Please read Gen 38 beforehand
Both the good and the bad teach us valuable lessons
Joseph’s story is now suddenly interrupted and the focus shifts to give us insight into the life of one of his older brothers, namely Judah.
God of course, does everything with a purpose and with this insertion he possibly wants to contrast the lives of these two brothers with one-another in order that we may so much more realize how much Joseph excelled his brothers in spiritual character.
The lesson to be learned is twofold. Firstly, a godly home can serve as a firm foundation on which a child can build his future, but it does not guarantee an exemplary walk in later life (nor can we blame an ungodly background for our failures). Everyone is free to choose how he wants to live and how near to God he wants to be. So, we neither have an excuse nor a ceiling because of our past; we can either, spiritually, burrow in the soil like an earthworm, hiding from the light, or rise up with the wings of an eagle and fly in the sunshine as high as we wish.
Furthermore, the Lord also wants to show us how necessary it was for these chosen men to be spiritually renewed to become worthy patriots of the twelve tribes of Israel. They were all to be seen to fly as eagles but, at this stage, they were more like earthworms, called, but not yet sanctified.
A brother deviating from the appointed road.
We see this in the life of Judah where he separates himself from his brothers to settle down with a friend, a Canaanite.
Next, he marries a Canaanite woman, the daughter of a man called Shua. Some commentators are of the opinion that he was quite young when he got married, possibly under the age of 20. This marriage was not, as the custom was, ordered by his father; it was a union of his own choice regardless of God’s will and of his father’s blessing.
Children of Judah, but not of God
He had three sons with her, Er, Onan, and Shelah, in this order. He definitely did not raise a God-fearing family because the first-born lived such an ungodly life, that he provoked the anger of God, Who killed him. His second-born son also did not walk in the will of God. He was selfish and wangled his sexual intercourse with the widow of his brother in such a way that his seed was spilt on the floor with the purpose of not raising descendants for her deceased husband, ensuring a greater inheritance for his own children.
It is interesting to note that this “marriage by a brother-in-law” which was later incorporated in the Torah (Deut 25:5) already, at this stage, was an ordinance of God for the offspring of Abraham. The Lord considered the disregarding of this ordinance such a serious offence, that He killed Onan too.
A convenient scapegoat
Judah then, instead of blaming his own sons for their misfortune, blamed Tamar to be some sort of a “bad luck woman” who caused the death of any man that would have intercourse with her. Therefore, he sent her back to her father’s home under the pretense that she was to bide her time there, until Shelah, the third brother, had come of age. But time passed and, as a matter of convenience, he just forgot about her.
Tamar’s questionable plan
Tamar, however, was not satisfied to remain without children and devised a clever, though very immoral, plan to deceive Judah to sleep with her. Her plan succeeded and she became pregnant.
Since she had been pledged to Shelah, she technically committed adultery and Judah was entitled, as head of the family to sentence her to death which he was summarily going to do. This was a golden opportunity to get rid of the “Tamar-pain-in-the-neck”.
(We must keep in mind that, at that time, there were courts of law, the head of the clan was also the judge of his people.)
Why the difference in judgment?
The question however remains why Judah would so easily condemn her to death for a type of crime which he too had committed?
The answer is to an extent contained therein that harlotry, in the heathen community of that time, was not seen as a crime and was even incorporated in their religious rituals. Since children generated by such sexual intercourse were not reckoned to be the responsibility of the man who conceived them, some married men enjoyed such an outing without fear of any consequences.
The situation was different as regards a married woman. A child conceived with her by someone to whom she was not married, became part of her real husband’s family and inherited together with his other children. Foreign blood (genes) introduced into the family by way of the wife’s harlotry, was therefor seen as a very serious sin, punishable by death. (More about money than morals.)
Judah did the right thing in the end
In this instance, however, Judah was trapped by his own sin. Both his injustice done to Tamar by not building a family for her and her deceased husband and his sexual escapades at Timnah, were revealed to all of his family who had gathered to witness the execution of Tamar. What an embarrassment! The noose was put on the neck of the judge. He at least was humble enough to acknowledge that he was in the wrong.
Can Tamar be excused?
Can Tamar be excused for taking her own father-in-law to bed? Certainly not. In the law which the Lord later gave through Moses, incest (Liv 20:12) as well as harlotry (Lev 19:29) was forbidden. (See also Hos 4:12).
A bad tree bearing good fruit.
Whether she did right or wrong, Tamar had two sons in the end. One of them was Perez (Pharez) who was an ancestor of King David who, in turn, was an ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ (Math 1:3). In this God demonstrates His greatness and grace by bringing forth good from man’s evil.
This then is how things were in Juda’s house, the house from which the tribe of Judah would develop which eventually would become the leader of the 12 tribes of Israel from which their Messiah and the Redeemer of mankind would be born. But let us now switch back to see what happened to Joseph.
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