The Scepter, the Donkey, the Vine, the Bloody Grapes and the Messiah

Sounds like the title of a C.S. Lewis Christian fiction novel, doesn’t it? Well, when unpacked, these three little verses contain a lot prophetically pertaining to the Messiah. They’re like a  riddle. Let’s use the Bible itself to unlock the code. 

Genesis 49:10–12, The scepter. Below is my commentary on these verses.

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.

This passage is a clear reference to the Messiah and the Messianic Age (the time when Messiah would come to rule the earth) and has been so recognized by the Jewish sages from time immemorial (The ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash, p. 279). “The general consensus (with few exceptions) of Rabbinic interpretation is that this phrase [Until Shiloh arrives] refers to the coming of the Messiah …” (The ArtScroll Bereishis/Genesis Torah commentary, p. 2152). In fact, Onkelos [a second-century scholar who translated the Torah (Pentateuch) into Aramaic] in his Aramaic version of the Torah translates this version as follows: “Until the Messiah comes, to whom the kingdom belongs” (ibid.). Rashi (b. 1040 and recognized by Jewish scholars as probably the preeminent Torah commentator of the modern era) “concurs and similarly comments: Until the King Messiah will come…, to whom the kingdom belongs. According to the Midrash, vkha [shiloh] is a composite of ha and uk, [meaning] “a gift to him”—a reference to King Messiah to whom all peoples will bring gifts. See Isaiah 18:7; Psalms 76:12” (ibid., p. 2153). It should not be difficult to see the fulfillment of this rabbinic understanding in the magis’ giving of gifts to the young child Yeshua (Matt 2:11).

Are there any illusions here to the incarnation or virgin birth of the Messiah? Of the incarnation we read the following in The ArtScroll Bereishis/Genesis Torah commentary:

Midrash Tanchuma preserves an opinion that vkha [shiloh] is derived from vhka [shil-yah] meaning “little child, (lit. the amniotic sac in which the fetus is formed: comp. Deut 28:57).” Thus, the passage means: “Until his scion (i.e. Messiah) comes” (ibid., p. 2153).

Of course the same commentators in the same passage, while readily admitting that Messiah will be born naturally of a woman, are quick to disavow themselves of any implications of his deity (i.e. the incarnation) (ibid.).

There was no question in the minds of the Jewish sages that all the poetic metaphors in this verse point to the Messiah. For example, the donkey tethered to the vine foresaw how Messiah’s kingdom of peace would dwell amidst Israel, a nation compared by the sages to a vine (Chullin 92a): “For the vineyard of YHVH of Legions is the house of Israel” (ibid., p. 2151).

Additionally, Jewish scholar Samson Raphael Hirsch (an eminent nineteenth-century Orthodox Jewish Torah commentator) similarly observes how Jacob visualizes the Messiah, conqueror of humanity, not on a steed, but on a young donkey. The donkey is the beast of burden that always represents peace, well-being, and national greatness, whereas the steed represents military might. Accordingly, the Jewish conception of royal power is not represented by the number of horses, for it is forbidden for the king to accumulate many horses (Deut 17:16). Evidently, what Hirsch, a non-believing Jew, fails to realize is that Messiah Yeshua fulfilled this prophecy in Matthew 21:5 at his first coming and will return the second time astride a military steed (Rev 19:11 ).

Consequently the future Redeemer of Jewry and humanity appears here in connection with the donkey, symbolizing the twofold prophetic vision of peace and material well-being. For to tie up his animal—especially a donkey’s frisky colt—to the vine, implies a greatly increased development of nature (the vine being as strong as a tree) and extraordinary abundance (see Zech 9:9; ibid., p. 2155). Rashi sees similar Messianic implications in the poetic and prophetic language of this verse and further sees that “the vine represents the righteous, and the vine branch represents ‘those who engage in Torah.’ The righteous will congregate around the Mashiach, while ‘those who engage in Torah’ will study with him (The ArtScroll Sapirstein Edition Rashi Bereishis/Genesis commentary, p. 545). Interestingly, in the Testimony of Yeshua, the Master likens himself to a vine with his believers as branches attached to that vine (John 15:1–5). Likewise, Jewish scholars refer to the donkey, upon whom Messiah will ride, as being tied to the vine which has now become as thick as a tree. As we shall discuss in more detail later, this is an allusion to the cross to which Yeshua was attached.

