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Why We Named Our Son "Judah"

My wife & I just had a baby and people often react to him with delight. However when I tell them his name his "Judah" we get mixed reactions. Some will comment how unique it is. Others will proceed to sing, "Hey Jude..." And some will quizzically ask, "Isn't that similar to Judas?"

But there's a reason we named him Judah. And no, it's not primarily because of the Beatles song (although I do love that song). Rather it comes from a little-known story from the Old Testament. 

To give some background, in the OT Judah was one of the 12 sons of Jacob and became one of the 12 tribes of Israel. But other than that, not much is known about him since not much is written about him. However there is a chapter in the book of Genesis devoted completely to him. Here's his story.

The Story of Judah

Genesis 38 is kind of bizarre. It begins with Judah providing his oldest son a wife named Tamar. However after his son unexpectedly dies, Judah locks Tamar up Rapunzal-style until his youngest son grows old enough to marry her. Bit of a control freak.

This actually sucks for Tamar because this means she would be childless for quite a while. In ancient times, to be childless was like a death sentence (Gen 30:1). This may be similar to how a lot of girls today view not getting married - a lack of fulfillment in life.

Anyways, as time passes Judah's own wife dies, so he seeks comfort from a prostitute (yikes!). Unbeknownst to him though, Tamar had snuck out of her Rapunzal tower and disguised herself as a prostitute so she could have a baby. As a result, Judah unknowingly sleeps with his own daughter-in-law. Pretty gross right? But there's more.

The Aftermath
Later Judah discovers that Tamar's pregnant. Since he doesn't know he was the one who impregnated her, he's outraged. Thinking she fornicated by sleeping with another man, Judah demands Tamar to be burned at the stake. Again, Judah is quite the charmer.

However Tamar reveals the person who impregnated her by showing the belongings of the biological father. Judah of course recognizes that these belongings are his - and he realizes his hypocrisy. As a result Judah repents and replies, "She is more righteous than I..." (Gen 38:26).

And that's it. That's the story. Strange right? We have one major story on Judah and he comes off as a controlling, hypocritical, hot-tempered douche. So again, why on earth would we name our son after this guy?

The Reason

I think a more important question to ask is this: Why on earth would God have His kingdom come from the line of Judah? After all, Jacob prophesies that "The scepter shall not depart from Judah" (Gen 49:10) i.e. the kingdom of God will come from Judah's tribe. And we see this happen through David, Solomon and eventually culminating in Jesus, who is called the Lion of Judah (Rev 5:5).

But of all the sons of Israel, why Judah? Why not Reuben since he's the oldest? Or Benjamin since he's the youngest and God historically favors the youngest? Or why not Joseph - he's a pretty good guy. Or why not Levi since his line was set apart as priests?

Gary Schnittjer, an OT Hebrew scholar, theorizes that God chose the kingdom to come through Judah's tribe because of the story of Judah in Gen 38. As Schnittjer argues, "Why Judah? Not because he was better than his brothers. Rather, it was because he came to recognize that he wasn't."

In other words, God chose to bring the kingdom through Judah to show how His kingdom works. The kingdom came through Judah not because he was a righteous son but because he admitted that he wasn't righteous. This is why Jesus called not the righteous but the unrighteous - because God's kingdom belongs to those who admit their brokenness.


I love this story not for the story itself but how it encapsulates the nature of the gospel. And I want my son to really know this is how our God works. He's a Father who seeks not righteous perfection from His people but humble repentance (2 Chron 7:14).

So we named him Judah to introduce the gospel to him and anyone else who asks about his name. We're going to call him "Jude" because we don't want kids teasing him with "Judas" name-calling. But our hope is when his teachers call him "Judah" in the role call & he asks why that is, we can share this story with him and explain who our God is - a God of the broken-hearted & defender of the weak.

Rev 5:5: "Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered..."

thomas hwang4 Comments