Images of the Savior (16 -- The Birth of Perez)
When Jacob had first been driven out of the promised land by the wrath of his brother Esau, the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham seemed in every way to be in jeopardy: for he had received both the birthright and the blessing, and the Abrahamic promises were therefore all bound up in his own future and fruitfulness; and not as yet having any offspring by which the Messianic line could advance, nor any wife by whom he should raise up a seed, nor even any goods and possessions to sustain him in his wanderings, his life was in imminent danger, and the likelihood of his entering again into the land where the fulfillment of the promises was centered seemed very small. It was, therefore, a most gracious and powerful operation of God that some twenty years later, after many trials and dangers had been overcome, he would again enter the land of Canaan with wives, goods, possessions, and twelve sons through whom God had purposed to build a mighty nation, and through one of whom he intended to bring about the One who should fulfill every promised blessing, that is, the Messiah. Until this generation, God had seen fit to pass along the Abrahamic promises to one sole heir of each father, first to Isaac alone instead of Ishmael, and then to Jacob alone instead of Esau. But now, returning to Canaan with twelve sons who should all be possessors of the promise, the question of how the Messianic blessing should be passed on is in some manner changed, and hence becomes, â€œWhich of the twelve brothers shall gain ascendancy over all the rest, and be chosen to bring about the Seed in whom all alike shall be blessed?â€. The several histories of this time immediately after Jacob's leaving Laban have all to do with the answer to that one question.
In the first place, we see how, by a process of elimination, the eldest of Jacob's sons are passed over, and forfeit the role that by birthright should have belonged to them, of extending the line by which Christ should come. And then, after the Messianic expectation has devolved upon Judah, the fourth of Jacob's sons, we read of a notable threat that his line should be exterminated, and of the way in which that danger is overcome. Finally, in the birth of Perez, the heir of Judah, through whom the Christ will eventually come, we may discern a notable type of his later heir, the Christ himself. Let us reflect now upon these heads.
Just after Rachel had died in giving birth to Benjamin, the youngest of Jacob's sons (Genesis 35:16-20), and after Jacob had returned to the land of Canaan, and had been assured again of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises, and of the coming of Messiah from his offspring (Genesis 35:9-15), his eldest son, Reuben, engaged in adulterous and incestuous relations with his concubine Bilhah, the mother of Dan and Naphtali (Genesis 35:22). In this way, Jacob's eldest son and heir, who should have exercised his generational powers in extending the line to the promised Christ, used them instead to pollute the fountain from which Christ should come, and brought gross immorality into the family of God. For this reason, he was no longer qualified to extend the Messianic line, inasmuch as, being Jacob's â€œfirstborn, [his] might, and the firstfruits of [his] strength,â€ yet he â€œwent up to the beds of [his] father,â€ and â€œdefiled his couchâ€. For this cause, Jacob later pronounced of him, â€œYou shall not have preeminenceâ€ (see Genesis 49:3-4).
The right of the firstborn to be in the line of the Messiah ought then to have passed on to the second or third eldest. But these as well, Simeon and Levi, had committed an act of atrocity which likewise disqualified them from this honor, about which we may read in Genesis 34. At that time, in revenge for a dishonor done to their sister Dinah, they coerced an entire city of Shechemites to take the sacred sign of the covenant, that is circumcision, but only in guile, that they might use it to destroy them. Thus they took the sign of hope in the Messiah and his promised work of deliverance, which was intended to be a blessing to all the nations, and made it instead a fearful curse and an agent of destruction; and having thus perverted the sign of the Messianic covenant, they disqualified themselves from bringing the Messiah into the world: as Jacob would later relate on his deathbed, â€œcursed be their anger because it is fierce, and their wrath because it is cruel, etc.â€ (Genesis 49:7).
Therefore, the privilege of standing at the head of the Messianic line devolved upon Jacob's fourth eldest son, Judah; but in the course of Judah's life, his line had very nearly gone extinct, which would have been a very great calamity, had God not brought good out of evil, and so preserved his name among his brothers. About the way in which God miraculously preserved the line of Judah, we will enquire presently; but for now, let us just reflect on how great a measure of ascendancy it was to which God brought him, from his very near extinction.
First, Judah's family was almost cut off from the tribes of Israel from the very first generation; but so greatly did God reverse his position that, by the time Israel had become a mighty nation, he far excelled the other tribes in numbers and strength, as we may read of in the census of the tribes, in Numbers chapter one, where the adult male members of his tribe are listed at 74,600, which is greater to some degree than that of any other of the tribes. This numerical prominence Judah retained throughout Israel's history.
