Professional speakers and trainers have long asserted that people make up their minds about people they meet for the first time within two minutes. Others assert that these first impressions about people take only thirty seconds to make.
As it turns out, both may be underestimates. According to Malcolm Gladwell, in "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking," the decisions may occur much faster—think instantaneously or in two seconds. - https://www.thebalancecareers.com/why-blink-matters-the-power-of-first-impressions-1919374
However, as Gladwell points out in his book, we can be and are often wrong. We can be thrown off, we can misjudge people and situations. We’ve all probably at time been embarrassed at best, or have offended someone at worst when we made a judgement call about someone, only to later come to realize that we had it all wrong.
I tell you this as we come to the story of Jacob’s sons, in particular the two sons were focused in on this morning Joseph and Judah. It’s weird isn’t it? Moses starts telling us the story of Joseph, a story that will take the better part of the rest of the book of Genesis to tell, and right as he begins getting into the story, he takes a time out and tells this horrifically scandalous tale of Judah and his sons, an Tamar’s shaming of him. It’s weird right - maybe you heard the story of Joseph from Sunday School or saw the stage production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and say down with your Bible to read the story of Joseph, and then you turn the page and suddenly - whoa! where did this come from? They didn’t talk about this in Sunday School!
I think God knows something about how we judge individuals based on first impressions, and that God has something to show us about ourselves and about himself that we need to come to grips with if we are every going to truly understand and embrace the gospel of grace.
Were first introduced to Joseph, the Favoured Son.
Now Joseph is a young man, seventeen years old, and this chapter gives us every indication that he is an exceptional young man, favoured by man and God. Yet the chapter introduces Joseph in this way by giving us three occasions in which Joseph is set over against his brothers, as the favoured son, which enrages his brothers and true them against him.
First, when he is out in the fields, serving alongside a few of his brothers, he delivers a wicked report about them to his father. As Voddie Baucham notes in his book on Joseph, the bad report serves to present Joseph’s brothers as the “bad guys” in the narrative, while Joseph is the dependable, responsible son. Later, this responsibility and dependability is highlighted as Jacob sends Joseph to check on the rest of his brothers. Which brings us to,
Second, Jacob’s favouritism of Joseph. Now, it is true that the patriarchs seems to have really struggled with this issue of favouritism. Isaac loved Esau more than Jacob, and Jacob favoured Joseph over his brothers. In a way, I can almost imagine how the unique promises of God made to these families might contribute to this atmosphere of favouritism. If God told me that one of my children were going to be chosen to bring blessing to the world, I can imagine some favouritism creeping in as I tried to discern which one it might be. And so Jacob’s favouritism, while misguided and sinful, led to more tensions between his sons, it is perhaps understandable. Jacob calls Joseph, the son of old age” (the article “the” is not in Hebrew). Some think this is Jacob just referring to Jospeh as the final son born among the initial 11 sons, however, a careful reading of Genesis 30 reveals that it is likely that Jacob had all of his sons within seven years. That has led others to translate the phrase, “son of old age” to something like, either, “the son who I expect to take care of me in my old age,”, or “my son who is wise beyond his years”. Either translation seem to fit very well into the passage, as it seems that Joseph, while second youngest, displays a maturity and responsibility that Jacob relies upon, and that others who encounter Joseph also observe in him. Thus, Jacob elevates him above his brothers by crafting for him a royal robe, and his brothers get the message - they are being displaced, and they hate Joseph for it.
Finally, we come to the matter of Joseph’s dreams. He has at least two of them, and they seem to convey the same message, that Joseph will be elevated among his brothers, even among his whole family. Now, note - there is no propositional content to these dreams. What I mean is, when God spoke to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he spoke to them in such a way that they understood in words the content of the promises that God was making to them. Yet Joseph’s dreams are not accompanied by any words of explanation, and so the family, and we the reader are left to interpret the dreams as we are able, and while it might seem clear to the brothers that Joseph is making these dreams up to further Lord over them, it probably seems more likely to us that God is in fact indicating that Joseph is indeed the son of the promise. Jacob, however, seems to be the only one who takes a wait and see approach as he kept the saying in mind, pondering over the fate of his son.
