I begin this morning with an apology. I feel like this is a place where we can be ourselves and authentic, and so I want to apologize for titling my sermon, “The Lion King.” And I assure you that I’ve been paying the price ever since last week when I sent Tesar that title because “The Circle of Life” has been ringing in my ears.
But if you would turn in your Bibles to Genesis 49, I want to read verses 8–12 , and then we will ask the Lord to illumine his words to us this morning. Genesis 49:8–12. Hear the Word of the Lord:
“Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.” (ESV)
Let’s pray. Our Father, we come this morning and gather around your Word with expectation of a blessing from you. For you have not given your Word to curse us, but to bless us, and so we pray that by your Spirit you would cause us to behold the glory of this great king of Judah. And as we behold him, may we be blessed in him. We ask it in his name and for his sake, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Christ’s Supremacy Displayed in the Book of Genesis
Well, I think for a preacher, I think for a minister of the gospel, there is no more delightful assignment to be given than to be asked to preach on the supremacy of Christ. Paul says in Philippians 1:26 that he wants to make it back to the Philippians that he might give them ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus. And indeed we might say that the Scriptures are written and the point of preaching the Scriptures is to give the people of God ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, his supremacy, his preeminence.
The point of preaching the Scriptures is to give the people of God ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus.Well, it’s my pleasure to do that this morning. And to do so from the Book of Genesis, chapter 49. As we have heard from Dr. Futato on many occasions, Genesis is a book of blessings. It begins with blessing in Genesis 1, when God raises his hands of fatherly blessing over Adam and Eve and gives them that great cultural mandate to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. It continues in Genesis 2, where God sets apart the Sabbath, the seventh day, as a day of blessing and makes it holy. And he invites Adam and Eve to walk before his presence in the sanctuary on the Sabbath to behold his glory, to receive his blessing.
When Adam and Eve bring a curse and indeed a five-fold curse on the human family as a result of their sin, God nevertheless comes to the human race in Genesis 12, to Abraham and through Abraham’s family, and pronounces again a five-fold blessing to reverse and outstrip and overcome the curse that has fallen on the human race.
And we see as patriarch comes and as patriarch goes, they pass on the blessing that God has given to them to their sons. Abraham blesses Isaac. Isaac blesses Jacob. And here in Genesis 49, we come to what is, I think, the climactic chapter of blessing in the book as Jacob pronounces a blessing on his sons. And I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the climactic blessing in this climactic chapter of blessing comes in Genesis 49:8, when Jacob blesses Judah and says, “Judah,” (a name which means praise), “Judah, your brothers shall praise you.”
Genesis 49 is something of a prophetic oracle. It speaks about things concerning (verse 1) the latter days. By the time we get to the end of the Old Testament and into the New, this has become almost technical terminology for the eschatology of the Old Testament. The latter days are things that God’s going to do to bring ultimate blessing and goodness to his people. And in this oracle, Jacob speaks through many symbols and signs of the blessings that God has in store for his people.
And as in all prophetic literature and all the visionary literature that grows out of prophecy and eventually in apocalypse and you think of the book of Ezekiel and the book of Revelation, the point of the symbols and the point of the signs are to, as it were, transport us to a different world. They are to convey, to use Lewis’s words, the scent of a flower we have never had, to give us news from a country we’ve never visited. They are to give us God’s perspective, God’s ultimate purpose so that we might see our present circumstances in light of the unfolding kingdom of God.
Well, in the verses that are before us this morning, we see three themes that are unfolded that relate to this praise of Judah. Verse 8 introduces the first two themes that have to do with the praise of Judah and the triumph of Judah. And then verse 9 develops the first theme, verse 10 develops a second theme, and then verses 11 and 12 introduce a third theme.
