A Messy Life and a Merciful God – Genesis 38

A messy life and a merciful God
Genesis 38
Hope In Christ Bible Church 11/3/19
As you turn to our text in Genesis 38 I need to prepare you. First, God in Genesis 38 gives us powerful proof this this book is His inspired Word and not mans’. Because no human author would ever dream of including such bizarre contents! If people were going to try and make up a nice imaginary book about God and His people, they would never hang out their dirty laundry for the world to see! But God has given us every word of this chapter, it’s all inspired by Him for our good and for His glory. Yes, this along with “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
Child of God, young and older, men and women, if you have a tender heart for God, Genesis 38 will shake you up. For it shows us the awfulness of sin. Awful sin which magnifies the beauty of God’s grace!
Second, chapter 38 seems to interrupt the story line. And some critics of the Bible say it’s out of place and doesn’t fit here.
Well, remember where we’ve been. Brothers Jacob and Esau are reconciled. As Esau heads out of Canaan, Jacob enters.
And there in that Promised Land he raises 1 daughter and 12 sons. Jacob favors Joseph, and the brothers sell Joseph to traders heading to Egypt.
Jacob’s there over 20 years in Egypt. And Moses, the inspired writer now turns our focus to what happens at that time to one of the sons of Jacob who remained there in Canaan- that’s Judah.
The spotlight now turns to Judah and his family. Here’s why. So important to grasp this:
The depths of sin to which Judah and his family plunge shows us God’s people are in trouble. They are in trouble of assimilating with unbelievers around them.
They desperately need to be rescued from the evil of compromise to Canaan.
And friends, that’s one of the great purposes for which God will soon take His people all the way down to Egypt into slavery for 400 years- to save them from selling out to sin.
The horrors of sin of Genesis 38 are seen in this man Judah in the following 3 ways:
Judah’s deliberate disregard 1-11
Judah’s diabolical deed 12-23
Judah’s dreadful discovery 24- 30
Would you look at
1. Judah’s deliberate disregard (1-11) in verse 1?
1 And it came about at that time, that Judah departed from his brothers and visited a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.
That explanatory phrase “about at that time” signals to us this happened right around the time Joseph was hauled off to Egypt.
Tragically, Judah is following in the footsteps of his godless uncle Esau.
For he’s leaving fellowship with his brothers and choosing to hang out with the Canaanites.
This man Hirah, would have been from the town of Adulam which was a mile northwest of Hebron (where Jacob’s family were living).
Now what is this man Hirah to Judah who visits him?
He’s a close friend and bad influence. For he’s a godless unbeliever.
But Judah foolishly makes him his go-to friend in whom he confides. That will become clear as you watch what unfolds here.
But first, take to your heart God’s warning.
As you withdraw from fellowship with believers and hang out with unbelievers, you will begin to think and act like the world. They will draw you away from the thing of God.
That’s why God warns us, “Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” 1 Corinthians 15:33
And again to those Corinthians Christians that were becoming far too cozy in relationships with unbelievers:
2 Corinthians 6:14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have
righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?
It’s not only children who must guard against making friends with bad influences. Every one of us as Christians much choose (and not merely fall into) friendships that will make us more like Christ. It’s been said, “Show me your friends and I will show you your future.” There’s much truth to that.
For God says in Proverbs 13:20 He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
Think about the 5 people in your life (outside your immediate family) to whom you are closest. Well, whether you realize it or not, those people are shaping the way you think and act.
For in connection with Judah visiting his friend Hirah, look what happens there. Verse 2:
Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; and he took her and went in to her.
O Judah, son of Jacob, what are you thinking? You are compromising and confirming to the godless worldview your fathers hated!
How far you have drifted as one of God’s people!
For he marries a pagan lady from Canaan. We don’t know her name, but her dad’s name was Shua.
You marry an unbeliever, and that’s a recipe for spiritual disaster.
3 So she conceived and bore a son and he named him Er. 4 Then she conceived again and bore a son and named him Onan. 5 She bore still another son and named him Shelah; and it was at Chezib that she bore him.
You say, it seems like everything is going just fine. He has 3 healthy sons, Er, Onan, and Chezib.
Well, that’s the way sin works. At the beginning, it appears that everything is wonderful!.
Yet James 1:15 tells us “when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” Sin’s toll
though often delayed is deadly. There always comes a time when what you have to pay the piper.
It’s the law of sowing and reaping.
Galatians 6:7–9 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
Friends, mark this well in your heart. We always reap what we sow, but there’s often a long time between the sowing and reaping.
Judah presumes all is well in his ungodly marriage and family.
Verse 6: Now Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar.
Judah not only married a woman from the Canaanites. He also found another Canaanite woman, Tamar, to marry Er his oldest son.
