Judah is an important man in the Bible. His story is told in the Old Testament, but his legacy extends into the New Testament. Yet, Bible readers aren’t as familiar with him as they are with Abraham, Isaac, and Job, even though Judah was in Jesus Christ’s family line. So who was Judah in the Bible?
Judah was the fourth son born to Jacob and Leah, the grandson of Isaac, and the great-grandson of Abraham. He is partly known for convincing his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery instead of killing him. From Judah came the Israelite tribe with the same name, from which came Jesus Christ.
What is Judah known for in the Bible? Who are his well-known parents? Who are his brothers that play such an important role in his narrative? How were Judah and Tamar related? How did Tamar trick Judah? How did Judah give in to temptation? How is Judah associated with Jesus Christ? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also, see Who Was Nicodemus in the Bible? to learn more.
What Is Judah Known for in the Bible?
Even though Judah lived at an important time in Israel’s early history, the book of Genesis rarely makes him the story’s main character. Besides his famous family, Judah is known for three things: (1) saving his brother Joseph’s life, (2) being seduced by Tamar, and (3) starting the tribe from which Jesus came.
Judah’s famous parents and brothers
Genesis mentions Judah in a section in which Jacob is the main character (Ch. 25:12-36:43) and another in which Joseph is (37:1-50:26). Genesis 29:35 records Judah’s birth. “And [Leah] conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord.’ Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she ceased bearing'” (ESV). The Hebrew name Judah means “Praise Yahweh.”
One Genesis scholar notes that Judah’s name was unique among Leah’s sons because it’s the only one that didn’t reflect her trials. It also pointed to a greater work of God in the future (more below).
“The fourth of [Leah’s] sons, Judah, was the only one whose name did not reflect her own personal situation, his name being a simple expression of praise to God. It is perhaps significant that this is the one through whom God intended one day to bring the Messiah into the world.” 
Judah saves the life of his brother Joseph
Besides being mentioned in a list of Leah’s children (Gen. 35:23), the next time Genesis mentions Judah is at the beginning of Joseph’s narrative, eight chapters later.
In the story, some of Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him. Judah seemed prideful to them, and they disliked how Jacob favored him, so “they conspired against him to kill him” (Gen. 37:18b, ESV).
However, Rueben and Judah intervened at just the right time. Reuben said, “Let us not take his life” (Gen. 37:21) and suggested throwing him in a pit instead, which they did.
When a trade caravan heading to Egypt approached them, Judah creatively saved Joseph’s life when he gave his brothers the idea of selling him to the traders, even though it meant his younger brother would leave the family to live in another country.
Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh” (Gen. 37:26-27). The jealous brothers did as Judah said, and Joseph lived.
Also, see Who Was Balaam in the Bible? to learn more.
The Story of Judah and Tamar
Genesis 38 is the only passage in Genesis where Judah is the main character. Sadly, it depicts his weaknesses and failures. The other featured person in the story is Tamar, Judah’s daughter-in-law, the wife of his son, Er. In the story, deaths in the family lead Tamar to deceive Judah, and he gives into sin.
Problems arise in the family after God killed Er and his brother Onan for wicked and disobedient acts (Gen. 38:7-10). As a result, Tamar is widowed and childless and eventually turns to deception to solve her problems. She schemed to entice Judah to sexual sin and impregnate her. Her plan worked.
One day, after the death of Judah’s wife, Tamar wore a veil to disguise herself as a prostitute (Gen. 38:15). Not aware of her identity, Judah had intercourse with her. Then, the story says that Tamar took off the veil of a prostitute and put on the garments of widowhood (Gen. 39:19). The immoral act resulted in the births of Perez and Zerah (Gen. 38:29-30).
When Judah learns the truth, he says, “She is more righteous than I” (Gen. 38:26). In the rest of Genesis, when Judah is mentioned, the connotations are positive, which suggests that the recognition of his own guilt was a turning point in his life, refining his character. 
Also, see Who Was Caleb in the Bible? to learn more.
The Lion of the Tribe of Judah
When Jacob was on his deathbed, he blessed each of his sons before passing away. When he came to Judah (Gen. 49:8-12), who had become a strong leader, he compared him to a lion. Regarding the New Testament, this reference also points to the forthcoming Messiah, who would come from Judah’s tribe.
Jacob said, “Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?” (Gen. 49:9; ESV).
Judah’s blessing is the origin of Jesus’ title, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. John uses the title in Revelation 5:5, “And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals'” (ESV).
Also, see Who Was Hannah in the Bible? to learn more.
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