Judah and The Vine

In chapter forty-nine of Genesis, the Patriarch Jacob gathers his twelve sons to bless them and prophesy what will become of them in the "last days" . Judah is singled out as the royal house, from which kings will come forth to rule and reign over Israel, the pinnacle of which will be the King Messiah who will rule the nations.

"Binding his donkey to the vine, and his donkey's colt to the choice vine, he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes." (Genesis 49:11)

"Binding" is the highest form of commitment among men. A verbal agreement or a promise may be broken, but physical binding elevates the commitment. In Scripture, the act of binding is synonymous with being bound to God's purposes–to redeem man and to fill the earth with His righteousness. When Abraham bound his only son, Isaac to the altar (Genesis chapter 22) he demonstrated that he was completely committed to God's purposes.

Similarly, the picture of Judah's donkey bound to the vine, and his donkey's colt bound to the choice vine is an indication of the level of Judah's commitment. Whether in times of great suffering, or in days of peace and prosperity, Judah was committed to the nation of Israel to the end, until the fulfilment of God's purposes.

Portrayed by the vine, the nation of Israel will become a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, among the nations. The tribe of Judah will provide strong leadership. Kings and princes, who like King David, from his youth, would defend the sanctity of God's name and plead the nation's cause in the face of giant Goliaths. The royal house of Judah would provide a safe and secure environment vital for the development of the kingdom.

Under such godly leadership, the people of Israel would grow in the paths of righteousness, and be fruitful in leading the nations in the knowledge and worship of the one true God. Subsequently, all nations would turn to walk in the ways of God, and give praise to the God of Israel, resulting in the whole earth being filled with His glory.

The donkey is a versatile animal capable of safely carrying a variety of burdens. It can be loaded with wood to fuel the fire for an offering, or it can safely transport the mother who is about to give birth to a child. As the royal tribe, Judah would carry the nation's many and varied burdens. Well-equipped to rule with justice and mercy, knowledgeable in the Torah, Israel's kings and princes would champion the cause of the vulnerable and needy, ensuring justice for the poor, comfort for the widows, and support for orphans.

The donkey is less known for its humble, passive qualities. In Scripture, these characteristics are associated with Redemption. Ever since Israel's great deliverance from Egypt, every firstborn male donkey had to be redeemed, by the sacrifice of a lamb. "But every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb; and if you will not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. And all the firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem." (Exodus 13:13) Each time a male donkey was redeemed with a lamb sacrifice, the children of Israel were to remember their redemption from Egypt, which came through the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb.

This principle of redemption would also serve as a lesson for future generations. "So it shall be, when your son asks you in time to come, saying, 'What is this?' that you shall say to him, 'By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. And it came to pass, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all males that open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.'" (Exodus 13:14-15)

Furthermore, the Lord decreed that while every firstborn ox and sheep belonged to Him and was to be given to the Levites, only the firstborn male donkey could be redeemed. (Exodus 34:19-20)

The picture of Judah's donkey and its foal indicates that Judah would play a major role in God's plan of redemption and the establishment of His kingdom on earth.

A more subtle characteristic associated with the donkey, is restoration. "If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again." (Exodus 23:4) Even if the donkey which is found belongs to an enemy, it must be restored to him. Restoration emphasizes "ownership" and "belonging". Judah's donkey belongs to the vine, the nation of Israel. Not just any leader can rule over the nation. Only Judah is fit or qualified.

This is significant in view of Israel's long dispersion among the nations, and being ruled by Gentile leaders for centuries. The promise portrayed in Judah "binding his donkey to the vine" is that, regardless of when or who might be in power, Judah will be restored eventually to rule over the nation of Israel.

The final picture Scripture paints is exactly that. In the end of days, the Messiah who will come forth from the tribe of Judah, will reign as King of kings.

"'Behold, the days are coming,' says the LORD, 'that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a king shall reign and prosper, and execute judgement and righteousness in the earth. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is his name by which he will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.'" (Jeremiah 23:6-7)

These distinctive qualities portrayed by Judah's donkey, and its colt, are significant for both Israel and the nations.

