Thanksgiving And Judah

We are coming close to the Thanksgiving Day – and since a great many of my readers are from the United States, first and foremost, I would like to wish everybody Happy Thanksgiving! I think it is a wonderful celebration, it used to be my favorite holiday when I lived in America, and even though I now live in Israel, it is still a very special day for me. And I wanted to take a moment to say a huge Thank you!
I truly appreciate all the wonderful readers and followers of this blog, and I am very thankful to you and for you!

Because of Thanksgiving, I would like to take a break from our main theme – Hidden Messiah – and to talk about Judah today.  Yes, Judah from the book of Genesis, Jacob’s son, Joseph’s brother. You might ask, why Judah, what does Judah have to do with Thanksgiving?  This is exactly the question that this article is going to address.

We all know that King David was a descendant of Judah: The Book of Samuel makes it very clear that God bestows His anointing, for all time, on a monarchic line arising from the Tribe of Judah in the person of King David.  Therefore, Jesus, who is designated ‘Son of David’, is also a descendant of Judah, as it is written: Our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.[1] Have you ever wondered why? Why it was Judah – whose weaknesses, even sins, are revealed so clearly in the book of Genesis, both in the story of Joseph and the story of Tamar – who was honored with this extraordinary privilege? Moreover, if we know that Judah’s tribe was destined to have this very unique honor – to bring forth King David and also Jesus – how do we connect the dots between this glorious destiny and Judah’s questionable behavior in the book of Genesis? And, once again, what does this all have to do with Thanksgiving?

Let’s start from the beginning – from Judah’s birth. When Leah gave birth to her fourth son, she declared: “This time I will praise the Lord”. Therefore she named him Judah.[2]  In English, of course, we don’t see a connection:  I believe this is one of the greatest losses we experience when reading our Bible in translations only – the meaning of the Hebrew names is completely lost in translation. Translations and adaptations don’t simply change the original meaning, but render the names meaningless. Unless we take time to go back into the Hebrew, the Biblical names of people and places in translation will continue to have no connection at all with the original reference points and ideas buried within the text itself.  The   connecting words: “therefore”, or “because”, or “so” seem meaningless in these cases – like in Gen. 3:20: And Adam: called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living; or in Gen. 25:26: Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob.  However, when we read these Scriptures in Hebrew, the connections are very evident – and this becomes absolutely clear in the naming of Judah: the verb lehodot (להודות) means “to thank “ or “to praise”,  and the Hebrew name for Judah, Yehudah (יהודה),  is the noun form of the root Y-D-H (ידה), “to thank” or “to praise”.

Therefore Judah’s Hebrew name, Yehudah (יהודה), can be translated literally as “thanksgiving” – and this is the main reason for us to talk about Judah in connection with Thanksgiving . This is also the first, and very important, lesson of the name Judah: we need to thank the Lord in order to become part of His plan and His story, and in order to bring His blessing upon our descendants.

However, there is something more that we can learn from this name. The verb lehodot has yet another meaning: to admit, to confess. For example, there is a special prayer of Confession read before and during Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and the Hebrew name of this prayer, Vidui, comes from the same root. This ‘confession’ aspect provides an important additional insight into the character of Judah, and in order to understand it’s meaning more deeply, let’s turn to the story of Judah and Tamar.

Immediately following the sale of Joseph by his brothers in Genesis 37, we read the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38. In a sense, this story breaks the flow of the Joseph narrative:  instead of continuing to tell us about Joseph’s going down to Egypt, the Torah interrupts itself with the story of Judah. We read about Judah separating from his brothers (and wonder why), his marriage, the death of his sons, Tamar’s seduction, and the climax of the story – Judah’s confession.

Let’s read these verses together:


 KJV Genesis 38:25 When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff.

Showing Judah’s personal items to him, Tamar said:הַכֶּר־נָא  (haker na) “please examine”. Ironically, these are the exact words Judah and the brothers spoke to their father, Jacob –הַכֶּר־נָא  “please examine” (Gen. 37:32) – while showing him Joseph’s torn clothes. Then, Judah was a deceiver, now he is the one deceived. Judah’s deception revisits him in his very own words.  It is remarkable that, in the entire Torah, this expression appears only in these two chapters: Genesis 37 and 38. In the first case, Judah was a deceiver, but now he is the one deceived, and at this very moment, when Judah is presented with his personal items, his heart is pierced by this recognition. Not only by the recognition of his things, but much more deeply, by the recognition of his guilt. At this moment, Judah had a change of heart:

Gen. 38:26 And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. 