And each of these themes are elaborated by means of a different symbol, by means of a different image that is to enable the sons of Jacob and to enable us as his sons as well, and his daughters as well, to see the world, to see our present circumstances, in a way that we could not otherwise see it apart from these symbols. To see the world, to see our circumstances from God’s perspective, in light of God’s ultimate purpose and blessing. And so let’s take a few minutes this morning and look at these three symbols. I call them three symbols of Judah’s supremacy, three symbols of Judah’s supremacy. And there are also three reasons that Judah’s brothers shall give him praise.
The Lion as a Symbol of Judah’s Unassailable Triumph
The first symbol of supremacy is the symbol of the lion and we see this in verses 8 and 9. The first symbol of supremacy is a symbol of Judah’s unassailable triumph, a symbol of Judah’s, unassailable triumph. Look at the picture: “Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?” We see the progression of this predatorial beast. He has gone out, he has captured his prey, and having defeated him, having feasted upon him, he now sits satisfied. And there is no chance that any onlooker seeing this lion, having dominated and defeated his prey, there is no chance that anyone would dare to rouse him.
It’s a symbol of his unassailable triumph and indeed it’s a symbol, that whether they know it or not, the sons of Jacob need in light of days ahead. While times are good for them right now, as they’ve gone down to Egypt to be saved from the famine, they’re dwelling in Goshen, they’re under Pharaoh’s blessing, times are going to get worse. In Genesis 15 the Lord told Abraham that when Israel goes down to Egypt, the result is they’re going to be oppressed. They are going to be burdened. And only after a very long time will the Lord deliver them.
And so this vision prepares them for the hardship that comes and announces the triumph of Judah, a triumph over Israel’s enemies. And indeed, a triumph that is so final and complete that it will be unassailable. We see the initial realization of this, of course, in the days of Solomon. Remember the description that is given in 1 Kings 5 where it says that Solomon had been given the rest from all his enemies. Here at last is a king from the tribe of Judah, and all of God’s enemies have been routed and God’s people are dwelling at peace. And so there’s no doubt that the challenge that will come from the nations is in view here and the eventual victory of Solomon and the Davidic kings over Israel’s enemies. There’s no doubt that this is in view here.
But I think that in terms of the Book of Genesis alone, we can see that this can’t possibly exhaust the significance of the image. For if we think back to the beginnings of the Book of Genesis, the great enemy that challenges the people of God is not flesh and blood. The great enemy that challenges the people of God is not the nations. The great enemy—and again the imagery is drawn from the animal kingdom—the great enemy of the people of God is that cunning serpent who slithers in the garden. That great enemy is the sin that crouches like a predator in Genesis 4 wanting to take the son of Adam and bring him into his captivity.
And of course, we know that when it comes to this enemy, this enemy wields a weapon that no merely human king can possibly overcome, for the weapon he wields is the law of God itself. What did God tell Adam and Eve in Genesis 2: “In the day that you eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, you shall surely die.” And when God published his law at Sinai, what did the law declare that all sinners must face? They must face death. The wages of sin is death. And so this great enemy, this serpent, this predator who oppresses God’s people, he wields a weapon that we have no hope of standing against. He is the accuser of the brethren.
Remember in Job, chapter one. He stands in the court of the Lord, accusing Job. Zechariah chapter 3, he stands in the court of the Lord, accusing Joshua. And in Revelation 12 he is described as the accuser of the brethren. And indeed, the basis upon which he accuses us, and the weapon that he wields against us, is none other than God’s own law, and so we are hopeless in the face of his opposition.
But of course, this symbol announces an unassailable triumph; this symbol announces a victory against which no one may oppose. And this, of course, is what we see in Revelation 5. When John stands in the heavenly court and he weeps because no one has been found to open the scroll of God’s plan for history and execute, bring that plan to its fulfillment, what does he hear? He hears that the lion of the tribe of Judah has overcome. He has conquered. And when he looks, what does he see? A lamb who was slain. In Revelation 12 it says they overcame him by the blood of the lamb. And because Christ has borne the curse of the law for us, he has taken the great weapon out of our enemy’s hand.
