Gen 38

Gen 38

Judah and Tamar

  1. Review
    1. Gen 37 – concludes
      1. Jacob is in grief believing that his son Joseph has been killed
      2. But, 37:36 – there is the “Meanwhile” – God is at work silently in the life of Joseph and in the keeping of His plan and promises moving forward. We just don’t yet know how.  It is a cliffhanger ending.
    2. Gen 37:2 begins a new “account” and also a new purpose in Genesis.  Jacob is now “in the land” (37:1).  Moses is now writing to tell Israel how they are to live in the land so they will not be booted out.  How to occupy the land and stay in it.
      1. Last week- it is not by power or by wealth. That failed.
      2. It is not by trying to be pure and holy.  They failed at that too.
      3. It is by trusting in “the dream” – that is having faith in God’s promise and in his plan.
      4. We will see at the end of the story today what it has to say about staying in the land.
  2. Chapter 38 – the story of Judah and Tamar
    1. When we read this story it is not about Joseph.
      1. There are commentators who say this story has nothing to do with the story of the patriarchs.
  1. When we read the Bible we need to remember that it is given to us in the form of literature.  Great literature.
  2. The insertion of the Judah and Tamar story into the story of Joseph adds suspense to the story.  (Like a Tom Clancy novel when he writes a story and inserts a vignette into the main story.)
      1. The main story is not really Joseph.  The main story begins in Gen 3 when God makes the promise of the seed – and continues that promise to Abraham in Gen 12:2ff – “I will make you into a great nation…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”.
  1. The story of Scripture includes Joseph, but it is far greater than Joseph.
  2. The Judah and Tamar story is integral to the main story. The promised seed will go through Judah.
    1. Gen 49:3f – As Jacob blesses his children he tells Reuben (his firstborn) that he will no longer excel because he slept with Bilhah.  Gen 34:22
    2. Gen 49:5f – He tells Levi and Simeon (second and third born sons)– that due to their violence they will be scattered in Israel – Gen 34
    3. And now he comes to Judah Gen 49:8-10 – (fourth born son) – Jacob tells Judah that the scepter will not depart from him.  He promises him that kings will come from him. The suspense of the story of Scripture is heightened in the story of Judah and Tamar.  After this chapter is placed here, we are left reading the Scriptures wondering how this story plays a role in God’s overall plan.
      1. We are given a hint in Gen 49
      2. A little more in the story of Ruth in Ruth 4:12
      3. And then even more in Mt 1:3
      1. Even in the seemingly incidental stories of Scripture that appear as if they have no role in the story – God is at work.  And it is the same in our life.  In the whole scheme of things the story of our lives may seem incidental, but if we are in Christ then God has called us to himself to glorify himself through us.  It may not be until “one day” that we see how.
      2. The story of Judah and Tamar adds suspense to the story of Joseph and also the entire story of Scripture.  It also takes some time to read it.  Joseph is in Egypt.  We know that.  But it often takes time for things to happen in life.  To jump right into Joseph in Egypt moves faster than what Joseph experienced in his life.  Things don’t always happen immediately in life.  We sometimes find our story going slower than we would like.  In spite of the slowness, God is working.
      3. This is great story telling.  Compelling literature. It is the way life is.
  1. Judah and his three boys
    1. Judah leaves his brothers (we are not told why) and goes to stay with Hirah in Adullam, a Canaanite town (ROR 26A) in the Shephelah (foothills) NW of Hebron.  This was territory where Canaanites lived.
      1. While he was there he “saw” a Canaanite woman and married her.
      2. He has 3 children with her (I Chon 2:3).
        1. The firstborn son is named Er and he married Tamar.
        2. The second son is named Onan.
        3. The third son is named Shelah.  He is a good bit younger than his two brothers.
      3. Er, Tamar’s husband, we are told rather quickly in the story dies.  And Judah instructs his second son to go to Tamar and do your duty with her to provide an offspring for your brother.  The custom is called levirate marriage. (The people are not actually married.)
        1. This practice seems to be the custom of the day.  It was a custom practiced not only by Israel but also other nations.  (The practice would later be a part of the law Moses gives to Israel in Dt 25:5f. And it seems to still be referred to in Jesus’ day –though the Sadducees use it seeking to trap Christ-  Mt. 22:23ff) (Some Jewish sects still practice it today)
        2. It allows the deceased brothers name to continue on through the child that would be produced and build up the family line (Dt 25:9)
        3. It is also a means of providing some economic security for the widow.  She has a place where she can continue to live.  The land is passed down to the heir and so she has a place.  (See the daughters of Zelophehad in Num 27:1-11 – when their father passed away they asked for property.  And the Lord agrees.)
