Many people live their lives and find instances when they think, “I wish I could have another chance at that one.” No one does everything right the first time. In fact, everyone will have moments when they need and want a second chance in a particular situation. The story of Judah is no different and serves as a good example of someone who finally gets it right. Consider the commentary of D.A. Carson from his devotional work entitled For the Love of God.
Up to this point in the narrative (Genesis 44), Judah has not appeared in a very good light. When Joseph’s brothers first declare their intention to kill him (Genesis 37:19-20), two of them offer alternatives. Reuben suggests that Joseph should simply be thrown in to a pit from which he could not escape (37:21-22). This proposal had two advantages. First, murder could not then be directly ascribed to the brothers, and second, Reuben had hoped to come back later, in secret, and rescue his kid brother. Reuben was devastated when his plan did not work out (37:29-30). The other brother with an independent proposal was Judah. He argued that there was no profit in mere murder. It would be better to sell Joseph into slavery (37:25-27)–and his view prevailed.
Judah reappears in the next chapter, sleeping with his daughter-in-law (Genesis 38), and, initially at least, deploying a double standard.
Yet here in Genesis 44, Judah cuts a more heroic figure. Joseph manipulates things to have Benjamin and his brothers arrested for theft, and insists that only Benjamin will have to remain in Egypt as a slave. Perhaps Joseph’s ploy was designed to test his older brothers to see if they still resented the youngest, if they were still so hard that they could throw one of their number into slavery and chuckle that at least they themselves were free. It is Judah who intervenes, and pleads, of all things, the special love his father has for Benjamin. He even refers to Jacob’s belief that Joseph was killed by wild animals (Genesis 44:28), as if the sheer deceit and wickedness of it all had been preying on his mind for the previous quarter of a century. Judah explains how he himself promised to bring the boy back safely, and emotionally pleads, “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in the place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father” (44:33-34).
This is the high point in what we know of Judah’s pilgrimage. He offers his life in substitution for another. Perhaps in part he was motivated by a guilty conscience; if so, the genuine heroism grew out of genuine shame. He could not know that in less than two thousand years, his most illustrious descendant, in no way prompted by shame but only by obedience to His heavenly Father and by love for guilty rebels, would offer Himself as a substitute for them (Mark 14).