The last 14 chapters of Genesis end with an interesting comparison. This section of scripture contains the story of Joseph, the man with the coat of many colors who gets sold into slavery but rises to power to save the Egyptians and most of the known world from the horrific famine that plagues the land. It is the story of how God works in and through the events of life to bring about the saving of many people. It contains many individual situations in Joseph’s life that at the time seem horrible and destructive but God uses to put Joseph in a position in which he can rise to political power in Egypt, becoming second in command next to Pharaoh. And, it explains a situation of how the people of Israel ended up in Egypt, a place where they could thrive and grow, but out of which God would need to rescue them and claim them as his own at Sinai. It is the story of Joseph, told to little children in Bible class and VBS that help teach them about the awesome power of God and how he works throughout history. However, the last 14 chapters of Genesis are also a comparison of two brothers; Joseph and Judah. We often know what happens to Joseph, we aren’t too sure about what happens to Judah.
Joseph, the eleventh son of twelve is given special treatment by his father and hated by his brothers to the point in which they sell him into slavery and he ends up in Egypt. Joseph, rises to prominence in the house of Potiphar, but is falsely accused of trying to rape Potiphar’s wife and sentenced to prison. Joseph rises to prominence in prison, interprets some dreams for the baker and butler but is later forgotten. Finally, Joseph has the opportunity to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and rises to power and saves Egypt. Joseph is an honorable man who even in the midst of damaging events that were not his fault doesn’t lose faith in God but keeps trusting in the God of his fathers.
Judah is a different story. Judah actually has the idea to sell Joseph into slavery and lie to their father about his death. In chapter 38 of Genesis, Judah heads off on his own, finds a wife and through various events of sons dying and a daughter-in-law never having children eventually impregnates his own daughter-in-law because he thinks she’s a prostitute. (If you don’t know the story, go read it, it will turn your stomach). Judah is a horrible figure. Judah is everything that Joseph is not. Joseph is good, Judah is bad. Joseph is pure, Judah is selfish. Joseph honors God with his actions, Judah disgraces God with his actions.
But somewhere in the story Judah changes. The Bible doesn’t tell us when but Judah has a conversion. Maybe it was after being confronted by Tamar. Maybe it was some other event. Either way, Judah changes. When the brothers need to go back to Egypt but Jacob won’t send along Benjamin (Genesis 43) Judah says he will protect the boy, he will be held accountable if anything happens to him. When Joseph sets the trap and the gold cup is found in Benjamin’s sack and Benjamin must become a slave in Egypt while the other brothers can go home (Genesis 44) Judah begs for Benjamin’s life and says make me a slave instead, just send Benjamin home. It’s a stark contrast from what happened years early with Joseph. But the story doesn’t end there. As the family is moving to Egypt in chapters 46-47 Judah is sent ahead to make preparations, Judah has become the leader of the family. When the blessings are given out by Jacob to his children in chapter 49 Judah is given the special blessing, even more special than Joseph. And then after Genesis, as the story progresses, one would assume that Joseph would be the special character, but it is the family of Judah that we follow. Judah’s line is the important line. Rahab and Ruth both marry into Judah’s line. David and Solomon come from Judah’s line. And ultimately Jesus is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Judah, the punk from the beginning of the story is the line through which the Messiah comes.
Somewhere along the way Judah does a 180 degree turnaround. The Bible doesn’t say when, but Judah changes. And God uses Judah to change the course of history. Judah becomes the line of Kings.
It’s interesting, if God can use Judah, God can use me. If God can change Judah, God can change me. If God can take the character that nobody likes and turn him into the hero, God can do the same with me. Because God is in the business of doing the unexpected, and I’m so grateful he is.