Over the last few weeks we have looked at the lives of some of the biggest heroes in the Bible. We have looked at the family that started with Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob. Last week we looked at the failings of a few of Jacob's sons. Unfortunately this was the first time we have seen pride and lack of repentance get in the way of God using someone. This week we will be looking at another of Jacob's sons, Judah.
Like I have mentioned in previous posts, sometimes the stories in the Bible are a bit more lurid than we might expect. They are not as safe and sanitized as we might believe. Again this week, I will do everything I can to make sure to keep this post family friendly, but I will not enhance or take away from the what the Bible has to say.
Judah's story can't be told without a little bleed over from some of his family's stories. Judah was Jacob's fourth son with Leah. His name meant praise and his birth seemed pivotal in the jealousy between the sister wives, Leah and Rachel. During his young life he would have witnessed the conflict and schemes between his dad and uncle, the hostility between his mom and stepmom/aunt, and I imagine he would have seen a lot dysfunction. His three older brothers were all prone to rash decisions and violence and he had a younger brother, Joseph, who his dad seemed to prefer over all the siblings. While Joseph is our primary subject next week; much of Judah's Story is wrapped up in Joseph's story as well, so we will be bumping into him a good bit throughout.
Joseph was Jacob's first and at the time only son with his wife Rachel, who he truly loved. He was favored by his dad and seemed to like to gloat about it. His dad even gave him a special coat that was multi colored. This didn't settle well with his brothers. At one point Joseph seems to relish in telling all of his brothers about dream he had in which they were bowing down to him. Growing up with four younger brothers I can almost guarantee if the youngest would have told me about a dream of me bowing down to him he would have wound up with a wedgie or worse. In this case Joseph probably should have known his audience because he wound up with more than a wedgie!
The brothers felt like they had witnessed their dad favor Joseph long enough. They were tired of the little twerp walking around in his fancy multicolored coat and bragging about his dreams. So they decided to do something about it. As we have already discussed the older brothers were hot heads and were not afraid to get blood on their hands. They were cool with going ahead and killing little Joseph.
“[l]Here comes this dreamer! 20 Now then, come and let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, ‘A wild beast devoured him.’ Then let us see what will become of his dreams!” Genesis 37:19-20.Judah however thought of an even more sinister plan. A plan that would keep his hands clean, still get rid of his pesky little brother forever and put a little silver in his pocket. As some traders approached heading towards Egypt, Judah shared his plan.
26 What profit will it be for us if we just kill our brother and conceal the crime? 27 Come on, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites instead. We won’t have to lay a hand on him then. He is, after all, our brother, our own flesh and blood. Genesis 37: 26-27Judah convinced his brothers this was the plan to go with and just like that they sold Joseph into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. They also stripped him of his fancy coat, dipped it in goat's blood and took it back to their dad to trick him and tell him what a horrible death Joseph had suffered.
Do we look at Judah here as a villain or a hero? In theory he saved his brother's life, but he only did it to keep his conscience clear and to make a profit. We know at this point Joseph was around 17, so we can imagine that Judah is likely in his early 30's. It's hard to write this off as a stupid, youthful decision. Seems more like a calculated decision based on jealousy and greed.
The questionable decisions for Judah don't stop there though. The next event is a little unsettling, but it's historically pivotal. Let's set the scene. A few years have past, Judah is now a successful shepherd who is married with 3 sons. He arranges a marriage for his oldest so, Er, to a young woman named Tamar. All we know about Er is the Bible describes him as a "wretched human" and that God took his life. Not sure what that's all about but doesn't sound like Er was a good dude to hang out with.
Custom at the time, later becoming Mosaic law, was that if your brother had a wife and no children when he passed away it was your responsibility to marry his wife and provide a child. This was a custom that ensured the wife an inheritance and ensured your brother a legacy. With that in mind, after Er passed away Tamar had to marry Judah's next son Onan. I don't know if Onan was greedy and didn't want to share his inheritance, if he didn't want to create a child that wouldn't be considered his, or if he had some other issue, but when it came time for him to complete his husbandry duties...well, let's just go with the Biblical description and say he purposely "spilled his seed." This was a disrespectful act to his brother, his father, Tamar, and to local customs. The Bible said because of this, he died.
So, now Tamar has lost 2 husbands and Judah has lost 2 sons. Judah's youngest son was too young to marry and provide children so, Judah sent Tamar back to her hom until his son became old enough. Judah let several years go by; He thought a lot about how both of his sons had died after marrying Tamar and begin to doubt whether he wanted to let her marry his third son. He had an obligation to Tamar. When he sent her home, he promised her he would send for her as soon as his son was old enough, but he didn't. Judah decided he didn't want to risk his third son; to protect his son, he lied and deceived Tamar.
A few years later, Judah's wife had passed away and he was traveling for business. He was feeling a bit lonely. Tamar had grown tired of waiting and wanted her rightful inheritance. She heard that Judah was traveling to the city for business and decided to take action. Tamar wore a veil and dressed like a prostitute and waited for Judah to show up.
It had been a long time since Judah had seen Tamar and apparently with the veil on he didn't recognize his daughter in law. He agreed to give her one of his finest goats for a night together. He didn't have the goat with him so he left his "lady of the night" with his staff and seal as identification and as a promise to pay.