Bound like a servant, Judah is devoted to serving the nation of Israel. As a servant, Judah would submit himself for the good of the nation. The climax of Judah's role as a servant is fulfilled in the Messiah. According to the prophet Isaiah, He will bear the sins of Israel and provide atonement for them. "When you make his soul an offering . . . for he shall bear their iniquities." (Isaiah 53:10-11)

The prophecy of Judah anticipates the disobedience of the people of Israel, and the need for their atonement and their final restoration. But there is more, because redemption is also extended to the Gentiles. Perhaps there is a hint of this pictured in the Scripture earlier quoted, when the enemy whose donkey was found had to be restored to him. (Exodus 23:4)

The prophet Zechariah foretells of the momentous occasion when the Messiah would arrive in Jerusalem. "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; he is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey." (Zechariah 9:9) He will arrive "on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey ". The prophet linked the promise to Judah with a three-fold emphasis. The Messiah's humble appearance would herald the arrival of salvation.

When Yeshua, of the tribe of Judah, drew near to Jerusalem, He sent two of his talmudim (disciples) to a village close-by. " . . . you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The LORD has need of them,' and immediately he will send them. All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet . . . " (Matthew 21:2-3)

While crowds welcomed Him as the Messiah, others did not. "And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road: others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: 'Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!' And when he had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, 'Who is this?' So the multitudes said, 'This is Yeshua, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.'" (Matthew 21:8-11)

This rejection did not stop the promise of salvation. "and his donkey's colt to the choice vine." Rather, it allowed salvation to be made available to anyone who would call upon the name of the LORD. The humble nature of the Messiah extends the message of redemption to all nations, so that He becomes Saviour and Lord of both Jewish and Gentile believers. The choice vine portrays the glory of the Messiah who through His righteous atonement redeems the multitudes, "out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation" . (Revelation 5:9)

Messiah Yeshua said of Himself, as recorded by a Jewish believer, " . . . the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

In his letter to the congregation at Philippi, Rabbi Saul spoke of the Messiah's humble character. "And being found in the appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even to the death of the cross." (Philippians 2:8)

As has been mentioned earlier, the picture of Judah binding his donkey and her foal is reminiscent of the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham, on the altar of Mount Moriah. Abraham demonstrated his commitment to God's kingdom–to walk in His ways and to instruct others in the paths of righteousness. Likewise, Judah's commitment was prophetically portrayed. When Abraham bound his only son, it paved the way for the LORD to provide for all time. "And Abraham called the name of the place, 'The LORD Will Provide', as it is said to this day, 'In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.'" (Genesis 22:14) In the fullness of time, from the tribe of Judah, the Lord has provided an everlasting atonement for all peoples, through His only Son, Yeshua.

It was here, on Mount Moriah, that Messiah Yeshua humbled Himself to become the Lord's provision, as predicted. "Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29) Yeshua the Messiah has made atonement for us all, as was promised. "And he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:12)

The future King of Righteousness will be none other than He who was "bound" to His people. Bound to them, in all their distress, the future King has justified many who believe in Him. This future King will assemble His people Israel and restore them to their land, and because of Him the nations will go to Jerusalem to worship the one true God.

Under the rule and reign of this future King, the nation of Israel will flourish and be fruitful, like a vine bringing forth an abundance of grapes. Israel will prosper and thrive as a holy nation. At that time, the nations will be eager to learn of His ways and will walk in them, and the knowledge of God will spread throughout the world.

"he washed his garments in wine and his clothes in the blood of grapes." (Genesis 49:11) is a picture of celebration, praise and honour. The people of Israel will finally be the blessing to the nations that God has promised them to be. The nations too, will enjoy unending peace and overwhelming prosperity. And it is all because the King of Righteousness reigns over all the earth. Israel will be jubilant in the glory of their King. The nations too will rejoice continuously, and will come up to Jerusalem to esteem the King for His justice and mercy. The King's appearance will radiate celebration, praise and honour; His garments and His clothes being washed in wine and grape juice, the fruits of His Kingdom, and the glory of His righteousness.

The prophecy concerning Judah is significant for all people, because through Judah, God has brought forth the Hope of Israel and the Light of the nations–Yeshua the Messiah. This same Messiah will return as King to deliver His people Israel from Gentile rule, and to establish His Kingdom of righteousness. May He return soon!