Journey Through The Scriptures

The Twelve Tribes of Israel, Part I

Lesson 2: Two Prominent Sons

(Scripture to Read: Genesis 35:21–26; 37:1–30; 38:1–30; 49:3–4, 8–12)

With this lesson we are plunged into the complex, and sometimes shameful, history of Jacob’s twelve sons. It is interesting to compare the relatively rapid birth of Leah’s first four sons with the twenty-five long years that Abraham had to wait for the birth of Isaac. And Isaac himself had only Esau and Jacob. But with Jacob’s family we begin to see the multiplication of Abraham’s descendants in accordance with God’s promise to him (Genesis 12:2; 15:45).

We have paired Judah with Reuben because these two stand out among the first group of sons. Firstborn Reuben should have been the leader. But for His purposes, God had established the principle in Abraham’s family that “the older will serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23) – so Judah and his tribe rose to prominence. Reuben forfeited his rights by sleeping with Bilhah, one of his father’s wives. Judah’s flawed character played out in his evil sons and his disgraceful act with his daughter-in-law, Tamar. The deathbed prophecies Jacob gave to Reuben and Judah spoke of their character, but also included the astounding promise to Judah that the Messiah would come from his line, an anticipation of Israel’s later kingship that was centered in the land of Judah.

Study Questions

  1. Reuben's actions may have been an unwise attempt to proclaim himself as Jacob's heir. How might Reuben's act have signified that he was declaring himself the new family leader?
  2. Why were Er and Onan, the first two sons of Judah, put to death by the Lord?
  3. What does Jacob's prophecy mean when he said the scepter would not depart from Judah "until he comes to whom it belongs" (Genesis 49:10)?
  4. How did the blessing of Jacob that "brothers will praise you" (Genesis 49:8) come true for Judah?

Something to Think About

Even though Judah and his family made serious mistakes, God still graciously elevated Judah’s tribe to a place of leadership. Perhaps one reason is that, unlike Reuben, Judah expressed remorse for his sin. This can be an encouragement for us, because we all err. God can restore and use anyone who is willing to turn to Him for forgiveness.

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