One thought on Genesis 38 may be, “why is this in God’s Word”? Genesis 38 is a grimy and revolting story that should be rated MA (mature audience). But is this ancient Near Eastern story that far removed from our world? Tragically, sexual sin and abuse, lies, hypocrisy, scandals, and human slavery are very much part of our 21st world. Sometimes such gross misconduct approaches the front doors of the church. But what does this story have to do with the larger story and message of the Bible? I offer a few insights to consider from Genesis 38, the Judah story.
The story reveals a man’s transformation. Judah was the son of Jacob and Leah. Leah was estranged and despised by his father Jacob, which must have affected his childhood. His story is a sordid one. The first incident recorded in Judah’s life was one of murder and deception. Judah and his brothers tricked the sons of Shechem into being circumcised, only to kill and plunder the city as the men recovered (Genesis 34). Judah, along with his brothers, hated their younger brother Joseph and choose to sell him into slavery and profit from the deal (Genesis 37).
In Genesis 38, after the death of his oldest son, married to a woman named Tamar, Judah failed to keep his vow to Tamar and abandoned her. Later and unwittingly, Judah had sex with her thinking she was a prostitute. When Judah discovered her pregnancy, he shamed her until he discovered he was the father. Tamar confronted Judah and when confronted with his treachery, responded, “she is more righteous than I”. (Genesis 38:26) This may have been the beginning of Judah’s change and he did change.
Years later, this same Judah is willing to offer his life to save another favorite son of Jacob, Benjamin. Judah, who was not favored in the eyes of his father like Joseph and Benjamin, when given another chance to intervene for a favored son, intercedes, risking his life (Genesis 44). Judah had changed from a brutal man who said to his brothers, “come let’s sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites” (Genesis 37:27) to the man who said in Joseph’s presence, “please let your servant remain instead of the boy and let the boy go back with his brothers” (Genesis 44:33)
Joseph was so deeply moved by Judah’s response, he “could no longer control himself” (Genesis 45:1). Over the years in captivity, enslaved and later ascending to a powerful position, Joseph had seen how God had used his life for His purposes. Joseph also witnessed the change of his brother’s hard heart. And if God can change a man like Judah, no person is beyond his transformation.
The story reveals God’s grace. In Genesis 49, when Jacob’s sons assembled to receive their father’s blessings, Judah received some of the most positive words. He also received the promise of the King to come. With Judah’s shocking and sinful story, God by grace alone chose the family and tribe of Judah to be in the lineage of the Messiah. Judah became the father of some of Israel’s greatest kings, David, Uzziah, Hezekiah and Josiah among others.
And pause and consider the amazing grace of God. Tamar and two of Judah’s sons, Perez and Zarah, born of incest and treachery, are listed in the genealogy of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Matthew 1:3) Finally, Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, a descendent of the tribe of Judah, made an 80-mile journey, with his betrothed wife, Mary to Bethlehem where the King of Kings came into the world. He was and is the “lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5). Only a God of grace could redeem and reveal such a story.
The story reveals an example for our times. Christian churches and families have members who have been sexually abused. Sadly, it is part of this story that needs highlighting. Victims of sexual abuse are not “out there”; they sit in church pews and seats every Sunday. Christians, not in the name of a movement, but in the name of truth need to confront sexual and other forms of abuse. For the abuser and the abused, what is conceived in darkness is healed and redeemed in the light of the truth and grace of God. Tamar confronted Judah with the truth. It is at this point that Tamar is an example of courage.