Sacrificial Love: The Making of Judah

A sermon on Genesis 42-44 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 10/31/04

What is the most important commandment in the Bible?

Once, someone asked Jesus that question. He answered:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Mark 12:30 

What is the second most important commandment? Jesus continued his answer to the question above by giving us the second most important commandment:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:31 

But what does loving your neighbor mean? We could have many sermons on that topic, particularly discussing Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan – which He told in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” But Jesus once defined the greatest love we can show:

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

Today’s text gives us an amazing example of one person laying down his life for another. This person thus portrays a picture of Jesus Christ, about 1800 years before He is born.

“What a great man,” you might be tempted to think. “He must have been very special!”

But the man is Judah. And the last time we saw Judah, he had just had sexual relations with his daughter-in-law.

Now, imagine if Judah were on the ballot this coming Tuesday. If the Charlotte Observer dug into his past and found out about that past action, what hope would he have of getting elected?

But God does not choose those who will be great in His kingdom the way we choose those who will be great in the US. Indeed, our gracious God uses our failures – the very failures that disqualify us from position in this country – to mold us into His likeness.

Judah is a repentant sinner – and that is one of God’s qualifications.

We’ll look at this lengthy text under three headings:

Judah’s Past

The first time we know anything about Judah other than his parentage is in chapter 37. Remember, Jacob has 12 sons from four different women. Joseph and Benjamin are the sons of his favorite wife, Rachel, while Judah is the fourth son of Rachel’s sister, Leah. Jacob’s 11 oldest sons were all born within seven years. Joseph is the youngest of those, but he must have been quite close in age to Judah – certainly within a couple of years of him.

The brothers are jealous of Jacob’s preference for Joseph. Their anger reaches the point that they agree to kill him when they are together in an isolated place. Judah talks them out of it – but not because of compassion for Joseph. He just “happens” to see a caravan of slave traders on their way to Egypt, and decides it makes sense to make a little money from their brother if they can. The brother agree, and sell Joseph into slavery.

Chapter 38 focuses on Judah exclusively – and it is an ugly story. Judah separates from his family, apparently deciding to live just like a Canaanite. All of Joseph’s ten older brothers are influenced by Canaanite culture, but Judah immerses himself in the culture. His best friend is a Canaanite and he marries a Canaanite. Eventually he adopts to loose sexual morals of Canaanite culture, thinking nothing of having sex with a supposed prostitute.

His oldest son marries a Canaanite woman; when he dies, following custom, Judah’s second oldest son is responsible for raising up children by her for his brother. But he ignores his responsibility, and God kills him. Then Judah leads Tamar on to think that he will eventually give his third son, Shelah, to her, but all along has no intention of doing so. So Tamar, intent on raising up children in the line of Abraham, dresses as prostitute and waits for Judah along the way she knows he will travel; he propositions her, and impregnates her.

This is Judah’s low point. But even in this sordid chapter we see the beginning of Judah’s redemption. Upon finding out that Tamar is pregnant, he wants to put her to death. But when she reveals that he is the father, he repents, saying, “She is righteous, not I” (38:26). And the ancestor of Jesus Christ comes from this encounter.

Question: When did these events with Tamar take place? Chapter 38 begins about the time Joseph is sold into slavery. After this, Judah leaves home, marries, has sons; they grow up, marry, and die. Meanwhile, Joseph is in Egypt 13 years before he is exalted to political power. Then there are seven years of plenty, followed by two years of famine before the events of chapter 45. Thus, Judah’s repentance at the end of chapter 38 must happen very shortly prior to his trip to Egypt with his brothers. Indeed, perhaps this realization of his sinfulness leads him to return to his family, leaving his Canaanite friends.

Have you hit bottom? Have you engaged in a sin that you hate even to think about? God takes a man who engaged in gross sin – and turns him into a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. Take heart. Our God is a God of grace.

Let’s see how God does this – how He takes this man from the initial stages of repentance to becoming a type of Christ.

The Making of Judah

As we read last week, Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams, saying that there will be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. And Pharaoh makes Joseph the second most powerful man in Egypt.

These years of plenty and famine come. And the famine strikes Canaan as well as Egypt. So Jacob sends all his sons except Benjamin to Egypt to buy grain. They arrive – and Joseph recognizes them. They have no idea that this is Joseph, however.

