Genesis 38

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‘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’ (Genesis 38:26 ESV)

January 18, 2016

In the middle of the Joseph story, the Bible takes a detour to offer details about Judah and his twin boys, Perez and Zerah, born to his daughter-in-law, Tamar. This story is disturbing, not only because of the sudden change of topic, but because it seems so immoral and foreign to modern ears. The tradition of the brother providing a son to his deceased brother’s wife is foreign to us, but it was a way of preserving the family line and inheritance, and also a provision for the widow. Yet, the way that Tamar tricked Judah into fulfilling this tradition, after he withheld his third son from her, seems even more strange. What’s the moral of such a story? Why does the Bible include this story filled with deceit, masturbation, fornication, prostitution, and hypocrisy? Perhaps the Gospel of Matthew provides the answer. In his genealogy of Jesus, he says, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar” (Matthew 1:1-3). You see, the Bible is not so much a story about humanity. It is a story about God, specifically, God’s Son. Tamar is the first of five women mentioned in Christ’s lineage. Perhaps the Bible included her story in Genesis because of its connection to the promised Messiah, who came into this messy, sin-filled world to save sinners like us. Tamar needed a son to rescue her. The Son born into her family line would rescue not only her, but all those willing to receive Him.