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Our gracious God, we pray once again coming not of mere habit or custom, but asking genuinely from our hearts that You would help us. I need Your help as a preacher that I might decrease and Christ would increase. We need Your help as Your people that we would have ears to hear, that we would not let these words just go in and go out, we would not be distracted by other things, but You would teach us just what we need to know and You would speak to us just what we need to hear. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
You are a very special people because I dare say that you could travel all throughout this country, all throughout the hundreds of thousands of churches gathering on this Palm Sunday morning, and you may not find another church that will be preaching from this passage on Palm Sunday. You are highly favored.
Genesis 38 is one of the strangest and let’s just say what it is, one of the most uncomfortable passages in the Bible. I won’t say that it’s PG-13 or R because it is very different when you hear something read with euphemisms than you see something. Sometimes people excuse the sort of things that they watch on TV and movies, “Well, the Bible has a lot of sin.” Yes, the Bible does have sin, but it’s not told in a way that arouses, but it is told in a realistic way.
That’s what we have in this passage, and we’re going to deal with it. All Scripture is breathed out by God, and this chapter has something to say to us.
Our approach is very simple. We’re going to read through the passage as I do sometimes. I’m going to stop every paragraph and we’re going to explain what’s going on here, and that’s going to take some time just to read and stop and explain so we understand what’s going on in this strange story. Then once we make our way through the passage, we’ll pull back and we’ll try to understand what lessons, why is this chapter here.
Genesis 38. Follow along as I read.
“It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and turned aside to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua. He took her and went in to her, and she conceived and bore a son, and he called his name Er. She conceived again and bore a son, and she called his name Onan. Yet again she bore a son, and she called his name Shelah. Judah was in Chezib when she bore him.”
So we have the marker in verse 1. It’s ambiguous. It just says “it happened at that time.” So we’ll come back at the end to explain why is this here, interrupting the well-known story of Joseph, in particular when chapter 37 could move seamlessly to chapter 39, but we have chapter 38.
So sometime here, meanwhile, in this same window, and actually this covers many, many years because we have Judah going off, he’s a single man apparently in chapter 37. Now at some time here he goes off, he gets married, and as we’ll see, it covers maybe 20 years because his kids grow up and they get married.
So this meanwhile, during this whole episode that’s going to unfold over many, many years with Joseph, this happens with Judah. And he has three sons.
Often in Genesis we find three sons. Adam had three sons; Cain, Abel, Seth. Noah three sons; Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Terah had three sons; Abram, Nahor, Haran. And so Judah has three sons by this Canaanite woman. The fact that he married a Canaanite woman is not good. Esau did that. His parents were not happy. But he does it. He marries a Canaanite woman and he has three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah.
“And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also. Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow in your father’s house, till Shelah my son grows up”—for he feared that he would die, like his brothers. So Tamar went and remained in her father’s house.”
We don’t know what happened to make Er fall on the wrong side, but whatever he did was wicked, this man named Er.
We’ve been joking in our family that, you know, our kids have Bible names so we’ve had a lot of stories of Jacob, we have a Jacob. Then there was a Benjamin, and then an Er. We don’t have an Er but we have our 3-year-old who will say to us, “Er mean, Mommy. Er mean, Daddy.” We’re trying to get him to say “you’re” but he says “Er,” so this is for him. This is his namesake. Er.
Er was wicked. It’s the first time that we see the Lord striking dead an individual. Now He was justly angry at the whole world and sent the Flood, but this is the first time He strikes dead an individual for his sin.
How many times have we seen in Genesis the firstborn is set aside? Cain, Ishmael, Esau. Well, now the firstborn Er, he dies. So it’s the responsibility of the next brother Onan to produce an heir. This is called the levirate law. It comes from levir, l-e-v-i-r, which is Latin for brother-in-law. These marriage laws were very common in the Ancient Near East. They’ll be codified in Deuteronomy 25, and you can think even up to the time of Jesus in the Gospels where someone will ask Jesus, “Well, whose wife will see be in the resurrection, because she had this brother and this brother and this brother?” It was very common practice that if you die and you have not produced an heir then it’s the requirement of the brother to marry the widow.
