I’ve been reading through the Joseph story over the last few days and I’m always amazed at the turnaround that Judah makes. Joseph is by far the major character in the story. Joseph is held up as the ideal one. Joseph is the one who has the moral integrity to literally run away from the sexual advances of Potipher’s wife. Joseph is the one who continues to trust in God even after he’s sold into slavery and later sent to prison through no fault of his own. Joseph is the one who rises to prominence in Egypt, who almost single-handedly saves the country of Egypt and many others from the famine. And then Joseph acts like the Jesus character by forgiving his brothers for all the harm they caused him; he forgives them without asking anything in return. Clearly Joseph is set up as the ideal character
And yet I can’t help but like Judah. I will admit he begins as a very sleazy character. He hates his brother Joseph. Hates that Joesph has been given privileges of the first born. Hates that Joseph is the favorite child. Hates that Joseph keeps telling silly dreams about everyone else bowing to him. Hates that Joseph is a snitch to daddy. Judah is the one who wants to kill him. Judah is the one who determines to instead sell him into slavery so they can at least make alittle money. Judah is horrible.
Then, while Joseph is in slavery, and later in prison, Judah is off making things worse. He gets married, has some children, gets a wife for the oldest and continues living life. (Read Genesis 38 for the full story) When the oldest two children die because they are wicked he refuses to give his youngest son to his daughter-in-law Tamar and actually sends her back to her father’s house. Later he visits a prostitute and gets her pregnant. He doesn’t know the prostitute is actually his daughter-in-law who is weaving a plot to trap him because he is wicked. When she is found to be pregnant he wants to stone her because of her sexual unfaithfulness. (Classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.) She exposes him as the one who impregnated her and that’s the only thing that saves her life. While Joseph is running from sexual temptation Judah is enjoying time with prostitutes. Judah is a sleaze.
And then the story changes. Judah is the one telling their father Jacob that he will personally protect Benjamin when they go to Egypt. Judah will take responsibility for his life. Then when Joseph weaves his plot to test his brothers; puts his cup in Benjamin’s sack and says the others can go free but Benjamin must remain as a slave, Judah is the one who steps up to stop the injustice. It is inspiring to hear Judah plead with Joseph for Benjamin’s life. Judah begs to take Benjamin’s place. Judah volunteers to be a slave forever, to never see his family again, so that Benjamin can go free. It’s even greater knowing that Judah without knowing it is pleading with the brother he once sold as a slave. Joseph is personally beholding Judah’s transformation. Gone is the man who thinks only about himself. In his place is a man who will sacrifice himself for others.
Judah has become the leader of the family. When the family moves to Egypt to escape the famine, Judah is sent ahead to prepare the way. When Jacob speaks of the future of his children, Judah is given the greatest role. It will be through Judah’s line that the Messiah comes. The one who appeared to be worthless has become the one that God uses to bless the world. It’s an inspiring story.
Even more so it is a story of redemption. The character that seems beyond hope is transformed. God doesn’t give up on him, but continues to work in his life for good. In fact, Judah’s story is transformed to such a degree that he is remembered for the good that comes from him, not the wickedness. And it reminds us that no one is beyond hope. No one is beyond saving. There is never a point in life when God can’t come in and bring healing, bring transformation, bring redemption. I love the story of Judah because it reminds me that God loves to do the unexpected; loves to use the one everyone else ignores. God finds joy in redeeming stories. And just like he did with Judah he will do it with everyone else. Because no one is beyond redemption.