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Continuing our series on the Twelve Tribes of Israel (we have previously covered Dan, Napthali, Levi, Simeon, and Reuben) 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”. “And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Now I will praise the Lord.’ Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she stopped bearing.” – Genesis 29: 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: Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. – Genesis 37:3
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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. “Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, ‘Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.’
His brothers said to him, ‘Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?’ And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.
Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’
When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, ‘What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?’ His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.” – Genesis 37:5-11
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.
“When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. ‘Let’s not take his life,’ he said. ‘Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.’ Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father. – Genesis 37:21-22
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!)
“Judah said to his brothers, ‘What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.’ His brothers agreed.
So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt. “– Genesis 37:26-28
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.
“All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.’ So his father wept for him.” – Genesis 37:35
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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 got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.” – Genesis 38:6-7
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. “Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother.
What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.” – Genesis 38:8-10
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 was not going to be given to Shelah in marriage, so she decided to take matters into her own hands. She had heard that her father-in-law was going to 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 “
“About three months later Judah was told, ‘Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.’
Judah said, ‘Bring her out and have her burned to death!’
As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”
Judah recognized them and said, ‘She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.’ And he did not sleep with her again.” – Genesis 38:24-26
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. “When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so, the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, ‘This one came out first.’ But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, ‘So this is how you have broken out!’ And he was named Perez. Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out. And he was named Zerah. – Genesis 38:27-30 But God! He would use this unusual birth story to establish two lines of genealogy in the tribe of Judah.
God promised Abraham that
“I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:3
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.
Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,” – Matthew 1:3
“and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.” – Matthew 1:16
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) for 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:
” Judah, your brothers will praise you;
your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons will bow down to you.
You are a lion’s cub, Judah;
you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his.
He will tether his donkey to a vine,
his colt to the choicest branch;
he will wash his garments in wine,
his robes in the blood of grapes.
His eyes will be darker than wine,
his teeth whiter than milk.” – Genesis 49:8-12
And Moses had his own blessing for Judah and his tribe:
” And this he said about Judah:
“Hear, Lord, the cry of Judah;
bring him to his people.
With his own hands he defends his cause.
Oh, be his help against his foes!”.” – Deuteronomy 33:7
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
“For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.” – Hebrews 7:14
In Revelation, Jesus Christ, himself is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah”:
“Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” – Revelation 5:5
Judah is also described as a lawgiver in the Psalms. God inspired David to twice say that “Judah is My God’s lawgiver” (or scepter, depending on the translation)
“Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim is my helmet,
Judah is my scepter.” – Psalms 60:7
(and the same verse is found in Psalm 108:8) CLICK ON THE IMAGE BELOW FOR A DOWNLOADABLE, PRINTABLE PDF OF THE 12 SONS OF JACOB
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
“The number from the tribe of Judah was 74,600.” – Numbers 1:27
After the 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.
“The Lord answered, ‘Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.’” – Judges 1:2
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 comes 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 scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his.” – Genesis 49:10
“I will not violate my covenant
or alter what my lips have uttered.
Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness—
and I will not lie to David—
that his line will continue forever
and his throne endure before me like the sun;
it will be established forever like the moon,
the faithful witness in the sky.” – Psalm 89:34-37
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.
“Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to Rehoboam, as the king had said, ‘Come back to me in three days.’ The king answered the people harshly. Rejecting the advice given him by the elders, he followed the advice of the young men and said, ‘My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’” – 1 Kings 12:12-14
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 and was eventually taken into captivity by the Babylonians in beginning in 586 B.C.
What Happened to The Tribe of Judah Next?
“After 70 years of captivity in Babylon, some of the Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, but they didn’t fully return to the status of a sovereign nation until the 20th century. 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 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:
“For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.” – Matthew 24:21
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:
“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.” – Luke 21:20
In the Old Testament, the prophet Zechariah shared a prophecy about the same period of time:
“I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city.” – Zechariah 14:2
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.
“On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south” – Zechariah 14:4
“The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.” – Zechariah 14:9
The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.” – Zechariah 14:9
We also hear from Jeremiah about this same time:
“In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.” – Jeremiah 23:6
That is what we believers wait in joyful hope for!
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 associations 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 the kingship in Hebron:
“In the course of time, David inquired of the Lord. “Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?” he asked.
The Lord said, “Go up.”
David asked, “Where shall I go?”
“To Hebron,” the Lord answered.
So David went up there with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel. David also took the men who were with him, each with his family, and they settled in Hebron and its towns. Then the men of Judah came to Hebron, and there they anointed David king over the tribe of Judah.” 2 Samuel 2:1-4
- The Tribe of Judah was also the first to call him back to his throne after his son Absalom’s revolt
“King David sent this message to Zadok and Abiathar, the priests: ‘Ask the elders of Judah, ‘Why should you be the last to bring the king back to his palace, since what is being said throughout Israel has reached the king at his quarters? You are my relatives, my own flesh and blood. So why should you be the last to bring back the king?’ And say to Amasa, ‘Are you not my own flesh and blood? May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you are not the commander of my army for life in place of Joab.’”
He won over the hearts of the men of Judah so that they were all of one mind. They sent word to the king, “Return, you and all your men.” Then the king returned and went as far as the Jordan.
Now the men of Judah had come to Gilgal to go out and meet the king and bring him across the Jordan.” – 2 Samuel 19:11-15
- Later, during the exile, Daniel of the tribe of Judah became a model for righteous behavior and faithfulness:
“Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.” -Daniel 1:6
Short, but informative video on the history of ancient Israel and Judah
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Fiction: I recently read this book based on the life of Daniel and really enjoyed it.
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.
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, Sue