Now why do this? It seems very weird to us, but it was to help the deceased brother so that his line would continue. Notice Onan says, “This child isn’t even really going to count as my offspring.” That’s right. It would count as the offspring of his deceased brother, so it would be his line continuing.
It also would help the family because the family possessions then would stay within the family, and it would also help provide stability and support for the widowed wife, that she doesn’t have to remain a widow but she would have the next in line to marry.
There’s something similar going on in the story of Ruth. Remember Boaz? Is there is another kinsman redeemer? Is there a closer relative who ought to come and marry Ruth? And he says no thanks, and then Boaz is able to do it.
So this is a very common practice in the ancient world.
Judah doesn’t seem to be giving Onan properly as a husband to Tamar. Notice it just says that Onan is going in and having sexual relations with Tamar. It doesn’t even seem to be a proper marriage, is what it should have been, but it’s not. Notice this doesn’t happen just once, but Onan goes into her repeatedly, and he famously, as the Bible ESV puts it, spills his semen on the floor. He’s selfish. He’s disobedient. He was willing to have sex with Tamar, but he didn’t want to produce an heir. Why? The text tells us – because he knew that any sort of offspring produced with Tamar is not really his offspring. There was nothing in it for him. Profoundly selfish. All he wants is to have sex. He doesn’t want any of the responsibility. He doesn’t want any self-sacrifice.
Sounds pretty contemporary in attitudes towards sex. So he commits coitus interruptus every time he sleeps with Tamar. To make matters worse, he seems to be fulfilling his duties. As they go behind closed curtains, and have relations, it may have seemed to everyone else, “Well, Onan is sure being a faithful brother-in-law, just like the custom would have, but boy, what’s wrong with Tamar? She never seems to get pregnant.” Little do they know that Onan is committing this horrible act of selfishness, not at all fulfilling his duties, just willing to have sex with Tamar.
He knows what’s going on. Tamar knows what’s going on. And the Lord knows. This was a wicked thing in the sight of the Lord. So having struck down the firstborn Er, He now strikes down the second son, Onan, and this makes Judah very nervous because he has a third son, Shelah. Not to make light of it, but Judah is thinking, “Wow, every one of my sons who gets with Tamar, something happens and he ends up dead, so I’m not really eager to give the third son to Tamar.”
So he says, “Well, Shelah isn’t old enough now.” That may have been true, probably was, and yet it seems as if Judah had no intention of ever really performing the duty he should have done as a father, which was to give the next son in line to Tamar. So he says, “Tamar, you can go be a widow in your father’s house. Shelah’s not old enough. Don’t call me, we’ll call you.” He’s probably thinking, “Out of sight, out of mind, go back to your father’s house, this whole thing was a mess, we don’t have to deal with Tamar anymore.”
It was a wickedness on the part of Er, a wickedness on the part of Onan, and now a real sin on the part of Judah as well. But that’s not the end of the story.
“In the course of time the wife of Judah, Shua’s daughter, died. When Judah was comforted, he went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. And when Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,” she took off her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, wrapping herself up, and sat at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she had not been given to him in marriage. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. He turned to her at the roadside and said, “Come, let me come in to you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” He answered, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” And she said, “If you give me a pledge, until you send it—” He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” She replied, “Your signet and your cord and your staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. Then she arose and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood.”
Just when you thought this story could not get any more sordid, it does. Judah fails to do his part as a father. Tamar then decides to take matters into her own hands. We aren’t given any sort of divine evaluation of Tamar’s actions. Surely this is not a model for us as Christians, but if anyone is commendable in this story, it’s Tamar. She acts boldly, shrewdly, to try to right the wrong that has been done to her. Again, not a model for us, and yet if anyone has done the right thing, it’s Tamar.
Notice she waits until Judah’s wife dies. She doesn’t want to be causing him to commit adultery. She also knows now that his wife has died and his opportunity for intimacy is gone, that he may be looking for fulfillment elsewhere. So when she hears that he’s on the road, going to pass by where she is, she takes off her mourning clothes. Notice this is years later, she still has widow garments. Apparently she must wear her widow’s garments for the rest of her life or until she’s remarried. Everyone knows she’s still a widow. But she takes off those garments for a time and she dresses up as a prostitute.
