The 10th Generation: God’s Law and God’s Promise
In Genesis 49:10 we find one of the most significant Biblical promises, where it is declared: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes [or, “until he comes to whose right it is” - See Ezek. 21:27]; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” This is further elaborated and confirmed by Samuel’s prophecy to David – “Your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne will be established forever” (II Samuel 7:16). This is ultimately a promise concerning Jesus, finding its fulfillment in His universal reign (I Cor. 15:24-28) when “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” prevails (Rev. 5:5).
This prophetic word from Jacob to Judah is tinged with a certain irony, in the fact that Judah had already disqualified his descendants from the place of ruling. Genesis 38:29 tells that had fathered an illegitimate child named Perez (meaning “Breakthrough”) through his daughter-in-law Tamar. Only decades later did the consequences of this act reveal themselves when the law seemed to cut off all hopes of Judah’s heirs from holding royal office. Deuteronomy 23:2 stated that, “One of illegitimate birth shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” To be refused the right to “enter the assembly” was essentially a denial of citizenship, and of course, the prohibition from holding office in the commonwealth of Israel. This meant separation from the covenant in its official and legal aspects. Think of what this means in personal terms: if your ancestor in the time of George Washington fathered an illegitimate child, from whom you are descended, you would still be prevented from holding legal citizenship today! Judah’s heritage was disqualified because of his sin, but they had been promised the royal line. By God’s infallible decree, Judah’s heirs were legally prevented from holding royal office. It appears that God’s law and God’s promise are in conflict here.
Interestingly, that brings us to the Book of Ruth. Why is this little “love story” between a Moabite widow and a wealthy bachelor in the Bible? It’s there because it is much more than a romance novel. Ruth shows us how God fulfilled his promise to Judah. Remember that Judah’s descendants were because of the promise the only ones who were eligible to hold royal office, yet they were disqualified because of Judah’s sin – until the tenth generation – approximately 400 years. The Book of Ruth provides the critical link between God’s law and God’s promise. Ruth provides us with a crucial part of redemptive history, this book supplies information about Christ’s genealogy that is unknown anywhere else. In fact, the book can seem to be somewhat irrelevant to those ignorant of Biblical legal history. (At least they miss the “punch line.”) It recounts the “genealogy of Perez” (Ruth 4:18-22), the illegitimate child of Judah, who through no fault of his own was prevented along with his descendants, from claiming their rightful inheritance of the throne of Israel.
Let us examine the genealogy of Perez: Perez (#1) begot Herzon, Herzon (#2) begot Ram, Ram (#3) begot Amminadab, Amminadab (#4) begot Nabshon, Nabshon (#5) begot Salmon, Salmon (#6) begot Boaz, Boaz (#7) begot Obed, Obed (#8) begot Jesse, Jesse (#9) begot David (#10). David was Judah’s tenth generation. In God’s providence, the first descendant in Judah’s line to become King was also the first descendant who was legally eligible.
What is the lesson in this for us? First Corinthians 1:20 declares, “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.” It may appear that God’s promise and your circumstances are in conflict – in the same way that God’s law and God’s promises were seemingly opposed in the case of Judah’s ancestors. Yet, “the promises of God in Him are yes.” It is here where we must trust the providential hand of God to bring about what He has promised. In spite of Judah’s failure, God still fulfilled what He had spoken. Even as God brought about the fulfillment of His prophetic word to Judah, God will fulfill all that He has spoken concerning us.
There is what we could call the mystery of God’s providence. This revolves around what is referred to as “concurrence.” Concurrence involves the coterminous actions of God and human beings. This is where the free will of man and the sovereign will of God converge. We, as human beings, do have a will of our own. We make things happen. Yet the power of choice we exercise is only secondary. God’s sovereign providential power stands over and above our actions. He works out His will through the actions of human wills, without violating the freedom of those human wills. Probably the best example of this is found in the story of Joseph (Gen. 37-50). Though Joseph’s brothers were acting treacherously toward him, the providence of God was working even through their deliberate sinful actions. This is why Joseph was able to say to his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).
Let us not forget that the lesson of the “tenth generation” ultimately points to Jesus. As the angel Gabriel told Mary about her Son, Jesus, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest; and God will give Him the throne of His Father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).