Judah was the fourth son born to Jacob and Leah, he had 11 brothers and one of them made all the other brothers very jealous. His name was Joseph and the brothers all hated him, mainly because their father favored Joseph more than the rest of his sons. He protected Joseph when there was danger and gave him a brightly colored coat.
Joseph also had dreams about his brothers bowing down to him, which he told to his brothers.
These brothers were terribly jealous of Joseph – and they were ready to kill him. But Judah stepped in with a different idea – he thought it would be much better to sell Joseph as a slave. So, off Joseph goes with a group of travelers headed for Egypt.
Years passed by and Judah married and had three sons; Er, Onan and Shelah. Er grew up and married a lady named Tamar. Er died before she has a son, and following the custom of their culture, Tamar married his brother Onan. But then Onan died before she had a son!
Shelah was too young to get married, so Judah told Tamar to go back to her father’s house and promised Tamar that when Shelah was old enough Shelah and Tamar would be married. Judah does not keep his promise and Shelah and Tamar are never married to each other.
Years more passed by and Judah’s wife died. Judah grieved for her, and when his time of mourning ended he decided to take a trip to see where his sheep were getting sheared.
This just happened to be right near Tamar’s father’s house and Tamar just happened to hear that Judah was coming.
Now, Tamar knew something. She knew the culture and traditions and that she was meant to have a child and that Judah had stolen that from her. And so she did something very brave. Tamar covered her face so that Judah would not know it was her, and then she sat by the road he would be journeying on. Judah saw her and did not recognize her, and he spent the night with her.
Three months passed by and Judah was told that his daughter in law, Tamar, was pregnant. Back then death was the punishment for unmarried women that were found to be pregnant, so Judah said that she should be brought out and burned to death.
Tamar stood before Judah and laid before him his staff, his seal, and his cord; three things he had given her when he had spent the night with the woman he had thought was a stranger. And then he knew. He knew the belly that bumped before him held his child. He knew he had not honored his word. He knew she had acted more rightly than he had. And he knew he could not burn her.
When Tamar was all ready to have her baby they discovered a great surprise – there was not just one baby in her tummy, but two!
Judah’s two new sons were named Perez, the first born, and Zerah.
More years pass by and famine strikes the land. A famine is when there is no rain for food to grow, and people starve for lack of food. Judah, his brothers, and all of their families grew very hungry.
Hunger led Judah and his band of brothers to head to Egypt to buy some food. When they arrived in Egypt they were amazed at the abundance and were happy that there was food for them to buy.
Only, for them, that food came with a condition.
They were perplexed when they were told by the second in command of Egypt that they had to bring their youngest brother, Benjamin, with them before they could buy any food. It was a strange request, but they needed food.
The brothers traveled back to their land and told their father the news. Poor old Jacob was heartbroken. He was still grieved, all these years later, over the loss of his precious Joseph. He could not lose his Benjamin. Judah reasoned with his father, food from Egypt was needed and he would take all the responsibility for his brother and make sure that Benjamin came home safely.
Back to Egypt the brothers go, confused about why Benjamin is with them, weary from all the travel, and hungrier than ever. They soon find out why Benjamin was asked to come with them. The man who was second in command in Egypt was Joseph, the very brother they had sold into slavery. He had wanted to see his youngest brother.
While they had meant to hurt Joseph and what they had done was evil, God had used it for good.
Joseph forgave them all and invited his father and brothers to live near him, and so the family settled down in Egypt. They had children, and their children had children and hundreds of years pass by as this family grew into a nation, the nation of Israel. Terrible things happened to the Israelites – the Egyptians began to fear them and turned them into slaves until God said it was enough – He was going to free His people.
The nation of Israel was never meant to live in Egypt forever – remember the land God had promised to Abraham? They were supposed to be living there. And God had a plan to get them there.