October 25, 2010

Judah: The Substitute

In many ways, Jacob’s fourth son was perhaps the worst of them all. Yes, most of the others had gone along with the dastardly plot to sell their baby brother into slavery. But the sale was actually Judah’s idea (Genesis 37.26-27). He figured he could make a little money off the whole fiasco. That’s strike one against him.

And not only was Judah treacherous toward his brother, but toward his daughter-in-law, Tamar, as well. She had married into his family and her first two husbands (Judah’s two oldest sons) had died (Genesis 38.1-11), leaving her widowed. Whose job was it to take care of her in a case such as this one? Judah’s! He was supposed to provide her needs and arrange for his third son to marry her. But he didn’t do it. He sent her back to her own family and people … with no opportunity to re-marry or to have sons who would care for her when she was old. Once again, it seems Judah chose financial considerations above family loyalty. Strike two!

And then there is the rest of chapter 38 … in which Judah, after the death of his wife, got himself tangled up with a prostitute. Not exactly what you’d hope for from a patriarch in God’s chosen family. But there he was, in the prostitute’s lair, adding more and more yellow to an already dingy reputation. And, as it turns out, the prostitute was his own daughter-in-law, in disguise! If he wouldn’t give her his son for a husband, and ensure that she would have children to care for her in her old age … she would make sure of it herself. And when Judah found out what had happened, he must have been doubly ashamed. Strike three!

But aren’t we glad – for Judah’s sake, and for our own – that God does not operate on a three strike policy! That no matter how many times we blow it ... as long as we still have breath, there is yet opportunity for repentance and restoration. And Judah becomes a wonderful picture of that fact as we read into the latter chapters of Genesis!

You may recall that, after being sold into slavery, Joseph had (by God’s mercy) actually moved up the ladder in Egypt rather rapidly. In a few years, he went from being a foreign slave to being a governor in the land … responsible, during the years of great famine, for distributing food to the starving masses. Well, among those starving masses came Judah and his brothers – unaware that the ‘Egyptian’ governor before them was actually their long lost brother. And, in a bizarre twist, Joseph (it seems to me out of revenge) gave his brothers all sorts of trouble … eventually threatening to lock the youngest of them (Benjamin) in jail (ch.44). And here is where we see that, some time in the long years of regretting the way he’d handled Joseph and Tamar, Judah evidently came to repentance. His heart had changed. The man who’d been so willing to sell his little brother so long ago had been made new!

Listen to how he responded to the ‘Egyptian’ governor (44.33): “Please let your servant (namely, Judah himself) remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers.” ' Take me instead of him. Let me bear the punishment in his place.' That is what Judah was now saying. He who had once sold his brother was now willing to be the substitute for his brother! He who had once made his brother a slave was no willing to become a slave for his brother. Judah had completely changed! He had, evidently, been what we would call ‘born again.’ And he is a wonderful picture of the grace that God has bestowed on so many of us. We are no longer what we once were! Not perfect, to be sure. But, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God really has changed us. This is the Lord’s doing … and it should be marvelous in our eyes.

But Judah is not only a picture of us regenerated sinners, is he? Remember what he said? ‘Let me take my brother’s place. Let me be punished in his stead. Take me, and let him go free.’ Does that sound familiar? Isn’t that what Jesus, the great Messiah from the line of Judah, said to His heavenly father about the church? ‘Take Me. Punish Me. And let them go free.’ And God, our Father, mercifully, has done so for all who believe! Indeed, it was the Father's plan all along.

So thank God for Judah! And thank God for Jesus, the lion of Judah’s tribe, who became a lamb and substituted His blood for ours!

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