************ Sermon on Genesis 49:8-12,22-26 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 12, 2015
Genesis 49:8-12, 22-26
"Judah, Not Joseph"
Who is the main character of Genesis 37-50? Well, take a look at how this last section of Genesis starts:
(Gen 37:2) This is the account of Jacob. Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers ...The account of Jacob starts off with Joseph. Now, take a look at the chapter headings: Joseph's dreams, Joseph sold by his brothers, Joseph and Potiphar's wife, the cupbearer and baker, Pharaoh's dreams, Joseph in charge of Egypt, Joseph's brothers go to Egypt, the second journey to Egypt, a silver cup in a sack, Joseph makes himself known, Jacob goes to Egypt, Joseph and the famine, Manasseh and Ephraim, Jacob blesses his sons, the death of Jacob, Joseph reassures his brothers, the death of Joseph. Notice, the account of Jacob starts with Joseph tending the flocks. And, it ends with the death of Joseph. It is all about Joseph, isn't it?!
Maybe you noticed I skipped one heading. I skipped the sad, sad story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38. Why is the story of Judah inserted into the middle of the story of Joseph? And, if Joseph is the favorite son and the one who receives the birthright (cf 1 Chron 5:1-2), why does Judah receive the scepter (Gen 49:10)? On this Lord's Supper Sunday, our answers to these questions leads us to conclude that the true focus of Genesis 37-50 is not Joseph but Judah.
I A Stunning Reversal
A To see this we need to remind ourselves of the birthright and the blessing. As you know, the birthright was normally given to the oldest son who received a double portion of the inheritance and became head of the family. With the birthright came the blessing that God first gave to Abraham: a great nation, a great name, a blessing to all peoples, and especially a royal line which we know points to the Messiah (Gen 12:2-3; Gen 17:6).
Abraham gave the birthright and blessing to Isaac and not to Ishmael (Gen 25:5,11). God confirmed this blessing (Gen 25:4). And Isaac, in turn, gave the birthright and blessing to Jacob and not to Esau (Gen 27:27-29; 28:3-4) -- though he was tricked into doing so. And, again, God confirmed the blessing (Gen 28:13-15).
The next legal inheritor of the birthright was Reuben, the first-born son of Jacob; but he, like Esau, lost it; and it was given to Joseph instead. But what about the blessing of the Messiah? Listen to what is said in First Chronicles:
(1 Chr 5:1-2) [Reuben] was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father's marriage bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel; so he could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright, (2) and though Judah was the strongest of his brothers and a ruler came from him, the rights of the firstborn belonged to Joseph ...For the first time the promise of a royal line was separated from the birthright. So, the birthright was given to Joseph and the blessing of the coming Messiah was given to Judah.
B The account of Jacob begins with the famous coat of many colors. Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other sons and he made a richly ornamental robe for him (Gen 37:3). But, at the end of the narrative, it is Judah who is given a colorful garment dipped in the blood of grapes (Gen 49:11).
C At the beginning of the narrative Joseph has the dreams foretelling that his brothers and parents will bow down to him (Gen 37:5-10). But, at the end Jacob foretells that all the brothers -- including Joseph -- will bow down to Judah (Gen 49:8).
D Now, compare the two brothers. There is a reason that in the Greek the name "Judah" is translated as "Judas" because Judah is the treacherous brother who suggests selling Joseph to the Midianites for silver (Gen 37:26-28). He participates in the cruel deception of his father, who believes that a "ferocious animal" has devoured his favorite son (Gen 37:33). Moreover, contrary to the covenant, Judah marries a Canaanite woman who bears him two evil sons whom God kills (Gen 38:1-10). Judah promises his last living son to his daughter-in-law Tamar but this is a promise he never intends to honor (Gen 38:11.14). In response, Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute and gets pregnant by Judah. When Judah discovers Tamar's pregnancy he self-righteously and hypocritically condemns her for immorality and orders her to be burned at the stake (Gen 38:24). What a wicked, evil, self-righteous hypocrite!
In contrast to Judah, Joseph is the faithful and loving son of Jacob, the delight of his old age. He is favored by his father over all his brothers (Gen 37:3). He suffers unjustly at the hands of his brothers; yet, he is able to forgive their betrayal. When he is pursued by the unfaithful wife of Potiphar, he refuses to sin against God and man (Gen 39:8-9). The Lord is with Joseph and blesses him both in Potiphar's household and in prison (Gen 39:2, 21-23).
