This page/post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, as well as an affiliate of other programs, this means if you purchase something using these links, I will receive a commission on qualifying purchases at no cost to you! For more detailed information, please visit our Affiliate Disclaimer page
Continuing our series on the Twelve Tribes of Israel (we have previously covered Dan, Napthali, Levi, Simeon, and Reuben, among others) with the Tribe of Judah. Judah was the fourth son of Jacob and his mother was Leah.
The name Judah means acknowledgement (‘hoda’ah,’ as in ‘modeh ani’). Judah’s name also includes the four letters of the Divine name Havaya. The name “Judah” in Hebrew is Yehudah. It is based on the word root “Hodaah” connoting “Give Thanks, Praise”.
Judah has a rich biblical history and is significant in the lineage of Christ. To better understand the significance of the Tribe of Judah, let’s look at the story of Judah in the Bible
Sibling Rivalry Between the Sons of Jacob
As with all of the sons of Jacob, Judah grew up working in the family business of raising cattle and sheep. Over time, Judah and his brothers became very jealous of their younger brother Joseph. Joseph appeared to be Jacob’s favorite child and, in fact, gave just him a special coat:
If that hadn’t been enough to make the brothers envious of Joseph, when Joseph revealed the dreams he had that one day he would be greater than all of them, their animosity grew to new levels.
The hatred the brothers had for Joseph grew stronger – to the point that they actually wanted to kill him. Reuben, the oldest brother, however, stopped them from carrying out their plan.
Instead, Joseph was put into a pit. When Reuben wasn’t around, Judah had an idea to sell Joseph to Midianite traders for just 20 shekels of silver (about eight ounces of silver!)
To hide what they had done, the siblings killed a goat and covered Joseph’s special coat with the blood of the goat. This way, their father would think that a wild animal had killed Joseph. Jacob was devastated over the loss of his son.
Judah’s Evil Begets His Misery
So, Judah and his brothers went along thinking they had solved the problem by removing Joseph from the family. God, however, had a plan for Joseph. While Joseph was sold as a slave, God blessed him in Egypt. Judah, however, seemed to pay for his sins through many trials and tragedies throughout his life.
Judah married a Canaanite woman, and together, they had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. Judah found a wife for his firstborn son, Er. Her name was Tamar (more on this later). Er, however, was as wicked as his father, and God took his life.
Judah then commanded his second son, Onan, to marry Tamar and produce an heir for his deceased brother as God’s laws have long commanded in such circumstances. Onan would not carry through with this act because it would not be his heir. God then took Onan’s life for his refusal to give his brother an heir.
Judah Gets a Taste of His Own Medicine, and God’s Plans Are Not Ours
After Onan’s passing, Judah asked Tamar to live in her Father’s home until Judah’s youngest son, Shelah, was old enough to marry. Years went by, and by this time, Judah’s own wife had passed. Tamar realized that she would not be given to Shelah in marriage, so she decided to take matters into her own hands.
She had heard that her father-in-law would be in the fields shearing his sheep. She removed her widow’s garments (she was still wearing them after all these years!) and dressed as a harlot. She waited along the road for Judah to pass by. Between what she was wearing and the years that had passed by, Judah didn’t recognize Tamar and propositioned her. She asked for his signet, cord, and staff as collateral. Later, when she realized that she was pregnant, Judah threatened her with death for prostitution. Instead, she showed him the items she held onto for collateral and stated:
The pregnancy resulted in twins, and scripture tells us that during delivery, one twin, Zerah, put his hand out first, and the midwife tied a scarlet thread on it and said, “This one came out first.” However, the second twin, Perez, came out suddenly, followed by his brother with the scarlet thread tied to his wrist.
But God! He would use this unusual birth story to establish two lines of genealogy in the tribe of Judah.
God promised Abraham that:
This promise from God would come through the line of Perez. King David and the kings of Judah would descend through the line of Perez. But most importantly, Jesus Christ would come through this line.
Why the tribe of Judah if Judah Was Such a Scoundrel?
When we look at the life of Judah and all of his sins and mistakes, it can make one wonder why his tribe should become one of the most prominent ones of the 12 Tribes of Israel. We can look and see that after everything he went through, Joseph lived a righteous life and was blessed with the birthright in place of Reuben, the firstborn. And, in fact, the name of “Israel” was passed on to Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. But God uses sinners, as we often see, and God chose Judah (and his descendants) as part of His greater plan.
