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How do you respond to Genesis 49:10?

“The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations be his.”

In Exodus 32:10-14 God threatens to destroy the Israelites and start over with Moses. But Moses intercedes and God changes his mind. For Open Theists, this proves that the future is partly open and that God is flexible regarding his divine plans.

Against this, however, some people argue that Gen. 49:10 makes the Open Theist position impossible. For this passage, they argue, prophecies that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah. Since Moses was a Levite, the tribe of Judah would have perished if God had carried out this threat, rendering this prophecy invalid. Hence, they argue, God’s threat in Exodus 32 could not have been genuine, and so we need not suppose God literally changed his mind.

Four responses may be made.

1) It is arbitrary to simply choose to believe Genesis 49:10 and reject Exodus 32:10-14. We must take both passages at face value and wrestle with them.

2) As a quick consultation with scholarly commentaries reveals, the translation of Gen. 49:10 is notoriously difficult. (See Speiser in the Anchor Bible Commentary (365-6) for a thorough review of the textual and interpretative difficulties and the main solutions.) Most scholars do not read a messianic prophecy in this verse.

3) God chose Saul (however reluctantly) to be king over Israel and promised Saul that if he would be obedient to him his descendants would reign on the throne forever (1 Sam. 13:13). Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, not Judah. So, had Saul walked with God, it seems the Messiah would have come from the tribe of Benjamin, not Judah. However we take Gen. 49:10, therefore, it seems clear it wasn’t an iron clad prophecy that unconditionally required that the Messiah come from the tribe of Judah.

4) However we interpret Jacob’s words in Gen. 49:10, it doesn’t seem warranted to think it locks in the future exhaustively. For in 49:7 Jacob curses the descendants of Simeon and Levi for what they did in the Dinah affair. His curse includes the statement that both tribes will be scattered. However, Simeon’s tribe isn’t scattered; it gets a piece of the land of Canaan. And though Levi isn’t given a part of the land, the tribe is hardly cursed, for it’s out of this tribe that God makes priests for his people. (Indeed, in Exodus 32 God came close to starting over with Moses, who was a Levite!).

In light of all this, it doesn’t appear that Gen. 49:10 constitutes any grounds for thinking God wasn’t speaking sincerely when he said he planned to destroy Israel and then changed his mind in Exod. 32:10-14.

(My thanks to Dr. John Sanders, with whom I’ve discussed this passage on several occasions, for his helpful insights).

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