Think about the two men. Would you rather have Judah or Joseph as ruler over you? Of the two, whom shows himself worthy to rule? Joseph displays all the marks of one entitled to rule in Israel. As for Judah, we reject him as unworthy to rule. Yet, God chooses Judah over Joseph. He gives Judah the right to rule in Israel:
(Gen 49:10) The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. How can this be? What is going on here?
II God's Astonishing Grace
A What we see on this Lord's Supper Sunday is God's astonishing grace. Out of grace, God does not choose as we choose. Man chooses based upon birth order, with the first-born receiving the birthright and blessing. Yet, God disregards birth order when He elects Abel over Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, and Judah over Reuben and the rest of his brothers.
B God's astonishing grace is also seen in what happens with the sons of Joseph. Joseph has two sons whom he presents to father Jacob for a blessing. Joseph carefully arranges his sons so Manasseh will be blessed over Ephraim. Manasseh is placed at Jacob's right hand and Ephraim is placed at Jacob's left hand (Gen 48:13). But what does Jacob do? He crosses his hands and places his left hand on Manasseh and his right hand on Ephraim. Joseph tries to stop him. But his father, who is old and blind and feeble, insists that he is right. So the greater honor is given to the younger son (Gen 48:17-20).
Something similar happens with Judah's sons. Tamar, Judah's pregnant daughter-in-law, has twins in her womb. As she is giving birth, one of them sticks out his hand; so the midwife takes a scarlet thread and ties it on his wrist and says, "This one came out first." But then he drew back his hand and his brother comes out of the womb. The older brother, the one with the scarlet thread, is given the name Zerah and the younger brother is named Perez (Gen 38:29). The rest of Scripture makes clear that the scepter given to Judah goes through the family line of Perez the younger brother and not Zerah the older brother (cf Mt 1:3). The line of Zerah, the older brother, is cut off altogether when Achan and his family are stoned to death for stealing God's devoted things from Jericho (Josh 7:10-26).
C God's election is through grace alone. That is the message of Genesis when it comes to Judah and Joseph and their children. That is also God's message for you and me on this Lord's Supper Sunday.
"How to Win an Election" is an ancient Roman guide for campaigning that is as up-to-date as tomorrow's headlines. In 64 BC when idealist Marcus Cicero, Rome's greatest orator, ran for consul (the highest office in the land), his practical brother Quintus decided he needed some no-nonsense advice on running a successful campaign. What kind of advice did Quintus give Cicero? For instance, promise everything to everybody, remind voters about the sexual scandals of your opponents, be a chameleon who keeps changing his or her colors, put on a good show for the masses, and constantly surround yourself with rabid supporters. "How to Win an Election" is required reading for politicians today and everyone who enjoys watching them try to manipulate their way into office.
But God does not choose as man chooses. God does not choose based upon birth order. God does not choose who is most popular. God does not choose who is best looking. God does not choose who is the most athletic. God does not choose on the basis of wealth. Those chosen by God are neither better nor more deserving than all others. Nor can they pull the wool over God's eyes.
The only thing that God's chosen ones have in common is sin. They lay with all others in our common misery and ruin. In other words, God chooses sinners. Undeserving sinners. Fallen sinners. Sinners who deserve hell and hell's fire. Sinners -- like Judah -- whose only hope is grace.
On this Lord's Supper Sunday we look at Judah and Tamar and Perez. Not a promising group to look at, are they? Yet, they are chosen by God. In them we see a picture of ourselves. In them we see our own position before God. In them we see the amazing grace that God also gives you and me. As we will be singing in a few moments:
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
On this Lord's Supper Sunday we need to look past, way past, Judah and Tamar and Perez. We need to look to Jesus holding Judah's scepter. He is seated at the right hand of God. His is the scepter and His is the throne. He holds the scepter and sits on the throne because He is the Lamb Who was slain.
Through Christ, God covers our misery and imputes to us the merits of Judah's Prince. That, my brothers and sisters, is the story of grace that we in see in Genesis this morning.
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