“But,” we read in verse 7, “Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD took his life.
Here’s where things begin to unravel in Judah’s family.
For some unstated reason his oldest son Er (likely around 18 years old) did something so wicked in God’s sight that God struck him dead.
This is the first time in the Bible where it’s stated explicitly that God put someone to death.
Beloved, take Er’s death as a sober reminder of “Hebrews 10:31-
“It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
You say, I’m sure glad God has changed and that He doesn’t take people’s lives like that anymore.
Friends, God has not changed His hatred for evil. The God of the O.T. is the God of the N.T. who is the same yesterday, today, and forever!
If you could go back and visit the N.T. church in Jerusalem and ask them, “What was one of the most shocking things you witnessed God do in your church? And they would say, “We remember the day God took the lives of two of our members, Ananias and Saphira . They
stopped breathing and dropped dead. And great fear came upon our whole church! Acts 5:1-11
And if you asked the same question to the Corinthian church they would tell you some people from their church died prematurely because they weren’t dealing with sin before celebrating the Lord’s Table (I Cor. 11:27-30).
Judah’s oldest son Er is now dead, and watch how the second Onan will meet the same fate:
Verse 8: Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.”
Let me explain what’s going on. It’s called a levrite marriage. If a married brother died before he and his wife had a child, the next brother in line was to fulfill the responsibility of that husband.
This would later be incorporated into the law of Moses we find in Deut. 25:5-6. Here God’s people are told:
“When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 “It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.
In this time of Judah, there’s a clear sense that the living brother was fully expected to fulfill his duty and married his widowed sister-in-law.
Well, Onan realizes that and refuses. Verse 9 explains:
“Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother. 10 But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD; so He took his life also.
Two sons now dead. Both of them did what God hated.
The original text makes it clear that Onan’s refusal to perform his duty in this way was repeated multiple times.
Here’s what you need to grasp. It’s not only what Onan did that’s wrong but why he did it.
He knew that any children that would come from him as a donor would not be his. So his motives are selfish and all about “what’s in it for me.”
If I don’t get anything out of the deal, not matter how much it benefits others I won’t do it.
Well, Judah has not buried 2 of his sons whom God had killed.
And strangely, there’s no hint whatsoever of Judah mourning for them. As a father he has failed to raise children who fear God.
Look at what he does after losing his two oldest boys:
Verse 11: Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up”; for he thought, “I am afraid that he too may die like his brothers.” So Tamar went and lived in her father’s house.
Now this gives us insight into what Judah is thinking.
He’s thinks his last son Shelah might also be killed by God.
So he tells Tamar to wait, and the implication is that when Shelah was older he would give him to Tamar as a husband. But he does not come out and say that!
Truth be known, Judah may well think that Tamar has somehow jinxed his first two sons. And he doesn’t want to risk losing his last son to her superstitious influence.
Clearly, in all of this, Jacob is not operating by fear not by faith.
And Romans 14:23 reminds us that, “whatever is not from faith is sin.”
Rather than trust in God, Judah resorted to self-trust. And his life imploded from bad to worse.
Judah’s deliberated disregard gives way to his
2. Diabolical deed 12-23
A third death now strikes Judah’s family. Verse 12 Now after a considerable time Shua’s daughter, the wife of Judah, died; and when the time of mourning was ended, Judah went
up to his sheepshearers at Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite.
Thirty days of mourning was typical. The Israelites would later spend 30 days mourning the death of Aaron (Num. 20:29) and the same length of time then for Moses (Deut. 34:8).
Well, Judah mourns over the loss of his wife. But here’s what you need to think about. Different people deal with the death of spouses and loved ones differently.
Some run to God to care for them in their grief and pain.
Others run from God and blame him for their loss. And they turn to the bottom of a bottle or drugs or immorality when they are hurting and lonely.
Look at what Judah resorts to:
13 It was told to Tamar, “Behold, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.”
Judah takes his sheep up to the Judean hills in Timnah for a time of shearing which typically took place toward the end of March.
These times of shearing were a time of great celebration, entertainment and even drinking.
It was at such a time of sheepshearing that Absalsom had drunk Amnon put to death (II Sam.13:28).
Well, the widow Tamar somehow got word that Judah would be at that shearing festival. And look at her pernicious ploy.
So she removed her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the gateway of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah had grown up, and she had not been given to him as a wife.
Tamar after waiting so long, believes Judah had done her wrong in withholding his son Shelah for her. She concludes she will have no child if she waits. So, she takes matters into her own hands.
Just like she planned, along comes her father-in-law, Judah. And the 15th verse tells us : When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, for she had covered her face. 16 So he turned aside to her by the road, and said, “Here now, let me come in to you”; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. And she said, “What will you give me, that
you may come in to me?” 17 He said, therefore, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” She said, moreover, “Will you give a pledge until you send it?”