And so that’s the set up. Joseph is the favoured son, favoured by his father and seemingly chosen by God. And the brothers hate him. And so when Jacob sends his responsible, diligent son Joseph up into the north country and to check in on those rascals, the brothers wish to kill him. Reuben, the oldest, seems to want to rescue Joseph, and convinces his brothers to throw Joseph into a pit until they can decide what to do with him. Yet, when Reuben leaves on some errand, a band of Middianites, who are also importantly referred to as Ishmaelites, because they descended from Ishmael, come by, and Judah proposes that the boy be sold into their hands, and thus Joseph is taken to Egypt as a slave, and the sons send word to their father that his chosen son is dead.
Now these acts of violence and treachery from the brothers toward Joseph are not unexpected if we are closely following scripture, and not simply because Jacob’s favouritism of Joseph has thrown the brothers in a rage. But there is a theme that has been developed through the storyline of the scriptures of enmity. Enmity is a word that means a state of hostility between two parties. The idea is brought up in Genesis 3:14:
Gen. 3:14 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Part of the impact of the fall of humanity is that there would be open hostility between the offspring of the serpent, or those who fools the serpents way of life, and the offspring of the woman, those who would be children of the promise of the coming Messiah. We this the outworking of this enmity in the first generation of Adam and Eve’s offspring, as Cain murdered his brother Able, as 1 John declares: because Cain was of the evil one, Able’s righteous deeds highlighted Cain’s own wickedness. The violence intensified in each generation until, in Noah’s day, the entire earth was filled with violence, as God rescued the one righteous man, Noah, by means of the flood. As we’ve been studying the Patriarchs, we have witnessed Ishmael mocking Isaac, the son of the promise. Jacob had to flee for his life from his own brother, Esau. And so this theme of enmity rises up in this chapter as the brothers conspire against Joseph. And while they are arguing about what to do with Joseph, who should come by but a band of Midianites - who Moses reminds us more than once are descended from Ishmael. And so you have Judah working with Ishmael to forcibly remove Joseph from the promised land, and take him of all places to Egypt. With that context in mind, it seems that Moses is doing all he can to present Joseph to us as the innocent son of the promise, and Judah as the son of the serpent. And as we turn to chapter 38, that idea is even more reinforced.
Judah: The Fallen Son
Chapter 38 present Judah as a complete moral failure, a train wreck of a son, the anti-Joseph. First, he falls in his choice of a mate.
Gen. 38:1 It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and turned aside to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. 2 There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua. He took her and went in to her, 3 and she conceived and bore a son, and he called his name Er. 4 She conceived again and bore a son, and she called his name Onan. 5 Yet again she bore a son, and she called his name Shelah. Judah was in Chezib when she bore him.
Now, I can’t say the Judah fails in his choice of a wife, because the text never says he marries Shua, it just says that they have sexual relations. Yet it is not so much the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the marriage that the text points out, but that Judah was not to have married a Canaanite woman in the first place. We have already seen multiple times the patriarch’s concern that their children not take wives from among the Canaanites, yet Judah departs from his brothers to do just that, and as his first son grows into a man, Judah finds a Canaanite wife for him as well, a woman named Tamar.
Next, the text highlights the wickedness of Judah’s line, as both his sons are described as being so wicked that they are put to death by the Lord. Now, listen, we’ve already heard stories about how Judah’s brothers massacred an entire village, how another brother slept with his father’s wife, and then how they as a group conspired to murder their own brother before selling him into slavery. Yet Judah’s son was so wicked God put him to death. So there’s that. And then, following the custom of the times the other brother, Onan, was to take his dead brother’s wife into his own bed and provide children for her in the name of the deceased brother. Yet Onan did not want to provide children for her in his brother’s name, so although he was more than happy to use Tamar sexually, he made sure that she would not bear children. This is wicked exploitation. And the Lord puts him to death as well. And so now, Tamar having been thoroughly humiliated, Judah promises to take care of her until his youngest son grows up enough to take her as his own wife.
Yet Judah does not keep his word, and Tamar because increasingly agitated and desperate to bear children. Now we may find it difficult to understand the desperate situation Tamar was in, for we live in a very different cultural time and place, yet we can understand that Tamar was a desperate woman who had been exploited and lied to for decades. In her desperation she forms a trap for Judah. She veils herself as a prostitute associated with some sort of pagan cult (apparently Judah must have been a frequent solicitor of such women, again, if true, this is another major blemish on his character as it would suggest both habitual involvement in both idolatry and immorality). Judah solicits her services and she gets him to give her his personal items until he can return to pay her, but of course, in the interim she returns home and lives in peace, that is until it is found that she is pregnant.
Gen. 38:24 About three months later Judah was told, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has been immoral. Moreover, she is pregnant by immorality.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” 25 As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” And she said, “Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” 26 Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.
