This post was accidentally posted several days ago because of a glitch in our post scheduling system…and we weren’t even done writing it yet! We are sorry for this accident. Here is the full post.
The Hebrew name Judah means “praise.” Because of this, Biblical episodes involving the patriarch Judah, or the tribe of Judah, or someone from the tribe of Judah, frequently get interpreted allegorically to refer praising and worshiping God in general.
For example, in Judges 1:1-2 when Israel is coming into Canaan to possess the Promised Land, God tells the tribe of Judah to lead the battle. Because of this, some people interpret this passage allegorically: something like “the first step to winning your battles is to give God praise!” As another example, when Israel was in the wilderness for 40 years, the tribe of Judah camped closest to the door of the tabernacle. I can hear someone interpret this, “Judah (praise) was closest to the tabernacle; the way to get close to God is by being a worshiper!”
In my personal opinion, this kind of interpretation can be valid. Given everything we know about worship in the Bible, I don’t think that it is any accident that God wanted a tribe named “Praise” to be the closest to his house. And more than one text of scripture associates worship with warfare (Ps144:1-2, 149:6-9)—so praise is certainly a part of winning our spiritual battles, with the help of the Lord.
But I have noticed a trend. It seems to me that every time someone interprets Judah allegorically, it is always in a positive light. We love to talk about Judah/worship winning our battles or bringing us closer to God—but there is another side to who Judah is and what Judah means in the Bible.
Judah and Joseph
We are familiar with the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 37. Joseph was obviously his father’s favorite because of his coat of many colors; and if that wasn’t bad enough, Joseph was beginning to receive prophetic dreams from God! His brothers were envious of his special treatment, and hated him so much that they “could not speak peaceably unto him” (Gen 37:4).
One day, when Joseph was on an errand from his father to check up on his brothers, they took him, stripped him of his coat, and decided to kill him. Reuben was able to talk the other brothers out of murder, so instead they threw Joseph into a pit (37:18-24). As a band of Isheelites passed by, Judah had the bright idea to sell Joseph—his own brother—to this band of traveling merchants as a slave!
And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content. Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt. (Genesis 37:26-28)
Judah/Praise, in and of itself, is not a good thing. It will betray the ones that are closest to it. I have seen powerful worship leaders walk away from the truth and turn their back on God because they started using their worship as a way to make money. Praise is willing to be a profiteer. Praise is willing to be a sellout. I have seen churches get so focused on their music department/praise team/”worship ministry” that they trade talent for the touch of God. In Pentecost we are often guilty of worshiping our worship: we clap when the singer is skillful instead of anointed.
I know that worship is a powerful and necessary part of our church services—but we have to be careful that Judah doesn’t sell out Joseph! Beware when the worship service becomes about what is profitable instead of what is proper. When Judah goes bad, praise will start betraying those closest to it.
Judah and Tamar
In Genesis 38 we read about the story of Judah and Tamar. Tamar had been the wife to two of Judah’s sons, both of whom had died (38:6-10). Judah told Tamar to wait until his youngest son was a little older, and then she could marry him (marrying the brother of a deceased husband was an ancient Hebrew custom).
In the process of time Judah’s youngest son Shelah came of age, but Judah did not fulfill his word to Tamar that they would be married. She knew that her father-in-law Judah was about to make a trip to Timnath; so, she took off her widow’s clothes and dressed in a common robe, veiled her face, and sat by the road she knew he would travel (38:11-14).
When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face. And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.) And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me?
And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it? And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him. (Gen 38:15-18)
Judah/Praise is willing to be intimate with things that it should not be. Praise is perfectly willing to fornicate or adulterate. This is why we must be very careful with the type of worship music that we allow in the church. It doesn’t matter how moving the music is: if the lyrics promote false doctrines, the worship is committing adultery.
The Bible often associates worshiping other gods with adultery (Ex 34:15-16, Deut 31:16, Eze 23). I have witnessed worship that was being intimate with the wrong things. You can feel it in the atmosphere—there is a ghost in the place, but it isn’t the Holy Ghost! When we mix worldliness with our worship, when we cannot tell if we are in a church service or a dance hall, there is a problem.
Don’t let praise “step out.” Don’t let praise “get around.” When our praise is about “getting our blessing”—gratifying ourself, meeting our needs—we are doing nothing more than spiritual prostitution. Beware when worship becomes less about glorifying God and more about satisfying our own needs. When Judah goes bad, praise will stop being faithful to its true spouse, the Lord, and will start being intimate with unholy priorities.
Judah and Jesus
During NT times, it was common for Hebrew names to be Hellenized so that they sound slightly more “Greek”: Judah becomes Judas. The most famous traitor in all of Scripture, and maybe in all human history, was named “Praise.” Praise, in and of itself, is not a good thing. Praise is completely capable of betraying the Lord Jesus.
I have been in worship services where the name of Jesus was mentioned many times—but the name of Jesus was not being praised at all. The betrayal of Jesus was easy to feel. The music claimed to lift up Jesus, but there were so many solos that all it did was lift up the talents of the singer. Beware of Judah; it might be a Judas.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not picking on praise. Worship is a critical part of our walk with God. But we have to make sure that our worship/praise comes from a pure heart. Preaching is able to be corrupted by false doctrine; and praise is able to be corrupted by unholy motivations. Don’t let Judah sell out Joseph; don’t let Judah “step out” with Tamar; don’t let Judah betray the Lord. Praise is powerful, but not inherently good. Let’s make sure that everything we do is pleasing to the Lord.