Genesis 49 says that victory has already been won, and we are called to live in light of that image, not our feelings, not what we know about ourselves.And indeed, Revelation 12 says that the accuser now no longer has any standing in the heavenly court room. We see in Judah an unassailable triumph, and indeed this is good news. Who would dare to rouse him? The tempter still accuses us. We may still be tempted to try to establish our own righteousness before God, but Genesis 49 says that victory has already been won, and we are called to live in light of that image, not our feelings, not what we know about ourselves.
So Judah, your brothers shall praise you because of your unassailable triumph. “We know that while in heaven he stands, no tongue can bid us thence depart.”
The Ruler’s Staff as a Symbol of Judah’s Universal Tribute
But the second symbol of supremacy comes in verse 10. Second symbol of supremacy is the ruler’s staff, and the ruler’s staff signifies Judah’s universal tribute. Already in verse 8 we’ve seen a picture of tribute: Judah, your brothers shall praise you, they shall bow down before you. Isn’t that interesting that Joseph has had his dreams, but it is Judah who shall, as it were, fulfill them. The sons of Jacob bowing down and worshiping Judah.
All the nations are destined to bring their glory and honor and worship in tribute to this King of Judah.But in verse 10 we see that this is not merely a local supremacy, not merely a local homage that is given to Judah. Verse 10 says, “to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” All the nations are destined to bring their glory and honor and worship in tribute to this King of Judah.
Now, one of the most fascinating appropriations of these verses in the New Testament is in Romans 1, and Paul, describing his apostolic mission, describes it in terms of these verses. Look with me just briefly at Romans 1. Paul is describing the purpose of the apostolic mission. And he says in verse five, “through whom [that is, through Jesus Christ] we have received grace and apostleship.” And to what end? To what end the apostolic mission? “To bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.” Do you hear the echo of Genesis 49? To him belongs the obedience of the peoples.
This is a glorious vision of the ultimate aim of gospel ministry: to present all peoples as tribute, as worship to the Lord Jesus Christ.Later in Romans 15, Paul will describe his apostolic ministry as a priestly work of presenting the Gentiles as an offering to the Lord. And this is a glorious vision of the ultimate aim of gospel ministry: to present all peoples as tribute, as worship to the Lord Jesus Christ. The ultimate end of the gospel is for the sake of his name.
It’s important to remember: we can do a lot of good things and pursue a lot of good things in the ministry of the gospel that we should do. There’s humanitarian service that we can provide through diaconal ministry. We can make sure that our preaching is right. We get our ordo salutis right. And we preach justification the right way and sanctification the right way and glorification the right way and everything else. But the ultimate aim in the ministry of the gospel is not merely to help human beings. It’s not merely to see them justified, sanctified, glorified. The ultimate aim of the ministry of the gospel is that they might become worshipers of this king of Judah.
But note that this supremacy of Judah and the universal tribute that comes to him because he has the ruler’s staff, because he has the scepter, note that this is a very surprising supremacy within the context of the Book of Genesis. As you know, Genesis is broken up into four books, roughly, and in each of these books we have a different focus. First book of Genesis is focused on what happened to the heavens and the earth through Adam and Eve. Second book is focusing on what happened to Abraham and his family. Third book is focusing on Jacob, primarily the last one focusing on Joseph. The last book of Genesis is chapters 37–50.
And you know the story of Joseph. He goes down to Egypt, he eventually rises to prominence in Egypt, and this is how the sons of Jacob are saved. But you’ve got this really funny thing that happens in the book of Genesis, and a lot of you have heard me talk about this before, so you can zone out if you have, but a lot of you haven’t. You’ve got this very interesting thing that happens. Genesis 37, you get going with the story of Joseph and everything after Genesis 37 is about Joseph, except for one thing. In Genesis 38 you have this very interesting story. It’s actually an absurd and bizarre story. Genesis 38, we have the story of Tamar and Judah. And you remember how the story goes?
