8 Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. 9 Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? 10 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. 11 Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: 12 His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.
Glorious things are here said of Judah. The mention of the crimes of the three elder of his sons had not so put the dying patriarch out of humour but that he had a blessing ready for Judah, to whom blessings belonged. Judah’s name signifies praise, in allusion to which he says, Thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise, v. 8. God was praised for him (ch. xxix. 35), praised by him, and praised in him; and therefore his brethren shall praise him. Note, Those that are to God for a praise shall be the praise of their brethren. It is prophesied that,
1. The tribe of Judah should be victorious and successful in war: Thy hand shall be in the neck of thy enemies. This was fulfilled in David, Ps. xviii. 40.
2. It should be superior to the rest of the tribes; not only in itself more numerous and illustrious, but having a dominion over them: Thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah was the lawgiver, Ps. lx. 7. That tribe led the van through the wilderness, and in the conquest of Canaan, Judg. i. 2. The prerogatives of the birthright which Reuben had forfeited, the excellency of dignity and power, were thus conferred upon Judah. Observe, “Thy brethren shall bow down before thee, and yet shall praise thee, reckoning themselves happy in having so wise and bold a commander.” Note, Honour and power are then a blessing to those that have them when they are not grudged and envied, but praised and applauded, and cheerfully submitted to.
3. It should be a strong and courageous tribe, and so qualified for command and conquest: Judah is a lion’s whelp, v. 9. The lion is the king of beasts, the terror of the forest when he roars; when he seizes his prey, none can resist him; when he goes up from the prey, none dare pursue him to revenge it. By this it is foretold that the tribe of Judah should become very formidable, and should not only obtain great victories, but should peaceably and quietly enjoy what was obtained by those victories–that they should make war, not for the sake of war, but for the sake of peace. Judah is compared, not to a lion rampant, always tearing, always raging, always ranging; but to a lion couchant, enjoying the satisfaction of his power and success, without creating vexation to others: this is to be truly great.
4. It should be the royal tribe, and the tribe from which Messiah the Prince should come: The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, till Shiloh come, v. 10. Jacob here foresees and foretels,
(1.) That the sceptre should come into the tribe of Judah, which was fulfilled in David, on whose family the crown was entailed.
(2.) That Shiloh should be of this tribe–his seed, that promised seed, in whom the earth should be blessed: that peaceable and prosperous one, or the Saviour, so others translate it, he shall come of Judah. Thus dying Jacob, at a great distance, saw Christ’s day, and it was his comfort and support on his death-bed.
(3.) That after the coming of the sceptre into the tribe of Judah it should continue in that tribe, at least a government of their own, till the coming of the Messiah, in whom, as the king of the church, and the great high priest, it was fit that both the priesthood and the royalty should determine. Till the captivity, all along from David’s time, the sceptre was in Judah, and subsequently the governors of Judea were of that tribe, or of the Levites that adhered to it (which was equivalent), till Judea became a province of the Roman empire, just at the time of our Saviour’s birth, and was at that time taxed as one of the provinces, Luke ii. 1. And at the time of his death the Jews expressly owned, We have no king but Cæsar. Hence it is undeniably inferred against the Jews that our Lord Jesus is he that should come, and that we are to look for no other; for he came exactly at the time appointed. Many excellent pens have been admirable well employed in explaining and illustrating this famous prophecy of Christ.
5. It should be a very fruitful tribe, especially that it should abound with milk for babes, and wine to make glad the heart of strong men (v. 11, 12)–vines so common in the hedge-rows and so strong that they should tie their asses to them, and so fruitful that they should load their asses from them–wine as plentiful as water, so that the men of that tribe should be very healthful and lively, their eyes brisk and sparkling, their teeth white. Much of what is here said concerning Judah is to be applied to our Lord Jesus.
(1.) He is the ruler of all his father’s children, and the conqueror of all his father’s enemies; and he it is that is the praise of all the saints.
(2.) He is the lion of the tribe of Judah, as he is called with reference to this prophecy (Rev. v. 5), who, having spoiled principalities and powers, went up a conqueror, and couched so as none can stir him up, when he sat down on the right hand of the Father.
(3.) To him belongs the sceptre; he is the lawgiver, and to him shall the gathering of the people be, as the desire of all nations (Hag. ii. 7), who, being lifted up from the earth, should draw all men unto him (John xii. 32), and in whom the children of God that are scattered abroad should meet as the centre of their unity, John xi. 52.
(4.) In him there is plenty of all that which is nourishing and refreshing to the soul, and which maintains and cheers the divine life in it; in him we may have wine and milk, the riches of Judah’s tribe, without money and without price, Isa. lv. 1.
– Matthew Henry Commentary