Genesis 38


Genesis 38: The Story of Judah and Tamar 

(Additional scripture: I John 1: 5-2:1)

Verse1 tells us “ at that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah.   ‘At that time’ refers to the time after they had sold Joseph into slavery ( Judah’s idea) and deceived their father into believing Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.  

Why do you think Judah moved away from his father and brothers?

Jacob in his grief was inconsolable and I believe living in the presence of his father’s grief for which Judah was responsible so nagged his conscience  he could not stand to stay there any longer. But moving away and doing some of the things Judah did as we will see in this story did nothing to relieve him of his guilt. The world’s solution to sin is not recognizing it as sin and turning from it but rather covering it with a variety of deceitful lies.They attack the word of  God and God Himself and say these commandments and laws are not applicable in today’s society and culture. They  create their  own laws that excuse their sinful behavior  and label  the laws of God as antiquated and old fashioned. They seek to make their sinfulness acceptable and God’s truth irrelevant. But the Word of God says they are without excuse. 

His sin was ever before him- his guilty conscience followed him wherever he went. There may have been periods where he was distracted for a time- but then events would bring back the problem.  

There are some important themes running through this unsavory story. One is of course, God’s grace. Let’s face it, at this point in the story, we would not be willing to forgive Judah and his brothers for what they have done. But God is rich in His mercy, His compassions fail not –so He demonstrated His love for us that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. That’s why the Bible is a story of hope for sinful mankind. 

But also we see why it was important for God to move the budding nation of Israel to Egypt where they would be despised by the Egyptian people. This would protect them from intermarrying  and over the next 400 years God would grow them into a nation of over 2 million people. This is why God has allowed the favored son of Israel, Joseph to become a slave who will one day rule Egypt  and save them all from a great famine.  

Left in Canaan at this time- intermarrying would continue until the patriarchal line would become polluted as we see Judah, the very one from which the Messiah would come marry a Canaanite woman.  

Judah in his guilt attempts to rid himself of the guilt not by confessing his sin- but by moving away. He moves away from the reminders of his guilt- his saddened father and his co-conspirators, his brothers. He moves down to Adullam and becomes friends with a man named Hirah. He not only moves into the world- he becomes friends with the world.  

The world- the unbelieving world and society does not hate sin- they hate guilt that is associated with sin. They hate being told by a Holy God they do not meet His standards and their self righteousness is as filthy rags. Like Cain the unbeliever is angry that God will not accept them on their terms. And the creation wants to tell its Creator what they will do and not do.  

Judah knows of the covenant of his father , and Isaac and Abraham. He knows of the importance of their offspring.  

You see Judah wanted to make a new start- but until he takes care of old sin- and gets a new heart there will be no new start..  

So Judah moves. He moves into the world and makes friends with the world. Hirah, an unbelieving heathen becomes not only his friend but advisor. Hirah evidently introduces him to a young woman, a Canaanite, the daughter  of a man named Shua. 

Judah evidently marries quickly without much thought to the covenant promise and completely disregarding what he knows Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had clearly demonstrated – not to marry a Canaanite woman.  

Seeking to salve his guilty conscience, Judah marries and starts a new life. He and his pagan wife soon have  three sons. Er, Onan, and Shelah.  

In verse 6, Judah secures a wife for his oldest son, Er. Her name is Tamar.  

In verse 7, we are told Er was wicked in the Lord’s sight and the Lord slew him- put him to death. God sometimes deals with wickedness with death. The flood in the day of Noah was God’s response to a wicked people whose hearts were evil all the time, and God also put to death the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah.  We are not told what wicked Er did that caused God to put him to death. But rest assured God has the right to do anything and He always does what is right. He has told us- the wages of sin is death. 

Then Judah tells  Er’s brother Onan to lie with his brother’s wife, marry her and produce offspring for his brother.  This custom was called a ‘levirate marriage’. The survival of a line was very important to these ancient people. Therefore their laws called for the surviving brother to do this in order to perpetuate his brother’s name.  

Onan proved to be selfish- not wanting to produce offspring that would inherit the inheritance of the older brother- he selfishly satisfied himself sexually with Tamar but practiced a crude form of contraception so she would not become pregnant.  

Again in verse 10, we see God deal with Onan’s wickedness and put him to death.  

