Summary: Judah was the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. He failed, several times, but God forgave him and gave him a future to be proud of.

Introduction: Each of Jacob’s twelve sons was different from the others. That goes without saying, as any parent of more than one child will probably agree! Judah was the fourth son of Jacob and Leah and his name is related to the Hebrew word for “praise (Gen. 29:35)”. Some of his deeds might have caused his parents to do anything but praise, but at the end, Judah did indeed prove himself worthy.

1 His first failure: selling his brother to foreigners

Text, Genesis 37:25-28, KJV: 25 And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt. 26 And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? 27 Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content. 28 Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.

In the context (Genesis 37), Joseph had shared some of his dreams and, to put it mildly, none of his family believed him. They hated him, as he was the next to youngest, and also Dad’s favorite. Jacob sent Joseph from Hebron, where they were living, to Shechem, where the other ten brothers were feeding their flocks. Joseph arrived in Shechem and then discovered they were in Dothan, so he went there.

Before Joseph arrived, though, the brothers saw him and decided they wanted to kill him! To Reuben’s credit, he said “NO!” and planned to send him back. They found a pit (a dry well or some kind of hole) and then ate lunch! Chances are they didn’t share anything with Joseph.

About that time, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites and Midianites heading to Egypt. Now here was Judah’s first failure: he came up with the idea of selling Joseph to these foreign traders! He had said, “What profit is it if we kill our brother (he couldn’t even say his name!)? Let’s sell him, and that way we won’t have to worry about him anymore”. The Midianite merchantmen—not Joseph’s brothers—pulled Joseph out of the pit. They in turn sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. That wasn’t much of a profit. Each brother got, on average, two pieces. Small profit indeed for such an awful thing to do, and that to your own brother.

None of them ever forgot this, even years later when they came to Egypt and saw Joseph—whom they didn’t recognize—have Simeon bound and held hostage. This guilt may have led Judah to take a break from the family. At least, something happened, and that something led to more of Judah’s failures.

2 His next failures: the wasted years in Canaan

Text, Genesis 38:1-5, KJV: 1 And it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down from his brethren, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. 2 And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her. 3 And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er. 4 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan. 5 And she yet again conceived, and bare a son; and called his name Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bare him.

Nothing is mentioned in the Scriptures about what the ten oldest sons of Jacob discussed as they made their way back home from Dothan. They had decided to lie to their father about Joseph, using his coat, dipped in animal blood, as “proof” he was dead; and they each had two pieces of silver, blood money from selling Joseph to foreign traders. Maybe there was nothing to say.

Judah, the one who had suggested the sale of Joseph, seems to have been affected the most. It was probably just after they arrived back home that Judah decided to leave home and settle somewhere else. He found a certain Adullamite, named Hirah, and stayed with him. He also married a Canaanite girl, the daughter of Shuah. She bore Judah three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah; they had moved to Chezib (also called Achzib in some commentaries) before Shelah was born. Judah and his family seemed to be content, if not happy, as they lived there until Er, the oldest son, was married to a girl named Tamar (38:6).

If by now you haven’t noticed at least a couple of failures, apparently neither did Judah. First, he had no business leaving his family and second, he had no business moving 20-30 miles away from Hebron, Jacob’s residence at the time. Second, he had no business marrying a foreign woman, who may not have even been a believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Third, he had no business marrying his son to another Canaanite woman, Tamar, who again may have never been a believer in the God of Judah. Many years later, Paul the apostle would write these words: “Don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-15, paraphrased).” Perhaps he had this episode in mind when the Holy Spirit guided him in his writings.

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