Judah has a son, doesn’t please the Lord, God kills him. Well, there is this thing called Levirate marriage, where you’ve got to raise up offspring for that son. So Judah gives his second son to Tamar to raise up offspring, and let’s just say he doesn’t fulfill his duties. God strikes him down. And so Judah is getting a little bit worried about this Tamar. She’s kind of unlucky in love. And he says, “Well, I’ll give you my third son, but he’s not old enough right now.” And the story goes on, and of course, he never does because he’s probably afraid of losing this son or whatever. And so it’s kind of an interesting thing. What’s going on here?
Well, things move from bad to worse because what does Tamar do? Tamar says, “I know. I’ll trick my father-in-law into sleeping with me.” And so she dresses up like a harlot and she seduces him, and eventually she shows up pregnant. Well, they’re going to stone Tamar for playing the harlot, and right before they kill her, she pulls out the staff that Judah had given her. Remember, he didn’t have the money to pay for it. He wasn’t planning on visiting a prostitute that day. And so he left her with the staff as a pledge: I’ll be back to pay you later. But of course, he was humiliated, he never came back, he never paid her. So she pulls out the staff and says, “Look, before you kill me, you might want to ask about the owner of this thing.”
And then this bizarre story, this absurd story, this crazy story gets even weirder because what happens? Judah says, “She was more righteous than I.”
The supremacy of Christ and the glory of Christ often does not come on a path that we would expect.Then Tamar has a baby, the story is over, we go back to Joseph and the rest of the story’s about Joseph. And this is where we’re kind of wondering, “Hey, maybe those JEDP people were right about kind of sloppy editing of the Pentateuch,” and we want to go wash our eyes out with soap or something like that before we start reading the story of good and pure Joseph.
What is this thing about Judah? Well, of course, it’s only in Genesis 49 that we can really understand what’s happening. “The scepter shall not depart from Judah nor the ruler’s staff before his feet.” What happens in this odd and strange story in Genesis 38? Without Judah’s willing cooperation, this crazy Tamar preserves the seed of Judah, which he had no devotion to preserving himself. And in so doing, what does she do? She preserves the ruler’s staff for Judah.
And I think it’s a very important point to remember as we think about the supremacy of this King of Judah. It reminds us that the supremacy of Christ and the glory of Christ often does not come on a path that we would expect. And indeed, if we only see the glory of Christ apart from the path, the absurd path, by which she arrives there, we shall be guilty of becoming theologians of glory, as Luther says, rather than theologians of the cross.
We find the path to glory on the path of suffering, on the path of misery, on the path of the absurd and oftentimes the foolish.But there’s gospel in that because not only is the glory of Christ and the glory of the King of Judah something that he arrives at on a path of absurdity, and indeed, the macabre, we might say. But as those who are united to him and as those who are ministers of the gospel on his behalf, so too do we find the path to glory on the path of suffering, on the path of misery, on the path of the absurd and oftentimes the foolish.
And this is important to remember because what that means is as we face absurd circumstances in life, things that are don’t fit the plausibility structures of how the successful Christian life should follow, when we come up against the illness we did not expect, when we come up against the life change that we weren’t planning on, when we lack the fruit in ministry that we thought should follow our faithful service, we need to be reminded that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re not on the right path. But indeed we may be in the very train of the king of glory, this lion of the tribe of Judah as he passes by.
The Vine as a Symbol of Judah’s Unsearchable Wealth
The third symbol of supremacy see in verses 11 and 12: the symbol of the vine. And the symbol of the vine signifies Judah’s unsearchable wealth. I want to confess that for a long time verses 11 and 12 have puzzled me. I haven’t known what to make of him washing his garments and why I generally associate that with the image in the Book of Revelation of the robe soaked in blood. Is this a picture of the King’s military triumph? And then, of course, you get that thing about his eyes being darker than wine, and you know that in Proverbs red eyes aren’t a good thing. It’s a sign of drunkenness. But I’ve come to conclude that verses 11 and 12 are a wholly positive image, and they’re actually three ways of saying the same thing about the King of Judah.
