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Intersection Column: A Tale of Two Brothers

by Jill Eileen Smith

The Prince and the Prodigal is the story of a relationship between two of twelve brothers. Judah is the fourth son of Jacob’s wife Leah. Joseph is the first son of Jacob’s wife, Rachel. Two sisters married to the same man did not make for a rational, loving family!

These two men whose stories are captured in the pages of Scripture, have captivated me for many years for very different reasons. I’ve had people tell me how much they love Joseph. And what’s not to love about him? Some may think he was a bit spoiled, and he was. But for the most part, Joseph grew to be a man of great honor who suffered much along the way. The brothers who should have had his back, sold him into slavery. The master who trusted him completely, put him in prison on the whims of his lying, cheating wife. And the man he helped while in that prison forgot all about him when he was finally free. Yet through it all, Joseph remained true to his God and did not compromise his integrity. We can easily see why he is so highly revered and loved even today.

And yet, it is Judah who intrigues me more. Judah, who had the bright idea to sell Joseph in the first place. Judah, who ran away from home for twenty-two years because…well, Scripture doesn’t tell us why. But I’m guessing he had a hard time facing his grief-stricken father day after day after day. Especially when he knew his father’s grief was his fault.

Most of Judah’s life is one chapter in the greater part of Joseph’s biblical saga, but I found a lot happening in that chapter. What was his life really like during his prodigal years? How did he end up with two abusive sons? Who was this daughter-in-law whom he slept with thinking she was a prostitute?

The truth is, I empathize with Judah. Not because of all the things he did wrong. I loved the redemptive quality of his story when he, like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable, came to his senses and returned to his father, Jacob. We know he returned because he was with his brothers years later when they went to Egypt for food.

And that’s where Joseph’s and Judah’s stories collide. How does a man of integrity who has been betrayed by this brother ever forgive what he’s done? There is beauty in Joseph’s anguish over whether to trust Judah or any of his brothers again.

Yet the sacrificial love of Judah, which came through in the end, is what touched me most. For a person to change so drastically, there must be a significant emotional event that causes that change. The Bible tells me that I can’t change on my own. It is the Spirit of the Lord that transforms the human heart and makes us new people. People willing to love unconditionally. People willing to give, to surrender ourselves for the one we love. I saw that in Judah.

Often today, I’m confronted with Judah-like prodigal stories. It’s a common tale that finds its place in many homes. I’m not often confronted with men and women who hold the caliber of Joseph’s integrity. I wish I were. And I wish I’d had Joseph’s honorable qualities when I was his age. But like Joseph and Judah, I’m a work in progress. Even Jacob had to learn to let go and trust God after so much loss. We are never too old to learn and grow and change. Thankfully, by God’s grace, we can.

At the end of Jacob’s life, he blessed each of his sons. Joseph received a double portion, while Judah was given the line of royalty. If we look at this story from a human perspective, we might think that God should have blessed Joseph with the royal line that led to Jesus. But it was Judah who received that grace.

This tale of two brothers taught me much. Both men had a lot of growing in faith to do before they were ready to meet again. Both men needed forgiveness and a forgiving heart. Love didn’t come easily for the sons of Jacob. I daresay that in the end, Joseph and Judah were probably closer than the others. I can almost see a look of understanding and acceptance pass between them at a family gathering. A secret bond they now shared. Something I think they both longed for and finally found.

About the Author

Jill Eileen Smith is the bestselling and award-winning author of the biblical fiction series The Wives of King David, Wives of the Patriarchs and Daughters of the Promised Land, as well as The Heart of a King, Star of Persia: Esther’s Story and Miriam’s Song. She is also the author of the nonfiction books When Life Doesn’t Match Your Dreams and She Walked Before Us. Her research into the lives of biblical women has taken her from the Bible to Israel, and she particularly enjoys learning how women lived in Old Testament times. Jill lives with her family in southeast Michigan. Learn more at

About the Book

Joseph is the pampered favorite son of the patriarch Jacob. His older brothers, deeply resentful of his status in the family, take advantage of the chance to get rid of him, selling him to slave traders and deceiving their father about his fate. It seems like their troubles are over. But for Joseph and older brother Judah, they are just beginning. After decades apart, the brothers will come face-to-face in a stunning role reversal. Will forgiveness or vengeance win the day?


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