A lot happens in these two chapters. Israel and family run out of food again, and he sends his sons back to Egypt to get some. This time, the brothers bring Benjamin with them, with the warning that losing Joseph’s only full brother will bring his “gray hairs… with sorrow to Sheol” (44:31). And after they dine with Joseph in ch. 43 and discover the silver cup in Benjamin’s sack, the brothers respond quite differently to Benjamin’s loss than they did to Joseph’s: “Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city” (44:13). What a difference a decade makes.
The author of Genesis has given us several hints up to now that he’s interested in Judah. Leah praised the Lord at his birth, which was a different response than she had to her other children (29:35). Chapter 38 was all about Judah’s (sordid) family history. Now, he suddenly rises to the top. Judah promises his father that he will stand as a “pledge of his safety” (43:9). He will bear the blame if anything bad happens to Benjamin.
Something bad does happen to Benjamin, but Judah keeps his word. He gives a speech to Joseph on behalf of his brother and father, and concludes this way: “Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father” (44:33-34). Judah steps forward to take the place of his brother. He wants to take the blame his brother is receiving, undergo his punishment so that Benjamin can go free.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Judah’s line is the line through which Jesus would come, and in a bit of divine foreshadowing, Judah prefigures his future Son. He is a type, an arrow pointing forward to Christ himself who would take the punishment that would have come upon us for sin so that we can be freed from it.
Christ taking our punishment in our place to free us from bondage was God’s plan all along. Judah stood before Joseph thousands of years ago, but God was fully aware of his plan to send the Lion of Judah to take our punishment in our place. God was orchestrating the history of Israel and his sons to bring about his will to save you and me. The Father used great nations like mighty Egypt as if they were pawns on a chess board, setting up his final move centuries ahead of time so that at the right time Christ could be born, live, and die for us.
That is how deep and patient and kind and enduring God’s love is for us. We deserved worse than slavery in Egypt, but we have been set free in Christ. Praise the Lord.