Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Judah compared to Joseph, then Judah’s redemption

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Genesis 38 is quite a sordid chapter.  It tells of how Judah’s family life goes after he sold Joseph into Egypt.  We see a number of things that are pretty disturbing.

First, Judah separates from his family and marries a Canaanite girl.  This is marrying out of the covenant.  Then, Judah’s son Er was wicked and was killed by God (we are told) after marrying Tamar (another Canaanite girl). Then, when Tamar is given to Judah’s second son Onan in Levirate marriage, Onan refrains from impregnating her, thus displaying selfishness, and is killed by God (we are told).  After this, Judah’s wife dies. (v12)

So far we can see that Judah has lost 3 out of 4 people in his family, which must have been very painful.  It would show him the pain and grief he had caused his father Jacob by selling Joseph and making his father think Joseph was dead.

I also can’t help but wonder if Tamar had some kind of sexually transmitted disease that she passed on to Judah’s two sons and which killed them.  Judah may have thought the same thing, since he was reluctant to give her in Levirate marriage to his third son—“for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did.”

So Tamar takes matters into her own hands in a way that makes us all cringe.  She plants herself in Judah’s way dressed as a harlot.  It makes me wonder if she had some idea that he was easy to seduce.  And Judah propositions her as soon as he sees her, so it seems her estimation of him was correct.

When Judah sends his payment to Tamar, he sends it by his friend.  It is as if he doesn’t want to be seen paying a harlot.  When his friend comes back, unable to find the harlot to give payment to, Judah is worried he will be shamed for not paying as he promised.  Clearly his priorities are messed up; he’s concerned about paying a debt when he should be concerned about having broken the law of chastity.

When Judah finds out Tamar is pregnant by whoredom we see his hypocrisy again—he hits the ceiling and demands Tamar be burned for her whoredom.  It is then that his hypocrisy is revealed to all the people when Tamar waves his pledges under his nose and reveals Judah was the father.  (We don’t know if she presses for the pledged payment or not..)

It is interesting Judah says Tamar has been more righteous than him.  I suppose if he hadn’t exonerated her, he would have to be burned too.  Tamar was more righteous in that she had only been trying to do her part to raise up seed to her first husband.  She kept it in the family, albeit in a .. wrongheaded way.  But Judah knew he was committing whoredom.

It is easy to wonder just why this whole story was put in the Bible.  However it gains meaning when we read Genesis 39 about Joseph in Egypt.  The contrast is like night and day.  Joseph, unlike skirt-chasing Judah, flees from temptation.  He is propositioned and he refuses.  He manages to keep his purity even when he is the slave of a very sexually aggressive woman.  Judah is the contrast by which we can better appreciate Joseph’s purity.

This isn’t the end of the story, however.

All Judah’s painful experience eventually brings him back to his family, though we don’t know exactly when.  And in the midst of the unusual difficultes of getting food from a strangely surly Egyptian ruler (Joseph), we see that Judah’s attitude has changed.

To convince Jacob to let Benjamin go to Egypt according to Joseph’s command, Judah says, “Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones.  I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever:” (Genesis 48:8-9)

Here Judah becomes a type of Christ and we learn a certain particular truth about Christ’s mission that perhaps we may not have recognized before—that Jesus would bear the blame forever if He had not done all He could to fulfill His mission.  In short, it is His responsibility to bring us back to God in the resurrection to stand before God so we can be judged.  And because He fulfilled His mission of atoning for us and being resurrected, we can be sure we will stand before God to be judged.  It is also possible that He is duty-bound to do everything He possibly can (short of coercion) to get us to accept His salvation.

We also see Judah become a type of Christ in another thing.  When Joseph’s silver cup was found in Benjamin’s bag of food and it seemed as if Joseph would keep Benjamin as a slave in Egypt, Judah pled for Benjamin’s sake:
32 For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever.
33 Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren.
34 For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father. (Genesis 44:32-34)
Judah offered himself in Bejamin’s stead so that Benjamin could return to father Jacob—a type of Christ’s sacrificing Himself for all of us to bring us back to Heavenly Father.  Judah could not have made that offer without having had a drastically changed heart and being converted, especially considering all the things he had done wrong earlier.  He was determined not to repeat his offense and give more pain to his father.

We also see from Judah’s words a glimpse of the Christ’s feelings and how He knows it would affect Heavenly Father to lose His children forever without the plan of salvation—“How shall I go up to my Father and none of my brothers and sisters return with me?  How can I stand to see the grief that shall come upon my Father then?”

While Judah’s story in Genesis 38 demonstrates how bad choices lead to more bad choices, we also see later in Judah’s readiness to self-sacrifice that there is still the possibility of redemption and change, to the point that one can become a type of Christ. 

For more insights on Genesis 38, you can check out Ben Spackman's article "The Story of Judah and Tamar."