Judah’s story is long, twisted and bizarre, so I will spare you the biblical references here and invite you to join me on a narrative. If you would like to read it (and I encourage you to), you will have to read it from Genesis–much of it.
Judah began life as something of a beduin and ended it as a guest of honor in Egypt, In between he had something of a troubled life. Born to a father who had four wives, he wasn’t the firstborn. That wasn’t in his favor in those days. He wasn’t born to the wife that his father truly loved. That was also not in his favor (see Ishmael). But it gets worse.
As were the rest of his brothers, Judah was jealous of Joseph. So he did the only reasonable thing he could. He decided that Joseph needed to die. Judah decided that the eldest son from the beloved wife needed to die a quick death until the eldest of all talked him into simply selling him into slavery. Problem solved, Joseph was out of the way. But it gets worse.
Dinah, one of Jacob’s daughters, one day was raped by a man from Shechem. Enraged by this, Judah, along with his brothers, devised a plan for revenge. Instead of giving Dinah in marriage to the man, which may have been their custom in the first place, the brothers Israel told the men of Shechem that one of them could marry Dinah only if they were circumcised like the sons of Jacob were.
The men of Shechem bought this ruse, and agreed to be circumcised as adults. Because this left them in a bit of uncomfortable and unseemly pain, all the men were lying around in their houses waiting for the pain to subside when Judah and his brothers carried out their plan. Instead of giving Dinah in marriage to her rapist, the brothers descended on the unsuspecting men of Shechem and killed them all while they recovered from their painful surgeries. But it gets worse.
Judah married a woman who gave him three sons. When the eldest became old enough, Judah found a wife for him named Tamar. Now the details are sketchy here, but for some reason God decided he had to die, so Judah asked his younger brother to get Tamar pregnant so his older brother could have offspring in his name. Strange, but apparently totally normal at the time. Again, the details are sketchy, but God decided this brother had to die, too.
Judah had one more son and he wasn’t about to give him over to this widow maker, so he lied to Tamar. Instead of letting her marry his third son, he sent her home to wait for a day that would never come. After some time, Tamar realized that Judah had no intention of letting her marry his youngest son, so she waited for an opportunity to get what she wanted.
Some time later, Judah’s wife died, and he found himself in the position to happen upon a prostitute, which he happily availed himself of. There was a problem with this prostitute, however. First, she wasn’t a prostitute; at least not a professional one. Second, her name was Tamar. This one evening of meaningless intercourse resulted in twin boys which Judah accepted as his sons.
So, with all these notches in his belt, you would think that God would have stricken Judah’s name from the biblical record, right?
God Is Good
Not only did Judah receive the greatest blessing from his father Jacob (greater than Joseph), he was the son that all the great kings of Israel (minus Saul) would descend from. He was to be the ancestor of David, Solomon and yes, Jesus. Judah is the very name that we get the word “Jew” from today. He is the central name of Israel besides his father Israel himself. The messiah Himself was to come from his genetic line.
No matter how bad your life has been, God has purpose and plans for you. No matter what you’ve done, God can redeem it, and He is often very good at it. No matter how bad your story, God has biblical examples of worse that He turns around.
God was good to Judah, and he totally didn’t deserve it. The good news, the gospel, in fact, is that God will be good to you too and you totally don’t deserve it.
None of us do.