Judah, the (surprisingly) honored one
So, after we talked about Joseph last week, we need to connect some dots.
I mentioned a few weeks back that Joseph’s father, Jacob, was called Israel by God. You may have heard of the “Twelve Tribes of Israel” – each tribe descended from one of Jacob’s sons. (I’m simplifying things a bit here; Joseph, as always, ended up getting special treatment from dad.)
Since Joseph was the favored son of Jacob (Israel), and, as I mentioned last week, was the first fully positive role model to be presented in any depth the Bible, we might then assume that if there were any special honor to be doled out, either from the people of Israel or from God, it would go to the family of Joseph.
Remember how I mentioned the old Yiddish proverb: “Man plans, God laughs?”
Well, here’s an excellent example.
The tribe of Israel that God specifically chose to be the line of kings was the Tribe of Judah.
If you know the stories, you know why this is a bit of a shocker. If not, I’ll give you a rundown.
Firstly, Joseph was sold because of Judah.
Now, it’s not quite what you think. Judah didn’t come up with the plan out of the blue. The other brothers had determined to kill Joseph after they threw him into a dry cistern – except the oldest, who suddenly stepped up in responsibility and decided he wasn’t having any of it. But when the oldest (for whatever reason; we’re not told) had to leave the scene of the impending crime for a while, the brothers got extra rowdy, and that’s when Judah stepped in. He knew they shouldn’t kill their brother, but this was literally the best he could muster:
“Let’s not kill him; he’s no good to us dead. Let’s sell him. At least we’ll get money.”
There’s a stunning lack of bravery here that seems at odds with what we could assume is at least a decent sense of right and wrong. But he’s not willing to take any risks. He’d rather Joseph be sold then stick his neck out. But, you know, “At least he’s not dead.”
Later in the story, while Joseph is away in Egypt, Judah is obviously eaten up by his guilt over this decision. He leaves the whole family, starting a new life elsewhere and getting married.
Things, however, don’t go well, and he’s left with a dead wife, two dead sons, one son still living, and a widowed daughter-in-law.
Now, we’re about to get into some Old Testament legalities here. While they may seem backward and strange to us today, they actually provided a safety net for women in a time when they often were not legally able to provide for themselves.
The widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar, was actually widowed twice over. She had been married to Judah’s oldest son, who died. Then, according to the law, she married his second son, so that she would not be destitute with no one to provide for her. But – he died too.
So, Judah got it into his head that she was bad luck, and sent her back home. He lied, saying she could marry his youngest when he grew up a little more, but he had no intention of following through with that. Again, in a time where there was no guarantee that a woman had anyone to “go back home” to, this was a terrible thing to do. But this is Judah. He’d rather engage in defensive strategizing than do what’s really right.
Tamar took none of this sitting down. I won’t say she went about rectifying the situation the right way, but she made her point. In short, she put on a disguise, pretended to be a prostitute, got Judah to sleep with her, and roped him in to taking her back into the family (where she should be been all along) because she was pregnant.
Judah, who had been up in arms when he found out she was pregnant out of wedlock when she was “engaged” to his son, was pretty shaken when he figured out what she’d done and why – and what he’d done.
Hmm, relations out of wedlock, much, Judah?
Judah says something interesting here, and I like to think this is his turning point: “She has been more righteous than I.”
This is his first-ever admission of guilt in the story – but it’s not his last.
Judah finally gets his act together near the end of the Joseph story. In a stunning display of character turnaround and bravery, Judah begs the unrecognizable Joseph that he be kept imprisoned in Egypt rather than their father’s new favorite, Benjamin, Joseph’s only full brother. You see, Joseph pulled a stunt on purpose to find out if his brothers were still jerks who would get rid of the “half-brother favorite son” in a heartbeat.
Here, Judah gets the longest speech in the entire book of Genesis, where he clearly lays out his past guilt and the reasons why he should be taken instead of Benjamin.
It’s a full character one-eighty.
And God honored that.
He honored that so much that, like I said, the line of kings was of the Tribe of Judah. When Israel split in two countries in later days, one of the countries was called Judah. And guess what?
Jesus Christ was of the line of Judah. Not Joseph, not Benjamin, the only innocents in the whole Joseph story.
Jesus is even called “The Lion of Judah.”
Think about that for a minute.
If God is willing to have his own Son be counted in the line of this man, be named using the name of this man, do you think there is anything He is not willing to forgive you for? Do you think there is anything you could have done to make Him turn on you? I promise you, there is nothing.
If there is something you need forgiveness for, reach out to Him. He will help you, and forgive you. He does not hold grudges and He does not make plans and the way we do.
Man plans, God laughs.
Come to Him, and let Him show you His plans.