Genesis 38

Genesis 38 has the story of Judah, on of the boys of Jacob, going off the reservation.  The story is rather PG in nature due to the immorality recorded here, but it is important to consider the lessons God is portraying.  It is a great contrast with what we’ll see in the next chapter where purity is guarded.  And we can see suggestion of some of the consequences to the sin of selling brother Joseph in the last chapter.  It is all tied together and Judah’s secret has to come out of the closet.

Unity among the sons of Israel was never a significant force. The selling of Joseph was only one indication of this, and even here, the brothers were not of one mind about it. But now Judah has chosen to leave his brothers and his father for “greener grass,” namely fellowship and union with the Canaanites.  He takes a number of Canaanite women as wives, and does the same for his eldest son Er.  It was a woman named Tamar.  But Er dies because of his evil life – in fact God took his life.  And when Tamar is then more or less passed down to the next brother in line, which was the custom of the day, Onan becomes her new husband.

But Onan violates the custom and refuses to father any children with Tamar.  Onan knew that the offspring from his union with Tamar would only further the cause of his deceased brother rather than his own. God took the life of this man for his wickedness also.  Onan was disobedient and filled with selfish motivation which cost him his life.  After losing a second son, Judah was a bit gun shy about giving Tamar to his third son, who wasn’t old enough yet.  But as Shelah got old enough, Tamar began to figure out that Judah wasn’t necessarily going to fulfill the tradition of making him her husband so she takes a bold move.

Tamar goes up to where Judah was shearing sheep and dressed as a prostitute.  And Judah took the bait.  They negotiate the rate for their interaction and Tamar asks for “your signet and your cord and your staff that is in your hand” as a way to assure that the price of a young goat would be paid.   Tamar knew that without some way to demonstrate this to Judah, it would be her word against his and he was totally deceived.  Judah tries to find the prostitute to pay off his debt and get back his things, but Tamar keeps them for later use.  She had gotten pregnant and later is called out.  “Tamar your daughter-in-law has been immoral”.  Judah calls for her to be stoned, but then outcome the facts that the immorality had been his.  This changes the outcome obviously, and Tamar gives birth to twins that were sons of Judah.  Sexual immorality again rears its ugly sinful head.

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