Judah—He Who Proved Himself to Be Superior
THE study of Bible characters is ever a rewarding one. Thereby we become acquainted with some of the most admirable and heart-warming persons that ever lived, as well as learning better to understand human nature—a fascinating study in itself. Further, we are taught valuable lessons regarding how to apply God’s righteous principles in our lives and what the rewards are for doing so.
Among such Bible characters is Judah, one of the twelve sons of the patriarch Jacob. True, he erred at times, but as the record unfolds we see him gradually becoming stronger and more mature so that in the end, without any contriving on his part, he emerges as the one who excelled over his brothers and who became the progenitor of the Messiah: “Judah himself proved to be superior among his brothers and the one for leader was from him.”—1 Chron. 5:2.
Judah was the fourth son of Jacob’s less favored wife Leah. She named him Judah, meaning “Praised; [object of] Praise,” out of gratitude to Jehovah for having given her a fourth son. No doubt this mental disposition of thankfulness on the part of his mother reflected itself in the care and affection she bestowed upon Judah and aided in Judah’s developing the right kind of personality.—Gen. 29:35.
Judah, being the fourth son, quite naturally at first followed the lead of his older brothers. Thus when their only sister, Dinah, was violated by one of the Canaanite princes, who nevertheless was anxious to marry her, Judah, as well as the others, joined Simeon and Levi in executing bloody vengeance. In wanton retaliation they despoiled the entire city of the prince. At the time their father Jacob strongly censured them, although just how strongly he felt about it we first learn from his deathbed prophecy regarding his second and third sons: “Simeon and Levi are brothers. Instruments of violence are their slaughter weapons. Into their intimate group do not come, O my soul. With their congregation do not become united, O my disposition, because in their anger they killed men, and in their delight they hamstrung oxen. Cursed be their anger, because it is cruel, and their fury, because it acts harshly. Let me give them a portion in Jacob, but let me scatter them in Israel.”—Gen. 49:5-7.
The fact that Jacob did not mention the part the others had in this deed clearly shows that Simeon and Levi were the chief culprits. Still, as Judah noticed how his father felt about it all, he doubtless wished time and again that he had had nothing to do with this terrible deed. Thus Judah had strongly driven home to him the folly of blind vengeance as well as that of blindly following others even though they are older in years.
This conclusion is borne out by Judah’s course when the sons of Jacob planned to do away with their half brother Joseph, their father’s favorite. This time Judah did some thinking for himself. Looking for an opportunity to save Joseph, he saw it when a caravan of traders came along. Instead of letting Joseph die in the empty water hole into which they had thrown him, Judah urged upon his brothers a course of action that without doubt was divinely directed: “What profit would there be in case we killed our brother and did cover over his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and do not let our hand be upon him. After all, he is our brother, our flesh.” While some critics read a mercenary motive into Judah’s appeal, the tone of it makes clear that his chief concern was saving the life of Joseph. Most likely Judah put it that way because of the ugliness of the tempers of the brothers who were maliciously bent upon doing away with Joseph.—Gen. 37:26, 27.
Thus Judah succeeded in saving the life of Joseph. Still he had not fully matured, for he became party to the brothers’ conspiracy of silence not to reveal to their father the truth about Joseph. Suppose he did tell his father the facts. Would not this lay him open to reproach by his brothers and also by his father for not more vigorously coming to the defense of Joseph? So Judah thought it best to remain silent with the rest. But what struggles of conscience and regrets must have gone on in Judah’s bosom, if not also in the bosom of the others, as he noticed the grief of his father due to this conspiracy of silence! So it is with a wicked deed. It does not stop with the single act but grows a crop of misery for oneself as well as for others.