Tamar disguises herself to look like a harlot. In fact, he thinks she’s a shrine prostitute (qedeshah). Such was part of Canaanite worship to the god of fertility. That’s Tamar’s scheme.
Well, Judah with what Peter calls “eyes full of adultery” (II Peter 2:14) steps right into her trap.
Again, we say, “Judah, what on earth are you doing?”
All he cares about is gratifying his own desires. He’s literally selling out to sin.
And we have the distinct sense that this is not the first time Judah has pursued such carnal lust.
Well, God later through Hosea would condemn such sexual sin.
Hosea 4:14 I will not punish your daughters when they play the harlot Or your brides when they commit adultery, For the men themselves go apart with harlots And offer sacrifices with temple prostitutes; So the people without understanding are ruined.
This Tamar is extremely shrewd. And she has been around Judah long enough to know he’s not trustworthy. That’s why she demands a guarantee from him that he would keep his word and pay for her services.
Verse 18: He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” And she said, “Your seal 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.
Since Judah would not keep his word and give Tamar his son, she cons him into fathering a child by her.
Now, what are we to make of these items he leaves her as a pledge?
The seal was an ornamented cylinder worn on a cord around the neck.
When rolled across a piece of clay that sealed a document, it identified the sender.
It was used in making contracts with others and was equivalent to a Master Charge card today.
The staff symbolized authority. At the top was usually a mark that was carved to show to whom it belonged.
Many scepters with names etched atop have been found in the Ancient Near East.
So the seal, cord, and staff were all proof of Judah’s identity. And now Tamar has those in her hands.
Further in verse 19: Then she arose and departed, and removed her veil and put on her widow’s garments. 20 When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite (that’s Hirah), to receive the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her. 21 He asked the men of her place, saying, “Where is the temple prostitute who was by the road at Enaim?” But they said, “There has been no temple prostitute here.” 22 So he returned to Judah, and said, “I did not find her; and furthermore, the men of the place said, ‘There has been no temple prostitute here.’ ” 23 Then Judah said, “Let her keep them, otherwise we will become a laughingstock. After all, I sent this young goat, but you did not find her.”
Now Judah is confused. He thinks he has sinned in secret and is concerned not about his sin but about being shamed. He’s afraid of being discovered.
For his friend Hirah can’t find the supposed temple prostitute and give her the goat he had promised. No one in the town seems to know where she is.
And remember, she’s still got his seal, cord, and staff! Judah’s like the immoral man who loses his credit car in a brothel. What a nightmare!
Well, time passes and Judah must have thought he had gotten away with what he had done.
He has no idea of how the truth Moses would later write in Numbers 32:23 would strike: “you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out.”
Look what happens so unexpectedly:
3. The Dreadful Discovery 24-30
Verse 24 Now it was about three months later that Judah was informed, “Your daughter-in-
law Tamar has played the harlot, and behold, she is also with child by harlotry.” Then Judah said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!”
When Judah hears that Tamar had become guilty of harlotry, he shows no mercy. He wants her burned publicly.
The Mosaic law would later make the penalty of burning only in the case of a priest’s daughter who profaned herself by harlotry. The usual means of execution was by stoning (Lev. 21:9, Deut. 22:21).
O the ugliness of Judah’s hypocrisy.
He gives a public impression that’s at odds with his perverted character.
He’s got a double standard.
He’s harder on others than on himself. It’s all pretense.
His cold, unfeeling heart wants her to die by being burned.
This may have also been a convenient way for Judah to get rid of Tamar so she wouldn’t get his last son.
Just like King David, Judah wanted the sinner judged until it came to light that he’s guilty of a greater crime.
The Jews do the same thing when they haul the woman caught in adultery before Jesus. Yet where’s the guy?
Friends, when we hypocritically judge others of what we are guilty of, we condemn ourselves.
Paul puts it this way to the pious Jews:
Romans 2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
No, we cannot condone sin in others lives. Yet we must guard against covering sin in our lives by confronting sins in the lives of others.
Watch the shocker. We read in verse 25: It was while she was being brought out that she sent to her father-in-law, saying, “I am with child by the man to whom these things belong.” And she said, “Please examine and see, whose signet ring and cords and staff are these?” 26 Judah recognized them, and said, “She is more righteous than I,
inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not have relations with her again.
Now it’s clear why Tamar had Judah leave her with his ring, cords, and staff.
It served as clear evidence that he was guilty of the same awful sin he had accused her of.
Remember, years before, Judah with his brothers said to their father, “see if [this coat] is your son’s.” (37:22).
And now he hears a similar question that cuts him like a sword: “See whose ring, cords, and staff are these?”
