All scriptural references are from Young's Literal Translation, unless otherwise noted
Although the history of Judah isn't of vital concern to Christian living, it is still interesting to know the human heritage that Christ was born under. Knowing the timing and events related to Christ's human ancestry gives deeper understanding of how prophecy connects in our Christianity.
Judah is an important name in Scripture because it is related to the first coming of Jesus Christ. To understand the importance of Judah, one must first understand the origins of Judah. Here is a brief background according to Scripture:
Judah was one of the twelve sons of Jacob (Genesis 29:35, 35:22-23) . Judah's father, Jacob, was re-named "Israel" by God (Genesis 32:28), thus Jacob was the beginning of the nation of Israel. Jacob was the son of Isaac (Genesis 25:26), Isaac was the son of Abraham (Genesis 17:19). God promised Judah's great-grandfather, Abraham, that He would make Abraham into a great nation The descendants of Judah and his brothers became the subdivisions of the nation of Israel (Exodus 1:1-7).
JUDAH, THE MAN
Judah was the fourth son of Jacob's first wife, Leah (Genesis 29:32-35). The name "Judah" means "Praise" (Genesis 29:35). At a time when Judah and his other brothers were older, they all became jealous of their half-brother Joseph (Genesis 37:3-4). This led the brothers to conspire to kill Joseph (Genesis 37:18). One of the brothers, Reuben, talked them out of killing Joseph (Genesis 37:21), so when they captured Joseph, they threw him into a pit while trying to decide what to do with him next (Genesis 37:22-24). While they were there eating their lunch, Judah saw a caravan of Ishmaelites/Midianites traveling through (Genesis 37:25). He suggested that they sell Joseph to them instead of killing him (Genesis 37:26-27). Thus, Joseph was sold into slavery to the Ishmaelites (Genesis 37:28).
The next mention of Judah happens in the next chapter of Genesis. Here, Judah leaves his family and meets a Canaanite woman who was the daughter of Shuah (Genesis 38: 1-2) This woman's actual name is not given in the Scripture. She bore three sons to Judah: Er, Onan, and Shelah (Genesis 38:3-5). When Er became of age, Judah chose a wife for him named Tamar (Genesis 38:6). Unfortunately, Er was a wicked man, so God did away with him (Genesis 38: 7). Therefore, Judah instructed his next son, Onan, to marry Tamar and perform brother-in-law marriage with her (Genesis 38:8-9).* Onan agreed to lay with Tamar, but refused to impregnate her because he knew the resulting child would not be considered as his (Genesis 38:9), so God did away with him also (Genesis 38:10). The refusal of Onan to make her pregnant was evil for two reasons: First, it was an act of selfishness which denied his deceased brother a rightful heir to his name. Second, and more importantly, the ancestral line of Judah was vital to Christ's first coming. Since Onan was next in line to continue that ancestral lineage, his refusal to bring forth an heir to the line was essentially an act of sabotage against God's greater plan. Onan was acting selfishly towards Tamar, his deceased brother, and God Himself.
Judah saw that Tamar had not yet given any heirs to the family line, so he instructed her to go and live at her father's home until his youngest son, Shelah, was old enough to marry her (Genesis 38:11). During this time of waiting, Judah's wife died, so Judah went away to mourn her (Genesis 38:12). Tamar was informed of these circumstances, so she disposed of her widow's garb, disguised herself as a harlot, and positioned herself at a place along the path that Judah was taking. She did this because she knew Shelah was old enough to marry by this time, yet Judah hadn't given her to him in marriage (Genesis 38:13-14). Judah didn't recognize her when he saw her in harlot's clothes and he laid with her. Afterwards, he promised to send payment for her "services", at which she requested a security to be left with her until she received the payment. He gave her a few items as the security (Genesis 38:16-18). When he departed, she took off her harlot disguise and donned her widow clothing again (Genesis 38:19). Later, when Judah returned home, he sent the payment for the "harlot". However, when the servant brought the payment to the place where Judah had met with her, the inhabitants informed the servant that no harlot ever existed there (Genesis 38:20-21).
