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Intercession and Family Dynamics The Judah Perspective

Created: Friday, 22 March 2024 23:07
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Ebere NwankpaEbere NwankpaThe popular perception of intercession as an overly spiritual activity, restricted to incessant and rigorous prayer with bouts of fasting, by fiery and pious Christian types is rather overwrought and limited. To be sure, the prayer and fasting avails much, and the dedicated and wonderful people who excel therein are critical to the advancement of the kingdom. However, the scope and ambit of intercession is larger and more dynamic, as we shall soon see, than the popular or traditional perception of it. Moreover, this dimension of intercession is a much needed help and companion to its more acknowledged forms. The discussion presented below is drawn from the authoritative account in Genesis chapters twenty-nine and thirty, and thirty-seven to forty-five.

The Judah narrative reveals certain practical dynamics of the deployment of intercession that are as accessible as they are instructive. The dysfunctional family dynamics upon which the matter is resolved makes it even more relatable. The dimension of intercession at play here is rooted in human relations with its passions, errors, feuds, greed, resentment, deceit, and wickedness. There is also a greater expression of courage, sacrifice, forgiveness and redemption. This is intercession at the grassroots and family level. I believe that there is a revival of intercession at the level of interpersonal and family relations in order for prophetic destinies to be secured and fulfilled. The thoughts advanced here, is a contribution to that.

Notably, there were a clutch of serious and weighty issues preceding the seminal exercise of intercession under consideration, that were at least potentially disqualifying and most certainly constraining. The history and circumstances preceding Judah’s finest hour made him an unlikely source of such grace and skill. His personal history should have put him down for the count, and invalidated any credibility, standing, or stature on his part. And yet, he transcended all that to be highly effective and compelling. It suggests that perhaps the best intercessors are those who have overcome significant obstacles and limitations. People with a past and a story to tell. Persons who understand from a personal, subjective and intimate viewpoint; the feeling and depredations attaching to situations of loss and disadvantage.         

 

Family

 

At the center of the constraining factors earlier alluded to was the peculiar disposition of the Jacob family. The family orientation was defined by several strong and torrential currents that crisscrossed and interacted with each other to produce a tangled brew of friction, animosity and faction. These cross currents had complex generational and intergenerational layers. At the top and origin of this dysfunction was Jacob’s marriage to two sisters and his pronounced and abiding preferential love for the younger Rachel, over her older sister, Leah. To be fair to Jacob, the situation was not entirely of his own making. The deceit sponsored by Laban, his father-in-law was a fundamental and contributory factor.

However, Jacob’s unconstrained and enduring partiality created a ferocious rivalry between his two wives particularly in the area of child bearing, with dire consequences. As this rivalry intensified, Rachel and Leah involved their respective maids, Bilhah and Zilpah as childbearing surrogates and allies in their sibling dispute. By the time the women began to name their sons triumphalist appellations, often referencing the dispute, the dysfunction entered the succeeding generation. Rachel’s obsession with childbearing, a matter for which she reproached her beloved husband and envied her sister, may have contributed to her death in childbearing, even though the narrative does not clearly state this.   

Jacob intensified matters by transferring the love he bore Rachel to her sons Joseph and Benjamin, in the same preferential and exclusionary proportion, relative to his other ten sons. The open favouritism traversing two generations poisoned the atmosphere and stifled any notion of brotherliness. Arguably, the possibility of normal family relations was effectively marginalized by Jacob’s deficient fatherly disposition and preferences. As if this was not enough, Joseph, the foremost and most celebrated object and beneficiary of this preferential and unearned love extinguished any possibility of goodwill his brothers might have had toward him by bringing a bad report of his brothers to his father.

He also told them, perhaps rather pompously and derogatorily, of his dreams of preeminence and exalted destiny. Admittedly, Joseph’s dreams had genuine prophetic and strategic import. However, the effect of his dismissive and free expression on his bitter and disgruntled brothers made things distinctly worse. It would appear that Joseph was at the very least insensitive to and perhaps, worse, oblivious of the malign state of mind of his brothers. He failed to read the room. It is possible that Joseph could have chosen to moderate and balance his father’s weaknesses, but for reasons of youth and inexperience, was unable or not inclined to. Not needing any further cause to hate him, Joseph's dreams catalyzed and hardened his brothers' loathing of him. If the mood was fraught and chippy hitherto, it was murderous now.

In the most injurious act of hatred and calumny, Joseph’s brothers laid hands on him to kill him. However, they belatedly agreed to sell him into slavery instead, on the canny advice of Judah. Interestingly, Judah counseled his brothers against bloodguilt, and they heeded him. Importantly, at this time, his moral compass and brotherly feeling did not extend to saving Joseph. He shared the loathing and animosity of his brethren. When Joseph’s brothers sold him off, they stripped him of his rightful birthright as a son of his father and of fellowship with them as brothers. Granted, Joseph’s relationship with his brothers was as tenuous as his relationship with his father was tender. Not only that, the tale they told their father to cover up the deed, depicted Joseph as dead. And for all practical purposes Joseph was dead to his brothers by their own act and dead to his father by their report.

