[Genesis 38] God Works in Scandalous Situations: In Genesis 38, we find a story of disobedience, death, prostitution, and incest. Yet at the same time, God is at work bringing glory to Himself and preserving the bloodline that would one day produce Jesus after His humanity. What about you? Do you have a scandal in your background? Take heart. God continues to work in bad situations even when everyone else may write you off.
[Gen 38:1-30 KJV] 1 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. 2 And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name [was] Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her. 3 And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er. 4 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan. 5 And she yet again conceived, and bare a son; and called his name Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bare him. 6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name [was] Tamar. 7 And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him. 8 And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. 9 And 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. 10 And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also. 11 Then 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. 12 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. 13 And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep. 14 And 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. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought her [to be] an harlot; because she had covered her face. 16 And 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]? 18 And 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. 19 And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood. 20 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. 21 Then 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]. 22 And 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]. 23 And Judah said, Let her take [it] to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her. 24 And 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. 25 When 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. 26 And 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. 27 And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins [were] in her womb. 28 And 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. 29 And 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. 30 And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah.
In the previous chapter (Gen. 37:26-27), we are introduced to Judah as an adult when he suggests to his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery instead of killing him. Now in chapter 38, we take a break leaving Joseph in the service of Potiphar in Egypt and put our attention more directly upon Judah and certain events in his life. Judah is important to us because it is after him that the entire nation of Judaism is named. The people of Abraham are referred to as Jews, and their province under captivity up to the time of Christ was known as the province, kingdom, or land of Judah. If we are to speak of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the next name we would mention, by extension, is that of Judah, so his life, his character, and personal history are important to us most notably because from Judah the Savior is descended after his humanity.
After Joseph is disposed of to the Midianites, the story turns to Judah disobeying the traditions of his fathers by consorting a Canaanite woman named Shuah. We aren’t told that he married her formally but that he took her perhaps in much the same way that Shechem the son of Hamor took Dinah, Judah’s sister. In any case, Shuah conceives and gives birth to Judah’s firstborn son, a half-jew named Er. Er’s name means “awake,” so it is apparent because Judah stays with Shuah to have more sons that the fact that she bore him children caused him to give her marital status in his household.
In due time Er grows to manhood, and Judah secures for his eldest son a wife by the name of Tamar. While Er is only half-Jewish, rabbinical authorities hold that Tamar was an Israelite by extraction. Whatever the nature of this relationship is between Er and Tamar v. 7 tells us that God slays Er because he is wicked in his sight. Because Er did not conceive with Tamar, Judah instructs Er’s younger brother to marry Tamar and produce a son in his elder brother’s name. The younger brother’s name is Onan. Onan resents conceiving a child with Tamar in his brother’s, and God slays him for the refusal. There is yet another younger brother, but Judah is concerned that Tamar is cursed in some way and refuses to compel Shelah to marry Tamar as he did in Onan’s case. It is interesting to note that Judah didn’t consider the fact that Er was evil in the sight of the Lord or that Onan likewise was a transgressor. He apparently assumed they were good men, deciding that whatever the problem was, it lay with something Tamar had done wrong.
Time passes in this situation, and Judah’s Canaanite wife dies (v. 12). He goes on a journey at sheep-shearing time while Tamar languishes as an unwilling widow by Judah’s command. Someone informs Tamar that Judah is going to Timnath, and she disguises herself as a prostitute and has relations with Judah and conceives twins. Multiples apparently run in the family line given the fact that Esau and Jacob were twins; Abraham, Nahor, and Haran were triplets, and Shem, Ham, and Japheth likewise were very possibly triplets as well.
When Judah finds out that Tamar is pregnant, he orders her to be burned alive. Tamar saves herself, however, by proving that Judah himself was the father and (v. 26) Judah repents and restores her to privileged status in his household. She apparently now holds to the position of Judah’s wife, but he does not have relations with her any further.
In due time Tamar brings forth the twins, and they are named Pharez and Zarah. What is the importance of this? Look at how God worked in this scandalous situation. Judah should never have married a Canaanite in the first place. He should have gone to the effort as his forebears before him to secure a wife of his own bloodline. When he does bring forth children of Shuah, they are evil men, and Judah does not take notice of it even though they die for their transgressions. In the midst of this is Tamar, who, by all implications, is a virtuous woman forced into a very bad situation by Judah himself. We might ask who it was in v. 13 that told Tamar where to find Judah and apparently suggested that she take the action that she did to conceive by him? Whatever been the case, God was at work because if it weren’t for the children brought forth through this situation (Pharez specifically), the line of descent that brought forth Jesus in His humanity would have been broken.
What about the circumstances of your birth? Were you a child that was planned for, or were you perhaps a product of a broken home? Take heart from the story of Tamar and Judah. God doesn’t judge a life the way men do. Your family life may be marred by scandal and immorality, as in the case of Judah, but God is still at work when we look to Him for redemptive guidance.
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