Judah, a mixed-bag of a man

mixedbag–A harlot’s concealing is a man’s revealing

I’m intrigued by the biblical portrayal of Judah found predominantly in Genesis chapters 38-40 and then again in chapters 43-49. Judah was one of Jacob’s twelve sons, later destined to become the father of the tribe of Judah, which tribe it was that was to bring forth Christ, the Messiah.

As far as I can see, there wasn’t a lot that was exceptionally outstanding about the man. He seemed to be a rather mixed bag of vice and virtue, not unlike the average person you might find today. And yet, God used him to fulfill divine purposes, and due to some of the specific roles he was to assume, he became somewhat of a foreshadowing of the coming Savior.

The one early, outstanding event  in Judah’s life was that when the ten brothers plotted, out of jealousy, to kill their younger  brother Joseph, Judah was the only one that spoke up for Joseph, so that instead of being murdered, Joseph was sold in to slavery and taken to Egypt where  he would become Pharaoh’s right-hand man. Later, through a series of miraculous contiguous events, when Joseph is reunited with his family, it is Judah who offers himself as ransom for youngest brother, Benjamin, while the uncertainties of the reconciliation are being resolved These are the positive aspects of his life and it is in these roles that his life assumes a kind of foreshadowing of the coming Savior.

On the negative side, we see him breaking custom, convention, and law, by leaving his brethren` and marrying inter racially, an act which was forbidden by Mosaic Law. From this union we are told that he sires two sons, both of whom turn out to be bad characters. We are not told the sordid details of the first son’s life, only that he ‘was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him. Interestingly, his name was Er. God allows his second son, Onan to die; it seems, due to his great selfishness in being unwilling to redeem his brother’s childless widow. Obviously, Judah’s early course of action didn’t result in the greatest of outcomes.

And then to make matters worse we find yet more of the negative aspects of Judah’s character, in his treatment of Tamar, the widow of one of his dead sons. Judah promises Tamar that if she will live as part of his household, he would in time give her a younger son as husband when the son came of age, and in this way she would be a redeemed woman and her children would then not suffer the loss of their inheritance within the tribe. Judah completes reneges on this promise, leading Tamar to act on her own behalf. She disguises herself as a whore and entices Judah to sleep with her, which leads to her getting pregnant. When Judah, still not realizing that it is his disenfranchised daughter-in-law he’s dealing with, condemns her to death for becoming pregnant outside of marriage. It is then that his whole sordid part in the affair becomes public and he’s exposed for the hypocrite he is.

I find Judah’s actions concerning his affair with Tamar (his disguised daughter-in-law), to be incisively revealing of his character, and perhaps not of his character alone, but of many like individuals. Here is a man who knows the law. He knows right from wrong. He knows what’s required of him socially, what’s required of him religiously, etc. Yet, that knowledge only serves to allow him to skirt the fringes of the law, of morality, of piety, to act outwardly in a seeming righteous manner, while inwardly he is a very different man; a man, used to subterfuge, connivance and hypocrisy to get his way, to pursue his real aims. And he’s basically able to succeed in his endeavors until he meets this crisis. Then, it is that God has his number.

Later on, of course, we have the beautiful prophecies of Genesis 49 proclaimed over him as part of his blessing and the destiny he was to fulfill in his lineage leading to Christ

Judah, I think, is a very relatable character to many.

And that’s really the way of life. God takes us, mixed bags that we are, full of our own mix of vice and virtue; the vice of our own self-corrupted natures mixed with the beautiful virtues of God’s gifts in us and, if we let Him, He makes something out of our nothing, really, all to His glory.


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