Perhaps the veil indicated something in that culture that she was a prostitute, but more importantly it kept Judah from knowing who she was. So she stands at the fork in the road, likely some spot in town where it was known that prostitutes would be, and she waits for Judah, who’s coming up for the sheep shearing. He’s coming up no doubt in a festive mood as they would have a great festival to take care of the sheep.
This exchange between Judah and Tamar is about as unromantic as you can get. He says, “Let me come in to you.” She says, “What will you give me?” He says, “I’ll give you a goat from the flock.” Of course, he’s not traveling with his goats, so she says, “Okay, before I get the goat, I’m going to need some sort of pledge. I’m going to need some collateral. I’m going to need some proof until the goat comes.” She asks for three things, very shrewd. She says, “I want your signet, your cord, and your staff.”
The signet was probably some sort of personal seal, a piece of stone, metal. You might think of in the military a dog tag. There was something like it that indicated his personal seal, his signet. The cord is probably some kind of chain around his neck that he would wear. So give me the signet, give me the cord, and then of course, each man has his trusty walking staff, not only to help take on a journey but to help with the flock. This was a key part of the man’s accoutrements.
So this is like purposefully requesting, “I want you to leave your passport, your voter ID card, and your favorite pair of shoes.” She’s thinking ahead, “Everyone’s going to know whose these are.”
“When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite to take back the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her. And he asked the men of the place, “Where is the cult prostitute who was at Enaim at the roadside?” And they said, “No cult prostitute has been here.” So he returned to Judah and said, “I have not found her. Also, the men of the place said, ‘No cult prostitute has been here.’” And Judah replied, “Let her keep the things as her own, or we shall be laughed at. You see, I sent this young goat, and you did not find her.””
So sometime later Judah sends his friend, this man Hirah the Adullamite, with the goat. Remember, he promised a goat, he didn’t have a goat. He says, “Okay, bring her the goat. Go find her.” He says, “We can’t find this cult prostitute.”
It’s actually a different word used than “prostitute” earlier. A cult prostitute was a certain type of prostitute. It was considered even maybe a little higher class prostitute, whether they just get the words mixed up or she was one or the other, or he’s trying to put a better spin on it.
But, “We haven’t found the prostitute that you’re looking for.” Of course, she’s not dressed up like a prostitute anymore. She’s put back on her widow clothes and she’s not cult prostitute at the town square, she’s simply Tamar, a widow in her father’s home. This was all very embarrassing for Judah, like leaving your wallet at a strip club and you can’t get it back. He just says, “Ah, okay, forget about it. I can’t get this stuff. I don’t where she is. Just all right, the goat.” And he says, “Let her keep the stuff. Let’s pretend this never happened.”
Somebody grabbing hold of you laptop and finding out what you’re really watching on that laptop or where you’ve really been on your phone. Judah’s embarrassed. Yeah, we have new ways to commit sins. We have new ways to sin sexually. We have the some human heart. It’s been the same human heart and the same temptations from, since east of Eden.
So Judah’s, “Ah, boy, forget about it. Let’s move on.” But of course, he can’t.
“About three months later,” verse 24, “Judah was told, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has been immoral. Moreover, she is pregnant by immorality.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” And she said, “Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.”
Like David many years later after the sin with Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan comes to him and he tells him the story about the man who had one ewe lamb and the man who had everything and he took from him the one ewe lamb and David initially is incensed. “Oh, how could it be?” Then Nathan says, “You are that man.”
Similar here with Judah. Judah has no conception that he just committed sexual immorality or he’s shoved that bit of his conscience down. We’re very good at that. We can quiet our conscience, we’re very quick to see the sins of other people. So he hears his daughter-in-law, what? She committed sexual immorality? How dare she! And she’s pregnant? Well, this is a great shame upon the whole family. Let her be brought out in public and we’re going to kill her. Let her be burned.
Tamar figured something like this might happen, so in a very dramatic scene, brought out in public, everyone probably shaking their heads, tsk tsking, oh, embarrassed, how could Tamar have done this? Maybe she has a little baby bump starting to show. And very dramatically she says, “Father-in-law, I’ll tell you who did this to me,” and she brings out the signet, the cord, and the staff. Identify them, and it probably doesn’t take long for Judah and probably everyone else. That’s my driver’s license, that’s my passport, and my favorite shoes. Everyone can see, and now Judah understands that this was his sin. He should have given Shelah, but he didn’t. He hid away Shelah thinking that he does not want his youngest son to die. Send Tamar off to just die a widow in her father’s house. Now he realizes and he states in verse 26, “She was more righteous than I.”
