The Biggest Nut in the Tree
When Matthew sits down to write his version of the Christmas story, he begins with a list of names -- many of whom we simply don't know much about. Take Judah, for example. If I were to ask you to tell me everything you know about Judah, what would you say? "He's in the genealogy"?
Judah did, however, have a very famous little brother named Joseph -- yes, he of the "coat of many colors" fame. If I were to ask you to tell me everything you know about Joseph, you might go on and on for a while. He got that coat of many colors from his father. He had crazy dreams about how great he was going to grow up to be -- and his brothers would have to bow down to him. They eventually faked his death and sold him to some slave traders headed to Egypt. There was the whole scene with Potiphar's wife. There was the time in prison when he interpreted the dreams of the baker and the cupbearer. There was his rise to prominence and his friendship with Pharaoh. His is truly an epic story -- the longest narrative about a single character in the Book of Genesis. Movie of the week stuff.
But Judah? Not so much.
Actually, there is one whole chapter devoted to Judah, but it's hardly the stuff of sermons. It's easy to skip over because it doesn't fit the main flow of the big story -- it's almost a parenthetical story -- doesn't push the narrative forward at all. But it does give us some insight into the kind of man Judah was.
First, though, let's remember that selling Joseph into slavery was Judah's idea in the first place. Ignoring the pleas of his younger brother, Judah negotiated a price and pocketed the money, planning to take his secret to the grave.
Think that through for a minute. He fakes his brother's death and tells his parents that a wild animal ate him. Imagine watching your parents grieve through that. He keeps up this facade for 20 years.
Later, Judah had three sons. The oldest married a woman named Tamar, but he did something so bad that God struck him dead. Judah orders his next-oldest son to impregnate Tamar (so the oldest son could have a lineage). That doesn't go so well, and God strikes another one of Judah's sons dead.
Judah's third son is too young to get married, but he promises Tamar that if she'll stay in mourning, when the time comes, she can be his. For one reason or another, he does not keep this promise.
Tamar is in a vulnerable position here. An aging widow is a burden on her parents, and, with no children to care for her, there were several things that could happen to her -- none of them were very good. So, she decides to take matters into her own hands.
Dressing up as a hooker, she seduces Judah (it didn't take much seducing -- he was pretty willing). As partial payment, she takes his seal (like a signet ring) and his staff.
Months go by, and Judah receives word that Tamar is pregnant. Of course, he doesn't know she was the prostitute. He only knows that she didn't keep her end of the bargain. She was supposed to stay in mourning until he decided his youngest son was old enough to marry. Never mind the fact that he was plenty old enough & Judah had no intention of keeping his end of this bargain.
He shouts, "Bring her out and have her burned to death!"
As they're arresting her, she comes out with the seal and the staff, saying, "Tell Judah these belong to the man who knocked me up. Ask him if they look familiar."
Obviously, this stops Judah in his tracks.
Now, God is watching all of this unfold, and he thinks to himself, "I have to pick one of these 12 sons to use in Jesus' family tree. Should I pick Reuben, the oldest? Nah. Joseph the brightest? Nah. I'll go with Judah the lowest. Judah the creepiest. Judah the schemer, the liar, the hypocrite. Judah the despicable one."
Because God wants us all to know this: If Judah can get in, so can you. If God can work through Judah, he can work through you. If there's room in Jesus' family for Judah, there's room enough for you.