Why doesn’t Joseph reveal himself to his brothers right away? He hasn’t seen them for more than twenty years! This is an opportunity to see his father!

But remember – the last time Joseph saw Judah and other nine, they threw him in pit, planning to leave him to die of thirst. They ignored his pleas for mercy, and ended up selling him as a slave. Joseph surely desires to see Jacob, but these men could still be out to harm him. Indeed, they could still be out to harm his father.

Furthermore, as verse 9 tells us, Joseph remembers his dream. He had dreamt that his brothers’ sheaves of grain bowed down to his, and indeed, that all his family would bow down to him. This would include Benjamin – and he is not yet here. For the dream to be fulfilled, his younger brother and his father must come to Egypt.

So Joseph quickly decides not to reveal himself, but to delay the brothers so as to figure out how to get Benjamin to Egypt. He decides the best way to do this is to accuse them of being spies. This will enable him to detain them, get more information from them, and decide on a course of action.

When he was a boy, some of these brothers were angry at him for bringing a bad report of them to Jacob (37:2). Perhaps they even called him a spy at the time. Now Joseph accuses them of being spies.  

When the brothers protest that they are all sons of one man, with a younger brother at home, Joseph says, “To prove you are not lying, leave one of your brothers here and go, bring the youngest to me!” This will test the brothers to see if they have changed – given an opportunity of being alone with Benjamin as they were with him, how will they behave?

Note how Judah and brothers talk in verse 21:

Then they said to one another, "In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us." Genesis 42:21

They see the tragedy of having to leave one of their own in Egypt as just recompense for their selling Joseph to Egypt! All that happened more than 20 years previously, but the weight of guilt still rests on them. Now – perhaps for the first time – they openly discuss their guilt.

Leaving Simeon bound, a prisoner, the brothers return towards home with the food they have purchased. But part way home, they open their bags of grain and find the money they paid!

Now, think: Is this good, or bad?

If the consciences of Judah and his brothers were clear, surely they would interpret this as a good event. They get all this grain for free! They had not stolen anything – they paid the money, but somehow got their money back. This is good! But because their consciences are guilty, they think of this event as bad. See verse 28:

At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, "What is this that God has done to us?"

This is the first mention of God by Judah and his brothers. But note their attitude towards God. They are not rejoicing at God’s power and might, but instead are fearful. Because they are guilty, they feel like God is out to get them, to wreak revenge on them. And thus they interpret this gracious act in a negative sense.

Do you do the same? Do you realize that, if you are in Christ, if you belong to Him, everything God sends you is gracious? Or are you like Judah at this point, so afraid of God that he doesn’t recognize God’s grace when he sees it?

The brothers return home and tell their father most of what happened. But there are some things they don’t tell him:

Jacob is angered that they even mentioned Benjamin to this powerful Egyptian, and doesn’t want them to return to Egypt with him. Reuben then makes a stupid suggestion: Jacob can kill his sons if Benjamin doesn’t return. This is not very comforting, is it. If Jacob loses his favorite son, he can kill two of his grandchildren as compensation! Once again, as always after he has sexual relations with one of his father’s wives (35:22), Reuben is completely ineffectual.

But look at Jacob’s statement in verse 38. Imagine that you are Judah. How would you react to this statement?

"My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is the only one left. If harm should happen to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol." Genesis 42:38

You are Judah. You ARE his son! But it’s like he doesn’t recognize you at all! He considers Benjamin to be the only son he has left!

This sort of statement is what irritated the brothers so much initially. And it could irritate them more now. It could increase the rift in the family. Does it? Are the brothers once again angry and jealous? The events of chapters 43 and 44 answer that question.

Chapter 43 opens later, after they’ve eaten the grain they brought on their first trip. Jacob wants them to return, but Judah tells him that is pointless unless Benjamin accompanies them. Look at what he says in 43:8-9:

And Judah said to Israel his father, "Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.

Unlike Reuben, Judah makes a timely, reasonable pledge to Jacob. He will bear the responsibility. Jacob accepts the pledge, putting his faith in God:

May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved. Genesis 43:14

So they return. When Joseph sees them, before he speaks to them, he has his steward invite the men to his house for the noon meal.