Verse 27. Here’s the conclusion of the matter.
“When the time of her labor came, there were twins in her womb. And when she was in labor, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” But as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out. And she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” Therefore his name was called Perez. Afterward his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah.”
Tamar gives birth to twins by way of Judah. Yes, unseemly, by way of her father-in-law she gives birth to Perez and Zerah. From Perez, the younger, who came out first, will eventually come Boaz, and from that line will come David and Josiah and all the kings, and as you may know, eventually from this same line, from this union of Judah and Tamar, will come Jesus, who is called the Christ.
Why is this story here? If you look back at Genesis 37, look at the very last verse, 36: “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.”
Turn over to chapter 39, verse 1: “Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there.”
The last verse in chapter 37 and the first verse in chapter 39, are almost identical. You could move from chapter 37 to chapter 39 without anything in chapter 38 and the story would just keep on going. In fact, it’s very deliberately set out that way, that okay, let’s go back, loop around, we’re back to this right where we left off with the Joseph story. You could go from 37 to 39, skip all of this nasty business in chapter 38. So why is it even here? Do we need this graphic, sinful, uncomfortable, sordid story?
Three lessons. Three things that Genesis 38 can teach us. Three things God wants to teach us from this sordid story in Genesis 38.
Number 1 – Genesis 38 wants to teach us something about Judah. Something about Judah.
This episode probably happened covering a time period that stretches all the way to the end of the Joseph story. Remember, chapter 37 Judah is there, he appears to be single, no family. In chapter 38, by the time we get to the end, he has grown children and they’ve been married and they’ve died. Years have passed. So roughly some 20 years have perhaps passed, which puts the end of chapter 38 about the time that Joseph is going to be reunited with his family in Egypt. In fact, it may be that the change we see in Judah at the end of chapter 38 leads to the more mature attitude we’ll see from Judah during the famine in chapter 43. Maybe these things are happening about the same time.
So why do we have this chapter? Remember, the last fourth of the book of Genesis is about Joseph, but it’s about more than Joseph. It’s actually called the toledoth, or these are the generations of Jacob. It’s about Jacob’s family. It’s about God being faithful to bless Abraham and his children after him. It’s about God working behind the scenes through this very messed up family to build up the nation as He promised.
What we see in this last toledoth, these are the generations of Jacob, we see two sons emerge. Joseph will emerge as the son with the blessing. He will get a double portion, he will get the earthly wealth of the firstborn. Reuben, who slept with the father’s concubine Bilhah, he is set aside. He does not receive what the firstborn normally would receive.
So Joseph in one sense will get the birthright and the blessing. But it’s not that simple. The everlasting kingdom is going to go to Judah. The plan of redemption will move forward through Judah. We are more familiar with the wonderful story about Joseph and his amazing technicolor dream coat. Thankfully there’s been no musical about chapter 38.
But we need to know the sorry of Judah as well, because the toledoth of Jacob is about what happens through Joseph and what happens through Judah, that the blessing, the Abrahamic blessing which we’ve been trading from Abraham and then it goes to Isaac and then it goes to Jacob, now it’s going to go to in an earthly way to joseph, and in a much deeper, richer, longer-lasting, spiritual way, it’s going to go to Judah.
In one sense, this story here in chapter 38, Judah is a foil for the more honorable Joseph. Think about it. Joseph is sold off into slavery as his coat is dipped in the blood of a goat. Judah pays for Tamar’s services with the promise of a goat.
Jacob will identify the coat brought back and he’ll say, “Surely this is my son joseph.” He identifies it. It’s actually the same Hebrew word. Judah will be made to identify his signet, his cord, and his staff and say with great shock, “This belongs to me.”
Joseph, as we’ll see in chapter 39, will not succumb to sexual temptation with Potiphar’s wife. Judah very easily succumbs to sexual temptation.
Tamar is a kind of seductress for a noble cause. Potiphar’s wife for an entirely sinful cause.
