Judah (Hebrew: יהוּדה, Yəhûḏāh; "to praise"), (b. 2249 AM or 1755 BC), was the fourth son of Jacob by Leah. He is the ancestor of the Tribe of Judah, one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Some notable descedants of Judah are David, Solomon, and Jesus Christ.
Judah's early life
Judah's First Sons
In 2265 AM (1739 BC), Judah moved away to live in an Adullamite village. There he befriended a local named Hirah, and also took a local wife. She bore him three sons in this order: Er, Onan, and Shelah. The Bible does not say how soon apart they were born, but they were probably born about one year apart, beginning in 2266 AM (1738 BC).
The Plot against Joseph
In 2276 AM (1728 BC), Judah and his brothers hatched a plot against their brother Joseph. At least most of the brothers wanted to kill Joseph (Genesis 37:18). But, when Reuben, the eldest brother, heard of the plot, Reuben tried by clever means to rescue Joseph (Genesis 37:21-23). Then, when all the brothers saw a group of Ishmaelite and Midianite traders (Genesis 37:25) passing by, Judah suggested that, while there could be no profit to them in killing Joseph, there certainly would be a profit in selling Joseph to these traders. Killing Joseph, he said, would gain them nothing, and would require them to conceal their act (Genesis 37:26). This is the third mention of Judah in the Bible, and is the first act which the Bible records of all of Judah's acts. It was a praiseworthy act, in that it spared Joseph's life. Further, it easily can be argued that Judah was motivated to it by brotherly love for Joseph (Genesis 37:27), but that Judah didn't want his brothers to know that this was his real motive lest they consider changing their minds again about not killing Joseph. So, in terms of all the texts concerning Judah, and of all the texts concerning Joseph, this is the most defining moment in Judah's life, and the most critical moment in Joseph's (Genesis 37:26 is the 1,110th verse).
Judah would not hear of Joseph again for about another twenty years.
Five years later (2281 AM/1723 BC), two of Judah's three sons died. Er was perhaps fifteen years of age when Judah arranged for him to marry a young woman named Tamar. The Bible says only that Er was a wicked man in God's sight, and that God took his life. So Judah instructed his next younger son Onan to marry Tamar next and to sire a son who would be Er's son, according to the levirate obligation. But Onan did not wish to honor this obligation, and so whenever he was intimate with Tamar he made sure that he would not impregnate her. It is after these acts of Onan that the sin of onanism is named.
God found this act displeasing, and so Onan died as well. Judah, in fear that Shelah also would not survive, told Tamar to wait until Shelah was "grown up" and wear widow's garments until then. In fact, Judah did not summon Tamar when Shelah attained his majority.
Perhaps in the next year (2282 AM/1722 BC), Judah's first wife died. Judah and his friend Hirah went to Timnath to supervise the annual sheep-shearing. (This is usually done in the springtime, so that the sheep will not overheat in summer.) Tamar heard about it, and also heard that by now Shelah had attained his majority—and Judah had not summoned her to marry Shelah.
Tamar then traveled to Timnath, but instead of her widow's clothes, she wore the veil of a harlot. She then sat openly on the road, so that Judah would see her—but Judah did not realize whom he was talking to. He asked her price for her services, and she asked him to make her an offer. He offered a young goat from his flock, and she then demanded a pledge. That pledge was his signet ring, his bracelets, and his staff, or rod.
Judah agreed to give the pledge, and he was intimate with her and made her pregnant. Tamar did not stay in Timnath; instead she returned to her father's house and resumed her widow's clothes. Judah sent his friend Hirah with the goat, but by then Tamar was gone, and the villagers said that they never had a prostitute in that place. Judah decided to let the (to him) unknown prostitute keep his pledges, because he did not want the villagers to laugh at him if he came twice on the same seemingly foolish errand.
Three months later, Judah's neighbors told him that his daughter-in-law had been found pregnant out-of-wedlock. Judah ordered her brought before him to be burned at the stake. But when she appeared, she had Judah's signet ring, bracelets, and staff. Judah acknowledged them as his, and even acknowledged his own faults in the affair, including his own failure to let her marry Shelah when the time had come. He never was intimate with Tamar again.
