|Vol. VI, No. 8
Heshvan 5609, November 1848
Dias’ Letters: Letter 22.
I concluded my last with the observation that the Patriarch’s blessing was particular to each tribe. “For since Jacob gave his blessing to every one of his children, no doubt but he promised there some particular advantage to the tribe of Judah; and notwithstanding (says Basnage) that opinion hath not appeared favourable to Christians, truth must always be preferred to interest.”* I shall now give that explanation of the famous passage, which to me seems the plainest and most conformable to the literal meaning and import of the text, the following advantages are then promised to Judah:—
1st. That this tribe should be respected by the others for its courage and intrepidity.
2dly. That it was to hold the sceptre, or have prominence above the other tribes.
4thly. That these advantages they should possess till the coming of Shiloh, who was to unite the people under his obedience and government.
5thly. A more considerable inheritance.
These are the advantages promised to Judah, and the blessing will then run thus:
Judah, (says the Patriarch,) thou shalt have the praise of thy brethren; thy father’s children shall bow down to thee; for thy courage and intrepidity shall draw their respect and obedience; the sceptre (or preeminence) shall not depart from Judah, (the tribe collectively,) nor a lawgiver (or supreme legislature and independent power within itself) from between his feet, until Shiloh (or him to whom it belongs) shall come, (to whom all the people shall be gathered,) [or] unto him shall the gathering of the people be: bending his fole unto the vine, &c. To avoid needless disputes concerning words, I shall fix the meaning those made use of by the Patriarch in a verse given them by Christian commentators.
1st. By the word shebet (or sceptre) I with Basnage “understand a degree of pre-eminence which distinguished the tribe of Judah, as kings are distinguished in their own dominions. Judah carried the sceptre (says he) because it had a great pre-eminence.”
2dly. *By the word mechokek, (translated lawgiver,) I with the generality of commentators understand a supreme legislative power.
3dly. By the word Shiloh, I with sundry (and in particular with the authors of the Universal History) understand, he to whom it belongs, drawing it from Shiloh.†
4thly. By the word Ad, I take in the sense in which it is rendered in the English version, (until.) Having fixed the meaning of the words in the sense given them by the adversaries, that no exception may be made, it remains now that we show how this prophecy received its accomplishments. I shall confine myself to those propositions which are matter of controversy; for as to the first, that is, the tribe of Judah being respected for its numbers, courage, and intrepidity, as likewise its having a larger share of the land and the most fertile soil, it is, I think, agreed on all hands. The sceptre or pre-eminence which the tribe of Judah held above the rest, is made evident from Scripture. It was foremost in the encampment,* and had precedence in marching.† When the altar was dedicated, this tribe by its prince had the privilege of the first <<401>>day’s offering,‡ and by God’s appointment led the van in battle.§ “In short, Judah prevailed over his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler.”|| That the sceptre or this pre-eminence over the other tribes never departed from Judah, is evident from the words of David. “The Lord God of Israel (says he) chose me before all the house of my father, to be a king over Israel for ever; for he hath chosen Judah to be the ruler; and of the house of Judah, the house of my father; and among the sons of my father, he liked me, to make me king over all Israel.”¶ Having proved the pre-eminence or sceptre which this tribe held over the rest, we must now proceed to prove its supreme legislative power, independent of the other tribes, which with the pre-eminence (or sceptre) was to last till the coming of the Shiloh, him to whom the kingdom belonged, under whom all the tribes should be united. The independency of the tribe of Judah, its constituting a particular separate republic, and consequently its having its lawgiver or supreme judicature within itself, appears very plain from the following circumstances:
1st. After the victory which Deborah obtained over Sisera, she in her song upon that deliverance praises and mentions all the tribes excepting Judah, (the most numerous and most valiant of all;)* from which it is inferred that this tribe was not under the subjection of Jabin, but being independent from the rest, and constituting within itself separate republic, did not think itself engaged to join the others in a war in which it was not concerned; for had this tribe partaken or been under the same government as the rest, it must necessarily have joined them; and if it had, it would have shared in the praises bestowed on the others.
