The man Judah was a most interesting character. The fourth son of Patriarch Jacob, he oscillated between moral poles like a man struggling with something deep inside him. There were moments he rose in nobility, and other moments he might have shocked himself. What made Judah even more interesting was the fact he had a pharisaic disposition. He was quick to condemn sin in others even when he was ensnared in the same issues. In other words, Judah was a man of like passions like us. There’s a Judah in all of us.
The meaning of Judah is “Praise.” It was his mother who gave him that name not his father. And that for good reason. The name is actually tinged with sadness. Judah’s mum, Leah had hoped the successive birth of children would placate her husband and make him love her. Her first three children bore names that are narratives of this desire. The birth of Judah was supposed to be heraldic of that moment in which she finally convinced her husband through her fecundity to love her. She had given him four male children. But Jacob wasn’t attracted to Judah’s mum, Leah. Never was. And we’re not sure he ever forgave her for her role in the wife switch on his wedding night.
Jacob was in love with Leah’s sister, Rachel, a woman described by scriptures as stunningly beautiful. On the wedding night however Dad snuck Leah into the honeymoon tent instead of Rachel. That was how Jacob ended up sleeping with the wrong bride. Not many men can recover from that level of deceit. Jacob would marry Rachel thereafter but the whole thing left a bitter after taste. Leah therefore lacked the moral basis to ask for Jacob’s love. Leah was an accessory to her father’s machinations. She was guilty of opportunism. She couldn’t summon up moral strength to resist her notorious father’s scheme. What Leah did to her sister was unpardonable. Rachel, her sister had waited seven years to marry her boyfriend, Jacob. Jacob never even showed any interest in Leah!
Unlike his mum however, the moral tension between right and wrong will characterise the life of Judah. And unlike Simeon and Levi, his two immediate elder brothers who had sadistic tendencies he struggled on many fronts. Genesis 49:6. The first time we see that dynamic tension in Judah was over the fate of his brother Joseph. As far as Jacob was concerned Joseph was his first son though No. 11. He was Rachel’s first born and the father made no pretext he was his favourite child.
Jacob would buy Joseph a particular designer jacket that was the rave of the season – the famous technicolour coat, a.k.a. coat of many colours. Nothing shouted I’m the favourite child more than that jacket. Joseph was closest to Jacob in smarts. Gifted and self-assured, he had enormous administrative savvy. He began to play supervisory general management role in the family business from an early age. Precocious lad. Joseph would report on inventory decline to their father and when he saw shady deals he blew the whistle on his brothers. They hated him with raw passion. The matter wasn’t helped by the fact Joseph was immature. He had a couple of dreams that essentially announced his ascendancy over his brothers, and he told same brothers! To be fair he was only 15 or 16 at this time. Discretion wasn’t his strong suit. At that age you don’t fully understand the meaning of envy, how it’s a strong motivation for the visitation of evil. All those brothers worked for their father. None had his own business. At their age they should have had. Great grandpa was an entrepreneur, grandpa was an entrepreneur, dad was an entrepreneur. They were living off their dad, dependent on his largess for sustenance. Joseph and his dreams of greatness represented condemnation. And they never stuck to management plan. When Jacob sent Joseph to look for them at Hebron they had moved to Dothan for grazing. Didn’t inform anyone. Joseph spent some time trying to locate them. A stranger pointed him in their direction. When they sighted Joseph afar off they plotted the death of his dreams. It was those dreams that really riled them. Let’s see what will become of his dreams when we kill him they said.
To give an insight into what they planned to do to him their cover story was, a wild animal had torn him to shreds. They were actually going to bury him alive in the desert. Their father would have had no closure. No body will be produced. Eventually the weak first born, Reuben intervened with a scheme of his own to save Joseph. That guy had his own issues but that’s for another day. This was a guy who slept with his step mum. Yikes! As they deliberated Joseph’s fate over goat barbecue and yogurt however a caravan of Ishmaelite traders appeared on the horizon. It was Judah who came up with the idea to sell Jacob off as a slave. The guy was callous. But here’s why it’s interesting. Judah predicated his dastardly suggestion on morality: “Brothers, what are we going to get out of killing our brother and concealing the evidence? Let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let’s not kill him—he is, after all, our brother, our own flesh and blood.” Genesis 37:25-27 MSG. And that was how Joseph ended up in Egypt. But the brothers knew what they did was evil. When they were slapped with charges of espionage in Egypt they linked it to their treatment of Joseph. This was 14 years after. Conscience has long memory. Genesis 42:9, 21.