        4. Onan though does not want to share the inheritance with the heir that would be produced through Tamar, so he takes a step to avoid getting Tamar pregnant.
        5. And so the Lord kills Onan too.  He kills him not for “spilling his seed”, but rather for his unwillingness to provide an offspring for his brother which would help protect Tamar. He leaves Tamar vulnerable. (vs. 9)
      4. When Judah’s second son, Onan, dies Judah decides to send Tamar back to her father’s house to live as a widow.
  1. And he tells Tamar that he will give Shelah to her so that she might have a child through him and so provide an heir.
  2. Now Judah may not have known the reason the Lord killed his two boys.  We know.  Moses tells us.  Judah is thinking it is something else.  He thinks Tamar is a jinx.  She slept with two of his sons and they are dead and so I am not going to risk my third son.  (38:11).
  1. Judah and Tamar
    1. After a long time Judah’s wife dies and he recovers from his grief. (38:12)  And after a long time Shelah is presumed to be old enough that if Judah were going to give him to Tamar he would have.  But he has not.
      1. And Tamar is certainly aware of this and her state – A widow in her father’s house – Promised the opportunity to have an heir but Judah has not kept his promise and send Shelah to her.  She is not merely disappointed in this. No, far more.  She is placed at a great disadvantage.  What should be hers is being unjustly denied to her.
    2. So she hears one day that Judah is going to Timnah with his friend Hirah where his sheep are being sheered.
      1. They go to Timnah (Timnath Serah – Josh 20:50 – territory later given to Joshua) – (ROR 24B) – about 4 miles from Adullam.
      2. Tamar hears they are going there so she dresses up as a harlot and waits alongside the road at the entrance to Enaim. This is the route Judah has to take to get from Adullam to Timnah.  Finding prostitutes along the side of the road was not uncommon. (Jer 3:2)
      3. So when Judah “sees” her (vs 15) he concludes she must be a prostitute.   He does not recognize her though.  She is behind a veil.  (Jacob did not recognize Leah on his wedding night.)
      4. Judah and Tamar then talk about the price and they agree upon a young goat from his flock.  (The same thing Samson brought when he wanted to sleep with his estranged wife – Judges 15:1)
      5. The problem is that Judah did not have the goat with him.  So, Tamar asks for a pledge and they agree on Judah’s seal, cord and staff.  He gives them to her and they sleep together. (Same word that is used of Judah and his wife vs.2)
      6. At the end of the verse we know Tamar is pregnant.  Judah does not know this.  Tamar puts back on her widow’s clothing.
    3. Here is where some commentators bring moral judgment upon Tamar, calling what she did a crime – spying on Judah, an incestuous relationship that is an unlawful remedy to her problem…. And he calls Judah an old lascivious man with bad eyesight who should have restrained himself.
      1. It is easy to turn this into a story of immorality.  And turn to against Tamar as Calvin did.  She is after all the easiest one to go after.  But that is exactly the problem, as we will see.
      2. The immorality of Tamar is not how Scripture will later treat the story.  Ruth 4:12 – Tamar is held in honor.
      3. There is something far greater than a moral lesson in this chapter.  The text does not condemn Tamar.  We are reading our ideas and views into the text if we condemn her.  Our task is to bring out from the text its message.
      4. And the same goes for Judah.  He is not judged for being lascivious, as Calvin calls him.  He will discover something else about himself as the story develops.
    4. The attempt to make payment to Tamar
      1. Apparently after Judah and Hirah return from the sheep shearing in Timnah, Judah sends his friend Hirah to find the girl and make good on his promise to give her a goat. And to get his staff, cord and seal back.
          1. It would have been dishonorable for him not to pay
      2. So Hirah goes back to the area where Tamar was and does not find her.  So he asks around town where the “cult prostitute” that sits by the road in this area is.
          1. The KJV and RSV says he asks where the “harlot” is.  (vs 21)
          2. NASB, ESV and NIV – cult, temple or shrine prostitute.  This is the better translation.
          3. “Cult prostitutes” were common in those days.  It is forbidden – Dt 23:17 – and the prophets speak against the practice – Hos 4:14.
          4. But on the road in Canaanite territory finding a cult prostitute would not be a surprise.
          5. Hirah calls the girl a cult prostitute.  It is a custom that was more or less acceptable in Canaanite culture.  It is not as harsh as the term, “harlot” used by the KJV and RSV.  The people of her town will later say she played the “harlot” – 38:24.  They use the more condemning and inflammatory term. ESV, NIV and NASB reflect the distinctions.
          6. When Hirah can not find the girl he returns to Judah and he calls off the search, noting that he tried to keep his pledge.  He tried to do the right thing.