There are three pictures associated with wine. He binds his colt, his foal to the vine where wine grows, he has washed his garments in wine, and his eyes are darker than wine. Well, the question is this: why? What’s all this emphasis on wine? What’s this Presbyterian text doing in the Book of Genesis?
Well, the answer is that wine signifies wealth. Wine signifies wealth. Think about it like this: at the Swain house, we don’t drink wine every night with dinner. We drink water, and if I’m lucky, I get a glass of sweet tea. It’s only on special occasions that we pull out the bottle of wine, maybe friends are over or some celebration of an anniversary or birthday or something like that, but it’s only on a special occasion that we pull out the bottle of wine. Why is that?
Swains are poor. Swains ain’t rich. And I bet in your houses every night, you don’t drink wine every night for dinner. Why? It costs money. You can’t be emptying those bottles every night, every night, every night. Poor seminary students, poor seminary staffers, poor seminary administrators, professors, and everyone else. You hear me? Wine signifies wealth.
Well, what’s then the point of talking about him binding his foal to the vine and washing his robes in wine, his eyes being filled with wine? It’s to describe the kingdom of Judah, it’s to describe the kingdom of Christ as a kingdom characterized by unsearchable wealth.
Where does he park his donkey? By the vine. What does he use to do his laundry? Wine. And what does he drink anytime he needs a drink? He drinks wine because he’s so rich, he’s so wealthy, the land is overflowing with wine. And indeed, this image becomes a symbol of wealth in biblical theology.
You remember the description that’s given of the kingdom of Israel in Solomon’s days, 1 Kings 4:25. What does it say? Every man sat under his own vine. You know what it’s saying? That everyone was a landowner and everyone was a wealthy landowner. They all had vineyards. It’s not the poor who have vineyards; it’s the rich who have vineyards. And indeed, that’s the description of Solomon’s Kingdom. When the Queen of Sheba hears of his wisdom and comes to visit, her breath is taken away and she says, “I had heard of it, but not the half has been told concerning your wisdom and your wealth.”
Christians Share in the Blessings of the Supremacy of Christ
And indeed, this is gospel for us. As the old hymn says, “He brings poor, vile sinners into his house of wine.” That’s a house of infinite wealth and infinite resources. And so are we poor? It’s no matter if we dwell in the kingdom of Christ, for he is unfathomably rich. Do we lack wisdom? All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in him. Do we lack power? He abounds in the power of God to meet our needs. Are we miserable? Our Christ is rich in mercy. Are we overcome with guilt? He is rich in pardoning grace, whatever want, whatever need we have, he is full with all that we need to meet those needs. Indeed, every spiritual blessing is laid up for us in him at the right hand of the Father, that in the coming ages, he might make known to us the immeasurable riches of his grace.
Are we poor? It’s no matter if we dwell in the kingdom of Christ, for he is unfathomably rich.And so, Judah, your brothers shall praise you for your unassailable triumph, for your universal tribute, and for your unsearchable wealth. And it only remains to be said that we, too, have reason to rejoice in this king of Judah. For we too, are sons of Jacob. We are like Benjamin and Joseph, born of the barren woman as Gentiles at a later time. And if we’re sons of Jacob, then we’re brothers of Judah and sharers in his wealth.
And so we end where we began. Genesis is a book of blessing, and we say, “How happy is the man upon whom these blessings fall? This King of Judah.” But also, “How happy are his brothers and sisters who take refuge in him?”
Father, we thank you for this great king. We pray that we would know his triumph for us on the cross, which is sealed for us on his throne and against which no enemy can oppose. We thank you for the kingdom and the scepter which belongs to him. We pray that you will grant us to serve him and not ourselves and to call others to serve him as well. And we thank you, Father, for the unsearchable riches that are ours in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Though we know that we are poor and needy, Father, may we know his wealth day to day, as we would look for the day where we shall lack nothing in your presence in him. And we ask it in his name and for his sake. Amen.