Judah’s Selfless Pledge
“Judah said to Israel his father, ‘Send the boy with me…. 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’” (Gen. 43:8–9).
Jacob was afraid when money was found in the sacks of grain from Egypt (Gen. 42:35), but he did not fear divine retribution like his sons did (v. 28b). Scholars suggest he was afraid his sons had planned some kind of a coup d’etat. His favorite son Joseph disappeared after looking for these brothers (chap. 37), and now they wanted to take his beloved Benjamin, Rachel’s other son (35:24), into the desert. Moreover, Jacob’s sons returned from Egypt with money, but no Simeon. Jacob likely surmised that the brothers sold Simeon into slavery and suspected his sons would remove Benjamin, who like Joseph, would not champion any attempt to supplant their father.
Jacob’s focus on himself supports this contention. He was indifferent to his sons by Leah, claiming Benjamin was the only son he had left after Joseph’s demise (42:38). He was refusing to live in the present, preferring to dwell inordinately on the memory of Rachel, his favorite wife. Today’s passage tells us Jacob saw their attempt to save themselves from the pharaoh’s court as a personal affront (43:6). He cared little for the safety of any son Rachel did not bear.
However, Genesis 43 also informs us that the famine’s severity and Judah’s selfless pledge prevented him from holding Benjamin back (v. 1). Judah steps forward as the leader of the clan and refuses to go back to Egypt without his youngest brother. Twice he tells his father that they have been “warned” not to return without Benjamin, and so if all of the brothers do not go into the land of the Nile, none of them can go (vv. 4–5). Judah is the oldest son still in Jacob’s favor (29:31–35; 34:30; 35:22) and the logical choice to head the expedition.
Yet Judah’s age is not his most important qualification to lead the others. Seeing that his father’s concern to preserve Benjamin alive must be satisfied, he steps forward and makes himself the guarantee of his brother’s safety (43:8–10). This is a risky and chivalrous move for Judah to make, for he is putting his life on the line for his brother. It is model behavior for the righteous ruler, seen most prominently in the life of Jesus, Judah’s greatest son through King David (Matt. 1:1), who laid down His life for His brothers (John 10:11).
Judah’s actions show him to be far different from the man who rejected Tamar and sold Joseph into slavery (Gen. 37–38). Now he is a servant of the living God. Matthew Henry says Judah, to show his repentance, “would make some amends for the irreparable injury he had done him [Jacob] by doubling his care concerning Benjamin.” Those sorry for their sin try to make amends for the harm they have done. Is there somebody to whom you need to make amends?
Passages for Further Study
- Ex. 22:1–15
- Ezek. 33:12–16
- James 2:14–26
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