The website for futurologist Leonard Sweet is called “Preach the Story.” The thesis of the website is that in all the little stories of the Bible there is the embedded big story of God’s plan to rescue the world through Jesus. That is very much in evidence in our text today where Judah’s speech to save Benjamin’s life showed his repentance and sent Joseph over the emotional cliff.
Other famous Bible people made “substitution” speeches. God had his fill of the disobedience of the Israelites and was ready to wipe the nation out and start over with Moses (Numbers 14:11, 12), but Moses interceded for the people and stayed the judgment of God (vv. 13-19). When the remnant of Israel was to be annihilated, Esther stood in the gap with her famous line, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). Even Paul was willing to go to Hell if it would mean salvation for the Jewish people (Romans 9:3).
He Set Up the Transaction
Genesis 37:26, 27
Joseph had few filters. When he spilled the beans about his dreams to his brothers, it did not endear him to his siblings (Genesis 37:1-11). When his brothers had a chance to do Joseph in, they took full advantage of it (vv. 12-24). Judah’s speech ended up sparing Joseph’s life and God used it to preserve his promise.
A caravan of Ishmaelites provided Judah with just the right opportunity for this first transaction. No profit (unjust gain) would be gained from murdering Joseph and then concealing (covering) his blood. Judah suggested selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites (they were family members from their distant past, sons of Ishmael). The thinking was that Joseph was a brother and their own flesh (kin). The transaction was made for 20 shekels.
He Reviewed the History
We fast forward to the cat-and-mouse game that Joseph played with his brothers later in the story. Jacob sent the brothers to Egypt in search of food during the famine. Joseph’s identity was kept from the brothers as they navigated the tricky relationship with this second-in-command of the nation of Egypt. This was now the third time that the brothers had appeared before Joseph. The famous cup was found in Benjamin’s grain sack so he would be forced to stay in Egypt as Joseph’s servant. Judah spoke up, recounted Israel’s history, and harkened back to the pledge he made to his father (Genesis 43:8-10).
Judah addressed Joseph as lord (five times). Judah, on the other hand, referred to himself as the servant. Some form of that word occurs nine times in this text. It refers to Judah, his brothers, and their father, Jacob. Judah begged (prayed, beseeched, or entreated) Joseph for a hearing as he acknowledged Joseph’s status (like Pharaoh) and pled for his anger not to burn against him.
Then Judah launched into the historical review. Judah gave the details of the family tree: the father (Jacob) was still alive, Benjamin was the child of Jacob’s old age, and His brother is dead (a clear reference to Joseph). Father Jacob did not want to lose another son and at first refused to allow Benjamin to go back to Egypt with his brothers. The brothers explained to their father that no Benjamin meant no food. So the brothers brought Benjamin back to Egypt against their father’s desires because Joseph had insisted. From Jacob’s perspective Rachel had born him two sons. One left (went out), and was surely torn to pieces, and he had never seen him since (another clear reference to Joseph). If something happened to Benjamin, then Jacob’s gray hairs would be brought down in evil to Sheol.
He Became the Transaction
Judah put his life on the line. Essentially the paragraph says, “Take me instead of Benjamin.” Judah informed Joseph that since Jacob’s life was bound up (tied up) with Benjamin, if he did not return, Jacob would go to Sheol in sorrow (grief or anguish).
Judah became a pledge of safety (surety) and would bear the blame (incur the penalty by sin) for his brother Benjamin. Judah himself became the transaction for his brother. This was the final straw. The willingness of his brother Judah to substitute himself for Benjamin elicited an emotional response from Joseph. The next chapter reveals how Joseph sent the Egyptians out of the room. Then he revealed his true identity to his brothers. Judah had repented of his former evil. God blessed his willingness to be a substitute in one of the most moving petitions of the entire Old Testament. And Jesus, the great substitute, was from which tribe?
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.