Stephen Dempster (Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible) points to the various ways that the end of Genesis anticipates the blessing of Israel flowing to Gentiles. When Jacob moves to Goshen, Joseph introduces him to Pharaoh. What ensues is “not just two individuals meeting . . . but two nations, one of them embryonic and the other the most powerful nation on earth.” Despite the disparity of power and wealth “it is Israel who blesses Pharaoh . . . . The hope for the world comes from Israel and not from Egypt. Blessings comes from a decrepit and broken Israel and not from a dominant and strong Egypt” (89).
The episode of Judah and Tamar offers the same hope in a different way. It’s significant, for starters, that Judah’s line continues through “a Gentile woman, who wanted blessing for her dead husband. She was more righteous than the chosen people to whom she was related by marriage. She believed more in the seed than they did, and if it had not been for her ingenuity the promise would have been lost.”
But the promise of Gentile incorporation becomes even more specific, symbolized by the staff that Tamar uses to identify Judah as the father of her child: “The staff left with Tamar as a pledge of payment for sex becomes not only a means of evoking Judah’s confession but the means by which Judah will rule the nations in the future.” When Jacob blesses Judah, he promises that “the staff will not leave Judah” (Genesis 49:8-10). It is the staff of rule; it is the staff of Gentile incorporation; it is the staff signifying the continuation of Judah’s seed.