We read a beautiful description of this transformation in Midrash: “Then Judah rose up and said: … I make it known that with what measure a man metes it shall measured unto him, be it for good or for evil, but happy the man that acknowledgeth  his sins. Because I took the coat of Joseph, and colored it with the blood of a kid, and then laid it at the feet of my father, saying: Know now whether it be thy son’s coat or not, therefore must I now confess, before the court, unto whom belongeth this signet, this mantle, and this staff”.

Of course, Midrash just fills in the gaps that the Scripture leaves out. Yet, there is a point not to be missed: Judah is the very first Biblical figure who is ready to acknowledge his sin.  Instead of saying: ‘she is the one to blame’, like Adam, Judah says: ‘I am the one to blame.’ She is more righteous than I. Judah is the first person in the book of Genesis – and therefore the entire Bible – who confesses his sin, takes responsibility for it, and changes his behavior: he repents.

Now, I think we can understand why it was Judah’s tribe that was chosen by God for such a glorious destiny. Judah’s confession provides an important insight, not only into character of Judah, but also into the character of God: clearly, thanksgiving and repentance are so important for Him, that He establishes the kingly line of Israel from the tribe of Judah.



[1] Heb. 7:14

[2] Gen. 29:35

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. Emily M Matz

    This is lovely. My oldest son is named Judah. I liked Jude but wanted 2 syllables. He was due on Thanksgiving day and I had read the name meant Praise and Thanksgiving to God. So it was a perfect fit. And my husband thought it sounded like a Jedi name. Win win.

  2. Henrietta Wisbey

    Dear Julia
    May I say how truly wonderful to be in this stream of flowing water.
    The river of His delights!
    Some connections spring to mind and I would like to string them together–like a string of pearls.
    Gen. 38:14 describes Tamar who covered herself with a veil in order to deceive(open the eyes of) Judah. He went in unto her and she conceived in her womb twins Zareh and Pharez.
    Judah had broken his promise to Tamar.
    She asks for a pledge; (eravon) that his promise of a kid would not be broken.
    Judah gives his signet, his bracelets and his staff!!
    Quite a pledge!!
    One could say his entire identity.
    Ephesians 1 reminds us of the pledge of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession.
    We see the same Hebrew word used Gen.43:9 when Judah becomes surety/pledge for his younger brother Benjamin.
    May I conclude by marvelling at the breakthrough not only Pharez but also Zareh in the Messianic line.
    Zareh still with the red cord tied to his wrist and Pahrez who miraculously broke through.
    So so much for which to give thanks.
    Shalom Henrietta

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Henrietta! I just reread this comment on the blog – and once again, have been truly blessed and truly amazed by all these wonderful connections that you string together – indeed, like “a string of pearls”. Amazing! This interplay between “deceive-open the eyes” is so deep; and the idea of pledge is also incredibly profound. Thank you so much for your comments!

  3. Mary C Yeh

    Dr Julia: You have done it again! You cause me to marvel at the greatness of the Word of God! The Torah! The Scriptures! I, like some of the other bloggers, have wondered, “Why in the world do we have an interjection right after Joseph is carried away into bondage to Egypt, have Judah doing this obscene scene! This is the Word of God! Come on!” But seeing that REPENTANCE is the greatest gift mankind is given from God, especially from the God and Father of our LORD Jesus, I see it from your explanation of Judah! THANKSGIVING! PRAISING THE NAME!!!! Baruch Hashem!!!

    To add to poor Tamar’s negativity, she most likely was a Canaanite, though the Scriptures does not indicate directly! “There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and made love to her;” Genesis 38:2 Though it was Shua whom Judah married, Tamar was in the same country and town Judah was locating himself from away from his family of Israel among the Canaanites. I believe Tamar heard the GOSPEL, the News of Good of the coming Redeemer and Savior of mankind, and the coming Messiah of Israel from being in Judah’s household. I do believe she was desperate to be in this Messiah’s lineage and genealogy, though not an Israelite, but one of the Nations. “Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar.” Matthew 1:3a The God of Israel, Adonai, Yehovah, the God of Great Mercy and Love included Tamar in Israel’s Messiah’s flesh blood to Christ Jesus HIMSELF!!!! What a glorious righteous memory! This is forever and ever and ever, etc in eternity!!!! What an encouragement to us who live today who hook ourselves to this living Christ/Messiah in Spirit who has taken our Repentance, His gift from His Death, Resurrection, Ascension and Enthronement and are His in our being living in us and where we can apply His gift of repentance daily when we fall to quidkly restore our wonderful relationship back to Him in our being hooked to His throne seeing His Holy Face! Tamar was a brilliant woman who heard the Gospel and acted upon it! Judah is great because REPENTANCE is what gains entrance into the Kingdom of God! No wonder the God of the WORD revealed this here!

