Look at Genesis 43, and you will see a man named Judah. He is vowing to keep his youngest brother, Benjamin, safe on a trek to Egypt. Famine has gripped their land severely, and Egypt is the only place where food can be found.
And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. 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. (Genesis 43:8-9, ESV)
If you know the story, you already know that in Egypt there is not only food but also Joseph, the long-lost, we-sold-him-into-slavery brother who is now (unbeknownst to his family) more or less the prime minister. Amazingly, the survival Judah’s family needs is resting not in the hands of an outsider but in the hands of a brother. Somewhat hilariously (maniacally?), Joseph is playing games, planting “stolen” gold cups in his brothers’ sacks of grain and keeping them all on his leash as a result.
The Joseph stuff is typically what gets noticed on first glance. But if you take a step outward, you see that Judah, not Joseph, is the big miracle of this story.
Genesis 38, a few chapters earlier, a confusing mess. A jerk of a man denies his widowed daughter-in-law the social status and familial protection that he legally owes her. In response to this, she tricks him by making herself the bait she expects he’ll take: a prostitute along the side of the road. When she’s found to be pregnant three months later, he condemns her to die by burning. Then, on the way to her execution, she presents him with his own ring and cord and staff, which were the collateral he had given in the transaction that brought about her pregnancy.
This is the introductory picture we have of Judah’s character. He is one who will treat his own brother as strictly a means for profit (Genesis 37:26), and he is one who will mistreat a vulnerable woman both cruelly and self-righteously. Until now this man has cared only for himself, to the brutal detriment of others. Need we know any more?
Yes. After Judah’s own sin with Tamar has been revealed, there is this:
“She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son …” And he did not know her again. (Genesis 38:26, ESV)
Just two sentences. But it’s safe to say this is real repentance.
The next thing we see of Judah is a man who volunteers his own life in pledge for his brother’s safety. He cannot be sure he will be able to deliver Benjamin back home to their father Israel—no, he is actually willing to bear the full guilt of everything if the worst happens. Something significant has changed here.
Judah in Genesis 43 is just a generous and faithful older brother, unless we’ve also read his backstory. With the step outward, we see this man’s actions in an astonishing new light. We are reminded, powerfully, that selflessness is a true miracle in a place where only selfishness has ruled.
There is still another step outward: to the gospel, eternity’s most remarkable miracle.
The Bible is many stories, but it is one story. The Old Testament shows how and why all of creation was looking forward to Jesus until he came. The New Testament shows how and why all of history was looking back on him after he left. If we fail to recognize the significance of this, we’ll read a story about Joseph and his brothers and probably come away with a tidy moral lesson for ourselves or a nice tidbit of news about God:
I should be generous and faithful like Judah.
Or I should be forgiving like Joseph.
Or Isn’t God creative, how he rescues these unsuspecting, undeserving older brothers? He sure has a sense of humor.
But Genesis 43 is part of a world looking forward. In reading it, we benefit from taking a couple steps outward. There is a message of sin, repentance, and redemption happening here, and it is a hint and a glimmer of all the fullness that is to come.
Here is that fullness: there is a Brother whose righteousness has never been found lacking. He is One who has always wanted ultimate good for all his brothers—so much that he volunteered for death in order to bring it about for them. This Brother not only pledges his life for another, but he has actually given it.
Before he came, the selfishness of sin was our only rule. Death was our only future. Now we have access to righteousness because he offers his righteousness to us. We can live eternally—eternally!—in the presence of this One who gave his all for our good.
The promise of him is written on every page of the Bible. He is the One to whom every other story leads: Jesus Christ, from the line of Judah.
This post originally appeared on PickYourPortion.com