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Judah, Brother of Joseph

April 11, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 140

The character of Judah is interestingly portrayed in the bible with a certain intimacy, making him a very human and relatable character. Even though he is not a major player in every scene, the places where he is included are significant to the relational element of the story as a whole. Judah's personality is complex, and he struggles between the desires of the flesh, and his desire to do right before God and man.

I think that Judah is basically an honorable man, compared to some of his brothers. The way in which he is portrayed is rather surprising to me though, given that he is not one of the sons of Jacob's beloved Rachel. In fact, he was born of Leah, the first wife - forced on Jacob through the deception of Laban. Throughout the reading of the Old Testament, the offspring of unfavored wives are portrayed as disobedient villains; for example: Ishmael, son of Hagar. Not so in the case of Judah.

First of all, as related in chapter thirty-seven of the book of Genesis, the story of Joseph's being thrown into the well shows that most of his brothers wanted him gone. Actually, they all wanted him gone, but not all of them wanted him dead. Specifically, Judah came up with the idea of selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites. He said that this would prevent the spilling of Joseph's blood, because after all, he was their brother.

I guess this is the first place that surprised me about Judah. I really wouldn't have expected any of the brothers to be ambivalent toward Joseph, since they were all his half brothers, except for Benjamin, the youngest. I would think that they would be certain in their jealousy. But something seemed to stir in the conscience of Reuben, and that of Judah, maybe out of consideration for their father. Later in the story, when Joseph is in Egypt, we learn that the sons love their father in spite of his favoritism toward Joseph and Benjamin. I think this shows that Judah is honorable because it is a pretty consistent fact throughout the reading that a man cannot have honor without conscience.

The next segment of the saga takes a different turn, focusing solely on Judah, independent of his relationship to his family. In the story of Tamar, if you assume that Judah could not tell who she was, he makes a terrible mistake in sleeping with his daughter-in-law. When she makes it public who she slept with, and who, incidentally is the father of her unborn child, he says, "she is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah" (Gen. 38:26). I don't think it was an easy thing for him to admit to her claim, but he did the right thing anyway.

Another time when Judah takes a leadership role is in chapter 43 of Genesis, when he offers to be personally responsible for the welfare of Benjamin on the return trip to Egypt. He tells his father that he will "bear the blame...all his life" (43:9). To me, this shows that he feels guilty about what happened to Joseph all those years ago, and that he does not want to cause his father more sorrow should he lose Benjamin as well. Judah seems to be truly remorseful, and is taking a proactive role in trying to set things right by offering to be held responsible.

The story continues into chapter 44, when the cup belonging to Joseph is found to be in Benjamin's sack. It is threatened that whoever has the cup will be Joseph's slave. Judah asks Joseph to let him remain as a slave in place of the boy. Again, this shows his concern about causing his father further sorrow.

In all the aforementioned situations, Judah exhibits a certain responsibility toward his family. As has been consistent throughout the entire bible, it is not always the oldest child that displays qualities of leadership and strength. This is true of Judah too. Even though Reuben is the oldest, he lacks the eloquence and passion of conviction that Judah consistently displays. Judah seems to always be willing to "step up to the plate" when the need arises for leadership, although he was not always as confident about it. I think the story has shown a progression of maturity in Judah's character, with him learning to assert his will more effectively as time went on.

This charismatic quality is demonstrated when one looks at the times that his brothers went along with him when making decisions. First, his idea of selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites-they all agreed on this. Second, he talked his father into letting them take Benjamin to Egypt. Then he pleaded with Joseph (whose identity was not known at that time) to let him take Benjamin's place as a slave, and won a reprieve in their favor. For after this display, Joseph revealed himself to them in a wave of emotion.

Finally, near the end of Genesis, in chapter 49, his father blesses him as a powerful ruler and tells him "your brothers will praise you" (49:8). I think Judah is one of the key characters in the book of Genesis, being represented as a powerful intercessor and advocate in the family of Jacob. His actions show a depth of character and honor, even in the wake of his mistakes. We can all draw encouragement from this example of restoration and victory in our walk of faith.

Evelyn Jansen

Source: EzineArticles
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