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Parashat Vayechi - The Promise of Shiloh
Marc Chagall - Judah (window detail)

The Promise of Shiloh

Further thoughts on Parashat Vayechi

by John J. Parsons
www.hebrew4christians.com

In the "Gospel in the Garden" we considered the very first prophecy given in the Torah, namely, God's promise that through the "seed of the woman" would come one who would slay the serpent and crush the kingdom of Satan (Gen. 3:15). "... He (i.e., the Savior/Messiah) will crush your head (ראשׁ), and you (i.e., the serpent/Satan) will crush his heel (עָקֵב)."  Eve initially had hoped that her firstborn son was the promised child, but Cain later proved to be a murderer.  The martyrdom of her righteous son Abel necessitated that the promised seed would descend through another child, and therefore the Torah describes the birth of Seth (שֵׁת, lit. "appointed"), the third son of Adam and Eve. The Scriptures state that it was the descendants of Seth who "began to call upon the Name of the LORD" (לִקְרא בְּשֵׁם יהוה), indicating that they had faith in God (אֱלהִים) as the Compassionate Covenant Keeper (יהוה) who would deliver humanity from the curse by means of victory (נצח) the promised Seed.

Apart from the "godly line of Seth," however, the subsequent lineage of humanity was marked by anarchy and bloodlust, so that the Torah describes the human condition as "every intention of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5). After nine generations from Adam, the LORD "had enough" and was ready to wipe humanity from the face of the earth. The Torah then traces the genealogy (toldot) of Seth through ten generations (from Adam), until his descendant Noach (נחַ) is described as the only tzaddik (righteous man) remaining in the earth (Gen. 6:6-9). The Great Flood came as a worldwide judgment upon fallen humanity that had rejected the way of truth and righteousness (Gen. 6:5-7). After the great cataclysm, we learn that Noah's son Shem (שֵׁם) was chosen to be the one through which the "line of the Messiah" would come.  When Noach said, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem" (בָּרוּךְ יהוה אֱלהֵי שֵׁם), he prophesied that the coming redemption would come through the line of Shem (not through Canaan or Japheth), and therefore Shem was chosen to be humanity's high priest (for more on this, see the "Seed of Abraham").


 

From the line of Shem would descend Abram (אַבְרָם), the tenth generation from Noah, and therefore the twentieth from Adam (for the genealogy, see parashat Noach). Abram, of course, is the original patriarch of the Jewish people who was tested to offer up his "only begotten son" (his own "promised seed") as a sacrifice upon Mount Moriah, the location of the future Temple. In Jewish tradition, this supreme test is called the Akedah (עֲקֵדָה, "binding"), which clearly prefigured the Father's sacrifice of the Son of God for the sins of humanity (more here). Indeed, after the offering of Isaac, God explicitly promised Abraham that "in your seed (זֶרַע) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice" (Gen. 22:18).

Throughout the lives of the original patriarchs, the promise of the coming Seed was repeated and reaffirmed.  Abraham received the promise six times (Gen. 12:1-3, 13:14-18; 15:4-5; 17:1-8; 18:18, 22:18), Isaac received it twice (Gen. 26:3-4, 23-24), as did Jacob (Gen. 28:10-14; 35:9-12). The patriarchal promise of the coming seed was therefore made (or reaffirmed) no less than ten times in the Torah (corresponding to the ten utterances that created the universe). The Redeemer would therefore come from the "God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (אֱלהֵי אַבְרָהָם אֱלהֵי יִצְחָק וֵאלהֵי יַעֲקב), just as Yeshua Himself later affirmed, "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22).

The next development of the promise of coming Redeemer occurred on the deathbed of the patriarch Jacob. When the time came for Jacob (i.e., Israel) to die, he called all his sons together to bless them (Gen. 49:1-28). According to midrash, Jacob wanted to tell his sons about the "End of Days" (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) when the Messiah would come, but was prevented by the Holy Spirit. According to Rashi, God prevented Jacob because He does not want anyone to know the "day or the hour" when the great King of Israel would appear. Jacob did, however, foretell that from the tribe of Judah (יְהוּדָה) would come the Messiah: "The scepter (שֵׁבֶט) will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh (שִׁילוֹ) comes, and to him shall be the obedience (יקְהָה) of the people" (Gen. 49:10). Interestingly, the name "Judah" (יְהוּדָה) is spelled using all the letters of the Name YHVH (יהוה), with the addition of the letter Dalet (ד). Just as the tribe of Judah later was directly stationed in the front of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the camp formation in the wilderness, so the Holy Temple (i.e., Moriah) would later become part of Judah's territory in the promised land.  Likewise, Yeshua Himself - a descendant of King David - was crucified and resurrected in the land of Judah. Truly the promised "Seed of Judah" represents the "doorway of the LORD" and is rightly named "the One whom his brethren would praise."


 