Judah’s hypocrisy has been exposed. Tamar, who has suffered such humiliation at the hands of Judah’s family has now humiliated him. He is the Fallen Son. And so that seems to be the conclusion Moses intends for us to make as he introduces these two brothers - Joseph is the Favoured Son, favoured by God and favoured by man. Judah is the Fallen Son, a disgrace, humiliated by his own wicked actions.
However, these introductory chapters end with the story of Tamar’s twins strange birth, with the twins jostling for position as they are being birthed. It is another picture of enmity and striving between brothers. Yet this is curious because, generally, when Moses gives an account of this sort of sibling rivalry, it is because the siblings in question are a part of the chosen line. Yet these twins are born to Judah, not Joseph. And so here we have an indicator, at the end of these two introductory chapters, that things may not be as they seem. And, at the risk of spoiling the story, things are definitely not as they seem. For the promise-plan of God will unfold, and, sure enough, this has all been a set-up. Judah, and not Joseph, is the son chosen by God. As Jacob prophesies over him:
Gen 49:10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Now, this is a difficult passage to translate and many varied interpretations have been proposed, however, as the Word Biblical Commentary points out:
Whichever of these interpretations is adopted … all at least agree that this line is predicting the rise of the Davidic monarchy and the establishment of the Israelite empire, if not the coming of a greater David. And if the primary reference is to David, traditional Jewish and Christian exegetes would agree that like other Davidic promises it has a greater fulfillment in the Messiah.
The author of Hebrews tells us plainly, in Heb. 7:14, “For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah”
So the Fallen Son, not the Favoured Son, is the Chosen Son. What?!?!? What is God doing here? Why does Moses write like this? why the long set-up?
God’s Choice in Election Defies Our Limited Perspective
I believe that God inspired Moses to introduce these two brothers in this way, precisely because He is highlighting how limited our perspective is when it comes to God’s choice in election. We read two chapters and think we have God’s ways figured out, yet God sees the big picture, and acts according to his inexhaustible knowledge of all things past, present and future. We honestly have no idea what God is doing behind the scenes and within the stories of people’s lives, yet we think we do. Right now, think of someone in your life. Anyone. It could be a colleague, a neighbour, a friend, a believer, someone who doesn’t believe in Christ. Do you have that person in mind? What do you actually know about how God is working in their lives? What do you actually know about how God will work in their lives in the future? I met a guy last night who I first met last year. One of the first things he shared with us was how his marriage was over and had been for a while. He had no hope. Yet I met him again last night. Wow. He’s a changed man. He said things with his wife had done a complete 180. Completely changed. He gave all glory to God. Our perspective is limited. God’s is not.
God’s Grace in Election Defies Our Premature Judgements
Because our perspective is limited, we come to premature judgements about people and situations, but God’s grace in election defies our premature judgements. Judah is not worthy of God’s grace. Neither was Jacob. Neither was Isaac or Abraham. Neither was Joseph. Neither were you.
Neither is your landlord. Neither is your boss. Neither is your classmate. Neither are your kids. The bad news of the gospel is that none of us are worthy of God’s grace, none of us are righteous. All of us are under the wrath of God, unless a saviour comes to rescue and atone. Yet the Saviour has come, Jesus Christ, with salvation in his arms and through his death, burial and resurrection he declares sinners righteous before God, all who come to him in repentance and faith.
Can we pray that our church and the churches of our city would be filled with people whom we in our premature judgment have written off only to be shocked by the all-surpassing and all-surprising power of God’s grace? Can you go into your workplace and school and neighbourhood and home this week with a mindset that you are not going to look at personal history or present difficulty in evaluating whether you think a person is prepared for the gospel or whether they are worthy to hear it from you, but to lavishly love, to withhold judgement, and to boldly share the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ with all, and praying to be shocked as they respond to God’s grace.
God’s Plan in Election Surpasses Our Confined Imaginations
The final word here for us is that our limited perspective confines our imagination in regards to what God is doing or what may do. Because the reality is that although God chose Judah to be the son of the promise in regards to the line of Messiah, God does indeed use Joseph to save the other sons, to bless the surrounding nations, and to carry out his plan for the nation of Israel. Judah needs Joseph in order to survive the famine, yet Joseph needs Judah’s offspring, the Messiah Jesus Christ in order to survive damnation. Tamar becomes the first Gentile included in the line of the Messiah. Israel will follow Joseph into Egypt where they will experience, after many years of suffering, God’s redemption