A long rod serving as a token of power to command. The staff of a commander is a symbol of his right to issue orders. The expression “commander’s staff” appears four times in the New World Translation, translating the participle mehho·qeqʹ, which is from a Hebrew root meaning to inscribe or engrave and hence, by implication to decree or enact. In ancient times, laws that were enacted were inscribed or engraved on stone or metal tablets. The same Hebrew word can apply to a commander who issues decrees, a “statute-giver.” (Deut. 33:21) Without peer among legislators is Jehovah, the supreme “Statute-giver.”—Isa. 33:22.
When a commander was seated, his long staff would often rest upon the ground and lie back against the fold of his robe, between his knees. This fact lends meaning to Jacob’s deathbed blessing of Judah: “The scepter will not turn aside from Judah, neither the commander’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes.” (Gen. 49:10) Here the Hebrew word mehho·qeqʹ has been rendered “lawgiver” in some translations (AV; Yg), but its other meaning, “commander’s staff” (NW; Ro), is more appropriate in this case and has the support of modern lexicographers. (Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros, by Koehler and Baumgartner, 1953, p. 328; A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Brown, Driver and Briggs, p. 349) That an object and not a person is evidently intended at Genesis 49:10 is the understanding conveyed in various translations, which have renderings such as “ruler’s staff” (AS; RS), “staff of sway” (Mo) and “staff” (AT). A staff of some type, a “commander’s staff,” also nicely parallels the “scepter” and goes with the phrase “from between his feet” appearing in the same verse. Similar usage is found at Numbers 21:17, 18, where a well is said to be excavated “with a commander’s staff, with their own staffs,” though a possible reading there is, “with a commander, with their rulers.” At Genesis 49:10 an alternate, though not preferable, reading for “neither the commander’s staff” is “neither a commander.”
In ancient sculptures certain monarchs have been represented with a long staff or a scepter in hand. For instance, in a relief at his palace in Khorsabad, Assyrian King Sargon II was shown holding a staff. Since a “scepter” is a staff or rod, some might conclude that there is no difference between the “scepter” and the “commander’s staff” of Genesis 49:10. However, it appears that Jacob intended to make a distinction between them. Parallel terms are often employed in poetic expressions. Though they are similar, upon closer examination one term is seen to convey to the mind a slightly different thought than the other, frequently enhancing one’s understanding of what has been said. Jacob seems to have used such a device in blessing his sons. For example, he stated that Dan would “prove to be a serpent by the roadside, a horned snake at the wayside” (Gen. 49:17), using these parallel expressions in a good sense to indicate that Dan would be a peril to the foes of Israel.
God himself is identified as saying: “Judah is my commander’s staff.” (Ps. 60:7; 108:8) While holding the “commander’s staff” seems to indicate that the possessor would be a leader with the power to command, a scepter in a monarch’s hand signifies his possession of regal sovereignty or prerogative as a royal ruler. (Ps. 45:6) Therefore, the use of the terms “scepter” and “commander’s staff” at Genesis 49:10 evidently indicates that significant authority and power would reside with the tribe of Judah. But that more than tribal authority and dominance were involved seems clear since Shiloh, to whom “the obedience of the people will belong,” was to come from the tribe of Judah. That circumstance betokens royal authority and power over the people. When Judah’s descendant David became the king of Israel, the scepter and commander’s staff proved to be in the possession of the tribe of Judah and these would not depart from it before the coming of Shiloh, the Messiah. (2 Sam. 7:8-16) God has indeed given the Shiloh to come, Jesus Christ, a descendant of Judah and David, as “a leader and commander to the national groups.” (Isa. 55:4) It was foretold that the Messianic Ruler would exercise dominance and power over the nations and peoples. (Ps. 2:8, 9; Dan. 7:13, 14) Hence, he not only holds the “scepter” or royal sovereignty but also possesses the “commander’s staff,” having the power to command.—See SHILOH.