Then, when the Kingdom of Israel was later divided, ten of the tribes were then rejected, and of the two remaining tribes, Judah and Benjamin (the latter, notably, being the only of the brothers born in the promised land), the former had such preeminence that the southern Kingdom became known simply as Judah. In fact, from this circumstance, it came about that Judah gave his name to all the nation of the Israelites, who became known popularly as â€œJews,â€ a title which is current even today. And moreover, not only did those who were ethnically descended from Abraham come to be called by the name of Judah, but likewise all those who should become true children of Abraham by faith, even we who today hope in Christ, as the apostle tells us in Romans, â€œFor a Jew is not one who is so outwardly...but a Jew is one who is so inwardly...â€ (Romans 2:28-29).
Then, it was from Judah that one would arise who should rule over God's people, namely David his servant; and more notably yet, David's Seed and Heir, Jesus Christ, who should rule over God's Kingdom forevermore. Of the coming of this Messianic King, Jacob prophesies on his deathbed, asseverating that â€œthe sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and unto him shall be the obedience of the peoplesâ€ (Genesis 49:10); a prophecy which was fulfilled in the coming of Christ, who was sent from God to take up the sceptre of David and rule on his throne forevermore.
For this reason, Jacob likewise prophesies of Judah that, even as his name means â€œpraise,â€ so his brothers would praise him, and would bow down before him. How truly was that prophecy fulfilled when there sprang from Judah's loins the One who should have the Name which is above every name, and at which every knee should bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord (see Philippians 2:5-11)! And so we see what great preeminence Judah had among his brethren, by sole reason of the fact that it was from him that the Christ should arise; but now, let us note the way in which this prominence came about from a very precarious beginning.
In Genesis 38 we read of how Judah's firstborn, Er, who ought to have carried on the Messianic line, was wicked in God's sight, and was therefore struck down. In this case, it was the duty of the second eldest son to raise up seed to his brother, by his widow, and thus to continue his line and his name; but Onan, the second son, was also wicked, and refused to do his duty, and was likewise struck down. There remained to Judah, therefore, but one son, Shelah, whom Judah promised to Tamar, the widow of his firstborn Er; but in this matter, he deceived her, and kept him back from her; and at this, his last hope of continuing the Messianic line was precluded, Shelah being the only remaining son that he had. However, when Tamar knew that she had been deceived, she sat in disguise as a prostitute, where Judah was working in the fields, and enticed him to sleep with her; by whom she became pregnant, and later, when he would have punished her for her adultery, she proved before all by whom she had become pregnant, so that Judah had to admit his guilt.
From this scandalous act of gross immorality, God was pleased to bring about good, just as so many years later he would bring the greatest good out of the vastest evil, saving his people from their sins even when with their wicked hands they nailed the Messiah to the cross (see Acts 2:22-24); for it came about that Tamar was pregnant with twins, from the eldest of whom, Perez, the Christ should come. Now, the way in which these twins were born would prove to be typical of how Messiah himself should come into the world: for first of all Zarah, the younger, put forth his hand from the womb, and the midwife fastened upon it a scarlet cord, to mark him as the firstborn and heir; but then the other broke forth and came out before Zarah, thereby earning his name Perez, i.e., â€œa breachâ€.
But consider how this is instructive of the birth of Christ: for first of all, Perez initially seemed not to be the firstborn at all, but then it was proved that he was in fact so. In the same way, Jesus was born after many centuries of human history, and seemed to be younger than all the patriarchs, so that they were scandalized who heard him say, â€œBefore Abraham was, I AMâ€ (see John 8:56-59); but then, his position as the Firstborn of all creation was most certainly proved by his resurrection from the dead; and he was shown to be uncreated and eternal, whose beginning was from old, the everlasting (see Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15; Revelation 1:5, 8, 17-18; Micah 5:2).
Then, the way in which Perez made a breach against Zarah, who stretched out his hand to be the firstborn, and to secure for himself the blessings, is instructive of how Jesus would make a breach against the Serpent, who first stretched out his hand to be preeminent among all God's creatures (Isaiah 14:12-15); and likewise, against all who by their religion of works would follow in the Serpent's ways, seeking to secure their heavenly blessings by their own hands; whom Jesus will return to judge in wrath (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10), even as God judged Uzzah in wrath, breaking out against him in a breach, when he touched the sacred Ark (1 Chronicles 13:9-11).
And finally, the way in which the Serpent attempted to preclude the coming of the Messiah by introducing wickedness and immorality into the Messianic line, and so disqualifying all of Abraham's offspring from bringing forth the Christ, was very notably manifested when, having made Jacob's first three sons unfit, he strove with many stratagems to cut off the line of Judah; but even in the midst of the moral confusion he had caused, he was prevented in his evil designs, God bringing about the birth of Perez in the midst of wrong and deception. In the same way, for all the wickedness and depravity of men, which Satan has ever stirred up and inflamed, he could still not prevent the coming of Christ into the midst of this evil world; and so Christ has come and redeemed for himself a pure and holy people from a crooked and perverse generation, whose blessed Name we shall henceforth praise forevermore, who is our Shiloh, and who wields the sceptre of Judah, and breaks out against all our enemies with the breach of Perez.