Once again, being presented with grace, Judah and his brothers worry about retribution. Their guilt is still real. They interpret their invitation to Joseph’s house as the first step toward slavery!

And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph's house, and they said, "It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys." Genesis 43:18

Of course Joseph could have done those deeds anywhere, at any time, with no questions asked. He was the second most powerful man in Egypt! If he decided to do something, there was no legal redress available. His brothers cannot accept any gift, however, without feeling the weight of their guilt.

Joseph, however, treats them as honored guests, having their feet washed, feeding their donkeys, and bringing Simeon to them. When Joseph appears, they give him a present from their father, and – finally fulfilling Joseph’ dream – all bow down to the ground before him – twice (verses 26 and 28).

Joseph is overwhelmed by emotion as he sees his only full brother, Benjamin – the only one of his brothers not involved in selling him into slavery. He has to leave the room to cry privately – but controlling himself comes back to complete the test.

Joseph stays in character, not eating in the same room as his brothers, for:

Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. Genesis 43:32

Indeed, this is one of God’s reasons for sending the Israelites to Egypt. The Canaanites wanted to assimilate the Israelites, and Judah in particular was complying. The Egyptians had no such desire; the Israelites could live in Egypt for centuries and not lose their identity.

Joseph keeps Judah and his brothers off guard by seating them in accordance with their age and birthright. Since the ten oldest were all within seven years of each other, no one unfamiliar with the family could have done that. Verse 33 tells us, “They looked at one another in amazement.”

Now begins Joseph’s task of seeing if their jealousy and anger against him and Benjamin persists. They clearly have not tried to sell Benjamin into slavery – but given the opportunity, will they express jealousy and abandon him? So he tries to stir up such jealousy, giving everyone plenty to eat, but giving Benjamin five times as much. Nothing happens. All are merry and content.

So then Joseph instructs his steward to put his valuable silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. In the morning, when the brothers leave, Joseph sends the steward after them. He accuses Judah and the others of stealing the cup; they respond in with incredulity:

They said to him, "Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing! 8 Behold, the money that we found in the mouths of our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord's house? 9 Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord's servants." Genesis 44:7-9

The steward rejects their plan, saying only the guilty one will be punished - and that punishment will be slavery, not death.

The steward – knowing where the cup is and knowing their ages from the night before – starts examining each man’s sack in order of their age. Imagine Judah’s thoughts as the steward does this. Perhaps, after making that bold statement of innocence, the old feelings of guilt return. Perhaps he is worried that the God who put money in their sacks the first time might put something more incriminating in their sacks this time. So the steward opens Reuben’s sack – and there is his money, once again! The steward could accuse Reuben of stealing – but does not. He just keeps looking. Judah must feel relieved. Then Simeon – just released from prison – and once again, the money is there! This must begin to concern Judah. Given that these men have something in their sacks which they did not put in, perhaps that cup will appear, as retribution for their decades-old crime! But one by one, the steward opens the sacks of all the guilty parties – and nothing is there. Only Benjamin is left. And he is innocent. Judah must breath a sigh of relief. God has not punished them. So the steward opens Benjamin’s sack – and there it is! The silver cup! The steward accuses the only innocent one among them, and wants to take him back to Egypt.

Judah and his brothers decide that all must return together and declare Benjamin’s innocence. And Judah makes a plan he keeps to himself.

When they return to Joseph, Judah asks as spokesman:

And Judah said, "What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord's servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found." Genesis 44:16

Do you see that Judah both maintains his innocence and says he is guilty? The question, “How can we clear ourselves,” implies that they are innocent. Which they are, concerning the stealing of the cup. But then he says, “God has found out the guilt of your servants.” That old guilt! In Judah’s eyes, God is paying them back in a way they never suspected – through Benjamin! So they all must suffer. Judah offers for ALL to become slaves.

Joseph refuses this offer, telling Judah and the others to go home in peace. Only Benjamin must stay.

With his offer rejected, Judah knows what he must do. He approaches Joseph privately and begs for the opportunity to speak.

