Year 2 Day 281
Read - Genesis 38
Message - Scott Woodburn
Now that the “problem” of Joseph had been dealt with, surely his brothers would know peace and prosperity? Not quite. Genesis 38 seems like an abrupt interruption to Joseph’s story but it highlights that Joseph was a righteous man whilst his family back home was in a mess. One of Israel’s sons was called Judah and he sought a wife. Sadly he sought her in the worst possible way.
Judah set his gaze upon the daughter of Shua the Canaanite. He married her and she bore Judah three sons called Er, Onan and Shelah (v3-5). Nothing wrong there you might say but let me remind you that Shua and his daughter were Canaanites. Judah had fallen into the trap of seeking a wife outside the covenant community. It is a familiar story in the Bible and one that causes constant trouble for God’s people. I know it seems quite old fashioned but the church has no other standard. If you are a Christian who desires a husband or wife then you must seek to marry a fellow Christian.
Judah’s son Er was wicked in God’s sight and his life was taken from him (v7). Judah commanded his other son Onan to marry Er’s wife Tamar. This is called “levirate marriage” and was an old custom designed to ensure that the family line of a deceased man would continue. Onan did not want to have children with Tamar for he understood that any offspring would not be considered his own and so in graphic terms the Bible tells us that Onan did all that he could to avoid getting Tamar pregnant (v9). This was wicked in God’s sight and Onan’s life was taken from him (v10). In the midst of sin and God’s judgement upon it, Judah urged Tamar to remain a widow until his third son grew up (v11). Judah feared that his third son would die as well and so he sinfully kept him from Tamar.
It seems that Judah had no intention of ever honouring his daughter-in-law. Shelah grew up but he still did not fulfil his responsibilities to Tamar (v14) and so she took matters into her own hands. After the death of Judah’s wife, Tamar pretended to be a prostitute in order to have sex with her father-in-law Judah. What was going on? Tamar had every right to expect a child with her deceased husband’s next of kin - she was the wife of Judah’s first son. Judah was not acting with integrity towards her and indeed neither did Onan or Shelah. I’m certain we are not to regard Tamar’s actions as a wonderful moral example but instead another tragic outworking of Judah’s sinful decisions.
Tamar fell pregnant with Judah’s twins and when her pregnancy was discovered, Judah urged that she be burned to death because of her immorality (v24). All that saves her from Judah’s hypocritical behaviour is that he had given her his signet, cord and staff. She declared that the owner of these items was the father of her children. Judah had given these to Tamar as a pledge that he would pay for their sexual encounter by giving her a young goat. Needless to say, Judah sent the goat to the “prostitute” as payment but by that stage Tamar had fled the scene with Judah’s belongings and returned to life as a widow. Judah finally understood his sin and declared that Tamar had acted in a more righteous manner than him (v25) and eventually twin boys were born called Perez and Zerah.
Reading this chapter makes me marvel at the grace of God - His unmerited favour to sinners. There are no great heroes in this chapter and yet years later Judah, Tamar, Perez and Zerah would appear in the family tree of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 1). Nothing is hidden…in the genealogy of Christ there are liars, tricksters, foreigners, pretend prostitutes and a multitude of sinners who need the grace of God.
Our names may not be in Matthew chapter 1 but by the grace of God they are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Consider your ways. Consider you words. Consider your mistakes. Consider your schemes. Consider your shame. Do you deserve salvation? No. Like me you deserve only wrath and yet in Christ we have received grace upon grace upon grace. Rejoice today my friend, for the Gospel shows us that Christ Jesus is the Saviour and friend of sinners like us.
Q43 What is the preface to the ten commandments? The preface to the ten commandments is in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.