Every year at Christmas time I am reminded of the remarkable prophecies concerning the birth of Jesus and how they substantiate His deity and the faithfulness of God. Let’s take a look at one of those prophecies.
The timing of the Messiah’s birth had been indicated in Genesis 49:10 in words spoken by Jacob on his deathbed to his son Judah: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah… until Shiloh comes, and to Him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”
The term “Shiloh” was recognized by the Jewish rabbis as a Messianic title. The “scepter” refers to the judicial power of the nation. Thus, this prophecy states that the Messiah will come at a time when the nation’s judicial power has been removed.
Although Judah was deprived of its national sovereignty during the 70 year period of Babylonian captivity, it never lost its scepter, for the Jews were allowed to have their own judges even while in captivity.
Josh McDowell, in his book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, points out that “the first visible sign of the beginning of the removal of the scepter from Judah came about when Herod the Great, who had no Jewish blood, succeeded the Maccabean princes who belonged to the tribe of Levi and who were the last Jewish kings to reign in Jerusalem.”
The crucial turning point came soon after Herod’s death when, in about 7 AD, the Romans removed the power of the Sanhedrin Council in Judah to pronounce the death penalty. Thus the scepter (the supreme judicial power) passed from Judah.
There is a notation about this in the Talmud (the Jewish oral tradition). The Talmud states that on this occasion the members of the Sanhedrin were overtaken by “a general consternation.” Incredibly, it is further recorded that they “covered their heads with ashes and their bodies with sackcloth, exclaiming: ‘Woe unto us, for the scepter has departed from Judah, and the Messiah has not come!'”
What they did not realize was that Jesus the Messiah had been born around 4 BC during the last years of Herod (Matthew 2:1), so “Shiloh” had arrived shortly before the scepter departed — just as prophesied!