Each of the twelve sons received a blessing from their father, Jacob, at the end of his life. Jacobs’s blessing for Judah was:
And Moses had his own blessing for Judah and his tribe:
In this blessing from Jacob, a prophecy, if you will, God felt that Judah was a strong warrior and compared him to a young lion sleeping in its den after devouring its prey. Despite Judah’s many mistakes, it’s possible that God was his strength of character and determination that God decided to choose Judah to be His lawgiver and the tribe from which His Son would later be born.
In Revelation, Jesus Christ, himself is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah”:
Judah is also described as a lawgiver in the Psalms. God inspired David to say twice that “Judah is My God’s lawgiver” (or scepter, depending on the translation)
The form you have selected does not exist.
CLICK ON THE IMAGE BELOW FOR A DOWNLOADABLE, PRINTABLE PDF OF THE 12 SONS OF JACOB
And the same verse is found in Psalm 108:8.
The Tribe of Judah Rises to Prominence
During the time of Moses, the tribe of Judah became stronger and stronger as a tribe (and Judah as a leader) and he “prevailed over his brothers.” The census in Numbers 1 shows that Judah was the leading tribe in population and in men available to go to war.
After Joshua’s death, God chose the tribe of Judah to take the lead role in conquering the nations who were living in the land promised to the 12 tribes.
In the first chapter of Judges, we see that the tribe of Judah was aggressive and strong in driving out the Canaanites in the southern half of the land of Canaan. We later learn that from the line of Judah come King David and, eventually, the “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” Jesus Christ, who will return to establish the Kingdom of God.
God chose David to be His shepherd and Jerusalem for His place to live among His people. God also chose David to hold the “scepter,” a symbol of kingship that would always remain in the tribe of Judah.
The Tribe of Judah and a Divided Nation
When Solomon died, the entire nation of Israel became divided. Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, despite pleas from the tribes, refused to lighten the burden of taxes that had been imposed by his father. He actually, made threats to worsen their lives in other ways. His refusal and threats, resulted in ten of the tribes separating and becoming the northern Kingdom of Israel, with Samaria as the capital city.
The tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and a part of Levi, however, stayed with Rehoboam and became the southern kingdom of Judah, with Jerusalem as its capital. The tribe of Judah was the only tribe of Israel whose inheritance was determined prior to the invasion and conquest of Canaan. Their land was determined by Moses, as a reward for the report Caleb brought back from spying out the land in Numbers 13, and the faith he displayed in God.
The northern kingdom of Israel nearly immediately began practicing idolatry and turned away from worshipping the One True God. After 200 years, they became captives of the Assyrian Empire. The southern kingdom of Judah did marginally better and lasted more than a hundred years after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel.
However, The Tribe of Judah also turned away from God and worshipped idols several times despite various kings initiating reforms. God even sent prophets to warn them about their idolatry, but they stopped listening to God and the prophets. They were eventually taken into captivity by the Babylonians in beginning of 586 B.C.
What Happened Next to The Tribe of Judah?
Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior of mankind, the Lion of the tribe of Judah—would come through the tribe of Judah, but He would be rejected by His own people.
The Church Jesus established initially sprang out of the tribe of Judah. But since the middle of the first century, the Church of God has become largely non-Jewish in membership.
Approaching the 20th century, many Jewish groups and Christian churches were advocating a homeland in Palestine for the tribe of Judah. Jewish groups wanted to return to Judea because it was their ancient homeland. Christian groups saw the establishment of a Jewish state as a sign of an end-time prophecy being fulfilled that would lead to the imminent return of Jesus Christ. One such prophecy can be found in Daniel 12:11, which indicates that the Jews will resume animal sacrifices before the return of Christ.
Presumably, they would need their own homeland to do this. In 1917 the Balfour Declaration made public Great Britain’s support of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. But it would not become a reality until May 14, 1948. Today, the nation called Israel is a major power in the Middle East, but will it remain such a power until the second coming of Jesus Christ?”
