Judah has been a hard man for me to fully understand. He is listed next in the lineage of Jesus Christ and might be one of the most important, in my estimation.
You see, Judah was a complete mess up and at the same time, a giant of a man--a hero and role model. I like him. I mean, who doesn't like a man that can fess up that he has screwed up magnificently and then sweep in the next moment to redeem his dastardly ways? That takes true courage and integrity. I don't like the guy that's perfect all the time, that never falls flat on his face, who doesn't act like a complete jerk once or twice. I want the guy that's been broken, sinned, ate his own mess and still stood up to be something amazing.
Yeah. I'm a sucker for the screw ups.
First, we had Abraham, father of Isaac who was the father of Jacob who in turn had a great deal of sons, one of which was Judah. But one of the most important parts of Judah's story, is to know who is mother was....
Most people know the story of Jacob and Rachel: The Greatest Love Story of All Time (roll of eyes inserted here). Jacob's father wakes up one day, looks at his grown son and says, "Jacob, I think it's time you find yourself a wife. Pack your bags and go look for one among our relatives." First of all, I know my relatives and I certainly wouldn't want to marry one! So I kind of pity Jacob right now. However, as he was traveling along, he saw this woman standing by the well and he instantly fell in love, or lust. He decided, "That's the woman for me. I have to have her."
Scripture says that Jacob kissed Rachel and even wept he was so sure this was the woman for him. So Rachel goes and gets her father, Jacob's Uncle Laban, and Laban invites Jacob to stay with them for a month.
You can imagine what that month must have looked like: all the cheesy montages of two young people falling into puppy love. There were probably picnics amongst Laban's sheep as Jacob nestled his head in Rachel's lap. I imagine there was a great deal of giggles...Rachel hand-feeding Jacob grapes...garlands of flowers being woven by Jacob....sonnets and sappy poetry...
You know, all those 'gag me with a spoon' lovey dovey moments.
At the end of the month, Laban is fully aware that Jacob wants to marry his daughter and he starts to scheming. "Sure, Jacob," he says. "You can marry my daughter...but you have to first work for me seven years."
Now, if this was me, I would have been putting up a fight, but silly Jacob had hearts kaleidoscoping in his eyes. "Sure!" he says. And he works for seven long years. But to him, scripture says it felt like only a few days, he was so in love with Rachel.
Finally, the wedding day comes and Jacob marries Rachel, heavily veiled. He enters the tent and commenced to (well, you know what). Silly Jacob should have asked for a candle so he could get a peek at his wife, because when he wakes up, he finds Rachel's sister, Leah in bed with him. He is outraged, and probably a little bit embarrassed, because no doubt he was whispering, "Oh, Rachel...Oh, Rachel..." in her ear throughout the night. Poor Leah. Men, on the contrary, would pity Jacob right about now, because legend has it that Leah wasn't exactly lovely to look at.
When Jacob confronts his uncle (maybe there were a few punches thrown...in fact, I'm certain there was), Laban explains, "What? It's our custom that the eldest daughter marries first...and that's Leah. But I'll tell you what, if you work another seven years for me, I will let you take Rachel as your wife too." Talk about sister wives!
Scripture tells us that Jacob's love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah (which was nil) so he agreed. At this point, I think Jacob is a moron. I would have beaten Laban to a pulp until he just gave me Rachel and took Leah back. But I guess people were more civilized back then (or as civilized as one can be with sister wives all around). At the end of another seven years, fourteen total, Jacob finally gets to marry Rachel. Dude? Was it even really worth it? Surely she's lost some of her luster by now!
People like to say that the story of Jacob and Rachel is the greatest love story of all time because he had to work so long to have her. But I think it's hog wash. It wasn't Leah's fault that she ended up the unwanted wife! God must have thought so too, at least in part, because He honored and repaid to her with good what her father had meant as evil. He blessed Leah's womb and she gave her husband many sons while Rachel only had two: Joseph (Jacob's favorite) and Benjamin.
Judah was Leah's fourth child that she gave birth to. In all, Jacob had twelve sons, six from Leah, two from Rachel, two through Rachel's mail, Bilhah, and two more from Rachel's mail, Zilpah. (cue in Rolling Stones Can't Get No Satisfaction now...)
It would have been easy for God to choose to honor the lineage of His son by choosing Joseph to be the next on the family tree. After all, Joseph was the first son of the favored wife. But God doesn't choose Joseph (which you will find out later is the 'good' guy). God doesn't even choose Reuben the first son born to Leah, and the first born son, period (which would have matched Jewish custom of blessing the first born son). Instead, He chooses Judah, fourth son to Leah, the unwanted and unloved wife.
I guess God and I have something in common: our love for the underdogs.
But the story of Judah and his many rise and falls in life is a whole other story.