Let’s now examine the phrase “he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes” to see if this passage yields any clues about the virgin birth. Please read the following biblical passages:

Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the YHVH: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isa 1:16–18)

For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement [of sin] for the soul. (Lev 17:11)

And from Yeshua the Messiah, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood. (Rev 1:5)

And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:14)

And he took the cup [of the vine], and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matt 26:27–28)

Whom Elohim hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of Elohim. (Rom 3:25)

In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace. (Eph 1:7)

In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins. (Col 1:14)

I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:1–5)

In these Scripture references, we begin to see a common theme emerging. The Messiah is likened to a grape vine. Grapes are symbolic of blood the shedding of which remits or atones for sin. Sin causes one’s spiritual garments to be stained red. From the Testimony of Yeshua we learn that the blood of Yeshua the Messiah cleanses the spiritual garments of sinful individuals, which is symbolic of the spiritual cleansing of sin out of one’s life.

How does the “blood of the grapes” reference in Genesis 49:12 (cp. Deut 32:14 where the same Hebrew expression is used) portend the virgin birth of the Messiah? Quite simply this. Had Messiah’s blood been tainted by the sin-stain of Adam’s “fall” causing the separation of spiritual relationship with YHVH-Elohim occasioned by his sin resulting in death, which passed on to all of Adam’s descendents (Rom 5:12–14), then Messiah could not have been the perfect, sin-free sacrificial lamb atoning for the sins of the world. Since spiritual inheritance, in this case, the curse of death brought on by the sin of Adam, is passed on down through the father’s lineage (Jer 32:18) then in order to not inherit the taint of sin resulting in the sting of death (1 Cor 15:56)—death being the result of sin which is the transgression of the Torah-law of Elohim (Ezek 18:4; 1 John 3:4)—Messiah could not have contained the life blood of a physical father. This is poetically alluded to in the verse under analysis in this section: Genesis 49:12—“he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes.” This verse indicates that the source of Messiah’s blood would be that other than of a man. This verse express a corollary idea to that expressed in Genesis 3:15 where Elohim prophesies that the woman’s seed will crush the serpent’s head. (Sinc women don’t have seed—only men do—this is understood to be an allusion to Yeshua’s impregnation of Mary by YHVH and not by man.) In this regard it is interesting to note what Yeshua said in the Gospel accounts of John 6:53–56 and Matthew 26:27–28,

Then Yeshua said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. (John 6:53–56)

And he took the cup [of the vine], and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matt 26:27–28)

Some may view John’s account of Yeshua’s teachings as a gross reference to cannibalism or some other such abominable and anti-Torah practice. But in reality, Yeshua is speaking symbolically of the fruit of the vine as representing his blood—the blood of the atonement. Did Yeshua pull this poetic symbolism out of thin air without any textual basis from the Tanakh? No. We have already seen that both Moses (Deut 32:14) and the Patriarch Jacob in the Torah, while prophesying about the future Messiah (Gen 49:11), made reference to the typology between blood and grapes.

This imagery in the Scriptures was not lost on early church father, Justin Martyr (a.d. 100 – a.d. 169) who wrote the following (in reference to Deut 32:15 and Gen 49:11) in Dialogue With Trypho, a Jew (ca. a.d. 160): “… [O]f whose blood, Moses …, when speaking in a parable, said, that He would wash His garments in the blood of the grape; since His blood did not spring from the seed of man, but from the will of Elohim” (Dialogue, chap. 63).

