When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there. They fell before him to the ground. Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that a man like me can indeed practice divination?” 16 And Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.” But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my servant. But as for you, go up in peace to your father.”
Then Judah went up to him and said, “Oh, my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh himself. My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father, or a brother?’ And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’ We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall not see my face again.’
“When we went back to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. And when our father said, ‘Go again, buy us a little food,’ we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother goes with us, then we will go down. For we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. One left me, and I said, “Surely he has been torn to pieces,” and I have never seen him since. If you take this one also from me, and harm happens to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in evil to Sheol.’
“Now therefore, as soon as I come to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy’s life, as soon as he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. For your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.’ Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.” – Genesis 44:14-34 ESV
The brothers of Joseph have been accused of stealing – again – and the evidence is not in their favor. They were caught with the money intended to pay for their grain still in their sacks. Not only that, the diviner’s cup that belonged to the governor was discovered in Benjamin’s sack. Of course, they had been set up by Joseph, but they were not yet aware of that fact. All they knew was that they were in deep trouble. They were non-resident aliens accused of stealing from the second-most powerful man in Egypt. And when they were brought before this man, it was Judah who did the talking. He felt a special responsibility because he had been the one to convince Jacob to allow them to return to Egypt with Benjamin, just as the governor had commanded.
“Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.” – Genesis 43:8-9 ESV
Now everything had gone south. The worst that could happen had happened. They were standing before the governor accused of being thieves and the case against them was strong. Once again, the brothers found themselves bowing down before Joseph, just as his dreams had foreshadowed. When confronted by Joseph about their crime, Judah speaks up, but does not waste time trying to deny the facts of the case. He admits that they are guilty and all worthy of judgment. They deserve to be enslaved. Even though it was Benjamin in whose sack the governor’s goblet was found, Judah includes all the brothers in the guilt. They all agree to accept the blame and the punishment. But the governor has other plans.
“Far be it from me to do this! The man in whose hand the cup was found will become my slave, but the rest of you may go back to your father in peace.” – Genesis 44:17 NLT
As part of his test for his brothers, Joseph informs them that it is only Benjamin, their youngest brother who will remain behind as a slave. They are free to go and return to their father, Jacob. Again, this is a Joseph’s way of assessing the integrity of his brothers. Would they take advantage of the opportunity and hightail it out of town, leaving their brother a slave in Egypt? Or would they do the right thing and do whatever it took to protect their father’s favorite son? Judah provides the answer. He steps forward and takes the responsibility to appeal to the governor, keeping the commitment he had made to his father. He is going to do whatever he had to do to make sure Benjamin was returned to his father, even if it meant that he would take Benjamin’s place, remaining in Egypt as a slave. This selfless, sacrificial act should have a familiar ring to it. Judah was offering himself as a sin-substitute, willingly expressing his desire to suffer for the sins of another, so that they might set free from guilt and condemnation. Judah pleads with the governor:
“Indeed, your servant pledged security for the boy with my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I will bear the blame before my father all my life.’
“So now, please let your servant remain as my lord’s slave instead of the boy. As for the boy, let him go back with his brothers.” – Genesis 44:32-33 NLT
Judah was willing to become a slave for another. He was giving his life as a ransom, a payment for someone else. Sound familiar? It should. It would be Jesus, a descendant of Judah, who would say: “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45 NLT). Unknowingly, Judah was exhibiting the character of Christ, by leading through serving and loving through sacrifice. It would be a long time before the apostle John penned the following words, but they are exemplified in the life and actions of Judah:
This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. – 1 John 4:10-11 NLT
Judah was loving his father and his brother the best way he knew how, by offering his life as a sacrifice. This action did not go unnoticed by Jacob or by God. Years later, on his deathbed, Jacob would bless Judah, making the following prediction: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:10 ESV). It would be through the tribe of Judah that the Messiah would come. King David would come from the line of Judah, as would Solomon. Israel’s greatest days would be under the reigns of these two kings. And it will be under the Messiah’s kingship that the people of Israel will rule and reign once again. Centuries later, the angel, Gabriel, would tell Mary:
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1 30-33 ESV
Judah’s willingness to give his life as a ransom for his brother was a sign of something far greater to come. The Son of God coming to earth to give His life as a ransom for many – the sinless for the sinful. Unlike Jesus, Judah was a sinner and deserving of judgment. But his willingness to love his brother unconditionally and give his life sacrificially, is a picture of the love of Christ for mankind. As Jesus Himself would one day say, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV).