Summary: God’s grace is shown in the fact that He would allow Jesus to be born through the line of Judah. Taken from Jim Cymbala’s book Fresh Faith.
If you would turn your Bibles to the very first page of the New Testament, where the opening lines say,
A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar.
A lot of people avoid the genealogies of Christ but I like them because they are nice and orderly. This passage sets down a clear track from Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, to Jesus, so that everyone in the first century would know that this Messiah was honest-to-goodness Jewish. Along the way, that track runs straight through Judah and his family.
Then, please Turn with me to one of the last pages of the New Testament, Revelation 5:1-5, the apostle John writes,
I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals"
I believe that it is wonderful that while many others were disqualified, someone who came from the tribe of Judah met the standard to open the mysteries of God. That someone, of course, was Jesus Christ.
So Judah must have been quite a godly man, right? Of all of Jacob’s twelve sons, only he is mentioned in the genealogy of Christ. The other eleven were passed over by God. At the climax of history in heaven, it is Judah’s offspring who is hailed as worthy when all others fail the test. When we get to heaven someday, we will no doubt continue to hear Judah’s name often.
But what do we really know about this man Judah?
Judah gets a whole chapter of the Bible to himself Genesis 38-and that is the best place to get acquainted with him. If you have the stomach for it, that is.
The story begins with Judah drifting away from the rest of the family and marrying a Canaanite woman. That was his first mistake.
His uncle, Esau, had already been down that road, getting into a mess by marrying outside of those who served the one true God. As a result, Judah’s grandparents had gone to great lengths to make sure their other son, Jacob, didn’t make the same error.
They told him in no uncertain terms to avoid Canaanite women and sent him on a long trip to find the right kind of wife.
But Judah disregarded their counsel entirely. He married "the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua".
The children born to them apparently grew up getting mixed messages about the true God versus Canaan’s idols. The bad results showed up quickly in the first son, who turned out to be so wicked that the Lord put him to death in early adulthood.
That left behind a young widow named Tamar. Judah asked his second son to marry her, as was the social requirement in those days. But the son selfishly refused. Because of this, God had him killed off also.
Judah now procrastinated about giving his third son, Shelah, to Tamar. The years went by, and Tamar kept waiting. She was getting past her prime, and she was lonely.
Finally, she heard about a trip her father-in-law, Judah, was going to take. It was sheep-shearing time, which was payday for those in the sheep business. Money flowed and people partied. To Tamar, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to carry out a terrible plan. She covered her face with some kind of shawl and posed along the road as a prostitute.
The Bible records that Judah, "not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, . . . went over to her by the roadside and asked about her services. He offered to pay her a young goat from the flock," but she requested a deposit until it showed up. Judah happily gave her his signet ring, its cord, and the shepherd’s staff that he had. The result of the whole ordeal was that Tamar became pregnant with twins. Judah went home none the wiser.
When the news came out that Tamar was having a baby, Judah threw a fit. How dare his daughter-in-law cause disgrace on the family! "Bring her out and have her burned to death!" he stormed.