Judah would eventually separate from his brothers to start his business and family. He married a lady named Shua. They had three kids. But Judah was not a particularly good father. At least two of his children were terrible. They were so evil God took interest. The first child that erred was appropriately named Er. We don’t know what he did exactly but history says Er “grievously offended God and God took his life.” Genesis 38:6-7. The guy had married a lady named Tamar. By the laws of inheritance his brother Onan, Judah’s second son, was supposed to produce a lineage for his brother. Each lineage was a population pipeline. God’s strategic focus at this time was population growth for Israel; so much so that under the law if a lady went for a guy’s scrotum during a quarrel she risked losing her limb! Deuteronomy 25:11-12. As it turns out Onan was a wicked guy too. He would have sex with Tamar and just when he was about to cum would withdraw and spill his semen on the bed. That way Tamar couldn’t get pregnant. He didn’t want to raise a family for his brother. What he did so peeved God he killed him off too! Second son dead. But instead of a critical examination of the issues Judah believed Tamar was jinxed. He probably thought she was a witch. And so he determined his last born wouldn’t marry her. He didn’t want him dead too. But he didn’t come out straight. He told Tamar to wait till his last son, Shemar grew up. It soon became evident he was lying. And that was when Tamar plotted her revenge. That revenge will reverberate down the corridors of history, up to present time. The whole thing was unfair on her.
Not too long after, Judah lost his wife. He soon came under sexual pressure after the mourning period. When he went on a business trip to Timnah with his friend Hirah, he slept with a temple prostitute. Only it wasn’t a temple prostitute, it was Tamar posing as one. She had got wind of her father-in-law’s itinerary and posed by the roadside as a prostitute. She knew he would be under sexual pressure. Well, Judah’s credit card wasn’t working so he took an IOU. She collected his seal, cord, and staff in lieu of a goat. As it turned out Tamar was ovulating seriously and promptly took in. Genesis 38:18. Judah tried to keep his word. He did send the goat through his friend but he couldn’t find the “temple prostitute.” To avoid embarrassment, he gave up trying to locate her. Strange integrity. Here was a man trying to keep his word to a prostitute but wouldn’t keep one to his own daughter-in-law. Judah’s integrity was convenient, and we see that moral conflict again. That moral confliction would transform into vicious religiosity a few months hence.
Tamar’s stomach began to bulge and the Pharisees went after her. Pharisees always go after fellow sinners. They threatened fire and brimstone, only this was not a figure of speech it was real. They really meant it. They were going to burn Tamar alive. “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has turned to prostitution, and as a result she has become pregnant,” they told Judah. The hypocrite he was, he said to them, “Bring her out and let her be burned!” Genesis 38:24. This from a guy who slept with a prostitute just three months ago! “As they brought her out, she sent a message to her father-in-law, “I’m pregnant by the man who owns these things. Identify them, please. Who’s the owner of the seal-and-cord and the staff?” Genesis 38:25 MSG. ‘“Judah saw they were his. He said, “She’s in the right; I’m in the wrong—I wouldn’t let her marry my son Shelah.” He never slept with her again.”’ Genesis 38:26 MSG. Again we see that conscience has a long memory. He immediately tied the incidence to reneging on his promise to marry Tamar to his last son.
As it turned out Tamar was pregnant with twins. The first was Perez, the second was Zerah. And here’s where the grace of God steps into the murkiness and messiness of human affairs. The grace of God launders human foibles. In the Book of Ruth, Perez is listed in the ancestral genealogy of King David. Ruth 4:18-22. The Gospel of Mathew and Gospel of Luke specify Perez in the genealogy of Jesus as well. He is a primogenitor of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. Matthew 1:3, Luke 3:33. Zerah is also listed in the genealogy of Jesus. Mathew 1:3. That’s two strikes for Judah. And then we see God’s grace scale up. Judah is that Judah when we say Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah. That’s what Jacob’s dying declaration prophecy was articulating: “You, Judah, your brothers will praise you: Your fingers on your enemies’ throat, while your brothers honour you. You’re a lion’s cub, Judah, home fresh from the kill, my son, Look at him, crouched like a lion, king of beasts who dares mess with him? The sceptre shall not leave Judah; he’ll keep a firm grip on the command staff until the ultimate ruler comes and the nations obey him.” Genesis 49:8-12 MSG. The staff which represented Judah’s sinfulness has been converted by grace into a staff of political power. He would later become the second half of Israel. He rose from the depths of sin to the heights of righteousness.
There are a number of lessons to learn from Judah:
1. Don’t be a hypocrite. Stop condemning others.
2. God’s grace overwrites our shortcomings.
3. God converts mess into glory.
Judah is like any of us. We all have moral conflictions. That’s because there are two natures in us and those natures are in constant struggle. Romans 7:14-25. The issue really is which nature has dominance. Bible recommendation is to give your new nature in Christ dominance over your old nature of sin.
If you’ll like to receive Jesus into your life please pray this prayer: “Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Father please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.”
© Leke Alder | firstname.lastname@example.org.