  2. Tamar is pregnant
    1. Three months later Judah is told that his daughter in law has played the harlot and behold she is with child by harlotry.
    2. Judah’s instant response to the news brought to him is “Bring her out and burn her to death”.
      1. If you are in Judah’s place, what do you think happens next?  Whatever it is, it is probably not the thing that happens.
      2. Tamar sends a message to him.  “I am pregnant by the man who owns these” – and she brings out the staff, seal and cord and says “See if you recognize whose these belong to”
          1. Judah was caught completely off guard.  The fact that she was pregnant by him never crossed his mind.
          2. He then recognizes what is before him.  They belong to him.
          3. And he proclaims that she is more righteous than he is.  He had failed to keep his promise to her and provide his son Shelah as he promised. He let his own fears govern his actions rather than doing what was right.  He had left her vulnerable.  He had not treated her justly and given her what was due to her.
  3. Living in the Land
    1. And here is what Moses is telling Israel about how they are to live in the land once they get there.
      1. They are to exercise justice.
  1. One of the characteristics of justice is that it will catch us off guard when all the facts and evidence comes in.
    1. The person who brought the news to Judah did not have all the facts, but they had made their judgment.  She was pregnant through playing the harlot.
    2. Judah did not have all the facts but in an instant made his judgment.  Burn her.
    3. But when Tamar brought the pledge material and set all the facts out, Judah was caught off guard. What she did was unexpected.
          1. Judah probably tried to live his life doing the right thing.  He tried to find the girl along the roadside and pay her.  He tried to keep his pledge.
    1. When true justice is administered it will surprise us.
      1. When God one day brings out the evidence against us it will probably catch us off guard.  Our nature is to believe that we are doing ok.
      2. If we don’t have Christ to cover our sins then we too will be caught off guard like Judah.
      3. Christ met God’s justice for us upon the cross.  He met God’s justice for those sins we know.  And also for those sins that will catch us by surprise. And we all have those.
      4. We need the advocate Christ Jesus to be at our side on the day when God brings out all of the evidence.
    2. Also, in this story Judah is the one who has all the power.  And he lives like it.
      1. He denies Tamar his son Shelah.
      2. He hears evidence and immediately pronounces judgment.
      3. He lived under a double standard.  He slept with a girl on the side of the road and no one thought anything of it.  He did it with his friend standing around waiting on him.  But when he hears that Tamar slept with someone he calls for her death.
      4. And when all the facts come in, he ends the judgment – though he is guilty.
      5. For Israel to continue to live in the land, the widow and the orphan, the least of those in the community, the unprotected would have to be treated fairly.  Not just fairly, loved.  Christ reaches out to touch the leper.  The harlot washes his feet. He is a friend of and eats with sinners. His blood covers the sins of the powerful and the weak.  The societal righteous and the outcast pariah.
    3. Justice is also not emotional.
      1. When the person brought Judah the news of Tamar, they brought it with passion.  Their language was strong and conclusive – pregnant through harlotry.
      2. Judah got caught up in the emotion and responds himself instantly and emotionally.  He does not call for any evidence.  He has it all already.  Or so he thought.
      3. If you watch CNN and their legal shows – the hosts are quick to judge.  Inflame hate and fervor against a person charged with a crime before all the evidence is even in.
      4. God, according to the Westminster Standards is “without passion”.  That does not mean that he does not get angry.  He does.  It means he does not fly off the handle all emotionally charged up over partial evidence.  He is not a hot head.
          1. Right now in the news is the story of the man who was swapped out for prisoners in Gitmo.  Before the evidence is in, there is passion.  Name calling.  Motives being attributed.  Judgments being made.
          2. Justice requires patience.  Get the facts all in.  (Next week in the story of Joseph we will look further into this.)
          3. And remember – the whole truth may very well be different than what the partial evidence is presenting.
      5. God is not going to judge us based on what others say about us.  He is not going to judge us based on just part of the story.  He will have all of the facts, all of the evidence.  And he will judge righteously.  No double standards for anyone.
          1. I am glad I will have the descendant of Tamar and Judah – Jesus – there to plead, not my merits, but his.  I am unrighteous.  He is righteous and pleases the Father.


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Israel 2014

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