Monday, January 22, 2007

Judah grows up

Today's Old Testament reading has a bizarre story. Joseph, still incognito as an Egyptian official, plays a trick on his brothers: he has his steward put a silver cup into Benjamin's sack. Then, as the brothers head home, Joseph sends the same steward out to arrest the man who "stole" his master's cup. Of course it's Benjamin. The distraught brothers return to the city, and Judah offers to be made a slave in Benjamin's place.

It's at this point that
... Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, "Have everyone leave my presence!" So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh's household heard about it.
Genesis 45.1-2
What's this about? Why does he play such a nasty trick on them, and why is it at this point that he loses control?

I think the answers are found in Genesis 37, when Joseph's brothers were angry with him, and some of them wanted to kill him. At that time, Judah said it would be better to sell him as a slave, which is what they did. Is that why Joseph is so mean to them now, because they were so mean to him? I don't think that fits the rest of the story.

Somewhere I read the theory that Joseph set up the situation with Benjamin, parallel to his own situation, to see whether his brothers had changed at all. And look at who offered himself to be a slave in Benjamin's place. What a change! Judah gets the highly coveted "greatly exceeds expectations" award, and that's why Joseph can't control himself any longer.

Much has been written about Joseph's example and his growth, but what I notice here is how Judah grows and changes.

Which is good news for sinners like you and me. Because if a guy like Judah, who sold his brother into slavery, had sex with his son's widow (he thought he was using a prostitute), then threatened to kill her for immorality -- if a guy like that could repent and become the ancestor of King David and of Jesus Christ -- well, then you and I can turn from the past and serve the Lord by doing good. And that's good news.

posted 1/26

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