Judah’s Plea

 

 

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers.” GEN 44:33

Judah, the 4th son of Jacob, is an extremely interesting character, and at the same time a wonderful illustration of the Doctrine of Regeneration. On the one hand, Judah is associated with the “lion of Judah,” and the kingdom of Judah which represent the power and royalty of the Lord’s Divine Love. On the other hand, his name is the origin of the name “Jew” which was applied to the last and most natural of the Israelitish churches, and he is also linked with Judas the betrayer because they both represent people who are strongly motivated by the love of money.

Judah’s life is closely tied to that of his brother Joseph. When Jacob sent Joseph out to find his brothers, to observe how well they were caring for the flocks, and then to report back to Jacob, the brothers plotted to kill him even as he approached – before he even said anything to him – and threw him into a pit to keep him out of the way while they decided what to do next. It was as they were casually discussing how they were going to kill him that Judah saw a passing caravan. That gave him the idea that they could get rid of him permanently and yet derive some profit from it if they sold him into slavery in Egypt. The brothers agreed to the plan.

Before they could get back to the pit, some passing Midianites found Joseph in the well. They too thought it would be a good idea to sell him into slavery in Egypt – so they did, and the brother’s have to return home empty handed.

The story in Genesis goes on to follow Joseph’s life in Potiphar’s house, and the betrayal that leads to him being unjustly sent to prison. And then the story abruptly returns to Judah. Genesis tells us that Judah is now a widower. His eldest son is married to a woman named Tamar, but he dies leaving her childless. According to the custom of the day, Judah instructed his second son to give her an heir. But he refused to do what was right by her. Because he disobeyed, the Lord struck him dead. The sense of the letter indicates that Judah blames Tamar for the loss of his two sons and, rather than risk giving her to another of his sons, he instead sends her home to her family. This may sound reasonable, and even wise to us, but in those days and in that culture, it was a deadly insult to Tamar and her family.

Tamar still needs a son to protect her and support her in her old age. So she disguises herself as a prostitute and offers herself to Judah. He doesn’t recognize her, and accepts the offer. He doesn’t have any money with him, so he gives her a distinctive staff that he carried as a promise of later payment. Some time later, Tamar is discovered to be pregnant, and there is a huge uproar. Judah is especially upset that she would dishonour his family so – but when he arrives to take part in her punishment, she calmly hands him his staff and all becomes clear. More importantly, we see a different Judah. He admits that he was wrong to send her away, that he had treated her poorly, and he publicly takes responsibility for her situation and makes amends by promising to take care of her in the future.

Having shown us this development in Judah’s character, the story then returns to the main theme, describing the terrible famine that afflicts the land of Canaan. Perhaps the reason for this digression is that we would never understand the contrast between our first view of Judah and what happens next if we hadn’t had this glimpse of Judah’s developing character.

We also see from the sense of the letter that during the famine, Judah has emerged as the leader of the sons. Their first trip to Egypt goes badly. A very powerful Egyptian (who happens to be their own brother Joseph) accuses them of being spies because they brag to him that they are the twelve sons of one man, forgetting that only ten of them are present. The Egyptian takes Simeon hostage and sends them back to Canaan with instructions to return with the missing brother, or they would not get any more food.

Back in Canaan, Jacob decided to let Simeon stay in the Egyptian prison – he wasn’t going to have Benjamin going to that dangerous place. But, eventually the famine was so severe that they had to do something or die. And when Judah simply states that he will be personally responsible for Benjamin on the journey, Jacob relents and allows the brothers to return to Egypt.

Once back in Egypt, however, Joseph’s trap is sprung on Benjamin. After being imprisoned for three days they are brought before the Man again and told that they are free to go and that Benjamin alone will remain in Egypt. The sons are faced with a terrible dilemma – can they return to their father with the news that the other son of his beloved Rachel is lost too?

But [Joseph] said, “…the man in whose hand the cup was found, he shall be my slave. And as for you, go up in peace to your father.”1

The offer is simple and clear: give me what I want, and the rest of you can go free. If it had been 20 years ago and Joseph was the hostage, they would have abandoned him in a minute. Perhaps, this is what Joseph is expecting. We all have a hard time recognizing that people can change, can grow during the process of time, in spite of the fact that our entire doctrine is centred around the process of people changing for the better over time. We call it “regeneration.

Judah asserts his role as leader and spokesman of the group and addresses the Man. He begins by setting a respectful tone:

Then Judah came near to him and said: “O my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s hearing, and do not let your anger burn against your servant; for you are even like Pharaoh.2

Judah then tries to explain the mix-up about the question of whether they were twelve or ten sons.

My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, who is young; his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’ And we said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would Die.’” 3

Judah now gently suggests that this whole thing is Joseph’s fault because he is making unreasonable demands that will be harmful to their elderly father.

But you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall see my face no more.’ So it was, when we went up to your servant my father, that we told him the words of my lord. And our father said, ‘Go back and buy us a little food.’ But we said, ‘We cannot go down; if our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down; for we may not see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ ”4

We are pretty sure that Judah does not know that it’s Joseph he’s speaking to, but he sure hits the spot with his next point.

Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; and the one went out from me, and I said, “Surely he is torn to pieces”; and I have not seen him since. But if you take this one also from me, and calamity befalls him, you shall bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave.’ ”5

He’s given him an emotional connection to the events, and now he simply and clearly says that if this happens, the old man will die. Judah then, to the surprise of Joseph takes responsibility for Benjamin’s safety and his father onto himself.

