Biblical Potraits: Judah (5)



We are back to our biblical portrait – but before we arrive at that scene and the speech of Judah that not only precedes, but actually causes Joseph’s revelation, we need to stop for a moment in Canaan. We will pick up this story exactly where we left off—we left the brothers in Canaan, frightened and confused. Yes, they brought the grain home, and even the silver they paid for it was returned along with it, but somehow this Egyptian situation began to be associated in their hearts with that other long-ago story of Joseph’s sale, and although at first Jacob emphatically refuses to permit Benjamin to go back with them, as if closing the issue altogether, I think they all knew in their hearts that this story was destined to continue.

The parallels between Joseph’s sale and this second part of the story are remarkable. Exactly as in chapter 37, apart from the anonymous voice of all the brothers (They said to one another… – Gen. 37:19, Gen. 42:21), we hear two distinct voices here. The first belongs to Reuven: Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, “Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you.” These words sound so strange—after all, Reuven’s sons are Jacob’s grandsons. Why would Jacob kill his own grandsons? We already discussed them, however, as a clear echo of Judah’s tragedy: if in the eyes of the brothers, the death of Judah’s two sons was God’s judgment and punishment for not bringing Joseph back, then we can understand that Reuven is in effect saying: I will bring Benjamin back, and if not, I am prepared to pay the same price.

However, nothing happens after this emotional pledge of Reuven—just as nothing happens after his emotional words in chapter 37. As in the story of Joseph’s sale, once again, it is the voice of Judah that becomes decisive.  Reuven seems to have good intentions, but he doesn’t have the character to follow up—he doesn’t have the authority to make it happen. In chapter 37, he wanted to save Joseph, but he didn’t—in the end, it was Judah’s voice that sealed Joseph’s destiny. In chapter 42, he wants Jacob to let Benjamin go with them to Egypt, but once again, nothing happens until Judah intervenes.


It’s interesting that, unlike Reuven, Judah doesn’t make any solemn pledges, doesn’t swear – he just says: “Send the lad with me…  I myself will be surety for him; from my hand you shall require him”[1] – but once again, it is after his intervention that everything changes. Judah has been given this authority from the very beginning, and therefore it is his voice that becomes decisive and makes a difference here also. Moreover, in Hebrew we can see how this amazing authority affects his father. After Judah’s words, Israel (Jacob) says: אִם־כֵּן אֵפֹוא – If …so. The word אֵפֹוא is a redundant word in Hebrew, used only for stylistic purposes, and I believe it designates here some inner process in Jacob’s heart: even though he has not received any additional rational arguments, after Judah’s words we see him completely convinced and compelled to let Benjamin go.




I don’t think I need to go into all the details of the narrative (by the way, one of my books – If you are the Son of God – is written  around this fascinating story. If you are interested, you  can get  them  through my page on this blog,   ). You would all know that, together with Benjamin, the brothers returned to Egypt and, contrary to their expectations, everything turned out well there—at least in the beginning. It got even better after once again they, now with Benjamin, came and stood before Joseph. He not only spoke with them in a rather softer and friendlier tone than previously, but also invited them to a joint meal where the brothers were seated in order, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth, and once again they got the impression that somebody present knew them and was aware of their secrets – and the men looked in astonishment at one another.[2]


We know that at dawn they started back on the road, but we also know that not long before they had left, Joseph had commanded his steward (to his great puzzlement, I imagine, as well as to the puzzlement of those reading these chapters for the first time) to put his silver cup into Benjamin’s sack. Next we read: Joseph said to his steward, “Get up, follow the men and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good?’ … So he overtook them.[3]


Stop here. Try to imagine what the eleven must have been experiencing:  already anticipating their reunion with their father and their families; already sure that everything had gone smoothly and expediently; in the end it turned out that this was only a continuation of that same ongoing game of cat-and-mouse of their first meeting. His hand, which had allowed them to get but a few steps away, once again overtook them: So he searched. He began with the oldest and left off with the youngest.[4] Try to imagine them during the search: panting and crimson, indignant with the total injustice and groundlessness of this new accusation, their hearts filled with mixed feelings of puzzlement, fear, affront and triumph over each one’s innocence proven. Now everything is almost over, just one more moment and at last they will be released and can get moving on their way home again, far away from this strange place where evidently something mysterious is at work, far away from this sinister person who for some reason causes their hearts to shudder in remembrance of that long ago perpetrated crime. Just one more minute, only Benjamin’s sack is left to be checked and he of course is the youngest, the purest among them, innocent of even what all of them are guilty of—is there even any need to search his bag at all? Dancing around nervously with impatience, each brother has already loaded up his donkey. They are just about ready to get back on their way – hurry, come on, let’s get going… hey, what’s going on? What?!! I hear a moan of terror multiplied ten times over at the end of verse twelve: the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, – and only Benjamin is left speechless and doesn’t say a word.own

This is a critical point in the narrative, because from now on, this story becomes the story of Judah and his brothers. Next time, in our final article on Judah, we will uncover this final layer.

If the articles on this blog whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, I would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount) regarding our amazing courses.  You can start your own journey of Discovering the secrets of the Hebrew Bible. 

If you like  my articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you  can get  them  through my page on this blog,   

[1] Gen. 43:8,9

[2] Gen. 43:33

[3] Gen. 44:4-6

[4] Gen 44:12

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Rolando Amir (@rolandomirabalh)

    Thank you! I’ll be waiting for the next article!

  2. Michael

    Good morning; I have a general question about this blog. I have read your article about the keys of the transitional chapter, but cannot find links to keys 2+. I can only find the page with the first key. Could you direct me to a link with an index of all your blog posts? It would be greatly appreciated, and apologies if this isn’t the best place to post such a question. I’ve tried searching for your email address on this website with no luck. Thank you!

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Michael, thank you for your interest, welcome to the blog. here are the links to the keys 2-5 :

      You can also order my book “As though hiding his face” (it was not ready yet when I was writing the posts), it would probably be more convenient, because you will have all the keys (and all the locks) in one place (
      Blessings, Julia