 

History

 

It may be that many intercessors have pristine and regular personal antecedents. Judah most certainly did not. His past included what may be referred to as an extended period of backsliding that had deleterious and generational consequences. In the very first verse of Genesis chapter thirty-eight, sometime after Joseph was sold into slavery, we are told that Judah made a fateful detour. It was to be a life-defining decision. He left the company and abode of his brothers and moved in with a Canaanite friend, by the name of Hirah, the Adullamite.

It is unclear if the family dysfunction in his primary homestead contributed to his decision to leave. If it did, his decision would be understandable, even if proved to be unwise. Whatever his reasons, they are not disclosed in the narrative. However, the fact that he stepped out alone was a highlight and emphasis of the narrative. In any case, the ancestral thread of family dysfunction followed him to his new locale. In his own case, the phenomenon intensified and proliferated. It is pertinent to pause here to remark that the treatment and solution to ancestral patterns of this sort is possible through deliverance, another dimension of intercession.

In this state of error and compromise, Judah met and married a Canaanite woman and proceeded to have three sons. Judah deepened his Canaanite affiliations by taking a wife for his first son, the famously notorious Tamar, and perhaps the single most controversial character in the lineage of Jesus. In the course of time, Judah’s first and second sons Er, and Onan died by acts of divine judgment. Judah’s fear for the mortality of his third and only surviving son drove him to undertake a policy of deceit and preservation that precipitated Tamar’s spectacular gambit. Judah’s carnal proclivities ensnared him in an incestuous rendezvous that profoundly embarrassed and defined him.  

It should be emphasized here that the catastrophic losses Judah suffered, his plaintive attempt to shield his son Shelah from the same fate, as well as the embarrassment arising out his dealings with Tamar had a profound and sobering effect on him. And, as future events would reveal, it contributed to making him an effective and impactful intercessor. His history and life story gave him a level of authenticity and gravitas that matched the occasion and the peculiar circumstances to come.      

 

A rational mind and many of a charitable orientation would readily conclude that there is very little chance of recovery from this sort of sordid history and antecedents. Too many strikes. It would seem that the prospect of restoration or normalcy was just too much to hope for, such was the water under the bridge as the saying goes. But something uniquely and profoundly redemptive was afoot here. Joseph’s brothers would eventually have to revisit, confront, and reckon with their wickedness, under the stern gaze of the Joseph they did not know. And, Judah would play a leading and starring role in it.

 

Redemption

 

The turning point came when the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. His senior brothers had a decision to make. Joseph’s steward had been clear and categorical about the fact that the penalty for the crime would affect only the singular perpetrator and that the others not tainted by guilt were free to go. Furthermore, with the evidence now facing them, the matter of Benjamin’s guilt or innocence was an open question. At the very least, it would appear that Benjamin had complicated matters by reason of what was discovered in his sack. With this complication came other rather unhelpful possibilities, including the disruption of their trip and the threatened welfare of their families in Canaan, who were waiting on the grain. There certainly were pragmatic reasons that could legitimize continuing the trip without Benjamin.

However, in the silence that ensued, the brothers took their first three acts of redemption. They tore their clothes, loaded their donkeys and returned with the steward to Joseph’s house. It is important to contrast the action of the brothers here to the exchange that animated them during their first trip to Egypt, when they were under the pressure of Joseph’s hostile interrogation. At that time, an engaging introspective conversation was had and fingers were pointed. Not to put too much of a fine point on it, that represented real progress at the time. This time however, the first reaction of the brothers was silence. Silence to properly observe and internalize the gravity of the situation. This was the sort of situation in which silence is more eloquent than words. Noticeably, there was no chatter about Benjamin’s culpability, or not.

Second, they all separately and uniformly tore their clothes, an eloquent and unequivocal sign of grief and mourning. Even though only Benjamin was implicated, his brothers did not attempt to extricate or exculpate each other. It was a demonstration of a shared fate. They all in unison and without breaking ranks took responsibility for Benjamin. It was no more, nor had it ever been, a question of what Benjamin may or may not have done. Third, they loaded their donkeys and returned to the city. Nothing else mattered anymore. Whereas on the journey home just moments before, many among them would have been contemplating getting back to their families and the rhythm of the life they were accustomed to. Now, all such priorities were abandoned. All else was superseded and marginalized.

 

Intercession

 

Joseph was waiting in his house when they came back. When they saw him, they threw themselves on the ground before him abjectly. Joseph wasted no time in accusing them of the contrived perfidy. He strengthened his accusation by reference to his powers of divination, a tactic meant to discourage any attempt to get around the accusation or challenge it. Seizing the moment, Judah spoke up for his brethren. His submission was short and precise. He admitted that they could enter no defense for themselves nor prove their innocence. He then stated that all of them including Benjamin were now this Egyptian lord’s slaves. This was the first mention of Benjamin since the debacle started, and an instructive mention it was. Far from singling him out, Judah was letting Joseph know that all of Benjamin’s brothers were determined to share his fate and punishment.

