The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come…
How constantly do we find this blessed assurance interpreted as if it were a shred of political news, a piece of political prognostication! "The sceptre" is interpreted as an earthly sceptre, the "lawgiver" suggests no other or higher conception than the head of an earthly government, and the gist of the whole promise is made to be that a certain earthly state, of very small account among the great kingdoms of the world, shall continue to exist till the coming of a certain person, and then shall pass away. It might be suggested, by the way, that on this principle of interpretation we should rather call it a threatening than a promise. If the coming of the promised Shiloh was to be the signal for the passing away of the very kingdom which was the subject of the prophecy, then Judah and all true lovers of Christ's kingdom might well pray that Shiloh should be very long in coming. But let this pass, and look at the subsequent difficulties in which the political interpretation involves us. We have first a long period during which there was no political kingdom at all. Then, shortly after the setting up of the political kingdom, we have it rent in twain. Later on we find, first, the one part of it, and then the other, utterly subverted. Then we have hundreds of years, during the greater part of which it can not be said with honesty that there was a political kingdom at all. And when Shiloh did come, there was no political kingdom in Judah to pass away. These difficulties have been felt to be of such magnitude, that endless ingenuity have been expended in the attempt to evade or surmount them. Some have tried to twist history to make it agree with the passage, and others have tried to twist the passage to make it agree with the history, and neither of the methods has been found satisfactory; whereas all becomes simple, natural, beautiful, and most true, when interpreted, not according to the letter which killeth, but according to the spirit; when it is freed from those carnal, Jewish notions which have obscured it, when it is lifted out of the region of politics into the region of truth, where our Lord's conversation with Pilate, as recorded by John, might well lead us to look for the kingdom of the prophetic word. Then we find a beautiful consistency both with the history of truth, and with the truth of history; with the former, as regards the inner reality, with the latter, as regards the outer form of the kingdom. First, in regard to the inner reality. Did not the kingdom in the truth, the kingdom in its essential, spiritual reality, continue in Judah all the while? "Was not the kingdom of God among the chosen people before either Saul or David was anointed, while as yet Jehovah was their only King? Was not the kingdom of God in Judah still, when her sons and daughters sat "by Babel's streams," and hung their harps upon the willows, and wept as they remembered Zion? There, in their remembrance of Zion, have we the evidence that, though the form of the kingdom had passed away for a time, the great reality remained in the weeping heart of Judah still. Truth to tell, the kingdom had much more nearly passed away, while yet the political "sceptre" and "lawgiver" remained both in Judah and in Israel, in those dark days of infidelity and idolatry, when poor Elijah thought God's kingdom the true theocracy, was reduced to one solitary individual, till he was assured by Him, who "seeth not as man seeth," that He still had left remaining seven thousand loyal men. And was there not in Judah, through all her captivities and all her sufferings from foreign oppressors, a true kingdom of God? A very little one indeed at times, and especially in the times which immediately preceded the advent of Shiloh; but small as it was, was it not there all the while? And when we seek for the fulfilment of the old promise as to the continuance of the kingdom till the coming in human form of the King, we are to seek it, not where so many interpreters of prophecy have sought it, in the political administration of that infidel and villain, belonging to Idumea, and not to Judah, who happened to sway a little sceptre, and give out his little laws under the great sceptre and mighty law of a foreign tyrant, but in the lowly loyal lives of the Simeons and Annas of the time, who had the sceptre and law in their hearts, and who were waiting for the fulfilment of the kingdom in the coming of Shiloh. The fulfilment of the kingdom — for there is no evidence that these faithful ones imagined that the coming of Shiloh was to be the subversion of that kingdom, which, as true Israelites, they dearly loved, but every evidence that they regarded it as the firm establishment of Judah's throne, and the beginning of a triumphal progress which should not cease till every knee should bow before the sceptre, and every tongue confess that Judah's King was Lord. So much for the fulfilment of the promise in regard to its inner reality. And now a moment's glance at the consistency of the prophecy with history, so far as form is concerned. Here we must bear in mind what Principal Fairbairn has so clearly shown in his work on "Prophecy," that the great object of prophecy was to support the faith of God's people — a support which would be especially- needed in times of darkness. Now, if the outward earthly form, in which the kingdom was for a time embodied, had been predestined to be abiding; had nothing been anticipated in the process of history which would look like the passing away of the kingdom, there would have been no need of such a special promise as that in Genesis 49:10. On the other hand, the very fact that there is such a promise would lead us, a priori, to anticipate that there would be times, probably long times, when it would seem that the sceptre had departed from Judah — times during which it would be necessary for those who were waiting for the salvation of God, to have some assurance to rest upon, that, though the form had passed away, the reality was with them still. Thus we find that, when once we get rid of these carnal Jewish ideas of the kingdom, we discover not only an agreement between the prophecy and the true spiritual history of the kingdom, but also a correspondence between the expectations it suggests concerning the outward and formal history of the kingdom and the actual facts of the ease, as seen in the external history of the political kingdom of Israel.
(J. M. Gibson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.