Judah is now faced with only having one son left. He tells Tamar, twice widowed now, to go home to her father’s house. Judah tells her when Shelah, the youngest son was old enough he would marry Tamar and give her an heir.. Tamar goes and waits and waits…

While Tamar goes to live with her father as a widow and wait for Shelah, we are told what Judah is thinking. He is thinking Shelah may die too like his brothers. It appears that Judah believes Tamar is the one at fault and causing these deaths.  

In verse 12, we are told after a long time, Judah’s wife dies. So evidently Shelah is now of marriageable age- but it is evident Judah is not going to give him to Tamar as a husband.  

Enter Hirah, the unbelieving buddy of Judah. Finding Judah recovering from his grief, Hirah seems to be the catalyst  for the trip to Timnah. 

We can imagine, Hirah showing up to console his friend Judah in his grief. Hirah says let’s go up to the sheep-shearing convention at Timnah. We will see all our old buddies, take in a few shows, have a few drinks and some fun. It is just what you need to get you out of  this pit it will do you a ‘world of good.’ The world always has diversions to offer : a drink, some entertainment, a pill, sex, something to take our mind off of one’s problems.  

Judah has by this time become accustomed to choosing the world’s way to deal with his problems, his guilt and his grief.  

In the meanwhile, verse 13-14 tells us Tamar having heard of the death of Judah’s wife, and his planned trip to Timnah comes up with a plan of her own. She has by now figured out- the promised marriage to Shelah is never going to occur.  

Once again we see the principle of sowing and reaping: Tamar takes off her widow’s clothes and disguises herself with the veil and dress of a prostitute. 

What follows is hardly the type of action one would expect of the man selected by God to be the line through which the Messiah would come. Surely we would not have selected Judah- we would have more than likely chosen Joseph. And certainly not Tamar- but there it is in black and white in God’s word – not only this story but also found in the genealogy  listed in Matthew 1.    

Interestingly you will find in this human lineage of the Lord Jesus, four women: Tamar, a Canaanite, Rahab, a Canaanite and a harlot, Ruth, a Moabite, and Bathsheba, an adulteress. For truly God is able to work all things together for good and God’s intention always was to bless all nations through the descendants of Abraham.  

As we look at God’s choices rather than clucking our tongues and shaking our heads at the sins of Judah and Tamar, the Lord Jesus tells us to be careful how we judge others- for in the same way we will be judged by God.  

Tamar must have known something of her father-in-laws character or else she would not have come up with a plan to lure him into sexual sin.  

Judah sees her and wants her. Believing her to be a prostitute he bargains with her for the price. He offers a young goat as a price- to be sent to her later.  

Tamar responds like a hard-headed business woman accustomed to dealing with men in such situations. She must have a pledge.  

“What would you have?”, responds Judah. Give me your seal and its cord( bracelet) and your staff which also carried his insignia.  These three items represent Judah’s person, possessions and position. He risks all for a moment of lust.  ( AA story).  

Afterwards Judah sends a young goat as payment for her services. His accomplice? None other than good ole Hirah. Hirah takes the goat back to pay the prostitute but cannot find her.  

Judah is upset- not because of his sin but because  he feared his reputation might be ruined and he would become a laughingstock—embarrassed about the whole sordid affair.  

But be sure your sin will find you out… three months later, Judah receives word his daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution and is now pregnant as a result.  

Judah, the hypocrite is incensed and demands justice. He wants her brought out and burned to death.  

As she is being brought out, she sends a message to Judah and says I am pregnant by the man who owns these- Judah’s seal, cord and staff.  

Examine these to see if you recognize whose seal, cord and  staff these are.

These are almost the identical words Judah and his brothers said when they brought Joseph’s blood-stained, torn robe to their father and said: Examine this robe to see if you recognize whose robe this is.   

I am reminded of the story of Nathan’s confrontation of one of Judah’s descendants, King David.

Nathan, aware of David’s sin with Bathsheba and his involvement in Uriah’s death- confronts him with a story of a rich man who had exceeding flocks but instead took the poor man’s pet lamb and killed it for a visitor to eat. David in his anger said he would find this man and take his life—put him to death. 

Nathan then told King David—‘ you are that man.’  

Two hypocrites  who showed no mercy – were revealed for who they were-self-righteous hypocrites.  David recognized his sin as did Judah.  