The resolution that Judah averred notwithstanding, Joseph saw an opportunity to press home the attack and further test the mettle of their solidarity and concord. He declined to accept the proposal of mass punishment. Just like his steward had done, he offered to let the rest of the brothers loose and enslave Benjamin for his ostensible guilt. It was at this point that Judah approached Joseph and went into full intercessory mode. He begged Joseph’s pardon to listen to the presentation and plea he was about to make. Judah spoke in passionate terms of the special relationship between Benjamin and Jacob and of the loss of another son, from the same mother whom Jacob had lost. In this, notably, Judah had relevant and cognate experience having lost two sons himself. It was neither theoretical nor conjecture to him. Hitherto, in Joseph’s time, this special relationship was a red flag and lodestone of misgivings, acrimony, jealousy and attempted murder. This time Judah spoke with feeling and emphasis in an attempt to preserve and protect it.

Judah spoke knowingly and movingly of the reluctance of Jacob to allow Benjamin to embark on the trip with his brothers. There was no better person to relate that reluctance and its underlying reasons than Judah who had successfully navigated them in order for Benjamin to be allowed to make the trip. He communicated that it was the consideration of Joseph’s ultimatum regarding the production of Benjamin, and the depleted store of food that forced Jacob’s hands. In this narration Judah quoted with recall and mastery the statements made by each of the principals on the opposing sides of the issue to enhance his argument. In this part of the presentation also, Judah had first hand experience. His attempt to keep his last surviving son Shelah from the fate that befell his first two sons must have been an animating and inspiring consideration.

Notable in the manner of Judah’s intercession was the ready acceptance of responsibility, blame and punishment as a necessary precondition and basis for advocacy. It is an object lesson for how intercessory efforts ought to be structured. Where the matter of responsibility and punishment is an open question, or worse still a matter of debate, intercession would be at best of limited effect or most likely ineffective. Proper intercession is well sourced and articulated and for this reason would require some preparation and effort. Perhaps, most importantly, the object of intercession must have a place of prominence in the affection and priorities of the intercessor. Interceding for someone or something for which the intercessor is passive or ambivalent is ‘acting’, to put it mildly, with the attendant consequences for integrity.

 Judah summarized his intercession with effect and flourish. He noted without misgiving that his father’s life was bound up with the life of his brother Benjamin, and that a failure to restore him to Jacob would most likely kill him with grief. He informed Joseph that he stood surety for Benjamin and had guaranteed his safe return. Upon saying this Judah offered himself in place of Benjamin and respectfully requested that Benjamin and his other brothers be allowed to go free. Judah ended with an emotional appeal to Joseph, and with a plea that he could not bear to bring back to Jacob the bad tidings of the enslavement of Benjamin. This is the highest form of intercession, offering oneself in place of the object of intercession. By the time he ended his intercessory presentation, Judah had reached the zenith and apogee of the ministry.

 

Resolution

 

Judah’s sterling intercession drew an immediate and powerful reaction from Joseph. The stoicism and resolve that Joseph had deployed and labored under throughout his interaction with his brothers crumbled and gave way. The tenor and effectiveness of Judah’s words disarmed him and melted his heart. The bottled up offense and misgivings that had lingered and persisted in Joseph’s psyche for more than thirteen years sought urgent and immediate release. Joseph was quickly brought to the brink of a cathartic emotional breakdown. Unlike the two previous times when he was obliged to weep in private and subsequently compose himself, only to continue to maintain the status quo in a bid to test and draw out his brothers, this instance was entirely different. Judah had successfully breached the wall of Joseph’s hostility through intercession and opened the gate for reconciliation by the same token. 

Witness then, the potential and power of well-conceived and effective intercession. Given the exertions of Judah, one wonders how busy our Lord Jesus Christ must be seeing that He lives to make intercession for us in Heaven. Of course there can be no doubt of humanity’s dire need for it. One wonders still how much of the hostility and recriminations within families, between religious and ethnic groups, and among nations might succumb to the kind of intercession in contemplation here. Given the limited outcomes of most of the conflict resolution mechanisms in use contemporarily, the potential of intercession, as a full-fledged policy option should not be overlooked.

 

About The Author

Ebere graduated from the University of Ghana with a Bachelor’s Degree in Law and English. He also has a Master's Degree in Public Administration from Regent University in the United States. He has more than twenty years of experience in governance, legal, and administrative matters in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. He was a former Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria on Council and Legal Matters during His Excellency Goodluck Ebele Jonathan's presidency.

Ebere Nwankpa is a pastor, administrator, and businessman with a concerted and abiding interest in God’s prophetic counsel for Nigeria, Africa, and the world's nations. He is a member of Intercessors for Nigeria (IFN), and Intercessors for Africa (IFA). His books include Joseph - Prince of Egypt and Esther - Queen In Deed.

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