The time for Tamar's delivery was probably the winter of 2283 AM. Judah was probably three months less than 34 years old at the time. Tamar was found to be pregnant with twins. As one boy thrust his arm out, the midwife attending Tamar tied a bright red cord around it. But the other boy still was born first, and the midwife said, "How did you break out first?" And so this boy was named Pharez, whose name means "a breach" or "breaking out." The other boy was born next, and he was given the name Zerah, which name means "bright red."
Judah returned to his own father's house, taking Tamar and his twin sons with him. When this occurred, the Bible does not say, but it must have occurred on or before 2296 AM (1708 BC), when famine struck the Middle East. For reasons that, again, the Bible does not disclose, Judah emerged as the leader of his brothers. (Perhaps Jacob had disqualified Reuben after Reuben had dallied with Bilhah, and Jacob had then disqualified Simeon and Levi after their hotheaded actions at Shechem; see Dinah.)
Judah led two expeditions to Egypt to buy grain for the family. The first expedition nearly ended in disaster, because the viceroy of Egypt accused them all of espionage. Reuben reminded his brothers that he had warned them against their earlier plot against Joseph. (They did not know who the viceroy was, but Reuben was telling them that they were getting their just due.)
Eventually the viceroy released them, with an ample supply of food. Furthermore, when they came back to Jacob, they found their money still in their sacks.
The viceroy had told them that if they didn't bring Benjamin with them, they would not be allowed into Egypt again. So Judah prevailed upon his father to send Benjamin with them. Judah said that he would personally guarantee Benjamin's safety. Jacob advised them to take back the money that they had found still in their sacks, plus an additional double price for a second supply of grain.
The brothers arrived, and the viceroy entertained them very graciously, paying special attention to Benjamin. And again the viceroy sent them back, with as much grain as they could carry and with all their money restored. But this time, Egyptian soldiers arrested them and brought them back before the viceroy, who proceeded to accuse them of stealing a silver cup from his house. The soldiers searched the men's effects—and found the cup in Benjamin's sack.
At this disaster, Judah confessed that when they had earlier said that one of their brothers was no more, that was not completely accurate. He then described the plot to sell Joseph, and the earlier deceit of their father. He finished by saying that he could not let another son of Jacob's be lost to him.What happened next shocked Judah and his brothers to the core. First, the viceroy ordered everyone else in the room to leave. Then the viceroy wept before them, and said,
I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? Genesis 45:3 (KJV)
Judah and the others were speechless, so the viceroy repeated himself. He was indeed Joseph, whom they had earlier sold into slavery. He then said that they should not be angry with themselves, because Joseph had to come to Egypt to be put in charge of its affairs at this critical time.
Entry into Egypt
Joseph requisitioned several wagons and sent Judah and his brothers back with them to Canaan, with instructions to load all their goods onto the wagons and come to Egypt to live. Judah and the others returned to Jacob and told them all that had happened. Jacob needed convincing, but the wagon train was evidence enough.
Judah came to Egypt permanently on 2298 AM (1706 BC). He was 49 years old at the time, and had twin sons who were about fifteen years old. The Bible mentions that Judah's grandsons also entered Egypt at this time, so his sons probably married as early in their lives as Er had done, almost seventeen years earlier.At his deathbed, Jacob said this to Judah:
Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons will bow down to you. You are a lion's cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk. Genesis 49:8-12
How long Judah lived in Egypt after his arrival, the Bible does not say.
Significance of the name
It was from the name Judah that the Kingdom of Judah was named after the partition of Israel following King Solomon's demise (1 Kings 11:31; 12:17-21). This kingdom was made up of the Tribe of Judah and the Tribe of Benjamin. Centuries later, after Alexander the Great and then Pompey the Great conquered the land, it was known as Judea. It is from the name Judea that the English name Jew is derived.
- James Ussher. The Annals of the World. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003, pgh. 121.
- Genesis 38:1-2
- Genesis 38:3-5
- Jones, Floyd N. The Chronology of the New Testament. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004, pp. 62-67 and Chart 3f.
- Genesis 37:26-27
- Genesis 38:6
- Genesis 38:7
- Genesis 38:8-9
- Genesis 38:10-11
- Schoenian, Susan. "Sheep 101: Shearing." Sheep 101, November 15, 2006. Accessed November 11, 2008.
- Genesis 38:14-18
- Genesis 38:19-23
- Genesis 38:24-26
- Genesis 38:27-30
- Genesis 42
- Genesis 43
- Genesis 44
- Genesis 45