One of the major purposes of Genesis is to record the origin and development of the family of Jacob, the founder of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Israelites went down to Egypt a large family, and four centuries later they came out of Egypt a large nation. Since the tribe of Judah is the royal tribe from which the Messiah would come (49:10), anything related to Judah is vital to the story in Genesis.
Without chapter 38, you’d wonder at finding Tamar and Perez in our Lord’s genealogy (Matt. 1:3). Perez was an ancestor of King David (Ruth 4:18–22) and therefore an ancestor of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:1).
We all have “skeletons” in our closet, putting away or hiding people and situations in our own family lines that we are not proud of, right? It is amazing how God turns things around for his purpose and his glory to accomplish his will in and through us—his very imperfect people.
Genesis 38, The Message
1-5 About that time, Judah separated from his brothers and went to stay with a man in Adullam named Hirah. While there, Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite named Shua. He married her, they went to bed, she became pregnant and had a son named Er. She got pregnant again and had a son named Onan. She had still another son; she named this one Shelah. They were living at Kezib when she had him.
6-7 Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn. Her name was Tamar. But Judah’s firstborn, Er, grievously offended God and God took his life.
8-10 So Judah told Onan, “Go and sleep with your brother’s widow; it’s the duty of a brother-in-law to keep your brother’s line alive.” But Onan knew that the child wouldn’t be his, so whenever he slept with his brother’s widow he spilled his semen on the ground so he wouldn’t produce a child for his brother. God was much offended by what he did and also took his life.
11 So Judah stepped in and told his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow at home with your father until my son Shelah grows up.” He was worried that Shelah would also end up dead, just like his brothers. So Tamar went to live with her father.
12 Time passed. Judah’s wife, Shua’s daughter, died. When the time of mourning was over, Judah with his friend Hirah of Adullam went to Timnah for the sheep shearing.
13-14 Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law has gone to Timnah to shear his sheep.” She took off her widow’s clothes, put on a veil to disguise herself, and sat at the entrance to Enaim which is on the road to Timnah. She realized by now that even though Shelah was grown up, she wasn’t going to be married to him.
15 Judah saw her and assumed she was a prostitute since she had veiled her face. He left the road and went over to her. He said, “Let me sleep with you.” He had no idea that she was his daughter-in-law.
16 She said, “What will you pay me?”
17 “I’ll send you,” he said, “a kid goat from the flock.”
She said, “Not unless you give me a pledge until you send it.”
18 “So what would you want in the way of a pledge?”
She said, “Your personal seal-and-cord and the staff you carry.”
He handed them over to her and slept with her. And she got pregnant.
19 She then left and went home. She removed her veil and put her widow’s clothes back on.
20-21 Judah sent the kid goat by his friend from Adullam to recover the pledge from the woman. But he couldn’t find her. He asked the men of that place, “Where’s the prostitute that used to sit by the road here near Enaim?”
They said, “There’s never been a prostitute here.”
22 He went back to Judah and said, “I couldn’t find her. The men there said there never has been a prostitute there.”
23 Judah said, “Let her have it then. If we keep looking, everyone will be poking fun at us. I kept my part of the bargain—I sent the kid goat but you couldn’t find her.”
24 Three months or so later, Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law has been playing the whore—and now she’s a pregnant whore.”
Judah yelled, “Get her out here. Burn her up!”
25 As they brought her out, she sent a message to her father-in-law, “I’m pregnant by the man who owns these things. Identify them, please. Who’s the owner of the seal-and-cord and the staff?”
26 Judah saw they were his. He said, “She’s in the right; I’m in the wrong—I wouldn’t let her marry my son Shelah.” He never slept with her again.
27-30 When her time came to give birth, it turned out that there were twins in her womb. As she was giving birth, one put his hand out; the midwife tied a red thread on his hand, saying, “This one came first.” But then he pulled it back and his brother came out. She said, “Oh! A breakout!” So she named him Perez (Breakout). Then his brother came out with the red thread on his hand. They named him Zerah (Bright).
WHAT DO WE LEARN—HOW DO WE RESPOND?
Judah got himself into trouble when he separated himself from his brothers and started to make friends with the Canaanites in the land. Friends play a huge role in our lives whether we choose to admit it or not. Who are our friends? Do they help us to become more and more like Jesus who we say we believe and follow—or not?
Both Abraham and Isaac had been careful to see to it that their sons didn’t marry women of the land lest the “chosen seed” of Israel be polluted with idolatry and immorality (Gen. 24:3, 4; 28:1–4). But we don’t always listen to the advice of our elders, do we?
Consider this: Jacob had used a garment to deceive his father Isaac (Gen 27:15), and Judah and his brothers used a garment to deceive Jacob (Gen 37:32). Now Tamar used a garment to deceive Judah! When we feel we are wronged, do we use deception for revenge? Women, especially widows, were considered a little lower than the goats and sheep. They were used as trade more often than not. Tamar, now a widow in Judah’s family should have been brought into the family and cared for, but Judah sent her back home to her father. Tamar decided not to have any of this, so the deception was formed in her mind as a way to get back into the family she married into years earlier.
When we are offended, do we use deception and trickery to avenge ourselves? Jesus teaches the opposite. “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.” (Matthew 5:38-41)
Paul reiterates Jesus’ lesson in Romans 12. The reason there is pressure to retaliate in the first place is because we don’t want anyone to think we are weak. But when we pay attention to Christ’s example, we understand that the refusal to retaliate shows more strength than lashing out against someone does. Maybe you have been holding a grudge against someone for a long time, and you are just waiting for the right time to take him down. Let me encourage you to keep on waiting. Romans 12:19-21 says, “Revenge isn’t a dish best served cold. It is best not served at all.
The story of the patriarchs in Genesis reminds us of the grace of God and His sovereignty in human life. The men and women who played a part in this important drama weren’t perfect, and some of them were deliberately disobedient, and yet the Lord used them to accomplish His purposes. This doesn’t mean that God approved of their sins, because their sins were ultimately revealed and judged. But it does mean that God can take the weak things of this world and accomplish His purposes (1 Cor. 1:26–31).
This chapter has some practical, valuable lessons for us. For one thing, it shows how dangerous it was for God’s people to be in the land with the Canaanites. There was always the temptation to live like your neighbors instead of like the people of God.
You come to us right where we are and teach us the value of staying close to you, hearing you and following you with hearts of obedience. Deception is the age-old device of our Enemy. Help us not to fall for it or become people of deception when pushed into a corner of frustration. Help us to think more like you, dear Jesus, so we will become more like you in our responses, reactions and overall behaviors. Thank you for not giving up on me.
In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, Amen