The Tribulation and The Restoration of the Tribe of Judah
Jesus, in His Mount Olivet Prophecy, said:
The tribe of Judah and the State of Israel won’t be spared from this devastating period. Luke’s account of the same prophecy quoted Jesus as saying:
In the Old Testament, the prophet Zechariah shared a prophecy about the same period of time:
All prophecies point to the same thing: invasion and war will come to Jerusalem and to the Tribe of Judah. However, after Zechariah’s prophecy about the nations of Jerusalem, He shared a prophecy about the good news to come – the coming of our Savior.
We also hear from Jeremiah about this same time:
That is what we believers wait in joyful hope for!
Lessons from the Tribe of Judah
When Jeremiah expounded this prophecy, the kingdom of Judah was about to collapse. The land of Judah was ripe with oppression, violence, idolatry, and political revolution.
The Northern Kingdom of Israel had been forced into captivity 100 years prior, and Judah seemed to have learned nothing from God’s judgment upon them. It was under these circumstances that God gave this prophecy of Jehovah Tsidkenu. (The God of My Righteousness).
1 . Remember that God is our Righteousness
Judah had disobeyed the Lord and continued to turn their backs on the call and destiny God had designed for them. Jeremiah reminds us all of that destiny. When we embrace the Lord, who is our God of Righteousness, then we, too, can appreciate and live out our full purpose. The promises to Judah are our promises, too, as we have been “grafted in.”
2 . We are Called to Praise
This is the first mention of “Judah” in the Bible.
Leah was unloved by Jacob (Genesis 29:31), but God noticed and gave her children. Sons, at that. With the birth of each son, she felt that Jacob might love her more, but he did not.
When Judah was born, Leah decided to praise the Lord despite being unloved by her husband. “This time I will praise the Lord.”
The act of praise is the foundation of Judah’s call and destiny.
3 . We are Meant to be Courageous and Wise Leaders
Even though Judah was the 4th born son of Jacob, the sins of his brothers removed the first three of them from realizing their birthright. It was Judah who stepped into the inheritance and leadership of the firstborn.
It was Judah who pleaded with his brothers to spare Joseph’s life.
It was Judah who pleaded with his father, Jacob, to be honest with the transactions with Joseph in Egypt.
It was Judah that offered his own life as a guarantee for his brother, Benjamin.
Those are just a few examples of how Judah stepped up to provide courageous and wise leadership.
It’s not always easy to step up to lead. It’s not always simple to do the right thing. It’s not always comfortable to give and serve, but Judah provides an example of how we are to lead wisely and courageously – no matter your life or your job title.
4 . We are Called to Go First
Judah went first as Israel marched through the wilderness (Numbers 2:9), Caleb was among the first to see the promised land (Numbers 13), Judah was the first to be assigned an allotment in the promised land (Joshua 14-15:12), Othniel (from Judah was the first judge in Israel (Judges 3:7-11) and the tribe of Judah led the Israelites in battle. (Judges 1:2; 20:18).
We go first, when possible because we have God’s favor upon us. Praise should always be our first response when faced with a problem or even a blessing. Only when we praise first will we have the power and authority to go first in any spiritual battle.
Some Interesting Facts About the Tribe of Judah
- According to biblical scholars, blue represented the Tribe of Judah
- The stone representing this tribe was the nofach, which is believed to be a bluish carbuncle commonly taken to mean a garnet.
- The symbol of the Tribe of Judah is a lion. He was compared to both an old and a young lion at one and the same time.
- The tribe of Judah stands out among the twelve tribes because of its association with the house of David, the southern kingdom of Judah, and its capital in Jerusalem.
- Ultimately, the most important member of the line of Judahites is King David. The tribe of Judah was the first to raise him to kingship in Hebron:
The Tribe of Judah was also the first to call him back to his throne after his son Absalom’s revolt
Later, during their exile, Daniel of the tribe of Judah became a model for righteous behavior and faithfulness:
You may enjoy this short, but informative video on the history of ancient Israel and Judah:
Or one of these recommended resources:
I recently read this book based on the life of Daniel and really enjoyed it.
I’ve also read this one and recommend it.
The 12 Tribes of Israel (or is it 14?) & Lessons We Can Learn by Susan J Nelson
What lessons do you take away from the story of the Tribe of Judah? The major theme I see here is that we all make mistakes. We all sin, but God has a plan for each of us in His Kingdom. Plans that we cannot even imagine. What about you?
Drop a comment to share what you learned from the history of the Tribe of Judah.
Because He Lives,
ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”