2dly. It appears that this tribe was not under the same government as the others, from their binding and delivering up Samson, the judge of Israel, to the Philistines, when he took shelter among them; which shows that they were not under his government, and consequently they must have been a particular separate republic.*
3dly. From this tribe being named and numbered separately from the others, which shows that they were deemed separate and independent from the rest.*
4thly. When the love which the people bore to David is expressed, distinct mention is made of Judah as in contradistinction to Israel, which shows them a distinct people, independent of the rest.*
5thly, and lastly. That they had a distinct, independent government is very plain from their anointing David their king, whilst the other tribes, <<402>>or all Israel, adhered to Ishbosheth, from whence it is evident and plain that they were neither bound by the decision of the other tribes,—neither paid they any regard to their decrees, being a different and independent government, which continued till they were united under David, the Shiloh or Shilo—he to whom the kingdom belonged. This prophecy received its accomplishment in David, to whom the people were gathered. When Israel and Judah united under one monarch or head, the Shiloh, or he to whom the kingdom belonged by God’s own appointment, a descendant of Judah took possession; for to him came all the tribes of Israel, and spoke, saying: “Behold we are thy bone and thy flesh; also in time past, when Saul was king over us, thou wast he that lead out, and brought in Israel; and the Lord said to thee, Thou shalt feed my people Israel, and thou shalt be a captain over Israel; so all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron to make David king over Israel.”* “All these men of war that could keep rank came with a perfect heart to Hebron to make David king over Israel, and all the rest also of Israel were of one heart to make David king.”† Here then we have an accomplishment of every part of this prophecy according to the limitation of the Patriarch, who gave a particular distinct blessing to each tribe, and consequently one to Judah. “This sense,” (to use the words of the authors of the Universal History,) “seems the most easy, natural, and agreeable to the original.” We differ in the following particulars:‡
1st. They will have the sceptre to mean the supreme power of the Sanhedrin, which they pretend was possessed by that council, though in reality they had lost it long before; whilst I, agreeable to some of their writers, make the sceptre to consist in the pre-eminence which Judah held over the rest of the tribes.
2dly. In like manner they will have the lawgiver to be the Sanhedrin, which I make to consist in this tribe’s having a distinct judicature within itself, independent of the rest.
3dly. They will have Shiloh to be Jesus, whom they style the king of kings; whilst I think the passage most applicable to David, the literal king of Israel and Judah.
4thly. They will have the gathering of the people to mean the conversion of Cornelius; whilst I think it was literally fulfilled when all the tribes gathered to make David king, and their union under his government.
Now which of us have better applied the prophecy, or best kept to its most literal sense and meaning, is what you must determine. According <<403>>to my hypothesis, there is no necessity of having recourse to forced constructions, unnatural interpretations, or imaginary events, mere “ipse dixits,” nor of transferring the events from the tribe of Judah to that of Levi’s, or to any person whatsoever. I have often wondered at the pains which is taken to make out Jesus’s lineal descent from David, which being attended with insurmountable difficulties, they have not hitherto been able to do. It has also been surprising to many that they have not taken refuge in the easy mystic tropological sense, and so fall on some method of spiritualising the Shilo promised to Judah. This might be done in manner as they have made some passages and things to stand for and mean their very opposites. Have they not changed earth into Heaven?—Jerusalem and Zion into Christian churches?—placed the gentiles for Israel and Judah?—turned glorious times in the most troublesome?—deliverance and liberty into slavery and oppression, &c.? Why might not any person besides a descendant of David be made to stand for Shiloh, and save themselves the necessary trouble of doing that which is impossible, that is, showing him to be descended from David? Were they to defend Jesus’s descent from David to give him possession of his throne, kingdom, and government, they would then act consistently; but to these Jesus never laid the least claim; notwithstanding which they think it absolutely necessary that Jesus should be descended from the royal house of that monarch, without which they think he could neither be the Shiloh promised, nor lay claim to the messiahship. This then being a matter of importance, I shall in my next examine the evidence of his descent from David.