Despite our entire discussion above, there still may remain a question in the reader’s mind as to how exactly Genesis 49:11 (“ Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes”) perfectly foreshadows the redemptive work of Yeshua the Messiah as outlined in the Testimony of Yeshua. For example, it appears that the Messiah is washing his own garments with his blood and not the garments of his people. What is going on here? Allow me to present to you an expanded rendering from the Hebrew of what this verse is actually saying and see if some of the confusion doesn’t clear up. Here is our Scripture verse under consideration again:

Genesis 49:1, ([listed with Strong’s Concordance reference numbers] “ Binding (631) (8802) his foal (5895) unto the vine (1612), and his ass’s (860) colt (1121) unto the choice vine (8321); he washed (3526) (8765) his garments (3830) in wine (3196), and his clothes (5497) in the blood (1818) of grapes (6025).”

Now here is our amplified version of this passage based on a study of the meanings of the Hebrew words:

He (Judah or Shiloh/Messiah) binds his young donkey or burden-bearer unto the vine tree and his she ass’s (i.e. apostate Israel, see Isa 1:3–4; Jer 2:24) son to the vine of the choicest, reddest, richest grapes; he (Judah or Messiah) washed by treading like a fuller (a fuller is one who shrinks and thickens woolen cloth by moistening, heating and pressing) his garments or vestures in wine; his robes in the blood of grapes or wine.

The imagery in this verse is very rich, poetic and prophetic. It is also a poetic picture of the redemptive work of Messiah who, as a son from the tribe of Judah would bear the sin burden (Isa 53:4; Matt 11:28–30) on his back like a donkey for his apostate and adulterous people of Israel. He would be tied to a vine tree (the cross, even as Isaac was tied to the altar on Mount Moriah) from which the blood of the grapes would flow. He would become sin for his people (2 Cor 5:21; John 3:14) and with his choicest, richest, reddest blood of his grapes (untainted by the sin of Adam because of his virgin birth)—a wine reminiscent of Yeshua’s first miracle of turning the water into richest wine at the Cana of Galilee wedding feast (John 2:1–11)—he take the sins of the people upon himself and cleanses them from their sins, like a fuller (see definition above of what a fuller does) whereby, though their sins be as scarlet, through his shed blood and the redemptive work at the cross, the sins of Israel would be trod out and pressed rendering his people spiritually white as wool (Isa 1:18). The prophet Malachi alludes to this very idea in his messianic prophecy:

But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the YHVH an offering in righteousness. (Mal 3:2–3)

Truly, after all of this, it could be said of Israel, “These are they which…have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14). For this reason, these people have every reason to proclaim jubilantly:

Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. (Rev 19:7–8)


4 thoughts on “The Scepter, the Donkey, the Vine, the Bloody Grapes and the Messiah

  1. John 11:45-57? This passage came to mind as I read your article. Seems Caiaphas may have been referencing these passages in his prophetic utterance. I had never seen before that after he spoke these words of expediency that one die that this hastened the plot to kill Jesus. Thoughts?

  2. Interesting also is the point that sources from the Zohar say that grapes was the forbidden fruit. (Adam and Noah both got drunk from them) Maybe Yeshua even restored grapes back to they’re original Holy Nature after they had fallen from Grace with Humanity?

  3. I have been Cleansed by The Blood of the Lamb! Ready for His arrival!
    Walking on thew street of Gold soon to come !

  4. Excellent article and exactly what I was searching for in this Scripture. I knew it was Messianic and prophetic but, getting the info to confirm it and explain it to anyone else was lacking. In other words, I could tie it to Jesus as a prophecy but, the intricate details of the Tanach are missing. I think I can even see where the Zechariah 9:9 prophecy links in to this. God knowing the people would tie into this when they heard it. (IMO) I am using this to teach in my church’s Living Nativity which I am in charge of. Thank you for all you do and have done.

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