The meaning of the word "Shiloh" has been debated among scholars and commentators. According to early sages and Talmudic authorities, the "ruler's staff from between his (Judah's) feet" refers to the Messiah (Targum Onkelos, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, and Targum Yerusahlmi), and the word "Shiloh" comes from she-lo, meaning "that is his." In other words, kingly authority would be vested in the tribe of Judah until the Messiah appears, at which time he would reign as the supreme leader of the people. The Talmud likewise supports the interpretation that Shiloh was a reference to the Messiah: "Rabbi Yochanan taught that all the world was created for the Messiah. What is His name? The School of Sheeloh taught: His name is Shiloh as it is written, 'Until Shiloh come and unto Him shall the gathering of the peoples be'" (Sanhedrin 98b).  In later rabbinical tradition, "Shiloh" was construed to mean "final tranquility" or the worldwide peace brought through the rule of the Messiah, when all the nations of the earth would submit to him. Understood in this light, "Shiloh" would refer to the establishment of the kingdom of God upon the earth (i.e., the Zionist vision). Others have said that since the Masora renders shiloh using a mappiq in the final Hey (i.e., הּ), it should be regarded prepositionally to mean "toward Shiloh," the very first capital of Israel in the Promised Land (this interpretation suffers from the fact that Shiloh was in Ephraim, not in Judah, however). Still others have said that Shiloh should be regarded as a proper name functioning as the subject of the verb "shall come." In this interpretation (common in most Christian translations of the Bible), Shiloh (said to derive from the verb shala, "to rest"), would then be the first proper name given to the Messiah in the Scriptures.  Despite some of the uncertainty regarding the exact meaning of the name "Shiloh," the various commentators - both Jewish and Christian - agree that Jacob's prophecy concerned the regal authority of the tribe of Judah until the Messiah would appear. This is the basis for the "Son of David" hope of Biblical Judaism.

As an aside, Jacob's prophecy that "the scepter will not depart from Judah... until Shiloh comes" includes all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet except for the letter Zayin, which is the Hebrew word for weapon, suggesting that when the Messiah comes, it will not be by means of arms or weapons, but rather by the ruach ha-kodesh. In other words, the Zealots misunderstood the mission of the Messiah, thinking that the Messiah would rule and reign by means of carnal force and worldly power. Therefore we see Yeshua as the Suffering Servant, Mashiach ben Yosef, coming to the Temple riding on a lowly donkey, full of humility and kindness (Matt. 21:1-5).

The time of Shiloh's coming is somewhat problematic, however, at least from a traditionally Jewish perspective.  After all, the kingdom of Judah was later taken into captivity in 587 BC when Tzediakiah was captured and taken prisoner in Babylon, though the land was still technically governed by Zerubbabel and later by the Great Assembly (Sanhedrin).  During the intertestamental period, the territory was still called Judea (after the name of the tribe). However, after Rome conquered the land and made it into a Roman province (AD 6-7), the political power of Judah was officially over.  Indeed, after the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70 and the subsequent Jewish-Roman wars, the Jewish people began their long and tragic exile from the land - and the hope of the kingdom appeared lost...

Historically speaking, if we understand the "regency of Judah" to be invested in the Great Sanhedrin (after the last independent King of Judah [Tzedekiah] was deposed), the scepter (shevet) would have departed from Judah in AD 6-7 after the Romans installed a procurator as the authority in Judea (thus replacing the authority of Sanhedrin based in Judah). However, the prophecy of Jacob did not fail, because the Messiah had indeed come and was in their midst as Yeshua mi-netzeret (Jesus of Nazareth) at that exact time. In other words -- Yeshua is indeed Shiloh - the King of the Jews - though at present He is not physically reigning on David's throne (this will occur at His Second Coming when he returns to Jerusalem at the end of olam ha-zeh (this present age) to establish the Kingdom of God upon the earth).

Like most prophecies in Scripture, the prophecy of Shiloh has a "dual aspect" or "double fulfillment."  Shiloh, or the "King of the Jews" (a synonym for the Messiah, called "Christ" by Gentile Christendom) had indeed come "before the scepter departed from Judah," but he went unrecognized since he came to fulfill the role of the Suffering Servant (Mashiach ben Yosef). The second part of the prophecy, "and to him shall be the obedience of the people," is yet to be fulfilled. It will become a visible reality only after his Second Coming, at the end of olam ha-zeh (this present age), when Yeshua comes to judge the nations (the "sheep and the goats") and establish the Kingdom of God from David's throne in Jerusalem.

The Promised Seed was to be born of a woman (Gen. 3:15), to dwell in the "tents of Shem" (Gen. 9:26) and descend from the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 12-28). Furthermore, as Jacob's prophecy makes clear, the tribe of Judah would be known as Gur Aryeh (גּוּר אַרְיֵה), a "Young Lion," who would be praised, made victorious, and rule over the other tribes of Israel (Gen. 49:8-9). Indeed, from the royal tribe of Judah would come the Messiah, the anointed King of Israel, whose authority would ultimately expand into a worldwide dominion (Gen. 49:10). As later prophecies clearly foretell, the great "Young Lion of the Tribe of Judah" is none other than Yeshua, the Son of God, unto whom every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess, that He is indeed the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings... The day of His coming draws near...
 

Irv Davis Painting Detail

"All the world was created
for the Messiah"
 


Addendum:
Are Christians "Spiritual Jews"?

The word Jew comes from Judah (יְהוּדָה), from the root (יָדָה) which means to "thank." From Judah was derived the later term "Jew" (which first appears after the destruction of the First Temple, see 2 Kings 25:25, and was later used in the Aramaic books of Ezra/Nehemiah). Leah used a play on words regarding her birth of her fourth son when she said she would "thank the LORD" (אוֹדֶה אֶת־יהוה), and therefore named her son "Judah" (Gen. 29:35). I think Paul alluded to this in Rom. 2:28-29 by saying that an "inward" Jew is "one who praises (or thanks) God," and therefore it may be said that all those who thank the LORD in the truth are "spiritual Jews." If you are "blood-related" to God by the Messiah through faith, you are "grafted in" to the covenants, promises, and blessings originally given to ethnic Israel, and are therefore a member of "God's household" in full standing (see Eph. 2:12-22).

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints (tzaddikim) and members of the household of God (i.e., b'nei Elohim)." [Eph. 2:19] Non-Jews who accept the salvation offered by Yeshua are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Messiah through the gospel (Eph. 3:6). As was repeatedly promised in the Torah, the blessing of Abraham is imparted to all the families of the earth because of Yeshua (Gal. 3:14).

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