A New Judah: Joseph’s Story

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February 13, 2014 by Chris French

Joseph’s story spans Genesis 37-50, thirteen chapters where Joseph is the main character. However in Genesis 38 right after Joseph is sold into slavery the narrative jumps to one of his brothers and tells a good portion of his story. This brother happens to be Judah. You probably remember him best from his role in profiting from selling Joseph. The other brothers went along with it, but it was all his idea (Gen. 37.26). In Genesis 39 the story jumps back on track with Joseph in Potiphar’s house seemingly without missing a step. So why the detour into Judah’s life?

I think our passage for today sheds some light on that question. Genesis 43-44 reads like an episode of Maury combined with one of those prank shows.

Israel: “Go get us some more food.”
Judah: “Dude told us not to come back without Benjamin”
Israel: “Why’d you tell him about Benjamin in the first place!”
Judah: “How was I supposed to know he was going to want to see him?”
Israel: “Fine, take Benjamin and money and a present and let’s see what happens, but if he doesn’t come back…”

When they get to Egypt they are surprised that they’re being directed to Joseph’s house, not to the grain warehouse they did business in last time. They think he’s going to be mad about them not paying for their food last time so they meet his butler at the door apologizing. Gotta love this guy because he’s like, “That money must have come from God because I was paid for your food.”

Joseph comes in, sees Benjamin and is so broken up that he has to leave the room. He comes back in, they eat together and Joseph's Cupapparently get drunk. Here’s where things get really weird. The brothers are sent away as soon as dawn breaks with bags full of grain and all the money they brought with them. But one of them is unknowingly carrying one of Joseph’s silver cups. Pretty quickly after they leave Joseph sends the friendly butler after them to be not so friendly. He checks their bags, finds the cup and insists on enslaving Benjamin as per their agreement. The whole party gets back on their donkeys and rides back to Joseph’s house where Judah gives  an impassioned speech trying to convince Joseph to make him his servant instead of Benjamin.

Judah has changed! He was a grown man when he talked the others into selling Joseph now 20 years have passed and he’s older, but more has changed in Judah than his hair color. Benjamin obviously took Joseph’s place as their dad’s favorite, but when Judah has the chance to put Benjamin in his place he doesn’t take it. The setup is perfect! It’s not even Judah’s fault this time! Benjamin stole the cup and now he should have to pay the price! Instead of jumping on this opportunity he jumps in the other direction. When Judah finds out that Joseph isn’t going to make them all servants, but Benjamin only, he pleads with Joseph to allow him to take Benjamin’s place. In a split second he makes the decision to never see his father or sons again. He’s never going to see his homeland again. He’s never going to be in control of his life again, all to protect Benjamin.

Judah has changed! He’s not the same guy he was 20 years earlier. In fact, he’s about as far from the old Judah as he could possibly be. He’s lost his two oldest sons and his wife. He’s slept with a prostitute, only to find out 9 months later that she was his daughter-in-law who was trying to get pregnant. And she was the one in the right in this situation! He’s lost a lot, including his reputation after that fiasco, but somewhere along the line he became a better man.

People change. Judah did. So can you. If you’re going thru a time in your life that looks like Judah’s story in Genesis 38 know that God can, and does, use those hurtful times to mold us into the image of Christ (Romans 8.28-29). If everything is going fine, but you’re tired of who you’ve been and you’re ready to change let me challenge with you what God says in Jeremiah 29.13

“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

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