Juda was the fourth son in a large family, managing quite a large livestock business. It was not easy working under a father who lived up to the name he was given; ‘deceiver.’ He had a 17-year-old young brother, Joseph, a dad’s favourite who was privileged by father but hated by his other brothers for his perceived arrogance.
The younger brother was sent by Dad to find the rest of the brothers, who were herding their flocks near Shechem, and report back on how they were doing. The brothers were jealous of their younger sibling and conspired to kill him. “They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” The eldest, Ruben, tried to stop the brothers killing Joseph and came up with an idea. “Throw him in a pit.” The brothers tore of his coat of many colours that Dad had given to Joseph and threw him in a pit. Ruben wanted to release Joseph later. And take him back to Dad.
Judah came up with another idea. He saw a caravan of traders passing by on their way to Egypt. He said, “there’ no profit in this if we kill him. Let’s sell him!” They took him back out of the pit and sold him to traders for 20 silver shekels. The traders took him to Egypt to sell hm on as a slave. You can read this story in Genesis 38.
Judah also had problems during his marriage. He left his father’s home to marry a girl from Canaan, a girl not from his own faith, which God had forbidden. He lost his eldest son because the boy was so sinful. Judah also had problems with his second son, who did not want to obey him, and so he lost him too. Once, he thought he was sharing his bed with a prostitute, but it turned out to be his daughter-in-law, Tamar. His family was all misery.
Through the years, Judah’s family prospers. However, severe famine strikes the land of Israel. God was with Judah’s brother Joseph in Egypt, elevating Joseph to a place of power second only the Pharaoh himself (Genesis 41:39–40). Joseph had interpreted the king’s dream warning of famine, and Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of gathering grain to store for the lean years. Under Joseph’s supervision, a large amount of grain was set aside (verse 49). When the great famine came upon the land, it affected even Canaan. Judah and his brothers travelled from Canaan to Egypt to buy some of the surplus food.
In Egypt, Joseph recognised the brothers, but they did not recognise him, having become a high Egyptian official.
The brothers were accused to be spies, and Benjamin was framed for an imaginary crime and claimed as a slave in recompense. When they were released, they bought the grain the family needed and proceeded to return home to Canaan. To their astonishment, they found the money they had paid for the grain had been put back in the donkey’s saddlebags!
In their return to Egypt, Judah was converted; he confessed his guilt to Joseph and received forgiveness from Joseph for all the wrongdoings he and his brothers had committee.
He exhibited unexpected compassion in telling of the family’s heart-wrenching experience of starvation, of his father’s undying love for Benjamin, and of Judah’s own promise to his father that he would bring Benjamin back home, lest Jacob literally die from grief. Then, in an ultimate expression of compassion, Judah offered to substitute himself in place of Benjamin! He proposed that he be retained in Egypt for the rest of his life as the governor’s slave if only the governor would let Benjamin go home to his father. You can read this in Genesis 43 - 45.
Seeing the change in Judah, Joseph was able to bless the family as God intended. God can easily bestow His blessings on flawed people; but we must be willing to change our ways, repent of our wrongdoings.
Joseph sent Judah on his way with a new commission. “Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Tell your brothers, ‘Do this: Load your animals and return to the land of Canaan and bring your father and your families back to me. I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you can enjoy the fat of the land.’” (Gen. 45:17–18). Also, Joseph gave his brothers gifts for their father: ten donkeys loaded with the best things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and other provisions for his journey. (Gen. 45:23)
Likewise, when God sends us on our way with a new commission, he also supplies us liberally with all we need to do the job He has given us!
God chose Judah and his descendants for a special place in His plan through the ages. The prophecy God gave to Jacob at the end of his life concerning his sons’ descendants reveals a special blessing for the tribe of Judah. Out of his descendants came David and ultimately, Jesus who is called “The Lion of Judah.” (Revelation 5:5)
Joseph is seen in the Bible as a type of Christ. Both were beloved sons, both were rejected, tempted, and finally exalted.
Much later, history repeated itself. The namesake of Judah - Judas - did a little better in his selling. Judah got only 20 pieces of silver for the sale. The going rate for a slave was 30. Judas got 30. In the case of Joseph, it was a brother who sold him; in the case of Christ, it was His own friend in whom He trusted. In both cases it was covetousness which prompted the betrayer to the dark deed of treachery.
As I read the Bible, I find myself periodically identifying with the life or behaviour of a specific Bible character; David, Moses, Joseph, Paul - heroes of the faith. Sometimes, I identify with their good qualities and sometimes with their bad ones. However, until challenged one day, Judas was never one of them. Yet, in reflection, I discovered that there is more of Judas and Judah in me than I would ever like to admit.
While attending a conference, one of the main speakers made a passing comment in his presentation that sent shivers down my spine. The speaker said, “Judas betrayed Jesus for money.”
For the first time in my entire life, I found myself painfully identifying with Judas, the betrayer. I asked myself, “Has my life or my behaviour ever turned Jesus over to be mocked or ridiculed, by another because of my hypocritical, uncontrolled, self-centred life?”
In business, I have, to my shame, done things which did not bring honour to God, because of a more urgent need for money, and was a traitor to God. I hate to think what others would think about the Jesus I serve. None of us would like to think of ourselves as traitors to Christ. But think about it. Have you ever been inconsistent in a duty or an obligation to Christ because his will and yours didn’t align? Have you ever abandoned His business for your own because your business looked more profitable? Have you ever been guilty of dereliction of duty to him in your financial dealings with others? These sobering questions may bring to mind some instances in which you have indeed been a traitor to him.
Judah failed forward and finished well.
Failing Forward means to repent when we have done something wrong and ask for forgiveness. As Judah was forgiven, so are we when we confess our sins.
Failing Forward means to take responsibility, as Judah did with Benjamin. He laid his life on the line in order to set Benjamin free.
Failing Forward means to out people before profit!
Failing Forward means trusting the Lord in times of famine, or severe need. His provision can be surprising as Judah discovered.
This is the last of a series of ten examples from the Old Testament.
Peter J. Briscoe