When Joseph’s brothers found him in Egypt, they had all matured, but none more dramatically than Judah.
About twenty-two years earlier, Judah had pleaded with the other brothers not to kill their younger brother Joseph. Reuben, the oldest, had tried to save Joseph’s life “to deliver him to his father again,” but Judah had proposed a less compassionate alternative: “What profit is it,” he asked the brothers, “if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites” (Genesis 37:26-27). Thus, Judah succeeded in sparing Joseph’s life but not his liberty.
Now, Judah found himself again in a precarious situation involving a younger brother. He had convinced his father to allow Benjamin, the youngest, to accompany them back to Egypt to buy food. He had solemnly promised his father that he would bring Benjamin safely home. Now Benjamin had been accused of a crime and was facing servitude. Judah pleaded with the Egyptian ruler, not knowing it was his brother Joseph:
Thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever.
Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren.
For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me?Genesis 44:32-34
From heartlessness to selflessness, Judah had been transformed. He was now willing to put his own liberty on the line to spare the liberty of his brother.
Judah’s transformation reminds me of the sons of Mosiah. Mormon tells us that they were “the very vilest of sinners” (Mosiah 28:4), yet they became the most devoted of missionaries. (See Alma 17:2-3.)
The message is clear: people can change. Instead of holding people back by expecting them to behave according to our worst caricatures, believe in their ability to do better in the future than they have done in the past. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has counseled:
Let people repent. Let people grow. Believe that people can change and improve. Is that faith? Yes! Is that hope? Yes! Is it charity? Yes! Above all, it is charity, the pure love of Christ. If something is buried in the past, leave it buried. Don’t keep going back with your little sand pail and beach shovel to dig it up, wave it around, and then throw it at someone, saying, “Hey! Do you remember this?” Splat!“‘Remember Lot’s Wife’: Faith Is for the Future,” Brigham Young University Devotional Address, 13 January 2009
Today, I will remember Judah’s transformation. I will remember that people can grow and progress, and I will strive to give people the breathing room and the confidence that they need to experience that growth.