But here is a person I bet you never thought of—Judah. We become so focused on Joseph in the latter chapters of Genesis that we miss a great lesson in this man—how far one can fall, but how much good he can still accomplish if he will only return to God.
If ever there was a man who could blame his parents and his upbringing for his mistakes, here is the one. Judah was an unfavored son of an unfavored wife. His father never even tried to hide his partiality; he virtually rubbed his older ten sons’ noses in it. (And I suppose it never crossed their father’s mind that if he had given the same love and attention to the others, maybe they would have turned out as well as the two he favored.) Finally, the brothers got rid of their nemesis, the favored brother Joseph, and Judah was right in the mix, Gen 37:25-28.
Then he left the family. Maybe he was sick and tired of the whole lot. Maybe he was trying to outrun his guilt. Maybe it was a little of both. He made some sort of alliance with “a certain Adullamite whose name was Hirah,” and married a Canaanite woman, 38:1-8. I doubt there was anything else he could have done that would have defied his father more, for in this family, whom you married had been important for generations.
You can read the next few verses in Genesis 38 for yourself if you are not familiar enough with them, how Judah had wicked sons whom God destroyed, and how he eventually cheated his daughter-in-law out of the husband and child the local law said she should have had, a law God killed Judah’s son Onan for breaking and eventually incorporated into the law of Moses (Deut 25). So Tamar, the daughter-in-law, disguised herself as a harlot and seduced her father-in-law so she could have the child the law (and the future Law) demanded.
When Judah went to Tamar, she was disguised not as an ordinary harlot, but as a temple harlot, another sign of how far Judah had fallen. As a surety for payment he used a signet, a seal worn on a cord around the neck which acted as a personal signature, and his staff, the rod that figured in business transactions and symbolized family or tribal headship. When Tamar disappeared, Judah did not try to find the “harlot” to pay her, but let her keep these two items, voluntarily giving up the symbols of his family, in effect cutting off his relationship with them for good. Not only was he no longer in their presence, but he no longer even claimed a connection with the family God had chosen.
When Tamar’s pregnancy was discovered, so was Judah’s sin because she carried his ID in her hands. “She is more righteous than I.” he admitted. The enormity of how far he had fallen finally hit him, as well as the realization that he was the one responsible for his actions, not his biased father; and that if his older brothers were unsuitable to lead the family due to their own sins (Gen 34 and 35:22), then he must.
Judah not only returned to his family, he became pre-eminent among them. He is the one who offered himself as a surety to Jacob when they took Benjamin to Egypt (Gen 43:2-10). He is the one who pled their case before the Egyptian ruler they did not recognize as Joseph (44:14-17). He is the one who offered to stay in prison if Joseph would just let Benjamin go home, showing great concern for his father’s welfare (44:18-34), a father, you remember, who had treated him badly.
He became “a lion’s whelp” in the inspired words of Jacob, 49:9, and this lion-hearted man became the tribal father of the Messiah, his tribe the royal tribe from whom the only good kings God’s people ever had came, and his tribe the only one left physically and politically intact when the Messiah finally arrived--Judea.
And so here is another example for us of how forgiving and loving a God we have. It should give us hope that God is patient while we slip and fall, and that he can still make use of even those we consider the greatest of sinners, including ourselves.
The blessing of Jacob:
Judah, you shall your brothers praise, your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up; he stoops down, he couches as a lion and as a lioness. Who shall rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet till Shiloh come; and unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be, Gen 49:8-10.
…Reuben the firstborn of Jacob, for he was the firstborn, but inasmuch as he defiled his father’s couch, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, the son of Israel. And the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright, for Judah prevailed above his brothers, and of him came the prince.
1 Chron 5:1, 2.
Jesus…being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli….the son of Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse…the son of Judah, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham…the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God, Luke 3:23, 31-34, 38.
Welcome to the world, Judah Samuel Ward!