Today’s passage is Genesis 37-38 and we will focus on Judah and Tamar which is mainly in Genesis 38.
But let’s go through Genesis 37 see what we can reasonably infer about Judah.
37:2 Joseph brought a bad report about his brothers to his father.
This might have included Judah. Note this does not mean that the report was true, though given the way the brothers described in later verses suggests that this is true.
Why isn’t Judah, the eldest child the one keeping an eye on his brothers? Is it because he is as bad as the rest of them?
37:4 Joseph’s brothers hated him.
Again, this would appear to include Judah. As the eldest, he should have given a good example to his younger brothers or told them off for it.
37:12-17 Joseph’s brothers were supposed to be at Shechem but were at Dothan instead.
Now I don’t want to read into this that they were bad or disobedient. It is not clear from these two chapters whether they had the authority to move their flock in search of pasture. It would appear likely, to me, that they should have the authority.
37:20-21 The brothers consider killing Joseph
Again Judah fails his responsibility as the eldest. Not standing up for justice when the brothers suggest killing Joseph. Instead it falls to Reuben to plead for Joseph’s life.
37:26 Judah suggests selling Joseph as a slave.
Even worse now, Judah not only failed to restrain his brothers, he is instigating the sale of Joseph to the slave traders!
As an aside, how often do we do something thinking it’s the better choice when in reality it is the lesser evil – lesser but still evil?
38:1 Judah goes to Adullam.
The Bible states that Judah left his brothers but we are not told the reason why.
Like Esau, Judah did not marry right. He had three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah.
It does not say whether Judah brought up his sons right but he has to take at least some responsibility for the way his kids turned out. Er was wicked in the Lord’s sight and Onan did what was wicked in the Lord’s sight.
38:11 Judah sent his daughter-in-law, Tamar, back to her father
38:16, 20 Judah sleeps with Tamar thinking that she was a shrine prostitute.
He sins in three ways.
1) Sex outside marriage
2) Sex with a shrine prostitute is a form of idol worship, yes Tamar was not a shrine prostitute but the fact is that Judah was fully willing to sleep with a shrine prostitute
3) Sex with his daughter-in-law
38:24 Judah sentences Tamar to death
Despite having abandoned his obligation to Tamar by withholding Shelah as a husband, and sending her back to her father, Judah now wishes to judge Tamar.
38:25-26 Judah recognises his sin.
Whether he repents of it or not, it is not made clear in the Bible.
But seeing as Jesus was part of the nation of Israel it would be safe to infer that Perez and Zerah were with Judah and not with Tamar’s father, and by extension so was Tamar (though Judah did not sleep with her again).
At first when I read the story of Judah and Tamar I am struck by the ordinariness of it.
By moving to Adullam, Judah could represent the backsliding that often happens to Christians. We absorb the culture that we live in, so it is not surprising that Er and Onan were wicked / did wicked things.
<sarcasm> Sleeping with shrine prostitutes appears socially acceptable in those days, so why should Judah not avail himself of them? Afterall his wife had died and as a man he has needs! </sarcasm>
Superstitious thinking existed back in Judah’s time (38:11) just as it does now. It is shown to have real world implications when instead of fulfilling his obligations to Tamar he sends her to live with her father.
Face-saving too existed in Judah’s time (38:23).
So what do we have here? Ordinary people living ordinary lives. People being people, some wicked, thinking superstitious thoughts and living according to the morality of the society they find themselves in. Yet through it all, God is working, not slowly but patiently, behind the scenes. God works through the pain (Can you imagine how painful it must have been for Tamar to wait all those years? Only to be accused of prostitution?) through all the wrongs and double wrongs (ie using wrong methods to correct an initial wrong) to bring about His ultimate plan of salvation. For Jesus came through the line of Judah and Perez.