    1. Julia Blum

      Dear Mary, I am always so blessed by your excitement! And you are absolutely right: usually people don’t see any connection between the story of Joseph, in ch.37, and the story of Judah, in ch.38. That’s why I love teaching this class about Judah and Tamar in DHB course: all these connections are completely new for most of my students! Sign up for the course, Mary, you would absolutely love it – and I would love having you in my class! Contact me personally via my email, and I will tell you all the details. Blessings!

  4. Ruth Macdonald

    Thank you so much for all your teachings. You have answered the very question I was often asking – why did Messiah come from Yehudah’s lineage? Perhaps you could please explain why Jacob rejected Reuben’s offer of his two sons if he did not come back with Benjamin, yet Jacob accepted Yehudah’s offer that should they not come back with Benjamin, Jacob blame him forever. Happy Thanksgiving to all who are celebrating it.
    Shalom and blessings

    1. Julia Blum

      Ruth, thank you so much for your comment. The question that you ask, regarding Jacob and Reuben and Judah, as well as the whole story of Judah (the article covers just part of the story) , is exactly something I discuss and explain during the DHB course (Discovering Hebrew Bible ). I invite you personally to enroll in this course – after your comment, I have an impression you will enjoy it greatly!

  5. David Hereford

    A life of repentance is not a life of failure as I have thought most of my left, rather, it is a life learning to love our Father. Thank you Julia for sharing this insight of Judah.

  6. Jacob D. M. Mubanga

    Thank you so very much for the insights shared in your blog. I found the article very inspiring and educative.

  7. Susan Adamson

    Shalom Julia, Ve Tov Me’od. I am thankful to be receiving your posts. I will be using your Hidden Messiah to lead a Ladies Bible Study in January and February. I find it fascinating and since I have become interested in the Hebrew Roots of our Faith, (I am a Christian) I have deepened my understanding of the Word so much. I am taking the Ulpan 2 course and am scheduled to take the Biblical Hebrew course when I complete that. I decided that I wanted to learn to read and speak God’s language. E Teacher has been such a tremendous blessing, especially with the additional resources which include your blog, the online web conferences, etc.
    So, this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for you, for E Teacher, for my online teachers and fellow talmidim. Thank you and blessings to you and your family.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Susan! I am so glad that you’ve been blessed by eTeacher courses and by this blog! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving day! Many blessing to you and your loved ones!

  8. Colleen Moore

    Thank you so much for your research, but I want to add some insights that have come to me. Judah learned (and I think in a very embarrassing way) the value of keeping pledges and promises, and thus his father Jacob could trust Judah when he offered to be a “surety” for Benjamin in their dealings with the unrecognizable Joseph in Egypt. (King James Version, Genesis 43:9, 32) A surety means to be sure, and it also means a person who takes responsibility for another’s performance of an undertaking, such as the payment of a debt. Instead of the word “surety,” the Revised Standard Version occasionally uses the phrase “guarantee your servant’s well-being” (Psalms 119:122). The Book of Isaiah uses the word “Redeemer,” and Paul speaks of Jesus as being the “surety of a better testament.” (Heb. 7:22) I love how this concept of the Messiah’s role was brought forth in Judah’s offering of himself for his brother. In reading Judah’s speech before Jacob and Joseph, you can certainly feel the tone of Jesus’ statement: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

    Thank you so much for these blogs. They make me think deeper about the Bible.

  9. SuSan Oxbrow

    What Blesses me more than I can the way Father opens up just a little at a time..the depth of His Word..and we each become More..
    I have been reading the bible for many years..and have never seen Judah as the first man to repent and accept the responsibility of his own actions..I am delighted to learn this..
    and go ever deeper..thank you..

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your kind words Susan! Regarding Judah being the first one to acknowledge his sin, I will just repeat here my answer to Angelika: of course, we can mention also Abraham and Isaac in all the “sister-wife” episodes (Genesis 12, 20,26) – in each of these cases, when a king demanded an answer, they admitted their lies. However, I think there is still a great difference: in all three cases, the kings knew already they were lying, so they didn’t have a choice, they had to admit, and they did it under external pressure. Judah acknowledged his sin and his guilt without any external pressure: Tamar didn’t betray him, and even if she would, I suppose nobody would listen to her: a woman, a widow, an adulterer, her social status was incomparable more low than Judah’s. Judah could have been quiet, nobody would convince him – but his heart convinced him, and this is an extremely significant moment in the Scripture.In this sense, he is definitely “the first man to repent and accept the responsibility of his own actions..” . Blessings!