Judah can’t deny it. He’s been caught.
Beloved, God will often expose our sin to get our attention and show us how far we are from Him.
Now let’s evaluate Judah and Tamar at this point.
Both are guilty of sin. Yet Judah’s sin is far greater. Here’s why. He has been brought up in the ways of God. And yet he acts like an unbeliever.
But here’s the bright ray of hope at this very point.
Judah admits he has done wrong toward Tamar. And he literally says, ““She is righteous, not I.”
King Saul uses that phrase in 1 Samuel 24:17 after he tries to kill David and David spares his life: “You are more righteous than I; for you have dealt well with me, while I have dealt wickedly with you.
And for Judah, there’s a clear suggestion of repentance as we are told he doesn’t sin against Tamar in that way again.
By the way, since he did not know it was Tamar, in God’s book he does not share the same guilt of his brother Reuben who knowingly violated his sister Dinah.
So this point marks the beginning of a turnabout, a spiritual renewal in Judah’s life.
Now, what about Tamar? She is not free of blame but has committed a grievous sin. We cannot condone her deed, but we must see a deeper perspective here.
While from a Canaanite background, she is showing faith. For she risks her life so Judah would father children of the covenant.
That’s hard for us to process. But here’s what’s fascinating. Hittite laws from the 14th C. B.C. stipulated that if a married man died and his brother also died, then “His father shall take her…. There shall be no punishment.”
So it is, we can’t turn a blind eye to sin. But we must see how God uses this awful situation to further His purposes.
Continuing in verse 27: It came about at the time she was giving birth, that behold, there were twins in her womb. 28 Moreover, it took place while she was giving birth, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 29 But it came about as he drew back his hand, that behold, his brother came out. Then she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” So he was named Perez. 30 Afterward his brother came out who had the scarlet thread on his hand; and he was named Zerah.
It’s clear that twins ran in the family. Judah’s father Jacob was a twin. And now Tamar through Judah has twins.
Why does the midwife tie a red string on the hand of that child’s hand that emerges?
Because from the way they all saw it, that child was the firstborn.
Now the way those twins were in Tamar, it’s a rare medical condition.
The situation of that first twin is called a “transverse lie” and happens only .5% of he time. It is considered one of the most hazardous presentation of the baby during labor.
If labor continues that way with the baby arm protruding, he can become stuck there and die. That’s why today, that situation is remedied through a cesarean birth.
Well, what did God do for Tamar and her midwife?
He caused the second child, to be born first.
And he’s named Perez meaning “you have made a breach for yourself.” In other words, you have forged your way through!
O the sovereign hand of God we see here at work.
For this is another instance in which God surprises all and causes the younger (Perez) to prevail over the older.
Friends, those births marked a turning point in God’s redemptive working in history. How?
First, 10 generations are said to separated David from Perez in Ruth 4:18-22 as well as in I Chron. 2:5, 9-15. So the birth of Perez is given as a providential pivot point.
And secondly, in Ruth 4:12 there’s an amazing blessing. The people tell Boaz who took Ruth to be his wife this:
“Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the offspring which the LORD will give you by this young woman.”
Amazing! That’ a blessing based on what God did through the union of Judah and Tamar in giving them Perez.
And that wonderful work of God in an awful situation greets us in the opening verses of the N.T.
Matthew 1:3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram.
Tamar is one of only 4 women named in that sovereignly designed genealogy.
And we move down in that family line and read to whom that leads: Matthew 1:16 Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
This shows us the all-surpassing wisdom of God’s ways. God say it like this:
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9
And it also magnifies the mercy of God. It’s the heartbeat of that final phrase in Romans 5:20, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”
Yes, there is grace abounding for the chief of sinners (I Tim. 1:15).
For every sinner who runs to the cross will find the mercy of God.
Yes, it is there, though our sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.
A messy life and a merciful God
Genesis 38
Hope In Christ Bible Church 11/3/19
1. Deliberate disregard 1-11
I Cor. 15:33
II Cor. 6:14
Prov. 13:20
James 1:15
Gal. 6:7-9
Heb. 10:31
Acts 5:1-11
I Cor. 11:27-30
Deut. 25:5-6
Rom. 14:23
2. Diabolical deed 12-23
Num. 20:29; Deut. 34:8
II Sam.13:28
II Peter 2:14
Hosea 4:14
Num. 32:23
3. Dreadful Discovery 24-30
Lev. 21:9; Deut. 22:21
Rom. 2:1
Gen. 37:22
I Sam. 24:17
Ruth 4:18-22; I Chron. 2:5, 9-15
Ruth 4:12
Mat. 1:3,16
Isa. 55:9
Rom. 5:20
I Tim. 1:15
God, how would you have me respond in full obedience as a doer of Your Word?