Christian Character: Self-Sacrifice

Genesis 44 contains a story that every Christian should read and apply. I know. We typically don’t look at Old Testament stories as examples of Christian character, and for good reason. They contain no stories about Christ Himself. Yet, if we truly believe that Jesus was both God and man then it makes sense to believe that we would see some of his characteristics in his ancestors.

With that being said, the source of this story is a bit of a surprise. When we think of Genesis we think of heroes of the faith like Noah, Abraham, and Joseph. We do not think of Joseph’s older brother Judah. He seems to be far away from the Christian characteristic of self-sacrifice.

You remember Judah. The guy who slept with his daughter-in-law because he thought she was a prostitute. He is also one of the brothers who conspired to sell Joseph to some traveling Ishmaelites. Genesis doesn’t really have much good to say about Judah at all. He performs no notable or exceptional deeds in his life. Indeed, when one reads Genesis you wonder why God chose Judah to be in the ancestral line of Jesus Christ.

That is, until you arrive at Genesis 44. In this chapter we have the story of Joseph meeting his brothers in Egypt after he has been made the second in command in the entire empire. Only, his brothers have no idea who he is. So Joseph comes up with this clever plan to get his younger brother Benjamin to come with the brothers, and then frames him for stealing his golden cup. The punishment is severe. Benjamin is sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison in Egypt. It seems as if this plan was developed in order for Joseph to see if his brothers will abandon Benjamin, just like they abandoned him.

And this is where Judah steps in. Judah has probably disappointed his father more times than he can count in his lifetime, but not this time. This is where he draws the line. He refuses to abandon Benjamin because he knows it will crush, and possibly kill his father. So he does something absolutely amazing and completely unexpected. He offers to take the punishment on himself.

Now you have to remember that all the brothers believe that Benjamin is guilty at this point. They don’t know about Joseph’s scheme. Yet, Judah refuses to allow the same thing to happen to Benjamin that he allowed to happen to Joseph. In his mind, it isn’t about whether Benjamin is guilty or innocent. It’s about not disappointing his father again, and about standing up for his younger brother. Jacob already thinks that Joseph is dead, and Judah is not about to let him suffer any more pain.

You see, Judah realized that he had already failed once. The crushing guilt that must have weighed on him, and all his brothers, would not allow him to make the same mistake again. He had failed Joseph. He would not fail Benjamin too. The Bible says that Joseph begins to weep. I mean, can you imagine the thoughts running through his mind at this extreme act of self-sacrifice? He realizes that the brothers, and Judah in particular, have learned their lesson.

But doesn’t this story sound like someone else in the Bible? Hundreds of years later, a man from the ancestral line of Judah would be faced with a similar decision. Judah saw the guilt of his brother Benjamin, but this man saw the guilt of the entire world, and much like Judah, he laid his life on the line anyway. You have probably guessed who I am talking about at this point. His name was Jesus.

Life is filled with decisions, and some of them happen very quickly. I wonder if it was in that moment that Judah stepped up to take the place of Benjamin, that God decided that Jesus would come from the line of Judah. I know its impossible to prove, and may not have anything to do with God’s decision at all. But what if?

Even more importantly for you and me, what if our lives can turn on one single decision? What if the only thing standing between us and who God wants us to be is the decision to lay our lives completely on the line, even if it is for someone else? Judah had no idea what would happen as these events transpired. But it didn’t matter. He had already made up his mind. To him, he was not returning home without his brother. Period. And that self-sacrifice made all the difference.

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