JUDAH AND TAMAR
An incident that raises questions in the minds of some involves Judah’s relations with his daughter-in-law Tamar. At that time the law of levirate marriage was in force. Briefly, this required that when a man died without an heir his brother had to provide the widow with the basis for an heir. Before he had any sons by his wife Tamar, Judah’s first-born son was slain by Jehovah because of his wickedness. And because Judah’s second son refused to comply with the law of levirate marriage, God also slew him. Then Judah told Tamar to wait until his third son, Shelah, matured. In the meantime Judah’s wife died. As the years went by it appears that Judah failed to require Shelah to perform his duty toward his brother’s widow; so Tamar schemed to get an heir by her father-in-law. This she did by disguising herself as a temple prostitute and seating herself on the road along which she knew Judah would be passing.
Judah went in to her, not knowing who she was. She shrewdly obtained tokens from him for her favors, by which she later was able to prove that she had become pregnant by him. When the truth came out, Judah did not blame her, but humbly said: “She is more righteous than I am, for the reason that I did not give her to Shelah my son.” And most fittingly, “he had no further intercourse with her.”—Genesis, chapter 38.
Professed Christians are prone to censure severely both Judah and Tamar in this matter, but the fact remains that the Word of God does not. More than that, Jehovah saw fit to have his Son come through Perez, one of Tamar’s twins by Judah, instead of through Shelah, Judah’s son by his lawful wife, the daughter of Shua. Thus Judah himself fulfilled the obligation of levirate marriage.
JUDAH GOES TO EGYPT FOR FOOD
Judah next comes to our attention during a severe famine when he and his brothers went to Egypt for food. There the food administrator, Joseph, unrecognized by them, had accused them of being spies. He warned them not to return without their youngest brother Benjamin, of whom they had told him in professing their innocence to being spies. In the meantime one of the brothers was held as hostage.—Gen. 42:1-25.
Needless to say, Jacob rebelled at the thought of allowing Benjamin to accompany his brothers to Egypt. He had lost his favorite wife Rachel in her giving birth to Benjamin, and Joseph his favorite son was no more—now to lose Benjamin also? No, this was too much! Yet the need for food was becoming urgent. Who could persuade Jacob to entrust Benjamin’s safety to his care? Certainly none of those who plotted Joseph’s death could plead to do so with a good conscience. Reuben tried it, but his words carried no conviction. And no wonder: he had defiled his father’s concubine Bilhah.
Then Judah spoke up: “Send the boy with me, that we may get up and go and that we may keep alive and not die off, both we and you and our little children. I shall be the one to be surety for him. Out of my hand you may exact the penalty for him. If I fail to bring him to you and present him to you, then I shall have sinned against you for all time. But if we had not lingered around, we should by now have been there and back these two times.” Yes, Judah’s line of reasoning and his assurance made sense. He was the one that was able to rise to the occasion.—Gen. 43:8-10.
So Jacob permitted Benjamin to go in the care of Judah. From here on Judah is recognized as the leader and spokesman, for when again on the way home they were overtaken by Joseph’s steward and charged with a theft (actually a ruse by Joseph), we read that “Judah and his brothers went on into Joseph’s house.” And in answering this baseless charge it likewise is Judah who speaks for the eleven: “What can we say to my master? What can we speak? And how can we prove ourselves righteous? God has found out the iniquity of your slaves.” Yes, innocent of the theft with which they were charged, of Joseph’s silver cup, but guilty of having sold Joseph into bondage!—Gen. 44:14-16.
But all the Egyptian food administrator wanted was to detain Benjamin, the one in whose bag the silver cup had been found. This caused Judah to utter a plea concerning which McClintock & Strong’s Cyclopedia states: “There is not in the whole range of literature a finer piece of natural eloquence than that in which Judah offers himself to remain a bondslave in the place of Benjamin, for whose safe return he had made himself responsible.”
