The Story of Judah – Genesis 38
The story suddenly shifts for a while, back to Canaan, and concentrates now on the brother whose suggestion it was to sell Joseph into slavery, Judah. Some of what we read in this chapter about sons marrying brothers’ widows and so on is strange to us. For now, we just need to accept it as we read it, because this was simply normal custom for that time.
Some of this chapter’s importance for us is to help understand the mindset and customs of that era. It was vitally important to people then, and even in tribal cultures of today, that family bloodlines are carried on. We’ll come back to that in a few minutes.
First, I’d like to focus on Judah, because it was out of Judah that would come the Jewish people and the eventual Messiah, Jesus. That is, Judah would now carry the torch as the continuing line of covenant promise that began with Judah’s great-grandfather, Abraham. Judah was Jacob’s 4th son, and was a son of Leah, one of the two legal wives of Jacob; Jacob’s first 4 sons were all born by Leah.
In trying to figure out why Judah was mentioned so prominently in the previous chapter, as the one who perpetrated the selling of Joseph, and now in this chapter as the one who thought he was sleeping with a prostitute, but instead, it was his widowed daughter-in-law, we need to take notice of the state of the family of Israel, the clan of Jacob.
It’s entirely possible, and probable, that Judah had viewed his brother, or better, half-brother, Joseph as a rival (remember, Judah was born to Leah, and Joseph born to Rachel).
Why a rival?
Because, Judah may have seen himself as the one now due the firstborn blessing and all the wealth and authority that went with it.
Why would he think that?
As we’ll see later, Jacob had decided that Rueben (even though he was Jacob’s firstborn son) would not receive the firstborn blessing, because Rueben had slept with Jacob’s concubine, Bilah.
And, Simeon and Levi, the next two in line, were also deemed unworthy to inherit the firstborn blessing Rueben forfeited, because they were the two who led the raid on the males of Shechem, killing them in revenge for the rape of their sister, Dinah.
So, it would naturally SEEM to follow that Judah, the 4th in line, would become the inheritor of the firstborn blessing. But, Joseph having been given the tunic of royalty and being openly favored by his father, appeared to indicate to Judah’s mind that Jacob was leaning towards, or perhaps had already decided to bypass his first 10 sons (which included Judah), and give all rights and authority over the clan to Joseph; this, of course, would not have settled well with Judah.
Now, here’s the irony of all of this: this wrestling for power (that the teenaged Joseph was utterly oblivious to) was but the beginning of the rivalry between Judah and Joseph…or, better yet…their descendants.
For these two brothers represent those people who would eventually become the two dominate tribes of Israel: Judah and Ephraim. Some of you are probably saying, wait a minute:
I thought we were talking about Judah and Joseph, how did Ephraim jump in here?
As we’ll see in a few chapters, Ephraim, an Egyptian-born son of Joseph (that is, born to Joseph’s Egyptian wife), would effectively replace Joseph as a tribe of Israel. In fact, Jacob would actually adopt Ephraim (and his older brother Manesseh) away from Joseph, for the purpose of replacing Rueben.
And, centuries after that, Judah and Ephraim would become the two Israelite Kingdoms that were created after the split of the nation of Israel as it existed under David and Solomon.
And, the descendants of Judah and Ephraim would find themselves warring against each other, off an on, until Assyria finally conquered the Northern Kingdom of Ephraim, and scattered the 10 tribes of Israel which constituted Ephraim throughout the far reaches of Asia.
So, beginning from the time Joseph was a young man, right on through to today, the descendants of Judah and the descendants of Joseph, by way of Ephraim, have been at odds with one another.
It is interesting that in the prophecy of Ezekiel 37, that a time is foretold, that Israel will cease to exist as a nation, yet become a nation back in the land of it’s beginnings.
Further, that Judah and Ephraim will come back to the land, and be ruled under one king…..a descendant of King David…..for all time. Judah came back to the Middle East in 1948, reconstituted the nation of Israel in the same place it was before it was destroyed, some 2000 years earlier.
But, what of Ephraim?
Well those “Joseph” tribes have been making news of late. We have traditionally talked of “the 10 lost tribes of Israel” when referencing the tribes of Ephraim. Ephraim had NOT returned to Israel, but Judah had.
Well, for several years now, large tribes of people, scattered around Asia and India have been claiming that THEY are some those lost tribes. After nearly 20 years of investigation, the Jewish Religious leadership of Israel has determined that indeed they ARE Ephraim, and they have convinced the Israeli government of that fact. So, as of March 2005, some of these tribes of Ephraim have been invited to immigrate to Israel. The prophecy of Ezekiel 37 is underway.
But, there is still a problem: the Judaism that modern Jews practice is different (to varying degrees) than the way these various Ephraimite tribes practice their beliefs in Torah.
Just as it started with the man, Judah, and the man, Joseph… and as it has happened since Judah sold Joseph into slavery and he wound up in Egypt…. Judah and the Joseph tribes (Ephraim) are still at odds.
Judah, the Jews, have told Ephraim that they MUST adopt the Jewish traditions and basically convert to Judaism in order to return to Israel. Those of Ephraim, who are desperate to come to Israel, have agreed.
But, you can bet that this is not the end of the story. I suspect that as the return of Ephraim heats up, so will their resistances to completely adopting the ways of Judah.
To be continued…