Test: Genesis 38
This is a sad page in the history of the sons of Jacob. This chapter contains a vow made and subsequently broken; and the deceit that followed in the wake of the broken vow.
Genesis 38 looks at the story of Judah and his wife, a daughter of Shuah, who was a Canaanite. Instead of Judah marrying within the Israelites, as God intended – Judah took a wife from the heathen tribes, the Canaanites. Herein was Judah’s first mistake. (Read about Abraham seeking a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24); and Rebekah desiring a wife for Jacob (Genesis 28).)
However, this marriage did give Judah three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. It seemed that God was blessing him by giving him these sons.
The eldest son, Er, married Tamar. But Er was wicked and the Lord killed him before Tamar conceived any children. Then Judah told his second son to marry his older brother’s widow, as was the custom. However, Onan knew the first child would not be his, but would be considered his older brother’s child.
This sounds strange to us, but it is Biblical. See Deuteronomy 25:5-6:
“If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her. (6) And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 25:5-6)
Genesis 38:9 tells us that because of this, Onan did not consummate with Tamar. This displeased the Lord; and the Lord killed Onan.
After his second son died, Judah told Tamar to go back to her father’s house to dwell until his third son, Shelah, was old enough to marry her. However, we see in Genesis 38:14c, when the third son was old enough, Judah did not keep his vow. Thus Tamar was afraid she would be childless. A childless woman was considered a failure, often ridiculed by the other women. Also widows who were childless had no means of support, no one to take care of them. (See the stories of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1; and Naomi in the Book of Ruth.)
During this time, we are told that Judah’s wife died. Judah set off to visit his friend in Timnath.
The Deceit in the Wake of the Broken Vow
Tamar was told where her father-in-law was going. She knew that Judah had broken his vow, for his third son was now grown, but he had not become her husband. Therefore, she disguised herself, taking off her widow’s clothes. She covered herself with a veil and sat near to where she knew Judah was going.
When Judah saw her, he did not recognize her – instead thinking her to be a harlot. He asked to “come in” to her, but had nothing with him to pay her. As a pledge, he gave her his signet, bracelets, and staff. However, when Judah sent his friend to pay the harlot and to retrieve the items he left as his pledge – the servant did not find her.
When the servant inquired of the men in the area, the men said, “There was no harlot in this place” (Genesis 38:21).
The Result of the Deceit
Three months later, Judah was told, “Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom.” He replied, “Bring her forth, and let her be burnt” (Genesis 38:24).
Tamar then sent the items Judah had given her as his pledge. As soon as he saw the items, he recognized them as his own. He realized that it was he himself who was the father of his daughter-in-law’s child:
“And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more.” (Genesis 38:26)
Because of this union with Judah, Tamar gave birth to twins, Pharez and Zarah.
In the genealogy of Jesus Christ, as related by Matthew, we find the following reference:
“Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;” (Matthew 1:2-3)
The genealogy of King David in the Book of Ruth begins, not with Judah, but with Pharez (Ruth 4:18-22). Just as Rahab the harlot is in the Kingly line, so is Tamar, who played the harlot to seduce her father-in-law.
In this story, we see another example that God can use anyone, at any time, in any way He pleases – for His Plan and His Purpose; and for His Glory. Yes, God can use all things for His Glory, even sin.
God is Sovereign in all things; even His Purpose is the Cause, and it will be Performed:
“There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.” (Proverbs 19:21)
“Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, (10) Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: (11) Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.” (Isaiah 46:9-11)
And yet, God cannot be accused of sin:
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: (14) But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” (James 1:13-14)
However, God in His Omniscience (having all knowledge), His Omnipotence (having all power), and His Omnipresence (being everywhere) – God in His Eternal Purpose in Christ – used sin to magnify His Love, Grace, and Mercy.
Man’s sin did not take God by surprise in the first man and woman in the Garden of Eden as revealed in Genesis 3:1-21. God proved this in the Garden of Eden through Adam and Eve’s sin of rebellion to God’s Law, that they were forbidden to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9b, 16-17); “…for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17b).
They did eat of the fruit of this tree; and they died spiritually immediately (Romans 5:12).
However, God had a Plan, the Plan of Redemption of Adam and Eve and all the Chosen of God – to redeem them from their sin through the Atonement of Christ on the Cross. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:24-25; 5:1-2; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 2:23-24; etc.)
Therefore, the value of sin in the hands of God is to manifest the Love of God in Christ in His Plan and Purpose of the Redemption of His Chosen People. (See Ephesians 1:4-6.)
“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;” (Ephesians 1:7)
It is no different in Genesis 38, in Judah’s sin against the Law of God. It was Judah’s own lust and sin. But it was God’s Plan and Purpose to use Tamar in the line to King David, even to Christ.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? (2) God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Romans 6:1-2)
No, God hates sin. He is the very opposite of sin; and He died to pay the Sheep’s sin debt, by becoming their Substitute, Sacrifice, and Savior (2 Corinthians 5:21).
But sin is a tool of God to show His Perfection, His Love, His Grace, and His Mercy upon the sinner. (Hallelujah!)
We cannot excuse Judah’s sin or our own; but we must know God is above all of man’s failures and mistakes and faults; and we must know that God uses sin even for His Glory and Honor. He is revealing His Wrath “…against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).