By the end of chapter 38, God is hinting quite strongly if we know the rest of Genesis, that Judah is going to be the one. Judah, of all people, is going to be the one to carry forward the covenant of grace that God first made with Abraham.
Think of the parallels between Jacob’s story and Judah’s story, and when you recall these parallels, you see that Moses by the inspiration of the Spirit is leading us to see, “Ah, wow, this covenant of grace is actually going to move forward with this sleazebag?”
Think about it. Jacob and Esau were twins. Judah has twins, Zerah and Perez. Esau was the older, but he would serve the younger. Zerah is the older. He comes out. This is why it’s so important who the older is because they get the double portion, they get the birthright, everything, so he comes out and we got to tell, he’s the firstborn, tie a little ribbon, but whoops, goes back in. That’s a hard labor. And the other one comes out, and Perez, the younger.
There’s more. Esau is called Edom. Remember, Edom means “red” after the red stew that Esau took instead of his birthright. Well, what do we read about Zerah? Zerah has a scarlet, a red thread tied around his wrist. Zerah means “scarlet,” just like Esau or Edom means “red.”
Jacob got the blessing through a disguise. Tamar will get the blessing for her son through a disguise. Tamar, like we’ve seen with so many of the matriarchs before, is a woman who just can’t seem to get pregnant. She can’t seem to have a child. Yet, amazingly, now she does. We are supposed to see that what happened to Jacob is happening to Judah’s family.
Jacob’s tale was full of sordid, deceitful lies and treachery, and yet he got the everlasting blessing, and so it is with Judah. Now God will choose the younger once again over the older with Perez instead of Zerah.
So we are meant to see in chapter 38 something very obvious in front of us about Judah.
Second. The second thing, and I have three lessons. The second. Genesis 38 wants to teach us something about change. About change.
We have seen in Genesis God’s people do a lot of dumb stuff. Not just dumb, really sinful stuff. And they tend to get caught. They’re not very good at doing it, either.
Well, that’s part of the lesson, is your sins will eventually find you out. You may think that no one saw, but God sees and eventually what you sow will be what you reap. They get caught, and with all of the times that they sin and their sin gets exposed, yes, we see that the patriarchs grow, but we don’t see them exactly owning up to their sin. Abraham lies to Pharaoh, Isaac lies to Abimelech. Think of Sarah’s scheme with Hagar to get a son. Rebekah’s scheming over Isaac for her favored son Jacob. Reuben’s sin with Bilhah. Jacob’s deceit with his brother. Rachel’s stolen gods. Simeon and Levi’s revenge. Over and over, we have seen the chosen people act so wickedly and their sins find them out.
Usually there’s no comment one way or another. It can actually make us sort of uneasy. We’d like God to give a divine narration: That was really bad, that was sort of bad, that was good.
But rarely do we have the divine word. We’re meant to draw those conclusions. It’s not that the sin is excused, but the sin is not really at the heart of the story. The big story is not God’s people sin, but what God is doing to bless His people despite themselves, and then the individual story is what God is doing to transform His people.
This is one of those remarkable instances of God transforming His people. It’s maybe the only time we’ve seen so far in Genesis where one of God’s people is caught in sin and immediately, hand up, wow. They own it.
You and I are going to sin. It’s not to excuse it for one second. It’s not to say you get a few free sins in life, but we are sinners and we are going to sin. Sin is not the surprise. The surprise is whether you own your sin and you turn from your sin. That’s the question. No question if the whatever more than a thousand people in this room are going to sin. You’re going to sin. You did sin. Some of you sinned on the car ride here. I know how that goes. You’ll sin. The question is what you do when your sin is exposed.
You notice this place name in verse 14 – she sat at the entrance to Enaim. And later in verse 21, where is the cult prostitute who was at Enaim? Enaim is a Hebrew word that means “eyes.” Very ironic. Very intentional. Because Tamar is veiled so that Judah’s eyes will be closed as it were, so that he can carry out this act of prostitution in stealth.
But the Lord knows. The sin committed at Enaim that he hopes no one will see, the Lord sees, and eventually he’s going to open Judah’s eyes to see his own sin.