JUDAH’S ELOQUENT PLEA
“I pray you, my master, please let your slave speak a word in the hearing of my master, and do not let your anger grow hot against your slave, because it is the same with you as with Pharaoh. My master asked his slaves, saying, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ So we said to my master, ‘We do have an aged father and a child of his old age, the youngest. But his brother is dead so that he alone is left of his mother, and his father does love him.’ After that you said to your slaves, ‘Bring him down to me that I may set my eye upon him.’ But we said to my master, ‘The boy is not able to leave his father. If he did leave his father, he would certainly die.’ Then you said to your slaves, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you may not see my face any more.’
“And it came about that we went up to your slave my father and then told him the words of my master. Later our father said, ‘Return, buy a little food for us.’ But we said, ‘We are not able to go down. If our youngest brother is with us we will go down, because we are not able to see the man’s face in case our youngest brother is not with us.’ Then your slave my father said to us, ‘You yourselves well know that my wife bore but two sons to me. Later the one went out from my company and I exclaimed, “Ah, he must surely be torn to pieces!” and I have not seen him till now. If you were to take this one also out of my sight and a fatal accident were to befall him, you would certainly bring down my gray hairs with calamity to Sheol.’
“And now, as soon as I should come to your slave my father without the boy along with us, when that one’s soul is bound up with this one’s soul, then it is certain to occur that as soon as he sees that the boy is not there he will simply die and your slaves will indeed bring down the gray hairs of your slave our father with grief to Sheol. For your slave became surety for the boy when away from his father, saying, ‘If I fail to bring him back to you, then I shall have sinned against my father forever.’ So now, please, let your slave stay instead of the boy as a slave to my master, that the boy may go up with his brothers. For how can I go up to my father without the boy along with me, for fear that then I may look upon the calamity that will find out my father?”—Gen. 44:18-34.
After such a stirring appeal it is no wonder that “Joseph was no longer able to control himself,” and, alone with his brothers, he made himself known to them! After this reconciliation Judah and his brothers were loaded down with gifts. What good news they had for their father! ‘Joseph is alive and he wants you and all your household to come to Egypt to live!’ Then, as Jacob and his household neared Egypt, Jacob, fittingly, “sent Judah in advance of him to Joseph to impart information ahead of him to Goshen.”—Gen. 45:1-3; 46:28.
The last time we see Judah is at the deathbed of his father, when he and his brothers were called together to hear Jacob’s final “commands to his sons,” consisting of censure, commendation and prophecy. For his first three sons he had only stern rebukes: ‘Reuben, you defiled my lounge!’ ‘Simeon and Levi, cursed be your anger.’ But for Judah, aged Jacob had words of commendation: “Judah, your brothers will praise you. Your hand will be on the back of the neck of your enemies. The sons of your father will bow down to you. A lion cub Judah is. . . . who dares rouse him? The scepter will not turn aside from Judah, neither the commander’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him the obedience of the people will belong.”—Gen. 49:1-10.
Truly Judah showed himself to be superior to his brothers in time of stress. He took the lead in what turned out for the best. And most important of all, Jehovah’s blessing was upon his efforts. He was free from malice and ill will. He showed loving concern for his father, for Joseph and for Benjamin.
Judah’s tribe became the most numerous and the royal one, through which came the Kingdom covenant from David to Jesus Christ. What an honor was his to be an ancestor of the Messiah, and for that one to take his name, “Lion that is of the tribe of Judah”! Though now sleeping in death, he lives in God’s memory. In God’s due time he will be resurrected, doubtless to be made a prince in the new world.—Rev. 5:5; 2 Sam. 7:12, 13; Ps. 45:16.
In addition to the lessons to be learned from Judah’s course, his life appears also to have been part of a prophetic drama. As at one time Judah was associated with those who hated Joseph, so today there are persons who at one time were associated with the enemies of God’s people. However, because of a good heart condition these are susceptible to the truth of God’s Word and, upon coming in touch with it, make a change by taking their stand with God’s people, even as Judah pleaded in behalf of Benjamin. Those doing so can hope to be rewarded both now and in God’s new world of righteousness so near at hand.