This past week we studied Genesis 38, the story of Judah and Tamar. The story begins with one of Jacob’s son, Judah, entering into marriage with a Canaanite named Shua. Judah’s dad and grandfather had both traveled back to their homeland to find a spouse and in each instance, God’s handiwork was involved in the selection of their wives. We see with Judah he separates from his brothers, sees a woman and went into her, claiming her as his wife. She conceives and produces a son, eventually providing three sons to Judah.
Judah brought his first born son Er a wife named Tamar. Er was not a good dude in the sight of the Lord, this seems to happen more often than not, and the Lord put him to death. Judah told his second son Onan to perform the duties of a brother-in-law and provide her sons, which he would also be responsible to raise. Onan was not keen on the idea of providing sons for his dead brother that he would have to raise and lose money on. So Onan had sexual relations with Tamar as required, but utilized coitus interruptus to keep her from conceiving. God took umbrage to this act of sabotage on Onan’s part and put him to death also.
Judah’s third son was too young to perform the duties of a brother-in-law, so Judah asked Tamar to stay in her fathers house as a widow until Shelah was old enough to father children with her. We see in this request a sense of fear that his third son would die like his other two and Judah is trying to remove Tamar like she is the source of wickedness. Judah is failing to realize Tamar was not the problem, his sons were the problem. So often as parents we fail to see our own children’s blame and put the blame on others. We are seeing a lack of accountability on Judah’s part, forcing God to intervene as the Father.
Judah’s wife Shua died and after a period of mourning, Judah did what we men often do. We get out of town and clear our heads with activity and work. He went to shear sheep with Hirah the Adullamite. Word got to Tamar her father-in-law was heading out of town and she knew the gig was up. Tamar knew Judah was ditching town and leaving his responsibility to her. Tamar removed her widows clothes, wrapped herself up in a veil and posted herself at the entrance to Enaim, on the road to Timnah where Judah was going.
Tamar must have been attractive, because as Judah was passing by on his way to shear sheep, he saw her veil and figured she was a prostitute. He approached her and said, “Come, let me come into you.” Tamar asked what he will pay with and he replies he will send a young goat from his flock. Judah was pulling the old, “I will gladly pay you tomorrow for a cheeseburger today,” routine of Wimpy. Tamar was not having any of it. She said he needed to give her his signet ring, cord, and staff and only then, she would agree to the sexual transaction. Tamar did not trust Judah because his third son was of age to perform his duty with her and Judah had withheld him.
Later Judah sends a young goat by his friend with instructions to get the pledges in return. When Judah’s friend gets there, Tamar is not present. He asks around for the cult prostitute and the men of the area inform him there is no prostitutes around these parts. Judah’s friend returns with the goat and says he did not find the woman so Judah throws up his arms and says she can just keep the stuff or he will be laughed at.
Three months later Judah is informed Tamar is pregnant via immoral means. Judah says they should grab her and torch her for being immoral. As they are dragging her out to burn her for having sexual relations outside of wedlock she sent word to Judah that she was pregnant by the man to whom these possessions belong. She asked Judah to identify the signet, cord and staff and he would know who the father of her child was. Judah saw that he was the father and realized this woman he was about to torch was more righteous than he, since he had withheld his son from her.
Tamar gives birth to twins. During labor one of the twins put his arm out, they tied a string around his arm, but he pulled it back inside. I do not even want to know how painful that must have been… As soon as the arm was withdrawn the brother exited the womb and was named Perez and the brother with the thread on his arm was named Zerah. What a fabulous story and we learn so much from it. Some of the things we discussed that God wants to teach us in this lesson include:
- Judah did not trust God. Judah allowed fear to take hold of what was right and gave in. He withheld his third son out of fear. Judah simply did not trust God.
- The Bible is explicit and in being so, provides avenues for parents to discuss these topics with their own children. God is giving us instruction and the means to approach topics most people really do not want to discuss publicly.
- We see more issues with the first born. Judah’s first born son is wicked and Tamar’s sons create a breach in their effort to exit their mother.
- God is not beholden to birthright and the order of birth. God is concerned with the person, not their birth order. We should also pay more attention to the person and not their station when we make decisions. God rewards the righteous despite our thinking patterns.
This story would be excellent to discuss with someone that lacks a real depth of Bible knowledge or thought the Bible was full of prudes. It shows the depth of depravity and wickedness in men and how God upholds the righteous. We are humans, created in the image of God and as such, sexual relations occur. We cannot hide or pretend sexual issues are not present in life and God thankfully provides us examples of how to handle ourselves in real life circumstances that translate throughout human history.