Thursday, June 12, 2014

About that Scarlet Thread.

I flipped on the radio as I drove up to the YMCA parking lot yesterday, and someone on one of the Christian-radio stations I get in my area was reading from Genesis, specifically the scene where Joseph ultimately reveals himself to his brothers. But first, he tests them.

For those who don't know, Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, out of envious anger because he was their father's favorite son. They then deceived Jacob, their father, into believing that Joseph was dead. Benjamin was Joseph's brother by the same mother (the 12 tribes of Israel being born from 4 different women), and the youngest and most cherished of Jacob's children after the loss of Joseph. Joseph, now a governor in Egypt, hid a silver chalice in Benjamin's rucksack and then pretended that Benjamin had stolen it, in order to demand that Benjamin would remain behind as the other brothers returned to Jacob.

It was a clever plan. It would ensure that Jacob would come to Egypt, so that Joseph could be reunited with his father. And even if not, he now had his only immediate brother with him, either way.

Then this happened:
Judah Intercedes for Benjamin18 Then Judah came near to him and said: “O my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s hearing, and do not let your anger burn against your servant; for you are even like Pharaoh. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ 20 And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age,who is young; his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’ 22 And we said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ 23 But you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall see my face no more.’24 “So it was, when we went up to your servant my father, that we told him the words of my lord. 25 And our father said, ‘Go back and buy us a little food.’ 26 But we said, ‘We cannot go down; if our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down; for we may not see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27 Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; 28 and the one went out from me, and I said, “Surely he is torn to pieces”; and I have not seen him since. 29 But if you take this one also from me, and calamity befalls him, you shall bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave.’30 “Now therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad’s life, 31 it will happen, when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die. So your servants will bring down the gray hair of your servant our father with sorrow to the grave. 32 For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father forever.’ 33 Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. 34 For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest perhaps I see the evil that would come upon my father?”
I highlighted verse 33 for a very particular reason.
As the above link reveals, the "Scarlet Thread" is a reference first used in a mid-20th-century sermon, and it refers to the existence of a "Story within the stories" of the Old Testament--that the story of Redemption, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is interwoven and echoed or paralleled in the vast majority if not every major Old Testament account. I had heard of this before and accepted the concept, but I hadn't realized its relevance to Judah the patriarch of the tribe of Israel by the same name.

"Now therefore, please let [Me] remain instead of [the one who you have determined is guilty] as a slave to my lord, and let the lad [be free to] go up with his brothers." What is this but the essence of substitutionary atonement and the kinsman-redeemer concept? Judah is revealing to Joseph--unknowingly, since he's unaware that Joseph is his long-lost brother--a drastic internal change, from a man who put himself first at the expense of his brother and his father's joy, to a man who puts his brother and father first, and willingly offers himself to take the punishment he doesn't deserve. Judah has become an illustration of Jesus Christ** in this passage.

At that point, Joseph couldn't maintain his ruse any longer, but revealed himself to his brothers.

I'm suspicious that this might be the "real" reason why Judah is the one given the blessing typically reserved for the firstborn, later on when Jacob blesses his sons before his death.

“Gather together and hear, you sons of Jacob,And listen to Israel your father.  Reuben, you are my firstborn,My might and the beginning of my strength,The excellency of dignity and the excellency of power. Unstable as water, you shall not excel,Because you went up to your father’s bed;Then you defiled itHe went up to my couch. Simeon and Levi are brothers;Instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place.  Let not my soul enter their council;Let not my honor be united to their assembly;For in their anger they slew a man,And in their self-will they hamstrung an ox. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce;And their wrath, for it is cruel!I will divide them in JacobAnd scatter them in Israel.  Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise;Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;Your father’s children shall bow down before you.  Judah is a lion’s whelp;From the prey, my son, you have gone up.He bows down, he lies down as a lion;And as a lion, who shall rouse him?  The scepter shall not depart from Judah,Nor a lawgiver from between his feet,Until Shiloh comes;And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.
Reuben was the firstborn, but he was passed over because he 'lay with his father's concubine,' as Genesis 35:21-22 mentions, nearly as a footnote. Simeon and Levi murdered an entire city in revenge for a single one of its inhabitants fornicating with their sister, as Genesis 34 recounts. That left Judah as the fourthborn, but he isn't exceedingly remarkable in comparison. He's described as unknowingly 'taking the services of' a prostitute who happened to be his daughter-in-law in disguise, (Genesis 38) after neglecting to give his son to her, since she was a widow, as he had promised. 

So why Judah? Above we have seen Jacob-Israel's reasoning, but we know that God works sovereignly over all the details of human decisions, and I am very partial to the belief that Judah was ultimately chosen by God because he interceded for Benjamin in the same manner that his long-distant descendant Jesus of Nazareth would one day intercede for all God's favored children as their Messiah. God doesn't choose people based on their merits. The very essence of the Gospel is the setting free of someone, unconditionally, based on nothing more than the grace of their redeemer; a grace which by the midpoint of his life, it seems that Judah finally understood and embodied.

~ Rak Chazak

Further Reading:

**The link to GotQuestions' article on typology had this helpful tidbit that made me rewrite a sentence above: "We should point out the difference between an illustration and a type. A type is always identified as such in the New Testament. A Bible student finding correlations between an Old Testament story and the life of Christ is simply finding illustrations, not types."

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