In the introduction to this series we noted that along with Joseph, Judah dominates Jacob’s closing discourse in Genesis. We also noted the chronicler’s words, ‘Judah prevailed over his brethren’, 1 Chr. 5. 2. Chronicles majors on Judah, and if we consider that in a Hebrew Old Testament it is last in order, we get a clear sense that the whole of the Old Testament is framed, from beginning to end, with a focus on this tribe. Once again, God’s sovereign hand is at work.
The beginnings of God’s work with the tribe in Genesis are somewhat concealed in a narrative which children’s story books focus on – God’s deliverance through Joseph. A more careful reading though, observes God slowly manoeuvring Judah into place. In this series we are looking at the tribe, not the man, so we can but point the reader to go back to the text to have this confirmed. 1
All of these developments in the story deserve far greater treatment than we can provide here, but it is not difficult to see the gradual emergence of a leader. Judah had a shaky start, but, ultimately, he prevails over his brethren.
The first improbable thing about Judah is their name. Judah means ‘praise’. Leah felt her inferiority deeply and her elation at Judah’s birth comes from nowhere. Perhaps for a moment she stopped craving her husband’s affections, settled in the realization that she did at least have God’s favour. What an attractive thing this is. May this be an encouragement to us. That amidst circumstances which would otherwise crush and depress, we might say, ‘Now will I praise the Lord’, Gen. 29. 35.
And this is the signature of the tribe. Against the odds, defying convention, out of nowhere, again and again, Judah prevails. Is this not true of all those saved by grace? We are overcomers, those who defy the odds and the wisdom of this world to find, ultimately, that by God’s sustaining grace we will prevail. And since we prevail, then God prevails too. Praise God indeed!
As we scan the rest of the Old Testament, we can see this signature time and again. Think, for instance, of David’s selection as king. Of course, Jacob had spoken about the sceptre not departing from Judah in Genesis chapter 49 verse 10, implying they would be the ruling tribe. But David was not the obvious choice, at least in human terms. Samuel said of Jesse’s oldest, ‘surely the Lord’s anointed is before him’, but the Lord’s anointed was not to be found amongst those in the line-up, 1 Sam. 16. 6. He would be found out in the fields, amongst the flock. He would be found in the one who slew Goliath, was hounded by Saul, lost everything at Ziklag, and the great-grandson of an equally unlikely marriage in Ruth and Boaz. These are all stories which would be the stuff of legend if it wasn’t for the fact they are in God’s word. Are you faced with adverse circumstances, are you on the precipice of hopelessness – do not forget that one of the hallmarks of the faithful is that against hope, they believe in hope, Rom. 4. 18. It was precisely a recognition of our own hopelessness that brought us to faith in the first place, and, apparently, the life of faith is one in which we are frequently made to face our need, face our finiteness and cast ourselves upon the God of the impossible, Luke 1. 37.
We should not be surprised, then, to learn that God had Judah out in front when journeying through the wilderness. He chose them to lead the effort after Joshua’s campaigns. Caleb, one of only two faithful spies, Othniel, Daniel and Nehemiah, were all Judahites to name a few. The tribe’s exploits in the land meant that the Southern Kingdom simply became known as ‘Judah’, and whilst the Northern Kingdom lost its identity, Judah prevailed, spilling over into our New Testament, as Judea.
If we had not already become familiar with the remarkable story of Judah prior to the New Testament, it is all there in the genealogy of Matthew chapter 1. The line to Christ was precariously close to being extinguished at times in the past – but only humanly speaking. Psalm 2 makes it patently clear that God’s King is set in Zion. This world’s future is firmly in the hands of the ‘Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open’ the affairs which God has set in store, Rev. 5. 5. That word ‘prevailed’ is the story of the book of Revelation, appearing seventeen times throughout and, because of Calvary, it is the story of our lives too, 1 John 5. 5. Praise God!
1 Gen. 29. 35; 37. 26, 27; 38. 1-30; 43. 8, 9; 44. 14, 16, 18-34.