Even though the remaining chapters of Genesis focus on Joseph, it is through Judah that Yahweh decides to continue the chosen line (Terah to Judah family chart). The attention on Judah in Gen. 38 and again later, when he takes the lead in Egypt upon the brothers’ reunion with Joseph, shows that the story is just as much about him as it is Joseph.

Joseph's Dreams

Jacob favored Joseph because he was the son of Rachel, his favorite wife (Gen. 37:3-4). This did not go unnoticed by the other brothers, who hated Joseph for it. The coat that Jacob gave to Joseph was not a robe of many colors, as traditionally remembered, but a richly ornamented robe, most likely seen in the tassels. In the ancient Near East, the tassels on the hem of a robe showed what family you belonged to and your position in the family. It could be that Jacob gave a robe to Joseph that marked him as having a higher rank above the other brothers, even though he was the youngest, and perhaps that was why they hated him. Joseph’s being more righteous than his brothers could be due his brothers being raised in the earlier part of Jacob’s life, whereas Joseph was raised by a father who had changed and come to know Yahweh better.

Yahweh gave Joseph two dreams in which He indicated that Joseph would be a ruler over his family one day (Gen. 37:5-11). It is not clear why Joseph told his brothers and fathers these dreams, but what is clear is that it caused them to hate him all the more. It is revealed later that Joseph was destined to be a ruler in order to save his family from the famine that would kill them and that he was the only one sufficiently mature and sensitive to the will of Yahweh to save them. The whole story revolves around Joseph becoming ruler in order to save the family. Thus

Satan used the brothers’ hatred of Joseph in order to try to kill the one who would save the line of Abraham. However, you can see the struggle here when even though the brothers want to kill Joseph there are two that step in order to try and save Joseph. Although Reuben, the firstborn, initially tried to save Joseph from his brothers’ scheme by having him thrown into a cistern, his attempt was flawed, and his reason was selfish (Gen. 37:21-24). The flaw was in that he never came up with an alternative plan and walked away from the group, leaving Joseph unprotected. His reason for wanting to prevent Joseph’s murder was not because killing Joseph was wrong, but because he feared what his father would do to him for allowing anything to happen to Joseph (Gen. 37:29-30). Judah, on the other hand, does a “better job” of saving his brother, even though what he did was also wrong (Gen. 37:26-28). What marks Judah as different from the other brothers was that he at least acknowledged that they should not kill their brother because murder was wrong (Gen. 37:27). This is the first hint of the potential for Judah’s character to become better.

Judah and Tamar

The inclusion of this story serves two purposes: first, to show how the line of Judah was continued, and, second, to demonstrate a change in Judah’s character.

The narrator tells the reader that Judah had married a Canaanite, which was not in obedience to Yahweh’s will. Judah’s firstborn son married Tamar, but because he was evil in Yahweh’s sight, Yahweh killed him (Gen. 38:6-7). Judah then gave Tamar to his next son, Onan, in accordance with the Levirate marriage law. But Onan refused to provide a child since creating an heir meant losing his dead brother’s inheritance to that child. So Yahweh killed him, too (Gen. 38:8-10). Judah refused to give Tamar to his next son, thinking that she was cursed, so there was no heir for Judah (Gen. 38:11). This would have ended the family line.

Tamar, wanting to be a part of the covenant blessings of Yahweh, disguised herself as a temple prostitute so that when Judah came to sleep with her (thinking she was prostitute), he would provide her with a son, who would continue Judah’s family line. Upon discovering her trickery and the reasons for it, Judah declared her as more righteous than he (Gen. 38:26). Even though she made herself a part of the covenant blessings of Yahweh in an unrighteous way, she desired the covenant blessings of Yahweh more than Judah, who was already a part of the covenant family. Here we see that Tamar kept the line of Judah/Christ going (Matt. 1:3). Also, Judah began to appreciate the importance of the covenant blessings of Yahweh.

Joseph in Egypt

In Egypt Joseph was bought by Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Here Joseph was faithful to Yahweh, so Yahweh blessed him, and he was given charge over everything in Potiphar’s house (Gen. 39:2). Yet Satan sought to destroy him by tempting him through Potiphar’s wife, a plot that failed because of Joseph’s obedience to Yahweh. Still, he was falsely accused and thrown into jail. Once again, Yahweh was with Joseph and brought him favor in the sight of the warden, who appointed him head of the prison (Gen. 39:21-23).

