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An Unconventional Lesson — Genesis Chapter 38

This blog post will cover the devotionals #160-162 for Genesis Chapter 38.


Please note that this devotional book is for sale as a physical (paperback) &/or digital (PDF) book on my website.


[160] Genesis 38:1-5

Recall that Reuben committed a sexual sin by sleeping with his father’s concubine. After Joseph was sold as a slave, Judah went away and stayed with an Adullamite, Hirah. While there, he slept with a daughter of a Canaanite (his name was Shuah). She got pregnant by Judah three times, with sons—Er, Onan, and Shelah. This was also a sin—as God had made it clear that His people were not to marry the heathen people of Canaan. Just as Judah’s sister had slept with Shechem and was both disgraced and the cause of very unfortunate events, Judah now slept with a Canaanite, and the effects would show up right in his own children. We’ll learn later that Judah would become one of Jacob’s sons that would be a partaker of the birthright. Doesn’t that seem strange, considering the Bible discusses his sins? It might, but the point is that God doesn’t cover up / hide the sins of even His greatest servants. In fact, their sins / faults are laid out with more detail than their virtues. He doesn’t only work with perfect people—God’s chosen men sometimes fell to temptation. The records of their lives serve as both a warning and an inspiration to us. We too, can be overcomers. Judah was one of a long line of sinful men that led to the Messiah Himself.

[161] Genesis 38:6-26

Judah took Tamar as a wife for his son, Er, but Er was wicked, and God allowed him to die. Deuteronomy 25:5-10 tells us that if brothers are living together, and one has a wife when he dies, then the widow must not marry outside the family. Instead, her husband’s brother should marry her. Their firstborn would be born in the name of the deceased brother, so his name could continue. If the brother refused to take the wife, she could call him to action with the elders of the city, and he’d be disgraced. This is what Judah called Onan to do for his late brother, Er. However, Onan was bothered by the fact that the seed of his loins wouldn’t be considered his, so he did something unacceptable. When he slept with Tamar, he pulled out and ejaculated on the ground instead of inside her—to prevent giving his brother a son. This was also considered a wicked thing—and God allowed Onan to die as well. The next son of Judah that would’ve married Tamar and provide Er’s name a son would’ve been Shelah, but he was still too young. Thus, Judah asked Tamar to go stay at her father’s house until Shelah was grown and could marry her. She was expected to remain a single widow until that time, and she kept her end of the bargain. Judah’s wife (Shuah’s daughter) died, and he went to Timnath with his friend, Hirah. Tamar was notified that her father-in-law had gone to Timnath to shear his sheep, so she disguised herself (replacing her widow’s garments with something more alluring) and sat where she could be seen along the route to Timnath. She’d prove a point to Judah because he hadn’t kept his promise to give her to his third son, Shelah (who was now fully grown). Now he’d have to fulfill the duty he should’ve given Shelah to do. As he was traveling, Judah saw Tamar, but didn’t recognize her. She’d covered her face, so he believed she was a harlot. Thus, he stopped and asked if he could sleep with her. She asked what Judah would give her in return, and he said he’d give her a kid from his flock. She asked for a pledge to confirm he’d send it to her, so he asked what she wanted. She told him to give her his seal (ring), bracelets, and staff, so he did, and they slept together. She got pregnant. When they were through, she got up and left, removed her vail, and put her widow’s garments back on so she wouldn’t be recognized. Judah sent his friend with the kid to pay her and retrieve his belongings, but Hirah couldn’t find her. He asked the locals where the harlot was, but they said there were no harlots there. Judah was nervous that he’d be shamed if she didn’t receive the animal for payment, but what could be done? Well, roughly three months later, Judah was informed that Tamar was pregnant through whoredom, and Judah was mad that she hadn’t remained a widow as he’d instructed. He called for her to be burned to death for punishment. When she was brought to be burned, she called her father-in-law to come and find out who the father of her child was. She showed him his belongings (the ring, bracelet, and staff) and asked him to determine whose they were. When he saw them, he realized she wasn’t in the wrong—he was. He’d promised to give her to his son but hadn’t. Thus, she had to obtain a child for her first husband by trickery, and she opened his eyes to his own unrighteousness. He left her alone after that. Genesis 38:26 says, “She has been more righteous than I have; because I did not give her to Shelah, my son.” This is a very similar phrase to what Saul would also say to David in 1 Samuel 24:17. “You are more righteous than I am: because you have rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded you evil.” Judah was going to have Tamar burned for what he merely thought were wrongs, while Tamar could’ve chosen to disgrace Judah for his actual wrongs but didn't.

[162] Genesis 38:27-30

When Tamar was ready to give birth, she had twins inside her. As she pushed, one pushed his hand outside and the midwife labeled him as the firstborn with a scarlet thread. However, he took his hand back in and his brother came out instead. She said, “How have you broken forth? This breach will be on you.” The child that came out instead was thus named Pharez (‘breach’). Then the labeled boy came out and they named him Zarah (‘a rising of light’). The Bible uses different spellings for the names of these people. Matthew 1:3 shows Judah is also called Judas; Tamar is Thamar; Zarah is Zara (as well as Zerah, in 1 Chronicles 2:3); and Pharez is Phares (the man whose line Christ would come through). It seems very interesting that the ‘second’-born son of Judah’s daughter-in-law would be the one through whom Christ would come, rather than the one who was technically the ‘firstborn’. This is similar to Judah’s father, Jacob. He was the second-born of the twins, and yet, he was the chosen line for God’s people. This wasn’t an arbitrary choice of God but based on the character and course of the two twins—in other words, the twins’ choices. My guess would be that the same could be said of Judah’s twins. How interesting, though, that the grandchild of the Patriarch (who’d lead to Christ) was born out of whoredom, of all things.

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