Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – The Second Irony of Judah (Genesis 43:8-9)

The first irony of Judah was when he, with his brothers, asked their father Israel to identify the deceitfully torn and bloodied robe of Joseph, who identified and believed their deceit and lost a son; and then when he unwittingly slept with his daughter-in-law, Tamar, who asked him to identify the signet, cord, and staff he had given her as promise of payment while she was pretending to be a prostitute. He ended up gaining two sons, one of whose line (Perez) would lead to the birth of Jesus the Christ.

Now we have a second irony, “And Judah said to Israel his father, ‘Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever'” (Genesis 43:8-9). When Joseph’s brothers had told him about their youngest living brother, Joseph thought they were lying and demanded they prove it (42:12-20). Joseph didn’t know, of course, that they were being truthful—they have a new youngest brother named Benjamin.

The irony here is that Judah does for his youngest brother Benjamin what he should’ve done for his original youngest brother, Joseph, all those years ago. Judah had a chance to spare Joseph’s life, even offer himself up in his brother’s place. Instead, it was Judah’s idea to sell Joseph into slavery rather than killing him, as if that were any better (37:26-27). (Remember, by selling Joseph into slavery, he might as well be dead, so it isn’t surprising why they thought him dead in 44:20.) And now, before his father Israel, he finally acts as an older brother should—he vows not only to protect his younger brother but even offers to take the blame upon himself should Benjamin’s fate be cruel. Then once they’re all before Joseph again, he goes even further and offers himself up in Benjamin’s place, “‘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'” (44:33).

Judah finally becomes a type of Christ, which is significant because Jesus comes from the tribe of Judah’s namesake. Judah offers to take the blame and offers himself up in Benjamin’s place, but Joseph doesn’t find that necessary. Jesus took our blame and offered Himself up in our place because it was necessary. As noted in the prior pastoral thought, blood was necessary, and only Jesus’ holy and innocent blood was sufficient to appease God’s wrath (see Hebrews 10). Offering himself up in Benjamin’s place was the only way Judah could spare his youngest brother’s life. In the same way, Jesus offering Himself up in our place was the only way to spare our lives from God’s wrath.

Saint Paul puts it best, “but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:8-9).

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