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Dias’ Letters: Letter 21

(Continued from p. 54.)

Jacob’s blessing to Judah is famous both among the Jewish and Christian commentators; the latter pretend, that it is a plain prophecy of Jesus, and consequently take great pains to show its literal accomplishment in him. But to be convinced that it is neither plainly nor literally fulfilled in Jesus, one need but observe, not only the variety, but the contrariety of opinions which their commentators have run into. The terms which the patriarch has made use of are such as increase the difficulty and divisions,—every one explaining and deriving the sense and meaning of the words Shebet, Mechokek, Ad, and Shiloh, and fixing their import as best suits their different purpose. This you will find to be the real state of the case on consulting a few out of the many <<252>>different authors, who have commented on, or explained this famous passage, which is rendered in our English Bible, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come, and to him shall the gathering of the people be.” Gen. 49:10. I do not suppose you expect I should enter irito a critical examination, much less a confutation of the many different and contradictory opinions. This would be needless, since there is not one interpretation and application that ever was made, but what has been objected to and confuted, by some author or other, amongst themselves, so that you will find this task amply and fully done to your hands.

There is, however, of late, a new interpretation and application, started by the authors of the Universal History, who, I suppose, dissatisfied with interpretations hitherto made, have opened a new and different plan from all other commentators. A few observations are therefore necessary on their hypothesis. They pretend “that the Jews did not lose their sceptre, Sanhedrin, or highest court of judicature, and supreme legislative power, till the heathens became converts to Christianity, of whom Cornelius was the first, that event denoting the gathering of the people as foretold by the patriarch. (Vol. 10. p. 317.)

In consequence of this opinion, they (contrary to all other commentators) place the accomplishment of this prophecy in the Sanhedrin’s retaining, to that event, the supreme legislative power, and conformable thereto represent Jesus’ trial before Pilate in a suitable light:—“In order (say they) to set those right, who, from the notion of the whole power of life and death, being taken away before this time, have inferred that the sceptre spoken of by Jacob, was departed from Judah.”*

* Un. His. vol. 10. p. 594.

It was hitherto a matter of difference, amongst commentators, where to fix the sceptre’s departure from Judah, which was generally placed in the supreme power of the Sanhedrin; but its departure, by the Sanhedrin’s  loss of that power, was what they all agreed in, (indeed the only thing they did agree in,) and this was a circumstance deemed necessary to out the accomplishment of this prophecy. A few quotations from some authors of note will set this in a clear light. One author declares, “That the Sanhedrin lost the power of life and death, and when they were crucifying the Messiah, they acknowledged that the sceptre was departed from Judah, since the Jews said to Pilate, ‘It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.’* This is the first period (says this author) of the accomplishment of the oracle.”† Another asserts, “That the Romans, who were masters of the country, had taken from them the power of life and death; they might pronounce a <<253>>man guilty, but not condemn him in form, nor order his execution, they (for this reason) carried him before Pilate, the Governor of the Province.”‡ Another, speaking of Herod, says, “This was the first foreigner to whom the Jews became immediately subject, so that the ancient prophecy of the sceptre’s departing from Judah, is, by the best critics, supposed to begin to take place at this time.”§ Another learned author declares, that “Cyrenius having reduced Judea into the form of a Roman province, and instead of their former governor of their own nation, placed a Roman Procurator over them, then began the fulfilling of this prophecy. For then, that is, at the time of this reduction of Judea to a Roman province, the sceptre and the lawgiver from between their feet, began to be taken away.|| But then (says the same author) when Coponius was made Governor of Judea, the power of life and death being taken away from them and placed in a foreign Governor, and justice being thenceforth administered by the laws of Rome instead of their own nation, then truly began the sceptre to depart from Judah, and the lawgiver from between his feet.”¶ Thus you see how unanimous they all are in placing the departure of the supreme power, in which they make the sceptre to consist, before the coming of Jesus, contrary to the authors of the Universal History.

* John 18:3 † Basnage Book 4:21 ‡ Calmet’s Dict. on the word “Jesus.”
§ Ech. Ecc. His. Introduction, p. 16. || Prid. Connec. vol. 4, p. 932. ¶ Ibid. p. 953.

These different opinions prove what I intimated in a former letter (10), of their making two-edged tools of the prophecies, to cut which way they please, or as it best suits or serves their turn.  For if the sceptre, which they place in the supreme legislative power, departed, or was before that time taken away from the Sanhedrin, as is generally asserted, (no matter when,) why,—then they do, from that remarkable circumstance, pretend to prove, that the prophecy was literally fulfilled at that time. But if on the contrary, the sceptre; or supreme legislative power, did still subsist, or was possessed by the Sanhedrin, why,-then they do, from that contrary or opposite circumstance, also pretend to prove the accomplishment of the same prophecy,—literally too, to be sure, so that nothing, however inconsistent or contradictory in itself, stands in their way. The literal application of this prophecy and its accomplishment in Jesus, is therefore far from being as clear and evident as they pretend, and for the, truth of this, I appeal to Dr. Sherlock, who says, that “there are so many interpretations of this prophecy, some peculiar to the Jews, and some to Christians, and so many difficulties to be accounted for, whatever way we take.”* And again he declares, “That <<254>>there is no prophecy in the Old Testament, that has undergone so many interpretations and critical disquisitions as this now before us. It would make a volume (says he) to report exactly the various sentiments of learned men upon this subject.”† You see now, how much learned men differ, notwithstanding they pretend it to be so clear, that “The oracle doth not now admit of any difficulty;”‡ all which, unless you take their word, will appear in fact to be the very reverse; for though they have been canvassing, commenting, and illustrating this passage, and that by the ablest pens and most acute wits; yet such irreconcilable differences still subsist, both in explaining and applying, as also in the chief circumstances of its accomplishment, to make it dark and intricate now, as applied to Jesus, as ever it was. For if it be a plain prophecy of Jesus, why such contradictions and variety of opinions concerning its accomplishments?

* Intent and Use of Pro. Dis., 6, 146. † Ibid., 3, p. 254. ‡ Basange, b. 4, ch. 21.

(To be continued.)