There may be no one among God’s people in Genesis who was involved in a more sordid, tawdry tale than Judah. He stands out because of this ugly sin, but he stands out even more because of his repentance. Don’t miss it there in verse 26 because we’ve not heard anything like this. He identifies them and says, right on the spot, “She is more righteous than I.” I wouldn’t give her my son, I held back what I was supposed to do for her as my daughter-in-law. I didn’t love her as I should have. I loved her in all the wrong ways, in this horrible way.”
And not only that. He doesn’t just say, “Wow, I blew it.” But you notice what Moses wants to tell us in verse 26, importantly, “He did not know her again.”
Repentance isn’t just acknowledging, “Wow, I screwed up.” Anyone can acknowledge that. You don’t need the work of God in your life to admit that you make mistakes or to feel bad when your sins find you out. But repentance not only owns it, but then turns from it. That’s why we have the note here: He didn’t go back with her again.
What matters in Genesis, what matters to God, is not where you start. None of the sins are good, we’re not excusing sin, but where, where are you going? What’s your, not your position, but your trajectory? Not just do you sin, we all sin, but can you change? Can your eyes be opened? Just like Judah’s were opened there in that moment. When is the last time you’ve said before someone, or at least before God, “I was wrong.” When was the last time you said before someone, publicly as Judah did, “I was wrong, you were right.” He had his eyes opened and in that moment he realized, “I have been way off track with my life.”
You remember back, some of you, either with your kids or if you’re my age when you were a kid, you remember when kids used to play really dangerous games? Pin the tail on the donkey. Brian Regan has a little comic bit about that: That’s a really good idea. Here, take a sharp needle, blindfold you, spin around, poke it. Some of you don’t what that is. I remember playing that game at birthday parties. Puncture wounds. Here. A needle. Get dizzy. You can’t see. Just try to find the pin the tail on the donkey.
Or get a bat. Here’s a pinata hanging from a tree. You have a weapon. Friends are nearby. You’re dizzy. Just swing as hard as you can. Boom. Because there’s candy somewhere in that pinata.
That’s what we used to do and people would just go and get away from us and do dangerous things with your friends.
But you remember, because I did all of those things and lived to tell the tale, remember playing, it’s very embarrassing, you know, spin around and you’re stabbing people, you’re just swinging wildly, everyone’s laughing, and eventually you take the blindfold off and you realize, “I was swinging at Joey over here instead of the pinata, I was pinning the tail on a doorknob here, I was far away from this donkey here on the wall. I was not anywhere close. Of course. I was spinning out of control, I was dizzy, I was blindfolded, now I can see.”
You ever have that experience in your life spiritually? Some of you may be going through that experience spiritually. Some of you need to have that experience spiritually. You’re swinging about wildly, hitting yonder, to and fro. You don’t know what you’re doing, where you’re going, and God in His grace if He would but open your eyes like He did for Judah.
When God does that, that’s the work of the Spirit, to expose, to throw a spotlight upon our sin, what happens in that next instance is important, because what happens when you’ve been in the dark and the lights come on, when somebody wakes you up real gentle-like and flips on all the lights. Ahhh, you want to crawl back under the covers. You want to go back where it’s dark because when you’ve been used to dark and you get light, it hurts.
Same thing with sin. When God exposes it, when the Spirit works in your life and you see it, some of you may be having that experience right now in your life, and you don’t want to see it. Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. You want to go back into the dark. I’d rather have a blindfold on and be spinning around with a bat and a pinata than see how off track I am. But it’s God’s grace to open your eyes.
We see that Genesis is full of misfits and miscreants. But some of them change, they grow, they repent, they believe, and that’s what happens to Judah. It’s just one verse here, verse 26, but it is massive. He explicitly owns his unrighteousness. He doesn’t say, “I was lonely.” He doesn’t say, “Well, my wife died. I had a moment of weakness.” He doesn’t say, “Well, Tamar, what in the world were you doing? Why’d you try to trick me? Why’d you dress… ” He says, “I was unrighteousness. Tamar was more right than I was, and I shouldn’t have kept back my last son.” And he bears fruit.
This verse, the change in Judah, is a rebuke for those here who have never really changed. It’s also a word of hope for anyone here who is prepared to say, “This sin was my fault, it’s my fault. I blew it. I sinned, and God helping me, I’m not going to do it again.” That’s the life of Judah. Chapter 38 wants to teach us something about change.