Judah admits she, Tamar, is more righteous than he.  

God had taken away two of Judah’s sons- but now He gives him back two sons, twin boys named Zerah and Perez. Perez will the one through whom the royal line will proceed.  (Matthew 1)  

And now you know the rest of the story.   A story that reveals not only the sovereignty of God, the Holiness of God, the Grace of God and the mercy of God- but shows us something else about ourselves.

When we look at Judah and judge him guilty and deserving of death are we not like David in his response to the story Nathan told him.  

And finally do we not realize- ‘thou are that man!” 

Like Judah and David we would often judge others of their sins- only to realize later that only those who are without sin are qualified to judge and can first cast stones. None of us are without sin- for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

We demand justice be done –but justice is the shield of the innocent and the sword to the guilty. What we really want is mercy when our sins are found out.  

What we can also observe in the book of Genesis is this is the story of man- frail, sinful man who try as he might can never live a life in his or her own strength that will be acceptable to a Holy God.   Our characters are flawed for we are born with sinful natures.

In these biographies of these ancient patriarchs we see that their character had to be changed.  

The recognition of our own sin , instead of always looking at other’s sins, is the beginning of our transformation. In this first step we realize we are powerless over sin. God’s Word is unlike any other word. It is alive and powerful and like a sharp two-edged sword it divides soul and spirit joint and marrows. It cuts away the cancer of sin that  causes our sickness of character. Our diseased hearts become like stone- and we need a heart transplant.  

The only way to receive a heart transplant is from someone who dies and is willing to have their heart taken to be given to another.  “ I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you, I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of  new flesh.” (Ezekiel 36) 

We did not have to worry about a perfect match…for we had the perfect donor- the Lord Jesus.  

Judah has to face up to his sin.

Judah has to come to realize- he cannot make a new start without a new heart.

Why did I read those verses from I John 1 & 2?  

It contains not only  some of the greatest truths regarding our power to resist sin but also the defense available to us when we sin.  

I do not know what excuses or deceptions or rationalizations Judah used to not confess his sin. Perhaps Judah’s defense was- if it was not for me his brothers would have killed Joseph. My actions were taken to save Joseph’s life. We know he blamed Tamar for the death of his two sons. Nor can I imagine what David must have told himself to escape the guilt of his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. 

But the stories in Genesis from the very beginning show that man and woman will use a defense of blaming circumstances or others or even God for their actions.  

The Word of God tells  us here(I John 1&2) – if we sin( and we will sin) there is a perfect defense and a perfect defender. He is our Advocate before the Father, the Judge. He is our attorney or lawyer.  His title, Our Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous.  

Now you realize by now that a Sovereign God will allow you to do as you please- He will not violate your free will. If you want to defend yourself- you can. But everyone knows a lawyer who defends himself in court has a fool for a client.  

And what will your defense be?  It was not my fault Lord, the woman You gave me did this unto me.(Adam’s defense) Eve said it was the serpent. Everyone blamed someone else. Or we might use the excuse- it was the pressure of the circumstances. But whatever defense you use- whatever loophole you are looking for to justify your sins- the Bible tells us you are without excuse. You deceive yourself. The truth is not in you.  

Do you know what is the sad thing about this?  The Lord Jesus’s blood cannot cleanse us from our ‘excuses’. The Word of God could not be clearer- “ the blood of Christ cleanses us of all our sins.”  Confess your sins- agree with God it is sin. He can cleanse us.  

Do you see in these verses that we have power over sin? Do you know the secret of this power?  It is fellowship with God the Father and His Son. If we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship with the Lord and one another. Walking in the light is the secret to fellowship and fellowship is the secret and source to power over sin.  

What cuts off fellowship?  Sin.

What must we do to restore it- confess and appeal to our Advocate.

The unbeliever will not walk in the light- he/she prefers darkness. Calls darkness light and light darkness.

The carnal Christian has cut himself or herself off from the light by neglecting the Word of God and fellowship with believers.

We cut ourselves  off when we excuse our sin- blame it on our circumstances- call it by another name- human frailty, weakness, a bad habit, etc. Excuses and rationalizing. Saying we have no sin- thus making God a liar.  

Have you seen like David and Judah – you art that man? Have you confessed your sin- for without a new heart, a cleansed heart- there is no new start.

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14