Sometimes people with a track record of bad choices surprise you and do the right thing. That’s what happens in today’s reading, and for the first time in the Bible it leads to real reconciliation between brothers. It also sets Judah and his descendants on a new course.
Joseph’s brothers return to Egypt in need of food, even though it means taking Israel’s beloved son, Benjamin, with them. Joseph’s heart is moved deeply when he sees his younger brother, but he continues to hide his identity as he plants false evidence against his brothers and then threatens to imprison Benjamin. His pretended cruelty is part of a plan to reveal the true character of his brothers, and his plan works. Despite the shortcomings we’ve seen in him up until now, Judah offers himself as a prisoner in place of Benjamin.
“Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.” Genesis 44:33-34
Judah was the one had suggested selling Joseph as a slave twenty years earlier (though perhaps he did it partly to avoid murder). Judah was the one who impregnated his daughter-in-law when she disguised herself as a prostitute. But now, here he is, humbly offering himself as a substitute to receive the punishment for a brother. His selfless action opens the floodgates of forgiveness in Joseph’s heart. His offer also foreshadows the action his descendant, Jesus of Nazareth, will one day make for all mankind by dying in our place for our crimes.
Judah’s father recognizes the potential in his son when he gives his final blessing before he dies (see my December 9, 2013 post about the importance of blessings).
“The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.” Genesis 49:10
And this blessing finds its ultimate fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ.