When I was 8 years old, I had to build a car. I didn’t know anything about cars. How was I supposed to build something I knew nothing about? Thankfully, my assignment was only a little wooden stock car, but I didn’t know anything about woodworking either. So I worried I would never get to join the stock car race with my friends.
God provided me with the help of a man from my church who knew more about cars than I knew about everything in my life put together. He showed me how to shape and smooth a car from a block of wood. He took care of the difficult details and let me add the paint and decals. Thanks to him, my car won a race and earned me a trophy.
But I didn’t deserve that trophy. I hadn’t done the work; my architect did. I just showed up and rolled the car down the track. So why should I get rewarded for something I didn’t earn?
I bet Judah, Jacob’s fourth son, felt the way I did when his father blessed him on his deathbed. As Jacob prophesied concerning his sons, his promise to Judah was greater than all others: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people” (Genesis 49:10). This prophecy revealed that Jesus the Messiah, the King of kings, would be born of Judah’s line. So, what was so special about Judah?
An Unworthy Candidate
Judah wasn’t the firstborn—Reuben was. Judah’s mother was Leah, not his father’s preferred bride, Rachel, whose sons were Joseph and Benjamin. God consecrated the line of Levi, not Judah, as the tribe of priests that made intercession between God and the Israelites. So, why did Judah receive the greatest blessing among Jacob’s sons?
Though selling Joseph into slavery was cruel, God used Judah’s act to rescue Joseph from death and ultimately lead him to prominence in Egypt, allowing him to save his brothers’ lives and countless others from starvation.
Scripture characterizes Judah not as upright but as wicked. A whole chapter of Scripture (Genesis 38) records his sin of soliciting prostitution from his own daughter-in-law Tamar. His children only left a greater stain on his legacy. The Lord put his first two sons, Er and Onan, to death for their immorality (vv. 7, 10).
But God used this flawed son of Jacob for His greater purposes. When Joseph’s brothers threw him in a pit and left him to die, Judah suggested that they draw him out of the pit and sell him instead of letting him die (37:26–27). Though selling Joseph into slavery was cruel, God used Judah’s act to rescue Joseph from death and ultimately lead him to prominence in Egypt, allowing him to save his brothers’ lives and countless others from starvation.
God even magnified Judah’s most notable sin as part of the divine privilege only a handful of humans have ever enjoyed. Judah’s sinful union with Tamar resulted in the birth of twins, Perez and Zerah.
Like the children of Judah’s grandfather, Isaac, Judah’s children’s unusual births foreshadowed their reversal of blessings. Isaac’s son Esau was born first, but his twin, Jacob, grabbed Esau’s heel as he was born. Years later, Jacob grabbed his father’s blessing and birthright from his brother deceitfully. Then, in the moment Jacob’s son Judah became a father, Zerah reached his hand out, which was tied with a scarlet thread. But his twin Perez then breached first unexpectedly, earning his name, which means “breach” in Hebrew.
Though both Jacob and Perez usurped their brothers, God granted Judah, his father, and his son the great privilege of being part of the line of the Messiah.
Grace on the Grand Scale
You might bristle at God’s choosing of Judah. Why didn’t He choose the heroic and godly Joseph as the Messiah’s ancestor? Why not Reuben, Levi, or Benjamin?
In college my professor taught about Jacob one morning. As we studied Jacob’s many missteps and deceptions, it bothered me that this man who cheated his brother out of his birthright and blessing (25:29–34; 27:1–29) and who challenged and wrestled God (32:22–32) could be so richly blessed as a key figure in Jesus’ line.
“Aren’t you glad God offers you the same grace He offered Jacob?”
I caught up with my professor after class to discuss his lecture, including my reservations with Jacob’s deceit and subsequent blessing. When I asked why God chose Him to be such a key figure, my professor answered, “Aren’t you glad God offers you the same grace He offered Jacob?”
His question made me realize how sinful I am and how gracious God is toward me. I shouldn’t even register as a blip on His radar, yet Christ’s death and resurrection have given me access to a wealth of riches in Him that I could never earn. As God blessed Jacob despite his sins, He also blessed Judah despite his sin in His divine grace.
Judah’s success deserves recognition too. When Joseph held authority in Egypt, he met the brothers who had betrayed him many years earlier but did not recognize him then. Joseph tested them and arranged to separate his younger brother, Benjamin, from his older brothers.
Judah believed the pain of losing Benjamin would kill his father, so he offered to trade himself as a sacrifice and bear Joseph’s wrath, petitioning him, “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?” (44:33–34). Immediately, Joseph made himself known to his brothers, resulting in reconciliation and harmony for their family.
Judah’s story should resonate with us. We have all sinned against Him and fallen short of His glory (Romans 3:23). Yet, by His matchless grace, He invites us to take part in the blessings of Jesus the Messiah. We can find salvation from our sins by placing our faith in Him, and we can be called sons of God (Galatians 3:26).
God’s goodness toward Judah shows us the unsurpassable grace He has granted us. Judah’s privilege in Jesus’ line shouldn’t anger us but rather comfort us, knowing God blesses us far beyond what we deserve. And our greatest blessings were bought by Judah’s descendant, Jesus, who purchased our redemption to save us from our sins.