Genesis 38

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Read Genesis 38

Judah and Tamar

At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah. There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and made love to her; she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was named Er. She conceived again and gave birth to a son and named him Onan. She gave birth to still another son and named him Shelah. It was at Kezib that she gave birth to him.

Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.

Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.

11 Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s household until my son Shelah grows up.” For he thought, “He may die too, just like his brothers.” So Tamar went to live in her father’s household.

12 After a long time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Judah had recovered from his grief, he went up to Timnah, to the men who were shearing his sheep, and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went with him.

13 When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,” 14 she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife.

15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16 Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.”

“And what will you give me to sleep with you?” she asked.

17 “I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” he said.

“Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?” she asked.

18 He said, “What pledge should I give you?”

“Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,” she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him.19 After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow’s clothes again.

20 Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back from the woman, but he did not find her. 21 He asked the men who lived there, “Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?”

“There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here,” they said.

22 So he went back to Judah and said, “I didn’t find her. Besides, the men who lived there said, ‘There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here.’”

23 Then Judah said, “Let her keep what she has, or we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you didn’t find her.”

24 About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.”

Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”

25 As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”

26 Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again.

27 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 28 As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.” 29 But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out,and she said, “So this is how you have broken out!” And he was named Perez. 30 Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out. And he was named Zerah.

Go Deeper

We take a detour from Joseph’s story today to jump into part of the story of his older brother, Judah. Judah makes a few poor judgment calls in today’s reading. For starters, he marries a Canaanite woman, something that was strictly forbidden for the Israelites. Secondly, both of his sons were so wicked that the Lord immediately put them to death, suggesting that Judah might not win any dad of the year awards. Also, as Tamar’s father-in-law, he is supposed to take care of Tamar, a widow with no children, yet he doesn’t provide for her, leaving her to fend for herself. Finally, even though he sins and sleeps with a prostitute (not realizing it’s Tamar), when he hears that Tamar has become pregnant through sexual immorality, he is ready to kill her on the spot. Judah is clearly smack dab in the middle of a whole lot of ugly sin in today’s story.

Yet, even though he is clearly stuck in his own sin, he is ready to cast stones at Tamar for her sin. Judah falls prey to what so many of us fall prey to: judging other people’s sins harsher than we judge our own. This is why Jesus warns us in Matthew 7 to take the plank out of our own eye before we judge the speck found in someone else’s eye. We can’t see other people’s sin clearly for what it is when we are blinded by our own mess.

When Tamar reveals the part Judah played in her sexual immorality, he is immediately broken over his hypocrisy and sin. This is oftentimes the case with us, as well. We judge others for their sin, but when our own sin is brought up, we want mercy extended to us. Jesus was approached in a similar situation during His time on earth (John 8). A woman caught in adultery was brought to Him by the religious leaders and teachers of the law. They asked Him if she should be stoned for her actions, according to the law of the day. He said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” One by one, they all walked away, realizing their own hypocrisy. Jesus, the only one without sin, could’ve stoned her, but instead offers her grace, mercy, and a second chance. 

May we be people of the second chance–quick to receive mercy from Jesus and quick to extend mercy to others, no matter what.

  1. Are there particular sins that are harder for you to forgive others for? Why do you think that is?

  2. Are you quick to forgive and extend mercy to others or is it challenging for you? Why is forgiveness so much harder to give than to receive?

  3. How have you received grace? How has that changed your life?

Did You Know?

Even though Judah didn’t always take care of, protect, and provide for Tamar the way he should have as her father-in-law, someone else was looking after Tamar. Not only did God provide a son for Tamar to give her value in society, but He gave her twins. And, most importantly, Perez, her oldest, goes on to become a part of the lineage of Jesus, thus further cementing Tamar, a widowed outsider, into the family of God.

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