Three months later it became apparent that Tamar had become pregnant by the tryst. At this point, Judah still did not know she was the "harlot". He was angered and wanted her killed because she was pregnant (remember, she was technically betrothed to Shelah ) (Genesis 38: 24). When she was brought in to see Judah, she told him that she was pregnant from the man who owned the items she showed him: the very items he left with her when he laid with her (Genesis 38:25). Judah's anger immediately left him, as he realized that she was that "harlot" he laid with months earlier. He declared her more righteous than himself, for he had delayed giving her in marriage to Shelah, whereas she found a way to continue the family line of Judah in spite of it. Afterwards, Judah no longer had intimate relations with her (Genesis 38:26). When it came time for her to give birth, it was revealed that she carried twin boys. These were named Perez and Zerah (Genesis 38:27-30) (NKJV). Perez was the continuation of the family line that led to Jesus Christ's human birth (Matthew 1:3-16). (It is interesting that she bore twins, for in this way one twin provided an heir for her original husband, Er, and the other twin could provide an heir for her second husband, Onan.). Apparently, Shelah was finally given in marriage to Tamar, for later the Scriptures state that Shelah had descendants (Numbers 26:20). Thus, all three sons were able to have descendants, and the ancestral lineage for Jesus Christ was continued as well.
Some time later, when there was a severe famine in the land, Judah and his brothers were required to travel to Egypt to buy food for them and their father. They were unaware that the man from which they needed to buy food from was their brother Joseph, whom they sold into slavery so many years before. They didn't recognize him when they saw him (Genesis 41:57, Genesis 42:8 ). Joseph was suspicious of their motives, and set about testing the brothers. For the first test, he dealt with them harshly and made two demands: First, that one brother must stay with him while the others returned with their food, and second, that they bring their youngest brother with them when they return for more food (Genesis 42:9-26). Later, when they needed more food, they were forced to return with the youngest brother. Judah promised Jacob, their father, that he would be personally responsible for the youngest brother (Genesis 43:2-9). Joseph, still unrecognized by the brothers, received them hospitably, and then made a final test of their motives during their return to Jacob. The test involved framing the youngest brother for stealing (Genesis 43:16-44:5). When the brother was caught with the "stolen" item they were escorted back to Joseph. Upon returning, Judah made an impassioned plea on behalf of their youngest brother (Genesis 44:6-34). At this, Joseph was overwhelmed with emotion, sent his servants out, and revealed his true identity to the brothers (Genesis 45: 1-3).
Joseph moved the brothers and their father into Egypt to live. At this point, the Scriptures list the names of the sons and their families that came to Egypt (Genesis 46:5-27). Jacob sent Judah ahead to see Joseph and get settled in the region of Goshen (Genesis 46:28).
Some time later, Jacob was on his deathbed, giving prophecies to his sons. When he came to Judah's prophecy, he said that Judah would be praised, and that the scepter of kingship would continue in his family line, this prophecy pointing to the coming of Christ (Genesis 49:8-12). For more details regarding prophecies pointing to the first coming of Christ, please click here.
*Brother -in-law marriage: This was when a childless widow was to become pregnant by her husband's brother in order to provide an heir for the deceased husband.
JUDAH, THE ISRAELITE TRIBE
The members of the tribe of Judah were those who were descendants of the man named Judah. As mentioned at the beginning of this essay, the tribe of Judah was one of twelve tribes sprung from Jacob/Israel (Exodus 1:1-7). There are many anecdotes regarding this tribe througout Scripture. For example:
1) After the Israelites were released from Egypt, God appointed a member of the tribe of Judah, named Bezalel, to be given wisdom and phenomenal ability for craftsmanship (Exodus 31:1-5). Moses supported this arrangement (Exodus 35: 30-33). God also gave Bezalel a laborer from the tribe of Dan to help him in the work that He was planning to assign to them (Exodus 35: 34-35). These two men, along with some others who were moved in their hearts to serve, proceeded to construct all the building projects that God assigned under the oversight of Bezalel (Exodus 36:2- 38:22).
2) The tribe of Judah was the largest of the twelve tribes (Numbers 1:19-42).
3) When it came time for God to apportion land to the tribes, Judah was given first position (Numbers 2:3).
4) The tribe of Judah was the first to present their offering during the dedication of the altar (Numbers 7:12).
5) At one point, God commanded that a man from each tribe be chosen to spy out the land of Canaan before a military campaign. Caleb was the man chosen from the tribe of Judah (Numbers 13:1-17). Out of all the men chosen, Caleb was one of the only two men who trusted God to give them Canaan (Numbers 14:6-9). Because of their faithfulness, God promised Caleb and the other man that they would live long enough to enter into the promised land (Numbers 14: 22-24, 30).
6) After entering the promised land, Caleb was allowed to take the area of Hebron due to his faithfulness (Joshua 14:6-13). Caleb was eighty-five years old at this time (Joshua 14:7,10).
7) Achan was a member of the tribe of Judah. Achan and his family sinned by secretly stealing spoils of Jericho, items that were cursed by God (Joshua 6:17-19, 7:1). Because of this, the nation of Israel was unable to win wars against their enemies (Joshua 7:2-9). God revealed to Joshua that it was due to the secret crime of Achan (Joshua 7:10-22). Achan, his household, and all his belongings were sentenced to destruction over this offense (Joshua 7:23-26).
