Why The Tribe of Judah?

by Tom Wacaster

This particular expression, “the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah,” occurs nowhere else in the Bible.  But why the tribe of “Judah”?   The answer lies in events that occurred centuries before John received this vision.  Joseph had been sold by his own brethren into the hands of Ishmeelites (Gen. 37:28), and later sold as a common slave to a man by the name of Potiphar.  God blessed Joseph in the months and years to follow, so much so that Joseph was eventually removed from his bondage and  promoted to a position of honor and authority in the Egyptian kingdom.  You know the story!

We jump ahead now several years; seven years of plenty have been followed by years of famine.   Meanwhile Jacob and his family, living in the land of Canaan, are suffering from the severe famine and are eventually forced, out of sheer necessity, to travel to Egypt to get sustenance. Jacob sends ten of his boys to Egypt to buy bread; only Benjamin remained behind.  Through a series of maneuvers, Joseph (recognizing his brethren while remaining unknown to his ten brothers who had come to Egypt) works out a plan to get Benjamin to Egypt.  Accusing the ten boys of being spies, he agrees that they could all go home, but one would have to remain as surety.  He then warns them that should they return to Egypt for more bread, “Ye shall not go forth hence except your youngest brother come hither” (Gen. 42:15).  If they dared come back to Egypt without Benjamin by their side, every one of them would be cast into prison.  With mixed emotions, the nine sons of Jacob make their way home.  We can only imagine the tremendous guilt these boys must have been feeling.  They had earlier admitted, “We are verily guilty concerning our bother [Joseph, TW], in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us” (Gen. 42:21).   Now their father would suffer the loss of yet another son because of their foolish sin against Joseph.  Jacob would suffer the loss of Simeon, kept prisoner, likely as surety that eventually the other boys would have to return to retrieve their bother; but when they came, Benjamin would be with them! 

As the famine worsened, it finally became necessary for Jacob to send his boys back to Egypt to get bread. Reluctant to let Benjamin go with them, he finally gave in, and spoke these pitiful and heart rending words:  “If it be so now, do this: take of the choice fruits of the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spicery and myrrh, nuts, and almonds; and take double money in your hand; and the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks carry again in your hand; peradventure it was an oversight: take also your brother, and arise, go again unto the man: and God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may release unto you your other brother and Benjamin. And if I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (Gen. 43:11-14).  With Benjamin by their side, all of the remaining sons of Jacob now head for Egypt.  Once more they find themselves in the presence of Joseph, still unaware of his true identity.   Once again they are invited to dine with this second highest monarch in the land of Egypt.  Once again they are made to marvel at the turn of events which they were experiencing.  

Joseph is now ready to test these boys yet one more time.  Filling their sacks with food, Joseph has his steward to “put every man's money in his sack's mouth. And put my cup, the silver cup, in the sack's mouth of the youngest, and his corn money” (Gen. 44:1-2).  On the morning, as soon as the sun had dawned, the eleven boys now started for home, unaware that their money had been placed in their sacks, and unaware that the “silver cup” of Joseph had been hidden in Benjamin’s sack.   No sooner had they cleared the city when Joseph instructed the steward, “Up, follow after the men; and when thou dost overtake them, say unto them, Wherefore have ye rewarded evil for good?  Is not this it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth? ye have done evil in so doing” (Gen. 44:4-5).   Overtaking that ragtag band of Hebrews, a search was made; the cup was found in the sack of Benjamin.  He was arrested and carried back to the city, his brethren in hot pursuit.   Once again, the sons of Jacob were made to appear before Joseph; but this time it was not to beg for food – it was to attempt the release of their youngest brother.   It is upon Judah’s tender plea that we now focus our attention:

 Then Judah came near unto him, and said, Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord's ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant: for thou art even as Pharaoh.  My lord asked his servants, saying, Have ye a father, or a brother? And we said unto my lord, We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loveth him.  And thou saidst unto thy servants, Bring him down unto me, that I may set mine eyes upon him.   And we said unto my lord, The lad cannot leave his father: for if he should leave his father, his father would die.  And thou saidst unto thy servants, Except your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more. And it came to pass when we came up unto thy servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. And our father said, Go again, and buy us a little food. And we said, We cannot go down: if our youngest brother be with us, then will we go down: for we may not see the man's face, except our youngest brother be with us.  And thy servant my father said unto us, Ye know that my wife bare me two sons:  And the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces; and I saw him not since: And if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.  Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad be not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad's life;  It shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave.  For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever (Gen. 44:18-32). 

Never in the annals of history have mortal men spoken such tender words, neither before or since.  Years of guilt and anguish have finally caught up with these brethren of Joseph.  Judah takes the lead in making the case for Benjamin’s release.  But we are not finished.  Now listen attentively as Judah adds one important element to his tender plea for mercy:  “Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren” (Gen. 44:33). 

We ask the question once again: Why “the lion of the tribe of Judah?”  And herein lies the answer.  Judah was willing to offer himself for Benjamin’s release; his life for the life of his brother; his bondage for Benjamin’s freedom; his captivity in a foreign land that the young lad might go home to his father!  There, my friend, is the reason why our Lord came from the tribe of Judah.  It was because Judah, on that occasion, and in that particular moment, was willing to sacrifice himself for the good of his brother, and his love for his broken hearted father back home. It was Judah who unselfishly offered himself as a ransom for his brother Benjamin that earned him the right to have his name to be included in this title of the Messiah.