Thursday, February 12, 2009

Genesis 44:14-34 - Judah's Transformation

Judah, the fourth born of Jacob, eventually gained ascendency in Jacob's family, exceeding Reuben the firstborn and Joseph the beloved, to become the one through whom the Messiah would come. It was he who incited his brothers to sell Joseph away to the Midianites (Genesis 37:26). They all (save Reuben who was not present) listened to him (Genesis 37:27, 29), suggesting that he had some amount of leadership and influence over his brothers. He must have been a rugged shepherd and hardened man, perhaps frustrated with a weak-minded older brother, Reuben, who slept with his father's concubine (Genesis 35:22), and with rash-spirited Numbers 2 and 3, Simeon and Levi, who killed the Hivites in revenge for Shechem's rape of Dinah (Genesis 34:26-31). But his hardness of heart and spirit caused him to live for himself. He left his family to marry a Canaanite woman and have three sons by her (Genesis 38:1-5). His first two sons died under the hand of God because of their wickedness (Genesis 38:7, 10), suggesting poor fathering on Judah's part. But he only blames Tamar as the accursed woman on whose account every one of her husbands dies, completely blind to his own sins. He would not give Shelah, his youngest son, to her, despite his promise, for fear that he too might die while married to her. In the words of Waltke, the biblical account showed that only two things mattered for Judah: sex and offspring.

In the end, he was deceived by Tamar. When he realised that it was he by whom Tamar was pregnant, he recognised his own sinfulness. Presumably, he repented for he did not continue with Tamar (Genesis 38:26). In time, when Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy grain, it was Judah who guaranteed Benjamin's safety (Genesis 43:8-9) and Jacob accepted that pledge (cf. Reuben's in Genesis 42:37). It was Judah who pleaded with Joseph to spare Benjamin and therefore Jacob's life at his own expense (Genesis 44:33-34). Judah came round.

God works in mighty, mysterious ways. He would make his children face their own sins and humble them, in order that they might arise unto greatness, not of their own doing but of the Lord's. Why did Reuben, Simeon and Levi not repent? But what does it matter for us who have the benefit of hindsight - who do we want to emulate?

Lord, the chastening is painful and wearying to the soul but I guess you are also deepening me where I have been shallow. Grant me the perseverance to follow you through and emerge a better, stronger, meeker person.

Conflict is a curious gift because it sharpens us, demanding grace and forgiveness... Someone without frictional relationships is indeed a poor soul, for we are best formed in the crucible of conflict.
~ Glenn T Stanton, 'Up for Debate,' in CT, January 2009, p.41.

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