Judah Takes the Lead (Genesis 43:8)

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Of all the brothers that could have suggested going to Egypt to get Joseph, nobody would’ve suspected Judah. After all, Reuben had already stuck up for Joseph twice; why is he not the one pushing the return trip to Egypt?

At first glance, Judah seems the most likely candidate – to our eyes, at least. As the Bible story continues, we’ll see that Judah is the tribe that both David and Jesus will eventually come from. The tribe of Judah also received one of the largest land allotments after Israel conquered the Promised Land, including the city of Jerusalem.

We, as people living in the New Testament era, ascribe usually positive things to the tribe of Judah. At this point in the Biblical narrative though, if you’re just reading it from start to finish, Judah doesn’t have the best reputation.

Two events stand out in particular. First, Judah was the one who impregnated his daughter-in-law Tamar after mistaking her for a harlot in Genesis 38. Second, in Genesis 37, it was Judah’s idea to sell Joseph to the Midianite traders instead of killing him outright. I’ll leave the morality of the second decision for you to decide. 

This is why Judah’s character in Genesis 43 is so jarring. When the family eventually runs out of food, Judah is the one that convinces everyone to head back to Egypt, even offering up his own children as collateral for the safe return of Benjamin. 

Eventually, it’ll also be Judah that stands up to Joseph. When Joseph frames Benjamin for stealing a cup, Judah offers to take Benjamin’s place in prison (Genesis 44). He’s respectful, humble, sacrificial – all the things that the earlier version of Judah appears not to be.

Why the about face? The easiest explanation would be that all of Joseph’s brothers, including Judah, had simply grown up. At least 20 years had passed since they sold Joseph into slavery; certainly they were more mature by this point.

A better argument, in my opinion, would be that their character by this point reflected a genuine remorse at what they did to Joseph. All throughout this story is a remembrance of their sins: Reuben’s rebuke, Jacob refusing to lose Benjamin, their own mention of the fact that “one brother was dead.”

And who was at the center of that decision? Judah.

One could argue that this entire scene shows a redemption story for Judah, but I prefer to think of it as a simple story of repentance. Judah couldn’t “un sell” his brother, but he could take the place of his other brothers in prison so that the rest of the family could be together again. That’s a transformation that is noteworthy.