Now therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad’s life, it will happen, when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die. So your servants will bring down the gray hair of your servant our father with sorrow to the grave. For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father Forever.’” 6

Now, listen to Judah’s final point and remember that this is the same man who once wanted to murder his brother Joseph, but decided that a life of slavery would both get rid of him and turn a nice profit.

Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest perhaps I see the evil that would come upon my father?”7

Judah offers his own life in the place of Benjamin! This action, this decision, is the event that causes Joseph to be emotionally overcome, and then reveal himself to them.

If we think about these events from the perspective that Judah represents the kind of change of character that we can expect through the lifelong process of regeneration, and if we see that Joseph here, as elsewhere, represents the Lord, we get an very important teaching. It shows that our own view of the Lord can change as our spiritual life matures.

We begin with an arrogant view of the Lord – Joseph as the young dreamer. What he says may in fact be true, but we simply don’t want to listen to it. Later, when we have begun to act from self-discipline and live a life of civil and moral good we see Him as a powerful, but faceless Man who has authority over us but acts in ways that are partly known, and yet partly mysterious. Finally, at the end of the process, when love to the Lord begins to rule in the mind, the Lord reveals Himself to us and we finally recognize the Man, and see Him as someone we can know and love.

The change in Judah during the course of this story also shows the amount of spiritual change that it is possible for a person to undergo during life in the world as sins are discovered and shunned. He begins as a man who casually discusses killing his brother, and then decides it’s better to sell him into slavery because that way a profit can be made while getting rid of him. He ends the series as a man with much to lose who makes a choice to put the needs of others ahead of his own, to actually give up his life for the sake of others. It is this act that makes it possible for us to understand how Judah represents love to the Lord because there is no greater love than the willingness to give up one’s own life for the sake of another.

If Judah can change his character so dramatically during the course of his life, so can each and every one of us. We are able to rise above the basest hereditary desires. Every day can be a step forward. We can become self-disciplined and self-motivated to live according to civil law. We can learn to think rationally and morally and come to love the neighbour as ourselves. And, the Lord has promised that if we continue down the path that the Lord has laid out for us, we can come to that place where our love for the neighbour becomes love to the Lord because we are finally ready to put the welfare of others ahead of our needs and desires simply because the Lord has asked us to.

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. (John 15:13-14) Amen.

First Lesson: GEN 44:17-34

(GEN 44:17-34) But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so; the man in whose hand the cup was found, he shall be my slave. And as for you, go up in peace to your father.” {18} Then Judah came near to him and said: “O my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s hearing, and do not let your anger burn against your servant; for you are even like Pharaoh. {19} “My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ {20} “And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, who is young; his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ {21} “Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’ {22} “And we said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ {23} “But you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall see my face no more.’ {24} “So it was, when we went up to your servant my father, that we told him the words of my lord. {25} “And our father said, ‘Go back and buy us a little food.’ {26} “But we said, ‘We cannot go down; if our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down; for we may not see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ {27} “Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; {28} ‘and the one went out from me, and I said, “Surely he is torn to pieces”; and I have not seen him since. {29} ‘But if you take this one also from me, and calamity befalls him, you shall bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave.’ {30} “Now therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad’s life, {31} “it will happen, when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die. So your servants will bring down the gray hair of your servant our father with sorrow to the grave. {32} “For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father forever.’ {33} “Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. {34} “For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest perhaps I see the evil that would come upon my father?” Amen.

Second Lesson:

The Word cannot be understood without doctrine. This is because the Word in the sense of the letter consists exclusively of correspondences, to the end that things spiritual and celestial may be simultaneous or together therein, and that every word may be their container and support. For this reason, in some places in the sense of the letter the truths are not naked, but clothed, and are then called appearances of truth. Many truths also are accommodated to the capacity of simple folk, who do not uplift their thoughts above such things as they see before their eyes. There are also some things that appear like contradictions, although the Word when viewed in its own light contains no contradiction. And again in certain passages in the Prophets, names of persons and places are gathered together from which, in the letter, no sense can be elicited, as in those passages adduced above (n. 15). Such being the Word in the sense of the letter, it is evident that it cannot be understood without doctrine.

But to illustrate this by examples. It is said,

That Jehovah repents (EXO. 32:12, 14; Jonah 3:9; 4:2); And also That Jehovah does not repent (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29).

Without doctrine these passages cannot be reconciled. It is said

That Jehovah visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth generation (Num. 14:18); And it is also said that The father shall not die for the son, nor the son for the father, but everyone for his own sin (Deut. 24:16).

Interpreted by doctrine these passages are not discordant, but are in agreement…. [5] The Lord says,

Judge not, that ye be not judged; for with what judgement ye judge ye shall be judged (Matt. 7:1-2; Luke 6:37).

Without doctrine this might be cited to confirm the notion that it is not to be said of what is evil that it is evil, thus that an evil person is not to be judged to be evil; yet according to doctrine it is lawful to judge, but justly; for the Lord says, Judge righteous judgement (John 7:24)….

Other things like these exist in the Word, from which it plainly appears that the Word cannot be understood without doctrine. Amen.

 

  1. 1GEN 44:17

  1. 244:18

  1. 344:19-22

  1. 444:23-26

  1. 544:27-29

  1. 644:30-32

  1. 744:33-34

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