8) Much later, after Joshua's death, the nation of Israel inquired of God regarding who should head the military campaigns against Canaan. God instructed that the armies of Judah must go first (Judges 1:1-2). It was Judah who captured the city of Jerusalem during these military campaigns (Judges 1:8).
9) The city of Jerusalem, which was located in Judah, was the city where the kings lived (2 Samuel 5:5, 2 Chronicles 9:30, 11:5).
10) God's temple was located in Jerusalem in the region of Judah (2 Chronicles 3:1). King David wanted to be the one to build the temple, but God wanted David's son, Solomon, to build it instead (1 Chronicles 11:7-10). Therefore, David planned for this temple to be lavish and great, and set about making preparations for Solomon to have the necessary building materials and laborers (1 Chronicles 22:1-6, 23: 1-5). The Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 5:2).
11) Jerusalem is also known as Zion (1 Kings 8:1).
12) The town of Bethlehem was located in the region of Judah (Micah 5:2)
13) The locations of Mount Moriah (where Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac to God -- Genesis 22:2-14), the place where an angelic plague was halted (1 Chronicles 21:14-18), and the site of the temple in Jerusalem were all the same location (2 Chronicles 3:1) in Judah.
Of course, there are many more passages in scripures that speak about the region of Judah. We recommend that you read more about this region, since it figured so prominently in prophecy.
JUDAH'S DIVISION FROM ISRAEL
To understand why Judah was divided from the remainder of Israel, we need to learn a little background information first:
Before Israel was ruled by kings, they were ruled by God's appointed judges (Judges 2:16). When Israel decided they wanted kings to rule them, Judge Samuel
took the nation's request to God, who allowed the arrangement (1 Samuel 8:5-9). God chose Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, to be Israel's first king (1 Samuel 9:15-16). Over time, Saul began to commit acts of major sins, resulting in troubles for Israel (1 Samuel 15:18-27). Therefore, God chose David to be the next king (1 Samuel 16:1, 12-13). David was the son of Jesse, of the tribe of Judah (Matthew 1:3-6). This is how the royal line came to Judah. During his reign, David fathered a son named Solomon (2 Samuel 12:24). Solomon became king after David's death (1 Kings 1:30, 34, 4:1). God blessed Solomon (1 Kings 4:29).
Now this is where it gets interesting:
Unfortunately, Solomon married pagan wives. These wives eventually influenced him away from the True God's worship (1 Kings 11:1-10). Because Solomon was committing heinous, idolatrous practices against God, God informed him that He would take most of the kingship away from Solomon's son (1 Kings 11:11), saving only a small portion in deference to the previous king, David. That portion to be saved would be the region of Judah, which held the city of Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:12-13, Psalms 78:68). The problems with Solomon's idolatry were threefold: First, it broke the first two of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:3-5). Second, the gods he worshipped were associated with disgusting sins such as child sacrifice and sexual promiscuity (1 Kings 11:5). Third, it was exchanging God's truth for lies (Romans 1:25).
God' prophet, Ahijah, came to Solomon's servant, Jeroboam, with this message: God will rend ten tribes away from the kingdom of Israel, explaining that it was due to the rampant idolatry occurring. The region of Judah was to be all that Solomon's descendants would rule (1 Kings 11:29 - 36). Then it was revealed that Jeroboam was to be the first king over the newly separated ten tribes of Israel, while Solomon's line of kingship would continue over Judah (1 Kings 11:37-38). Thus, the region of Judah became it's own kingdom, separated from the remainder of Israel.
The Scriptures prophesied that Jesus Christ would be born through the tribe of Judah, in the little town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). This prophecy was remembered by Herod's wise men (Matthew 2:4-6). Jesus Christ was prophesied as being the root of Jess (David's Father) (Isaiah 11:1-10), and was spoken of as the root of David, being the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5). Following the genealogical line of the kings, it is clear that Jesus Christ's human birth did, indeed, come through the descendants of the kings of Judah (Matthew 1:1-16). Although Jesus was born as a descendant of the Judean kings, the regions of Judah and Israel were under the control of the Roman Empire by the time he was born.
Because Jesus was born in the kingly line, he was referred to as the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2, 27:29, 37, Mark 15:9, 12, Luke 23:37, John 19:14) and the son of David (Matthew 9:27, 12:23, 15:22, 22:42 etc.).
In conclusion, we can see that Judah's ancestry was rich in historical significance.
The Judean line figured prominently throughout the Old Testament, leading up to the human birth of our Messiah and Saviour, Jesus Christ.