The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

JUDAH-COME-LATELY

Delivered 1/14/07
Text: Genesis 44:1-45:1

You have heard the term, "Johnny-come-lately" - someone who only recently has arrived on a well-established scene, someone who seems to take their good old time about coming to a position or way of thinking which is already regarded as the best or brightest or wisest in a particular circumstance. "Johnny-come-lately" is generally a term of derision. Somewhere, way back when, there must have been some poor "Johnny" who took forever to make up his mind and get with the program.

For what it is worth, whoever that poor "Johnny" happened to be, he was certainly NOT the first one to have the problem. We ran into someone like that a moment ago who certainly pre-dates Johnny...that man named Judah. He had the same kind of difficulty. Perhaps, all along, we should have been saying "Judah-come-lately."

The first time we run into Judah is at the end of the 29th chapter of Genesis where we find his birth recorded - the fourth son of Jacob and his first wife Leah. Scripture says that the baby was given the name Judah because, at his birth, his mother is reported to have said, "This time I will praise the Lord." You see, the name Judah sounds somewhat like and may be derived from the Hebrew word for PRAISE.

Unfortunately, as one continues on through the Genesis record, there is not a great deal to say in PRAISE of Judah...at least, not for quite a while. The next time we run into him is in the story of the sale of his bratty little brother Joseph into slavery.

You remember what happened. Jacob sent Joseph out to the fields to see how his brothers were doing with the flocks. The brothers had long before had it with Joseph and decided to kill him. But, instead, they spied a caravan of Midianites headed south toward Egypt and, at Judah's urging, they sold him for twenty sheckels, concocted the story about some wild animal killing the boy, then went back and told it to their father. Of course, Joseph went on from slavery to become the prime minister of Egypt...from the outhouse to the penthouse, as they say.

But back to Judah. He is the focus of this story today. To be sure, Judah paid rather dearly for his part in the crime. And the compiler of the Biblical record wanted to make that clear. You see, the story of Joseph being sold into slavery is recounted in Genesis 37. Genesis 38 interrupts the Joseph narrative to tell the story of Judah's situation. To give a brief synopsis, Judah went off and got married, had three sons and a lot of trouble. The first son grew up and got married but the relationship did not last long. Scripture says of him, "[He was] wicked in the Lord's sight; so the Lord put him to death." The second son refused to fulfill his obligation of providing children for the wife of his older brother (which is the way things were supposed to be done back then - this was part of the Israelite Social Security system), so the Lord put him to death too. Judah then told the widow of his first son to just wait for a few years until the third boy grew to manhood and could provide children for her, but Judah never followed through on the promise. Clear so far? Not really? You can read the story for yourself - Genesis 38. Suffice it to say that Judah himself finally ended up getting his daughter-in-law pregnant (which was just as much a no-no then as it would be today). At any rate, Judah ended up paying dearly for his part in what had happened to Joseph.

We do not run into Judah again until the famine hits. You recall that one of the ways that Joseph had ingratiated himself with the Pharaoh was by accurately predicting the agricultural yield...seven years of plenty followed by seven years of starvation. During the starvation years, Jacob sent ten of his sons down to Egypt in hopes of buying some of the grain that Joseph had so far-sightedly stored. They went to Egypt, met Joseph (whom they failed to recognize despite the fact that he recognized them), were accused of being spies, and ended up defending themselves by telling their family history - they said that all ten of them were brothers, that there was one more brother still at home and another brother whom they said, in their words, was "no more." (One wonders how Joseph took to THAT news.) Joseph finally sold them some grain, kept Simeon in custody as the guarantee of a promise to bring the youngest brother Benjamin back with them the next time they came, and sent them on their way.

Of course, when they got back home, they found not only grain in their sacks but all the silver they had paid for the grain as well. Joseph had arranged that. I wonder what ran through Judah's mind. After all, it was Judah who had convinced his brothers that getting rid of Joseph could be a profitable venture - there was a bit of the money-grubber in him. He might have been tempted to celebrate. But, then again, Judah was older and wiser now. He was probably just as scared as the rest of them.

Father Jacob was surely scared. He absolutely did not want Benjamin to go back to Egypt on the next trip, despite the promise that had been made to Joseph. Jacob figured that there was no way that Simeon was still alive; he KNEW that Joseph was long since dead. Now he was terrified that he was about to lose Benjamin too. So Jacob simply refused to let ANY of them go back again.

Of course, circumstances have a way of changing our minds, and such was the case with Jacob. The famine persisted, the grain ran out again, so another trip to Egypt had to be planned. This time Judah came to his father and reminded him that Joseph had warned them that there would be no more grain unless Benjamin was brought with them. Jacob did not want to do it, but Judah prevailed on him by saying, "I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you...I will bear the blame..." Quite a promise from one who had arranged the sale of another brother into slavery. Judah was beginning to show some redeeming qualities. As you know, Jacob finally agreed, and the boys headed south once again, this time with Benjamin along too.