Judah tried to send the goat back, but no one had every seen that particular prostitute before. So, Judah thought he had gotten his night of pleasure for free. Well, he had left behind his seal and staff, but those can be replaced. As time went on, word got to Judah that his daughter in law was pregnant. This was a huge problem, even though he hadn't done his part by sending his son to her, she had not done hers and stayed pure. Now she was carrying someone else's child. That's considered adultery and she should be put to death! Judah was outraged, he commanded that she be captured and burnt to death.
Imagine Judah's surprise when Tamar presented the staff and seal of the man who had impregnated her. Here he was about to have his daughter in law put to death for a sin that he committed with her. There is a lot to wrap his brain around; he had deceived Tamar and never sent his youngest son, now she had deceived him and was carrying his child. Not only that, she had the proof of what he had done. With all the new information, Judah had to admit he was wrong and Tamar escaped any punishment.
25 It was while she was being brought out that she sent to her father-in-law, saying, “I am with child by the man to whom these things belong.” And she said, “Please examine and see, whose signet ring and cords and staff are these?” 26 Judah recognized them, and said, “She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not [w]have relations with her again. Genesis 38:25-26.
We don't see Judah let his pride get the better of him. He was well regarded in the community and could have fought to maintain his pride instead of humbling himself and admitting he was wrong. We don't see Judah seek redemption per se; but we do see a small glimpse into his heart here. The next time the Bible mentions Judah by name he and his brothers have found themselves in a tough spot.
A famine has hit the land and they have gone into Egypt to try to buy food. They did not know the brother they had previously sold into slavery had risen to become a powerful viceroy in Egypt. It was Joseph , their brother, who was responsible for disbursing the food. He recognized his brothers but they did not recognize him. Whatever his motives, he accused them of being spies. Joseph made them leave one of the brothers behind, saying he would only release him if they would bring back their youngest brother Benjamin who had not traveled with them.
Benjamin had grown exceptionally close to Jacob since Joseph's alleged death. He had stayed behind to take care of his dad, also so his dad could make sure he was safe. When Jacob heard about the viceroy in Egypt holding one of his other son's hostage he was still not convinced that he trusted the other sons with his youngest and closest son, Benjamin. The famine however grew worse and times became desperate.We see Judah step up as a leader here and we start to see how far his heart has changed since the day he agreed to sell his brother for silver.
8 Judah said to his father Israel, “Send the lad with me and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, we as well as you and our little ones. 9 I myself will be surety for him; [d]you may hold me responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then [e]let me bear the blame before you forever. Genesis 43:8-9At first Joseph seemed like he was going to uphold his end of the bargain. Once he saw the brothers return with Benjamin, he released their other brother; he fed them and he allowed them to take provisions back home to Canaan with them. However, as they were leaving, he set them up. He had one of his workers hide his special silver cup in Benjamin's belongings. As the brothers began to make their way back home with the food Joseph's people stopped them. He accused them of stealing his cup and told them if he found the cup on one of them, that brother would become Joseph's slave.
Of course they found the cup with Benjamin, since Joseph had planted it there to begin with. Judah knew he could not return home without his youngest brother. He knew what that would do to his father. This is when we see Judah's true character shine through. He gives a long plea, humbling himself before Joseph and putting his own life on the line. He explains how much Benjamin means to his father and begs Joseph to keep him as a slave instead.
32 For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then let me bear the blame before my father forever.’ 33 Now, therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. 34 For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me—for fear that I see the evil that would[k]overtake my father?” Genesis 44:32-34This is a long way from the same guy who had once sold his own brother without any regards to how that would effect anyone else. Now he was thinking of everyone but himself. He knew how important Benjamin was to his father and he was willing to make the sacrifice of staying behind himself, as a slave, to avoid causing his father any more pain, Judah's pleas did not fall on deaf ears. In fact they led to Joseph finally revealing to his brothers who he was and it led to the family finally being reunited.
Like his brothers we looked at last week, Judah had some serious flaws happening; unlike them, he had a humble heart and found God's redemption. When his brothers inheritance was taken away and their descendants were scattered, Judah was given a huge blessing by his father and his descendants became royalty.
8 But Judah, your brothers will praise you.
Your hand will firmly grasp the neck of your enemy,
and your brothers will bow down before you in respect.9 Judah is a lion cub;
my son, who rises from the prey,
Who crouches down and stretches out like a lion,
and like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?10 The scepter will not depart from Judah;
the ruler’s staff will rest securely between his feet.
Until the One comes to whom true royalty belongs,
all people will honor and obey him. Genesis 49:8-10
Judah's family would become the most successful of all the tribes of Israel. It is through Judah's descendants,and his one night with his daughter in law, that lead to King David's birth and all the kings who would follow him. It is also through Judah's line that we can trace the ancestors of both Mary and Joseph, the earthly parents of Jesus.
God used a man,who out of jealousy and greed,sold his own brother into slavery. The same man,who out of lust,slept with his daughter in law when he thought she was a prostitute. Neither of those failures were big enough to keep God from using Judah. While we aren't shown the specific "wrestling with God" moment, we do see Judah gradually mature and we do see his heart transformed.
God's grace can transform all of us. He can change our entire family tree. None of our failings are too much for Him to bear if we will give Him our heart first.