Joseph correctly interpreted the dreams of the baker, who would later die, and the cupbearer who would be restored back to his former position. Despite the momentary gratitude of the cupbearer, Joseph was forgotten. The reoccurring theme in Gen. 39-40 is that the kingdom of Satan is keeping Joseph from becoming what Yahweh has promised him he would become, ruler.

Two years later, he was remembered when Pharaoh had two distressing dreams that he needed to have interpreted. Joseph interpreted the dreams as seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Despite Joseph’s years of trials, he had become an incredible man of Yahweh by constantly giving Him the glory (Gen. 41:25, 28, 32).

In order to make preparations for the coming famine, Joseph was appointed the second highest in command in Egypt. Not only had Joseph finally been given what Yahweh had promised him, but now it was revealed why Yahweh had wanted him to have rulership. Joseph was to save his family from the famine so that the Abrahamic line and covenant would continue.

When the brothers came to Egypt in order to buy grain, Joseph did not immediately reveal himself to them but rather tested them to see if they had changed. He favored Benjamin (his only full-blood brother) over the others (Gen. 43:31-34) and also set up Benjamin as a thief, making him the source of their problems (Gen. 44:1-15). When Joseph was favored by his father and became the source of his brothers’ problems, they wanted to kill him and sold him into slavery. Now he wanted to learn if they would do the same to Benjamin. However, they did not. In fact, Joseph was going to take Benjamin as his slave for the crime of stealing, but Judah stepped forward and offered to be Joseph’s slave in Benjamin’s place (Gen. 44:14-34).

At this point Joseph could not bear to keep his cover, for he had seen that his brothers had changed, so he revealed himself to them. They were afraid that he would kill them, but Joseph assured them that he had forgiven them by telling them that what they intended for evil, Yahweh used for good (Gen. 10:19). Thus Joseph brought them and Jacob to the land of Goshen in order to provide for them and keep the Abrahamic line alive during the famine.

Israel's Blessings

In Gen. 49 Jacob blessed his children, and through the guidance of Yahweh’s spirit he prophesied their future. Reuben, his oldest son, lost the firstborn title (Gen. 49:3-4) because of his sin of sleeping with Jacob’s wife Bilhah (Gen. 35:22). In that instance, Rueben had tried to seize headship of the family when he wanted it by taking one Jacob’s wives for himself. In the ancient Near East, taking the wife/wives of your father before or after his death was a way of securing the headship of the tribe or nation.

Simeon and Levi, who were next in line, also lost the firstborn title (Gen. 49:5-7) because of their sin of killing all the males in the city of Shechem (Gen. 34).

Judah, the fourth born, actually received the firstborn title (Gen. 49:8-12) due to his character changing over time, his willingness to take the lead in the family, and his demonstrating his willingness to sacrifice himself for Benjamin. Judah’s blessing becomes the first prophecy in the Bible that specifically references a messianic king. Judah is called a lion’s cub, which is an allusion to the idea that the prophecy of the messiah would become full grown in the person of Jesus Christ, the Lion of Judah. The scepter (image of authority) would not depart from Judah until it had come to the one to whom it belonged. The one is Jesus Christ, the Messiah. The imagery of the donkey communicates the idea of kingship. When Solomon was crowned as a king, he was taken through the city on a donkey (1 Kgs. 1:33). The imagery of the grapevine and wine communicates the idea of abundance, prosperity, and blessings. Thus the messiah’s kingship would be tied to an abundance of prosperity and blessing. His eyes dark with wine means his character and personality will be that of one who wants to pour out blessings on his people. The idea of his teeth being white as milk also communicates blessings. Without sugar in the culture, milk was rich and sweet and thus a rare blessing. Similarly, the messiah’s words would bring sweet blessings to the people. It is thus through the line of Judah that the messiah would come (Terah to Judah family chart).

While Judah received the headship part of the firstborn title, it was Joseph who got the double land portion of the firstborn title. In fact, Joseph did not become a tribe; rather, his two sons would become tribes in his place when Jacob blessed them as if they were his own sons (Gen. 48:12-22). It was through Judah’s continuing the Abrahamic line biologically and Joseph’s saving the Abrahamic line that Yahweh continued the line of Christ throughout history. The Patriarchs section ends with the beginning of what would become the nation of Israel.