Reading through the Bible together
Finally the climax! The brothers seem awfully obtuse to me. Knowing Joseph had returned their silver once, one would think they would recheck the bags before leaving! Apparently, however, the feast dulled their fears, all seemed well. So they blithely go on their way when the police show up, alleging someone has stolen the special silver cup of Joseph. Again the brothers seem dense, immediately saying that if anyone took the cup he should be executed, and the remaining brothers would be lifelong slaves of Joseph. The police are clear, however, that there will be no death sentence, just lifelong slavery for the one with the cup. Of course, the cup is in Benjamin's sack. The favored son is in jeopardy again! How will the brothers act this time?
Judah rises to the occasion. Again he acts as leader and spokesperson for the brothers. He rehearses the history of the brothers – 11 alive, 1 dead, and then he tells how he promised himself as surety to his father about Benjamin. Judah cannot bear to see what returning home without Benjamin will do to his father and pleads with Joseph to let him substitute as a slave for Benjamin.
This is not the same Judah we saw in Gen 37-38. That Judah sold the favored son to try to gain a benefit for himself. That Judah was self-seeking, power hungry, greedy and more. But NOW Judah is trying to sell himself into slavery to save the favored son! He is no longer self-seeking, power hungry, etc. He offers to sacrifice himself–and forfeit his privileges as an heir of Jacob – to save Benjamin. Joseph sees that the brothers are not the dangerous men he knew years before and he reveals himself to them. They have freely acknowledged their guilt and somehow have changed.
I cannot here go into the dynamics of their rightful fright, nor Joseph's conciliatory spirit except to say that I believe Joseph could be so gracious because he trusted God to handle the justice issues, as seen before. What I want to close with is this:
Judah went through a radical moral transformation, from hating the favored son and seeking to harm him, to offering to self-sacrifice to save the favored son. Some Jewish commentators expound on Gen 38:26b – "and he did not lie with her again" – asserting that the incident with Tamar was a life-changing moment for Judah. And this seems plausible, for the Judah I find after Gen 38 is a radically changed man.
Judah gives us hope that we do not have to be trapped in sinful, selfish, destructive ways of living. If God can bring Judah to change, certainly He can do equally radical things with you and me. This moral transformation, including his newfound sense of self-sacrifice, makes Judah finish as co-hero with Joseph, and it is Judah, not the perfect Joseph, would become an ancestor of Christ. The good news is that God receives even the nasty Judah's into his lineage, but He won't let them remain so. God's grace transforms the hardest sinners into self-sacrificial saints.
Professor of Theology and Ethics
Southern Adventist University
Collegedale, Tennessee, USA