So much of the story of Joseph in the Bible is not just about Joseph. It’s really the story of Joseph and Judah. Jacob preferred Rachel over Leah, but God chose Leah to bear the child (Judah) who would be the ancestor of Christ (Luke 3:33-34, Matthew 1:2-3). Judah’s offspring would also be part of the main tribe of Israel.
Just like God chose Jacob over Esau, He chose Judah over Reuben, Simeon, and Levi.
Judah committed great immorality, and he didn’t have the record of holiness and purity that Joseph did. But there are signs that Judah repented. We skip Genesis 38 in Sunday School because it’s R rated, and it’s understandable that we do. (But it does contrast greatly with Genesis 39.)
It was Judah who saved Joseph’s life originally in Genesis 37, even if his motives weren’t good. He advocated selling Joseph into slavery rather than killing him. But more importantly, it was Judah who later would be willing to self sacrifice at great cost. He was willing to sacrifice himself for his brothers and father.
“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. 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,” Judah says in Gen. 44:33-34.
We often talk about how Joseph felt compassion when seeing his brothers again, and how he was not vengeful on him. But he broke down in tears after Judah stepped up, became the spokesperson for his family, and showed that he was willing to sacrifice himself.
Repentance is often described as a “turning around.” Judah was proving what Joseph hoped for: that his brothers were changed. Instead of sacrificing someone else for self, Judah was proving to be willing to sacrifice self for others.
And despite Judah’s great immorality in Genesis 38, there’s no mention of it in Jacob’s blessings on his sons in Genesis 49. “Judah, your brothers shall praise you, your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you.” Gen. 49:8
Jacob didn’t forget about the sins of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi in Gen. 49:4-7! But no mention of Judah’s sins in Gen. 49.
Yes, Joseph is a great model and someone who loved God dearly and who maintained his holiness. But let’s also not miss Judah in the story. A man of great sin who evidently changed. A man who was willing to sacrifice self. A man who stepped up when the oldest faltered.
The Messiah, the Savior who came to mankind to save us from our sins (Matt. 1:21), would come from Judah’s tribe.
“The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Revelation 5:5b