Finally, God wants to teach us something about grace. Think of the first impression. If these are the two sons who are going to carry on the blessing of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, well, we got Joseph. You know, he’s got a fancy coat, but he seems a little bit like a bratty tattletale. You got Judah, well, what have we seen? Judah’s the one who had the idea to sell his brother into slavery. Judah’s the one who seeks out a prostitute. Judah’s the one who sleeps with his own daughter-in-law. Well, we’ll confine her to be a widow for the rest of her life. Yet, Joseph is going to save his family and get the blessing, and Judah is going to get an eternal kingdom.
If you know the rest of the Old Testament, you know the tribe of Judah will be the largest and will become the leader of the 12 tribes. Judah will be the namesake for the Jews. Judah will be the name written on the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem. And most importantly, the Messiah will come from Judah. Jesus had Judah and Tamar for his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents.
Many of you will have heard before, and if not you can now know for the first time, famously there are five women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus in Matthew chapter 1 – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, who is simply called the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and then Mary. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, Mary.
All gutsy women. All bold women. All women who had to suffer. What else do they have in common? Four of them are not Jews. Tamar, we presume, was a Canaanite, came from a Canaanite family. Rahab was not. Ruth, Moabitess. Bathsheba, marry Uriah the Hittite, presumably not. Only Mary. Four of them not even Jews.
At least four involved in what looked to be sexual scandal, and maybe you even lump in Ruth as she’s laying there at the foot of the bed for Boaz, but at least Tamar, Rahab a prostitute, Bathsheba who’s taken by David to be his wife, and then Mary who seems to be pregnant out of wedlock. All seem to be involved in some sort of sexual scandal.
All five of them are outsiders. Seem to be not the sort of people you would want in your family tree. Where’s Esther? She was great. She was beautiful. They don’t even mention Sarah, or Rebekah. They could have. Or what about Abigail?
They have Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Five women mentioned. Not just in any genealogy, but the family tree of Jesus.
So here’s the question for us as we close, and we think about this story of Judah and Tamar, which is preeminently a story of grace. Grace for Tamar, a lot of grace for Judah, and grace in the generations to come that from this sordid union, a dad with his daughter-in-law? She dressed up like a prostitute and he thought he was just purchasing a whore. From that union will come the Christ.
So here’s the question for us. Knowing that story of God’s grace for His people, God’s grace for Tamar, God’s grace for Judah, will you allow God’s grace for others?
I know we get really hurt, and we don’t need to be dumb about it. Some people hurt us so deeply that they’ve squandered the opportunity to have a real relationship. I understand that, that happens. The hurt’s too deep. Sometimes we can act as if nothing you could do could ever convince me that you’ve really changed. I know, the proof is in the pudding. You need to have fruit in keeping with repentance. Repentance is just, “I’m so sorry,” a lot of tears. No, you gotta show it.
But are you willing to let God change other people? To see grace in other people’s lives? Will you allow grace for others?
Or how about this – will you believe in grace for yourself? It’s not humility to act as if God can’t forgive you. That’s adding sin to sin, because you’re just once again thinking that your story is about your works before God. That’s more sin. You think God’s exhausted His grace for you? For your family? For your sins? If the Messiah can be born from Judah and Tamar, then maybe God’s grace has not been exhausted for you.
Will we rely on God’s grace for the story that He is doing in our midst? We may think of ourselves, at least for two hours on Sunday, fairly put-together people, but there’s a lot of sordid tales that we would rather others not know. If God is going to do a work that isn’t just of making a nice-looking, churchy people, it must be a story of what He’s doing by grace, to save us, to expose our sin, to open our eyes, to forgive us, and to bring unlikely people together to serve and to worship Him.
Will you allow grace for others? Will you believe in grace for yourself? Will we rely on grace for the story that God is doing in our midst? Because it is all of grace. What else would we expect on this Palm Sunday? Because we are those who say not only “Hosanna to the King,” but we bow at the feet of the One who is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, of all people.
Let’s pray. Our heavenly Father, we give thanks for Your abundant grace, for the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lion and the Lamb, and we pray that You would give us hearts to worship, to repent, to change, and to follow Him. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.