What follows is one of the most beautiful speeches in all the Bible. Let me pick it up in verse 19:

My lord asked his servants, saying, 'Have you a father, or a brother?' 20 And we said to my lord, 'We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother's children, and his father loves him.' 21 Then you said to your servants, 'Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.' 22 We said to my lord, 'The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.' 23 When you said to your servants, 'Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall not see my face again.' 24 "When we went back to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25 And when our father said, 'Go again, buy us a little food,' 26 we said, 'We cannot go down. If our youngest brother goes with us, then we will go down. For we cannot see the man's face unless our youngest brother is with us.' 27 Then your servant my father said to us, 'You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One left me, and I said, Surely he has been torn to pieces, and I have never seen him since. 29 If you take this one also from me, and harm happens to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in evil to Sheol.' 30 "Now therefore, as soon as I come to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy's life, 31 as soon as he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. 32 For your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, 'If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.' 33 Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. 34 For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father." Genesis 44:19-34

What is Judah’s motivation here? Why does he offer to become a slave? For whom is he laying down his life?

Benjamin? Judah’s offer will save Benjamin from slavery, but that’s not his primary motivation.

His primary motivation is love for his father.

Note that Judah even quotes Jacob’s hurtful words that relegate Judah and the others not born of Rachel to second-class status. Nevertheless, Judah loves his imperfect father and is willing to lay down his life so that his father might not die.

One commentator says, “Judah so feels for his father that he begs to sacrifice himself for a brother more loved than himself.”

Judah is now God’s man.

Judah now loves his father so much that:

He becomes his father’s servant. He sacrifices himself for his father.

How does Joseph respond? We’ll see next week. But for now, let’s consider how Judah’s actions picture the work of his descendent Jesus Christ:

Judah and Jesus

We’ve seen several pictures of Jesus so far in Genesis:

As we’ve noted before, today we make films about historical characters, in which someone living today plays the role of someone who lived in the past. God, who sees the future, does the opposite: He sometimes has people act out ahead of time what will happen in the future.

Just so Judah here. His actions prefigure the work of Jesus.

Consider the similarities and differences of Judah and Jesus:

You might think, “Jesus didn’t die for His Father – He died for the world!” But consider John 12:27-28. Jesus, confronted with His imminent death, says:

27 "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.  28 Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."

Do you see? First and foremost, Jesus died for the glory of His Father! Yes, he died for the world – just as Judah substituted himself for Benjamin. Judah’s action appears to save Benjamin, and Jesus’ action saves us. But both are motivated primarily to serve their Father.

Hold on to that thought about Jesus. He loves us with a love beyond our imagining. But Jesus Himself is God-centered. His death is primarily about the glory of God.

But Judah and Jesus are different in other ways:

·        Judah had committed gross sins. He has a continuous sense of his guilt. He obviously deserved punishment. He lays down his life for Jacob and Benjamin, both of whom are more righteous than he.

·        Jesus, on the other hand, was without sin. He died for those worse than himself.

Thus, Judah’s action is more readily understood than Jesus’. Judah’s love is not as great as Jesus’.

Consider Romans 5:6-8: 

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person- though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-  8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Judah dared to lay down his life for a good person – his father. This is commendable – rather like Sidney Carton at the end of A Tale of Two Cities. But Jesus laid down his life for sinners, for the guilty, for the ungodly.

My friends: You are guilty. You are condemned. You are the ungodly. You are without hope on your own. But there is one who was willing to die in your place, to take your penalty.

Don’t be fearful of God’s grace!

Don’t spend all your life in fear of retribution for what you have done!

Repent! Believe! Trust!

Jesus died for the ungodly! Jesus died for sinners!

So ask Him to change your heart. Ask him for forgiveness of all.

Judah laid down his life for his father and brother.

Jesus laid down his life so that the glory of His Father might be shown – in YOU.

So fulfill the purpose of your creation! Accept the gift of forgiveness.

And then step out to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 10/31/04. Commentaries by Bruce Waltke (Genesis: A Commentary, Zondervan, 2001), and James Montgomery Boice (Genesis: An Expositional Commentary: Volume 3, Genesis 37-50, Baker, 1985, 1998) were helpful in the preparation of this sermon. The quote above is from Waltke, p. 562, quoting Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative.

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