I think something important happened in Genesis 44. Judah offered himself up in place of his brother Benjamin. Do you remember how Cain despised his brother and eventually killed him, and then Cain asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).
Judah moved in exactly the opposite direction. Judah became his brother’s keeper.
This is pretty amazing when you consider the course of Judah’s life. Think about the way Judah withheld his only son from Tamar, whom he seemed to think was some kind of man-eater. And now Judah was giving himself up for the sake of his brother – and his father.
This is called sacrifice. And perhaps we can understand how it might be fitting that Jesus emerged from the tribe of Judah.
We don’t know everything that motivated Judah, but we can construct a best-case scenario for the things that drove Judah to do what he did. We can make Judah look pretty good, and I am OK with that.
Judah must have looked around and seen that his family was on the brink of starvation. And his father, Jacob, was worried. He told his sons to go back to Egypt to buy more food. Of course, they could not do that. The overlord in Egypt – Joseph – told them not to come back without their youngest brother, Benjamin, the favored son of Jacob.
Jacob did not want to let Benjamin go. Benjamin was the remaining son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. And I suspect Jacob figured the heritage of the family of God would pass through Benjamin. Or perhaps Jacob only hoped so. Being the oldest son wasn’t a guarantee of being the one with the birthright and the blessing, as Jacob’s own life proved.
So Jacob said he wouldn’t let Benjamin go.
This was a real predicament. The family was starving. Food was available. They just had to pry Benjamin away from his father for a short period of time. And, of course, we can’t forget the fact that their brother Simeon already was held captive in Egypt. I’m sure Simeon also was hoping Benjamin could come down.
And so Judah must have figured this was his time. At least this is how I picture it. Again, I am happy to paint Judah in the most positive light possible in this moment.
This was Judah’s time to do something important – to put his life aside for the sake of his family’s.
Perhaps Judah also was remembering his lost brother Joseph. It was Judah’s idea to sell Joseph into slavery (Genesis 37:26-27).
Maybe Judah looked at his father and looked at his brothers and their wives and children. And Maybe Judah knew in a moment that this was his calling in life – to serve as the substitute, to give his life as a ransom for many.
And he did the same thing once the brothers got to Egypt and Joseph schemed them into a bad situation. Judah was ready to give up his life for Benjamin. “Now therefore, please let your servant (Judah) remain instead of the boy …”
This is powerful stuff. As we will see, it changed the whole trajectory of the family. It showed Joseph what he needed to see about his brothers. They did care for one another. This was a family.
In the end, Judah’s offering of himself was the catalyst that brought the family of Israel back together. The man who once sold his brother into slavery was offering to go into slavery for the sake of his brother. The man who once abandoned his daughter-in-law into widowhood was asking to be abandoned himself.
Judah seemed to have made up his mind. He was resolute. He was pouring himself out for his brothers.
The apostle Paul used that terminology in his letter to the Philippians. “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you” (Philippians 2:17).
Paul gave us the idea of faithful service as a sacrifice. Paul was pouring himself out for God, and he was pouring himself out of the sake of his fellow Christians, his brothers and sisters in the faith. And we know the various ways Paul sacrificed for Christ and the church (2 Corinthians 10:24-28).
Judah and Paul give us a picture of living for a higher purpose, something more lasting than our own individual lives. And that purpose was the gospel of Jesus Christ. Judah didn’t know this in full, of course. But he knew something about brotherhood and family, and he likely knew something about the promise of God to his great-grandfather, Abraham.
Judah’s sacrificial act was part of the advancing of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so, of course, was Paul’s.
What about us? Are you willing “to be poured out as a drink offering” for the sake of Jesus Christ and his church?
Sacrifice is not something that comes easily to us, and it gets harder as we go along.
As children, we sacrifice very little. We are people who simply take. We are consumers. We want, and we receive. We might say “thank you,” and we might not.
As we grow up, we learn to sacrifice ourselves.
The first major sacrifice many of us make is to our spouses. We learn to set aside our own preferences in order to love this other person.
Frankly, this is relatively easy. But sacrifices get harder as we go along.
The next major sacrifice many of us make is for our children. We give up A LOT of things we might like to do for the sake of these little ones. And these little ones may not be grateful. There may be times when they give us headaches in return for our sacrifices. But again, this is relatively easy. But the sacrifices get harder.
The next major sacrifice is likely to involve one’s aging parents. This gets difficult quickly – financially, emotionally, logistically. And some of you know better than I how difficult it can be. And the question becomes at some point: What am I willing to give up in order to honor my parents as I’ve been commanded by God? (Ephesians 6:1-3).
I’ve seen a lot of Christians shirk this command and avoid this sacrifice. This is difficult. Judah didn’t shirk this sacrifice. Neither did Jesus.
I think one of the final major sacrifices for Christians, and this is a persistent one throughout our walk with Christ, is the one we make to our church families. This is the most difficult sacrifice of all, I think – to pour ourselves out as drink offerings for our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s a difficult sacrifice because it’s so easy to shirk. We can find easy excuses to avoid making sacrifices for our church families.
This sacrifice is harder than sacrificing for our spouses. It’s harder than sacrificing for our children. And it’s harder than sacrificing for our parents. Oftentimes, we don’t even like some of the members of our church families. And again, it is so easy to find reasons to avoid it. Just say you are too busy or too tired, and you are good to go. Sacrifice avoided. The temptation is real and persistent. And that’s what makes the sacrifice so difficult to make.
And I’ve seen a lot of Christians shirk this sacrifice. It is difficult. But Paul didn’t shirk this sacrifice. Neither did Jesus.
So here is a question for you today: What are you willing to give up of yours for the sake of your spouses, your children, your parents, and your church family? Christians are responsible for all these relationships in their lives. If you care to look it up, you will find ample biblical evidence for that.
And this is the way of Christ (Galatians 2:20).