Genesis 38:1-30

January 22, 2014 It can be pretty frustrating when a story reaches its climax only to be interrupted by an entirely new story. Not only do we have to wait for the conclusion of the first story but we might not even care about the new one. It’s tempting to skip past Genesis 38 because we want to know what happens to Joseph; who cares about Judah? But the new story is inspired and just as worthy of our attention. This all happens while Joseph is in Egypt and it covers a period of about 20 years: And it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down from his brethren, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. 2And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her. Judah left his brothers and married a Canaanite. Precedent has already been set many times by this family; marrying outside the family is taboo. Israelites marry Israelites. As a genereal rule the Canaanites were a distraction. They worshiped false gods and enticed Israel to do the same. At one point, when Balaam couldn’t curse the Israelites, he seduced them with women (Num. 31:15-16) and with immorality (Rev. 2:14). Judah should have known better but he doesn’t seem to mind:

And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er. 4And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan. 5And she yet again conceived, and bare a son; and called his name Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bare him. 6And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. 7And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him. 8And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. 9And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. 10And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also. 11Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father’s house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father’s house. The first son marries Tamar but dies before he can have children because of his own wickedness. Judah has two remaining sons to carry on his name so the situation is sad but not dire. In order to continue the line of the firstborn, Judah’s second son is tasked with impregnating his dead brother’s wife. Any child born

will be counted as Er’s son. Onan doesn’t mind going in to Tamar but he doesn’t want to impregnate her. He can benefit more financially if his brother has no heir. There’s a law put into place later on that helps us understand what’s going on: If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her. 6And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel (Deut. 25:5-6). Er was Judah’s firstborn, and he was entitled to the birth right. When he died without children, Onan became the beneficiary. If, however, Onan bore children on Er’s behalf (through Er’s widow) then those children would be considered the offspring of Er, and they could claim the birthright and Er’s possessions. Onan takes advantage of the situation and God put him to death for it. So now Judah is down to only one more son and Tamar has two dead husbands. Judah sees the pattern and doesn’t want to marry his last son to her so he tells her to live with her father until the boy grows up. The real tension here is that Judah has no plans of risking his final son with Tamar; but they are pledged to one another and there’s no way his lineage will be extended as long as Tamar is in the way.

And in process of time the daughter of Shuah Judah’s wife died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep. 14And she put her widow’s garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife. 15When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face. 16And 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? 17 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? 18And 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. 19And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood.

Tamar realizes she won’t marry Shelah and that she’ll never bear children. This is a disgrace to her and she devises a very clever plan. When Judah takes a trip she cuts him off at the pass dressed as a prostitute. It’s important to stress that she was not a prostitute; she only dressed like one for the sake of meeting Judah. She did not want money; she wanted a child, and evidence from that time suggests that a father-in-law might have legally been able to provide a child for his widowed daughter-in-law. The trade is for a goat, but since he doesn’t have one with him she gets his personal effects as collateral. These things specifically identified Judah. This is a key move which later shows just how shrewd she really was. When he leaves, she changes back into her widow clothes and returns home as though she never left.

And Judah sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman’s hand: but he found her not. 21Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot, that was openly by the way side? And they said, There was no harlot in this place. 22And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said, that there was no harlot in this place. 23And Judah said, Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her. 24And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. 25When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff. 26And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more. Judah tries to make the payment to the prostitute but she’s gone and no one seems to know anything about her. He’s afraid of being a laughingstock so he drops the matter and counts his collateral as gone. Then he learns that Tamar has done something terrible: she’s committed adultery! (She’s pledged to his youngest son.) So he gives the command which will rid him of her. I can picture in my head how quickly the people get a good fire going and run to drag her out of the house. But she’s got a plan: she gives them Judah’s belongings and says, “These belong to the father. Ask him if he recognizes them.” It’s similar to when Jesus said, “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first to throw a stone” (Jn. 8:7). And the outcome is about the same too. His righteous indignation burns out and he confesses that she is more righteous than he. He knew it was wrong to withhold his son from her while she was pledged to him.

And what she did was actually beneficial to Judah. Since Shelah is pledged to Tamar he can have no sons and he is the last! Judah is out of children and has no hope for grandchildren. Now he will have another son (actually twins are born and replace Er and Onan) and his line will continue.

And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb. 28And it came to pass, when she travailed, that the one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first. 29And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez. 30And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah. Here we see again God’s preference for the younger over the elder. It was Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, and Joseph over his brothers. Zarah comes out first with only his hand, but he draws it back. Pharez then comes out first. It’s so astonishing that the nurse says, “How hast thou broken forth?” It’s a miracle that he changed places with his brother inside the womb and beat him to the birth. This reinforces the concept of God’s work in His promise. And this lineage is important because (as we see in Matthew) it is the lineage of Christ. But there’s something else we can learn about God through this passage. After all, He could have simply said “Judah begat Pharez” and been done with it. But look at how God deals with these people in grace according to His promise despite their actions! We can sum it up nicely in one sentence: God is not limited by our sinfulness. Judah’s story makes me feel a little angry. It was his idea to sell Joseph instead of kill him. “What profit is there in killing him?” When his two evil sons are struck down by the Lord, Judah blames Tamar and is content to let her live out her life in shame. Then at his first opportunity to get rid of her he shouts out, “Burn her!” for something he himself was guilty of committing! But at the end of the story he’s forced to admit that she was more righteous than he! I wonder why God deals with this man. But isn’t that often our first response about people just like him? Isn’t this the reason we make unrighteous judgment? Isn’t this the same reason we beat ourselves up and wallow around in guilt when we’re not living up to par? If you’re God’s child you’ll be chastened as a son, but if grace is truly grace then it’s only given to those who don’t deserve it. And if God’s promise is to be kept then it can’t

depend on those who need grace. This again points us to Christ who is our only hope.