Judah received the blessing from Jacob due to his three older brothers “disqualifying” themselves due to adultery (Reuben, the eldest) and cruelty (Simeon and Levi).
It was traditional for the firstborn to receive the birthright (headship of the family) and a double portion of the family’s wealth during the early Bible times. But that wasn’t the case with Jacob’s sons; the men who would go on to head up the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel.
In Genesis 48-49, Jacob’s final words to his sons included descriptions (judgments) of their characters and prophecies about their futures. It is here that we find out that God planned the double portion blessing for Joseph’s sons and a special blessing for Judah—Jacob’s fourth son.
Let’s find out more.
Why Did Judah Receive the Top Blessing from Jacob?
God is perfect in wisdom and He sometimes turned tradition on its head when it came to birthrights or blessings in the Bible. We see this with Jacob and Esau (Gen 27:29) and Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen 48:19). So it isn’t surprising that it happens again in Jacob’s family.
His Older Brothers Weren’t Suitable
What’s interesting in this case, is that Jacob qualifies WHY his first three sons aren’t suitable to receive the blessing. All three of these men undermined the authority of Jacob, their father, in different ways.
- Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn son committed adultery (Gen 35:22).
Genesis 49:4 (ESV) Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch!
- Simeon and Levi, Jacob’s second and thirdborn sons committed violent revenge (Gen 34:25).
Genesis 49:7 (ESV) Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.
God Showed Mercy to Judah
We see Reuben, Simeon, and Levi’s actions disqualify them from receiving the blessing, but Judah wasn’t perfect either!
In Genesis, chapter 38, Judah slept with his daughter-in-law, Tamar, mistaking her for a prostitute—something she arranged in order to bear children and continue the family line. She bravely did this because Judah hadn’t kept his word to her. His words at the end of the account are humble and repentant.
Genesis 38:26a (ESV) Then Judah … said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.”
We can’t comprehend the mind of God—He is omniscient. But we know that in His mercy and through His goodness, He chose to bless Judah, despite his sinful actions in the past.
What Was Judah Promised?
Joseph’s sons (Ephraim and Manasseh) technically received the birthright as stated in 1 Chronicles. Joseph was an interpreter of dreams, and lived a very eventful life before having his sons.
1 Chronicles 5:1-2 (ESV) The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s couch, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel, so that he could not be enrolled as the oldest son; though Judah became strong among his brothers and a chief came from him, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph).
But Judah received a special three-part blessing that carried huge significance!
Judah was promised leadership and authority
Gen 49:8 (ESV) 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.
Even though Judah didn’t receive the double portion, it is clear that he was blessed with the promise of becoming the new patriarch, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before him. In addition to this, his authority would extend to his enemies too. Here God was promising Israel future victory!
Israel’s future kings would come from Judah’s line
Gen 49:10a (ESV) 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.
As the head of the nation, Israel’s future kings would descend from Judah’s line. This promise extends to the arrival of the Messiah—Jesus, the King of Kings! He is referred to as The Lion of Judah at the end of the Bible (Rev 5:5).
Wealth and abundance
Gen 49:11 (ESV) 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.
Judah was promised an abundance of material possessions (even the animals would eat the best food). And we see this in the history of the nation of Israel—when they served God and worshiped Him alone, He blessed them with victory and wealth.
What Jacob’s Blessing from Judah Means for Us
When we consider Judah’s blessing, we are reminded of a number of truths.
- God, in His mercy and kindness, is the one who chooses to bless us; we cannot be good enough to earn His favor.
- God is sovereign over all things.
- God is faithful and He keeps his promises! We can praise Him because the line of Israel’s kings did come from Judah until the ultimate King came to Earth to free us from sin and give us the hope of eternal life! One day He’ll return and every knee will bow before Him (Phil 2:10).
Revelation 5:5 (ESV) And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”