sovereigns
In the remaining scriptures we see “shevet” used as “rod” “staff” “tribe” “stick”
Exodus 21.20 If a man strike his slave with the rod….
Leviticus 27.32 Any tithe of cattle…that passes under the rod
2 Samuel 7.14 I will chastise him with the rod of men
Job 9.34 Were he to remove the rod from me and his terror not frighten me
Job 21.9 the rod of God is not against them
Psalms 2.9 You will smash them with an iron rod
Psalms 23.4 I will fear no evil for your rod and staff they comfort me
Psalms 74.2 You redeemed the tribe of your heritage
Psalms 89.32 I will punish their transgressions with a rod and their iniquity with plagues
Psalms 125.3 For the rod of wickedness shall not rest on the righteous
Proverbs 10.13 In the lips of an understanding one will be found wisdom but a rod on the one who lacks an understanding heart
Proverbs 13.24 One who spares his rod hates his child
Proverbs 22.8 One who sows injustice will reap iniquity and the rod of His fury will destroy it
Proverbs 22.15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a youth, the rod of discipline will distance it from him
Proverbs 23.13 If you strike him with a rod he will not die
Proverbs 23.14 You should strike him with a rod and you will rescue him from the grave
Proverbs 26.3 A rod for the back of fools
Proverbs 29.15 The rod and rebuke bring wisdom
Isaiah 9.4 For the yoke of the burden and the staff on its shoulder, the rod that oppressed them
Isaiah 10.5 Woe to Assyria rod of My anger, My wrath is a staff in their hand,
Isaiah 10.15 It is as if a rod could shake those who lift it as if a stick could lift one who is not wood.
Isaiah 10.24 though he will strike you with a staff raise his rod over you in the manner of Egypt
Isaiah 11.4 He will strike the wicked with the rod of his mouth
Isaiah 14.29 Do not rejoice Philistia because the staff that beat you has been broken
Isaiah 28.27 It is with a staff that caraway is beaten
Isaiah 30.31 For Assyria will become devasted by the voice of YHVH as if He struck with a rod
Jeremiah 10.16 Unlike these is the portion of Jacob, for He is the Molder of everything and Israel is the (rod) tribe that is His heritage,
Jeremiah 51.19 Unlike these is the portion of Jacob, for He is the Molder of everything and Israel is the (rod) tribe that is His heritage,
Lamentations 3.1 I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His anger
Ezekiel 20.37 I will make you pass under the rod and bring you into the bond of the covenant
Ezekiel 21.10,13 The staff that beats my son scorns every wood
Because it is testing what will be if this sword scorns even this rod
Micah 5.1 He has laid siege against us with a stick they strike on the cheek the judges of Israel.
Micah 7.14 Shepherd Your (YHVH) people with your staff, the flock of Your heritage
From the above references we see the use of shevet as: a tool of power, punishment, rebuke, measurement, judgment, comfort as well as tribe.
So, what is it that Judah has given us in perpetuity? God told Israel they were the “priesthood nation” – “a light to the nations” – through preserving and observing the word of God.
As they say, more than the Jews kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath kept Jews. Today the covenant is being enacted – a nation scattered amongst the nations is now a growing nation in its own homeland. Throughout the ages the remnant of Jews has safe guarded scripture with their lives. They endured conquests, exile, persecution yet scripture has been preserved to the highest of quality standards. There is no book like it in the world and it forms the basis of both Judaism and Christianity.
At our fingertips we can access the Torah, Niviim (prophets) and the Ketivim (writings) which contain God’s laws (torah) statutes (Hookim) judgements (mishpatim), commandments (mitzvot).
Primarily, it is the revelation of the enduring word of God that Judah has faithfully performed the task of administrator and as well as the historic active participant in this legacy. It is the “shevet” between his feet – (feet imply to walk – ie to walk in His way – halacha)
Seems it is God’s message to us of “His way” that feet should follow until “Shiloh comes” or vice versa.
Even into the future this role remains with Judah where Zechariah 8:23 tells us
Thus said YHVH, Master of Legions ; In those days it will happen that ten men of all languages of the nations, will take hold of the corner of the garment of him a Jewish man, saying, Let us go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.
My conclusion is that the tribe of Judah has carried out its mission throughout the ages even when faced with destruction and exile. God predicts this role will indeed be the case in the future.