They got down to Egypt, met with Joseph again, and this time presented Benjamin. After a few moments, Joseph had them taken to his own residence. THAT scared them to death - they thought they were going to be made his slaves. Actually, Joseph only wanted to have dinner with them.

By the way, they BROUGHT BACK the silver that had been put in their sacks. They tried to return it to the manager of the household but he refused it. The manager said that he had GOTTEN the silver they had originally paid - GOD had put this new silver into the sacks (pretty neat steward, huh?).

That brings to mind a story I heard on the radio. It seems a young fellow and his girl friend went into a Kentucky Fried Chicken place, ordered dinner to take out, were handed their box, took off down the road to a picnic area, pulled up to a table, got out and opened the box and found, not chicken, but a fistful of money. It seems that the manager had put the day's receipts in a chicken box and the girl behind the counter had just handed these folks the wrong one. Well, the young fellow brought the money back to the store and immediately became that manager's greatest living friend. The manager wanted to show his appreciation, so he asked the couple to hang around for just a few minutes - he wanted to get a photographer over from the local paper to take a picture under the headline THE MOST HONEST MAN IN TOWN. The customer hemmed and hawed for a few seconds and said, "Don't bother...it's not necessary." But the manager was insistent. Such honesty HAD to be acknowledged. Finally, the fellow said, "Listen, I appreciate all this, but I can't have this get in the paper. You see, I'm married and this lady isn't my wife." Ah, well.

Anyway, back to the story. The brothers, including Simeon who now had been released from confinement, had their dinner with Joseph (which proved to be an emotionally wrenching experience for him), and were sent off back to Canaan with all the grain they could possibly carry (and, once again, with all their money back in the sacks). But Joseph had also given his workers one other instruction: they were to put his own personal silver chalice in the mouth of Benjamin's sack (which they did). And the brothers headed home.

As you know, they had not been gone very long when Joseph sent his men after them with a cock-and-bull story about a stolen cup. They were brought back to his house, denied that they had anything to do with stealing anything, and went so far as to promise that if any of them WERE guilty, that one would die and the rest of them would willingly become the Prime Minister's slaves. But Joseph's manager said, "Don't worry about that. Just the one who stole the cup will become a slave; the rest may go free." So they all lowered their sacks to the ground, opened them up, and sure enough, there was the cup in Benjamin's bag.

So, back to Joseph they all went. And here is where Judah finally comes through...Judah-come-lately. Judah said to Joseph, "Listen, you told us to bring our youngest brother with us when we came back here again or else we would not be able to buy grain. Our father was terrified to let him come, because he was afraid he would lose him forever. But I promised my father that nothing would happen to the boy and I guaranteed it on my own life. If we go back home without Benjamin, that will kill that old man. Please, if someone has to be your slave because of this, let it be me...and let the young boy go."

Judah had finally come through. No question, he should have come through years before when his brothers wanted to get rid of Joseph. He should never have been a part of the injustice that was done in selling the boy into slavery. He should have been a better manager of his own household rather than allow some of the things to occur that were so disastrous. He should have this...he should have that...he should have the other... The list could probably go on and on. But, fortunately, Judah finally DID do what he should, and the result was that the whole family was spared. Judah-come-lately.

You remember how it ended. Joseph could not continue the charade any longer. He broke down in tears and confessed his true identity. And, like some ancient Cinderella story, they all lived happily ever after.

We do not hear much about Judah after that. Just the fact that he became one of the twelve patriarchs of Israel. Out of his line came Israel's greatest king, David, and down through the centuries, the greatest king of all, Jesus Christ.

Judah-come-lately. Is there any of Judah in you? There is in me. Tomorrow the nation will remember the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember him well. I did a radio interview with him in 1964. I also remember the March on Washington the summer before - "I have a dream today..." - and I remember being angry at these NEGROES (not blacks or African Americans) who wanted their civil rights NOW - "What's the rush?" I thought. How could I have been so dumb? Well, I finally DID come around, as those of you who have read my book have found. As Peter learned in the home of Cornelius, God does not play racial favorites. It took me awhile, but... Judah-come-lately.

Are there things in your life that you know very well are not as they should be, but you have not done anything about them? Are there family relationships that have long been broken but no move has been made to heal them? Are there social situations that are unjust that you CAN have a part in correcting? Is there a spiritual problem that you have simply ignored because it would take real repentance to correct? Is your relationship with the Lord what it should be? The lesson of Judah is that, as long as we have breath, there is still hope for us. Judah-come-lately? It is surely better than JUDAH-COME-NEVER.

Amen!

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