Christmastime is a season when we all marvel at God's unlikely plan. Saving the world through sending a baby to be born in a stable? Building His Kingdom through a life of service and humility? Conquering sin through a physical death and subsequent resurrection from the dead? Amazing! If there is one thing we know about our God, it is that He loves unlikely choices. He raises high the under dog, and His wisdom shows the world's wisdom to be foolishness. Tucked into the Christmas story, hundreds of years prior to Christ's birth, is a man who was chosen by God. He was an unlikely choice.
We pick up our story today two generations removed from Abraham and Sarah. Their grandson Jacob has married two sisters. Leah, the older sister, is his bride through deception and tradition, while Rachel is his bride through love and devotion. Rachel is Jacob's favored bride (Gen. 29).
Can you imagine being the unloved wife? True, we do not practice polygamy today, but this is a different time and culture. In their historical context, polygamy was a common practice. Genesis 29:31-32 tells us, "When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, 'Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.' ”
Leah, unloved and rejected, bears Jacob's firstborn son, Reuben, and her delight is in the hope that "now my husband will love me." Tragically, it does not change her standing in Jacob's eyes. Leah conceives again another son, Simeon, and once more she conceives a third son, Levi. Then she says from the emptiness of a rejected heart, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Still, nothing changes. Finally, we reach the last verse of chapter 29:
"And she (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."
At last, on her fourth son, Leah settles in her heart a truth that is eternal: nothing and no one but God can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. People will always let us down; God never will. So we must praise Him, for that is where is our contentment and fulfillment may be found. Leah surrenders her struggle to earn her husband's affections, for bearing him one son was not enough, nor were two, three, and four sons. But praising the Lord, that is where she is restored.
She gets it right on Judah. Judah, meaning "praise." Judah, the fourth of six sons Leah will ultimately bear, and the fourth of twelve sons total for his father Jacob. Fourth, and not just fourth, but fourth born of the least favored wife. That's not quite a glamorous place to be in the family lineup. To make matters worse, Rachel, the favored and loved wife, is finally remembered by God. Her womb is opened, and she bears Jacob a son, whose name is Joseph. Outshining all ten of his older brothers, Joseph is the apple of his father's eye. Perhaps you've heard of Joseph (Gen. 37-50)?
Fast-forward many years, to Jacob's deathbed. At the time of his death, Jacob now has twelve sons, from which the twelve tribes of Israel come. Joseph has survived his brothers' betrayal and risen to be second in command in all of Egypt. Jacob gives Joseph the double blessing normally ascribed to the firstborn son (49:22-26). The amount of time in Genesis dedicated to Joseph reveals just how significant he is in our history.
As Jacob prophesies over his sons, he foretells the coming of Christ through the line of one son. Joseph would be the likely and obvious choice, having walked with God and lived a life of moral character. But he is not. Nor is it the firstborn, Reuben. Instead, Jacob prophesies that Judah, his fourth-born son of Leah, is the line from whom Christ will be born (49:9-12). What an unlikely choice, indeed! But why Judah?
Reuben, the firstborn of all Jacob's children, should have been the choice by tradition. In a morally abase act, though, Reuben forfeits his rights as the firstborn son (35:22; 49:3-4). The next two brothers in birth order are Simeon and Levi. These two take vengeance upon an entire city by plundering them and murdering their men (34). In this act of vengeance and impulsivity, Simeon and Levi likewise forfeit their rights as next in line to the blessings of the firstborn (49:5-7).
Finally, a story of Judah is told in Genesis 38. In short, Judah sins against his daughter-in-law, Tamar, by abandoning her to a life of childlessness and widowhood. He further sins against her sexually when she deceitfully dresses as a temple prostitute. Once again, a son of Jacob has morally transgressed in a major way. You may wonder how this qualifies him to be the chosen line of Christ; if anything, it should disqualify him, too!
But there is a difference in Judah, because unlike his older brothers, Judah repents. He recognizes that he has sinned against Tamar, and he acknowledges his wrongdoing (38:26-30). Judah's repentant heart is further shown later in the story when he is willing to give his life in exchange for his youngest brother Benjamin (Gen. 44:18-34).,
God loves to honor those who humble themselves. He loves to raise up the lowly, those of no noble or earthly promise. Judah was no exception. He was not morally or spiritually righteous. He was not known for living a holy life devoted to God. But in the end, Judah repented. He humbled himself before God, and for this, God honored Judah. In fact, Judah is not remembered in the New Testament at all for his moral downfalls. Instead, he is held high as the one from whom the Messiah came:
"Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed." Rev. 5:5
What a restoration of Judah's name! He is not Judah, fourth-born of Leah. He is not Judah, the one who sold his brother into slavery. He is not Judah, the deceiver, or Judah, the sexually promiscuous.
He is Judah, the one from whom the Messiah came.
God's salvation plan is not riddled with heroes and untouchable people who do incredible things on their own. Instead, He chose the barren, the broken, and the base to achieve His purposes. He chose the unlikely.
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite." Isaiah 57:15
He is the Holiest God, abiding in eternity. But He is also Emmanuel, God with Us, and He chooses the lowly and repentant to lift up high for His glory. Let us all praise Him, for He has always been a God of unlikely choices!