In Genesis 38, Judah, the third oldest son of Jacob, comes off as self-righteous and hypocritical. But by the time we get to Genesis 44, Judah has matured. He is self-sacrificing, putting concern for his father above his own freedom. What a transformation!
When a boy is born, he is soon told how smart he is, how strong he is, how he is taller than other boys and how fast he can run – unrealistic puff. A boy becomes self-centered, his sin nature inclining him to believe what his elders are telling him.
In the next half-century, life has a way of causing him to know he is not the center of the universe after all. That others are smarter, stronger, taller and faster of foot. Hopefully he matures to the point of being concerned about others, making their lives more importance than his own. This is called maturity. Judah matures. What a transformation!
Genesis 38 Judah married a Canaanite woman. Three sons were born to this union. The first son – Er – married Tamar, but he died under God’s judgment. According to the laws of the era, the next oldest son was given to Tamar as her husband. But the second son also died, judged by God as wicked for not fulfilling his family responsibility. Tamar waited. Judah put her off, afraid that his third son, Shelah, would also somehow die. He must have thought disaster awaited anyone she married; Genesis 38:11). So he stalled, urging patience to wait for the third son to grow to marriageable age.
When the third son – having reached marriable age — was not given to Tamar, she took the initiative. Posing as a prostitute, she became intimate with Judah, gaining only his staff and personal seal for her services. When Tamar’s pregnancy became known1, Judah responded, “Bring her out and have her burned to death” (Genesis 38:24).
When Tamar brought out the staff and seal, revealing that Judah was the father of her child, Judah relented. How self-righteous can one be? How inconsistent can a person be? Judah looks bad in Genesis 38.
Fast-forward to Genesis 44. Two years of famine have ravished the land of Israel. Jacob’s sons have gone down to Egypt to buy grain. Forced to bring Benjamin, Jacob’s favorite son, the ruler of the land (Joseph, their brother who by this time was 13 years older than when sold into slavery; his appearance having changed sufficiently that they did not recognize him) spoke harshly to them.
When Joseph threatened to keep Benjamin, Judah offered to stay as a slave in place of his younger half-brother (44:33).
Awe! The transformation. The maturing of Judah. How had it come about? What made him grow up? Speaking of the attitude of the prodigal son (Luke 15), Dr. Warren Wiersbe said, “The boy said ‘give me,’ but the man said ‘Make me’” (Luke 15:11 & 19 respectively). No one “has it made,” we are all “being made.”
Here are some factors that matured Judah:
- Fear In Genesis 38, Judah’s motive for refusing to give his third son to Tamar was fear. Fear consumes large quantities of energy. Judah must have come to the conclusion that fear is generally not a good guide.
- Public Humiliation When Tamar exposed Judah as the father of her child, he was deeply humiliated, and it was fully public. His immorality with a prostitute! His judgmental “Bring her forth and let her be burned!” His failure to give his son to Tamar. His selfishness! His immaturity totally exposed. But it moved him toward maturity.
- Passage of Time As we get older, we not only have maturing experiences, but we enter more into the experiences of others. Last night (December 20, 2021) a friend shared how she was falsely accused at her work by a manipulative, flirtatious employee. Oh, how that connected with my wife and me! As time passes, we become more aware and that matures us.
A number of events occurred2 which leads me to suggest 13 years separated his immorality with Tamar (38:18) and his humble appeal to be made the slave of the Egyptian master (44:33).
The result was that Judah was ready to sacrifice himself to keep his aged father from grief. My paraphrase of his statement in Genesis 44:34 is: “Dad, your happiness and contentment mean so much to me that I will become a slave in Egypt to prevent grief from coming to you.” That’s maturity!
1. It has always amazed me that a man could have sex with a woman and not know who she was. Apparently a veil covered her face, and it was seen by the man as just business with no need for a face to be associated with a female body.
2. Time for Joseph to become the maser of Potiphar’s house (Genesis 39:2-6). Time for Joseph to win the favor and trust of the jailed such that he became in charge of the jail Genesis 39:22). Two years of being forgotten by the baker (Genesis 41:1). Two years of famine (Genesis 45:6). Travel time to / from Egypt.