In the latter chapters of Genesis, we watch the unfolding tale of Joseph in Egypt, the famine, and the move of the people of Israel into that foreign land. While Joseph is the man used of God to prepare the way for the family’s move, Judah begins to emerge as the leader among the brothers. Though he is the fourth-born, Judah will be the son of Jacob who will carry forward the promise of God’s blessing.
Interestingly, Judah is not at all a good man as the story opens. In chapter 37, Judah is the one who suggested selling Joseph to slavers (Gen. 37: 26-27). In chapter 38, Judah is a scoundrel from the beginning. In that scene, Judah moves among the Canaanites, is dishonest with his daughter-in-law, and even unknowingly commits sexual immorality with her. Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute hoping to get pregnant by Judah, and her scheme works.
At his lowest point, Judah attempts to have Tamar condemned to death for her sexual sin (Gen. 38:24). But then Tamar makes Judah aware that he is the father of the children she is carrying. Tamar brings forth some personal items of Judah’s that he had given to the woman he believed was a prostitute. When he sees them, he is changed.
Genesis 38:26 – Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.
Judah confesses. He knows that, though Tamar behaved badly, she was still more righteous than him. From that point forward, Judah would not misuse Tamar. And, from that point forward, when we follow the story of the brothers, Judah begins to play a prominent role. His changed life makes a difference.
During the years of famine, Jacob sends his older sons to Egypt to buy grain, Joseph, recognizing his brothers and testing them to see if they have changed, sends them all home, but keeps Simeon as a prisoner. Joseph’s demand was that they must return to Egypt with all the brothers including the youngest, Benjamin, Joseph’s only full brother.
Jacob is hesitant to send the men down to Egypt. He believes that joseph is dead. He fears losing Benjamin as well. And it is Judah who steps in.
Here is where I found myself contemplating a pointer to Christ in Judah. Obviously, Judah is not perfect like Jesus. In Judah’s story, we see what looks like a conversion. And once God has changed Judah, the Lord will use Judah. In that changed man, God shows us a hint of the self-sacrificial love of Jesus.
Genesis 43:9 – I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.
Before, Judah had been the one to sell Joseph for profit to slavers. Now, Judah is the one who says that he will offer himself as a payment. If the young men cannot return with Benjamin to their father, Judah says that he will personally bear the blame.
Then, when the encounter happens with Joseph just before Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, we see a hint of what Jesus, the Messiah descended from Judah’s line, would do. Joseph threatened to force Benjamin to remain in Egypt. Judah stepped in.
Genesis 44:32-34 – 32 For your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.’ 33 Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. 34 For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.”
Judah stands before Joseph, the second most powerful man in Egypt, and pleads for Benjamin’s life. Judah asks that Joseph punish him in Benjamin’s stead. Judah does not ask that Joseph’s justice not be served. Instead, Judah asks that he take that penalty so that Benjamin might be free.
Was Judah a good man? Again, from the beginning, we know that he was not. But the Lord changed him. More importantly, the Lord used him to point to exactly what Jesus would do. We have sinned before God. We deserve God’s wrath. Unlike Benjamin’s story, there is no set up here. We are truly guilty. And our sin would earn us hell.
What did Jesus do? Jesus carried out God’s design. God the Father sent God the Son to accomplish redemption. Jesus stood in the stead of all those God will forgive. Jesus took upon himself the full punishment of God for the guilt that God would forgive. Jesus sacrificed his life, suffering the equivalent punishment to our forever in hell, in order to prevent us from facing that judgment. Jesus then rose from the grave, proving the judgment fulfilled and offering life to all who will come to him in faith and repentance.
It is beautiful to see hints of the gospel scattered all throughout the Old Testament. Judah is changed, and it reminds us of our conversion. Judah stands up and offers himself as a substitute for Benjamin, and it reminds us of Jesus.