Therefore, the Messiah (described as a shepherd/prince/king) plays a vital part in administering that testimony God had given to the tribes of Jacob as their heritage. The application of the word “shevet” beautifully embraces all those definitions discussed above. We can only conclude that the tribe of Judah or its issue cannot be the lawgiver though in this age the Jews are responsible for holding and applying those “source documents”. Even though mankind has been given dominion over the earth as expressed in Genesis and Psalms 8 says all of creation has been put under his feet. However, I cannot find any reference where God would delegate the role of “lawgiver” to anyone but Himself.
Isaiah 33.22 For YHVH is our judge, for YHVH is our Lawgiver, YHVH is our King, He will save us
Isaiah 32.8 I am YHVH: that is My Name: and My glory will I not give to another
Micah 4.7 and YHVH will reign over them in Mount Zion from now and forever.
God has always been and remains “the lawgiver” The key is that it will be this very same testimony/revelation of YHVH contained in the Torah, Prophets and the Writings that the “holy nation” and Messiah will administer in YHVH’s Kingdom.
The “shevet” shall not depart from Judah, nor “an administrator” from between his feet until the time when God actively returns to rule from Zion and establish His kingdom and gather the nations.”
Some thoughts on God Is in the Crowd – Twenty-First-Century Judaism By: Tal Keinan
Having finished this book I feel rather despondent with respect to the future of Israel, of Judaism and of the world.
Tal has such insights into the state of Jewry in the Diaspora as well as Israel and the state of Israel’s continued ability to prevent it’s own demise. He very powerfully sums up the serious complexity and granularity of the people and the State and the increasing and very sobering signs of their demise.
This book makes it ever more clear that both Israel and the world need to hold their breath for Mashiach. There is no other long term solution it would seem.
Tal explains that their are really 4 significant and very distinct groups of people in Israel and with the Diaspora which is very much concentrated in the USA, and also increasingly distinct and separate, a total of 5 groups that will ultimately determine the long term fate of Judaism, the Jewish people and Israel.
In summary, these groups are the
- The theocrats (the Ultra-Orthodox in Israel who have significant political power but do next to nothing to defend Eretz Israel which is surrounded by enemies intent on her demise). Theough their rabbinic rulings they are also increasingly rejecting, separating and isolating the other groups;
- The Territorialists, those Jews who have populated Judea and Samaria and the other Territories that are ‘disputed’ and that require a very significant budget to defend. This group at least is very supportive of Israel (as most are the true Zionists and therefore have a strong sense of loyalty to the State of Israel and are willing to defend it). So while they are over-represented in the Israeli Defence Forces, as a group they are a net drain on the economy of the State.
- The Secularists (who mainly live in Tel Aviv) are the true backbone of the economic and defensive support of Israel, though their loyalty is being increasingly questioned as the Theocrats continue to disenfranchise them.
- The Fourth Israel are those Israelis, Jews, Arabs and others who are struggling for economic survival and who are not therefore able to support to significantly support the State of Israel and who may not even share the visions of any of the other three groups.
- The Diaspora Jews (mostly American Jews) are increasingly off-side with all of these groups in Israel, even the Securalists and are in rapid decline as well because of factors such as inter-marriage so that their financial, logistic and even physical support of Israel continues to decline.
Tal is able to paint a clear picture of the diverse nature of the Jewish people today and of the complex and deterioating nature of Judaism as well.
It is a bleak and scary picture – for a country and people chosen to be a light to the nations, the future extinction of the State of Israel would clearly appear to be antithetical to HaShems plans for humanity. Yet it could also demonstrate unequivocally that we need Mashiach to step into this bleak portent and finally bring into full bloom the Great Day of Redemption.
The scenes of Jerusalem in this Priestly Blessing song by Joshua Aaron bring back so many wonderful memories – my heart longs to return! See – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzqrWae5lK4
Yevarechecha Adonai, VeYishmerecha
The LORD bless you and keep you
יְבָרֶכְךָ יהוה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
Ya’er Adonai Panav Eleycha ViChuneka
Make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you
יָאֵר יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
Yisa Adonai Panav Eleycha, VeYasem Lecha Shalom
The LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace
יִשָּׂא יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
Yehi chasdo aleicha le’alfei dorot
May His favor be upon you to a thousand generations
יהי חסדו עליך לאלפי דורות
Your family and your children
Your generations after you
Rucho telech lefaneicha
May His presence go before you
רוחו תלך לפניך
Beside you and behind you
All around you and within you
He is with you
In the morning in the evening
In your going and your coming
In your weeping and rejoicing
He is for you
Hu itanu im kulanu
He is for us, He is with us
הוא איתנו עם כולנו
He is for you