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.” -Genesis 38:6-7
Genesis 38 tells of Joseph’s brother, Judah, moving away from home and settling in Canaan where he marries and raises his children to adulthood among a people his family deems unclean.
This chapter provides enough drama to start a TV series. How about a spin on Housewives? Hmm . . . I can see it now: Tent Husbands.
You may read Genesis 38 here: Bible Gateway.
When Judah’s firstborn, Er, errors through persistent wicked living, God takes his life. Since Tamar is now a childless widow, Judah follows the levirate marriage custom as described in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. He tells his second born, Onan, to fulfill his duty and sleep with her so she might have a son to carry on her late husband’s inheritance.
For the highest value in this culture is to carry on the bloodline.
Onan has no problems sleeping with Tamar, but he purposely denies Er an heir. What benefit would that be to him anyway? (vs. 9)
Needless to say, God isn’t happy with Onan. “For what he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight.” So He also kills Onan, (vs. 10).
As the saga continues, Judah tells Tamar to live under his tent and he will give her his third son in marriage when he is older.
However, the marriage ceremony never happens.
In the meanwhile—after a long time—Judah’s wife dies. After the grieving process, Judah sets out to shear sheep in Timnah.
The plot thickens. With the realization that Judah lied about giving her his third son in marriage, Tamar devises a plan to provide legal heirs.
Since shepherds aren’t sheepish at sheep-shearing time. And abundant sexual temptation abounds, she disguises herself as a prostitute and places herself in Judah’s path.
Judah takes the bait. So Tamar agrees to have sex with him in exchange for a few of his personal items: his seal, cord, and staff.
When Judah learns that Tamar, the so-called prostitute, is pregnant he sidesteps the usual punishment of stoning her (Deuteronomy 22:20-24; John 8:4-5). Instead, he demands that she be burned. (Burning was reserved only for a priest’s daughter found guilty of prostitution in the Mosaic Law, Leviticus 28:9.)
But as Tamar is brought out, she sends a message to Judah: “I am pregnant by the man who owns these. . . . See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are,” (vs. 25).
Guilty! Judah confesses his wrong in denying Tamar his third son and lets her off the hook.
Judah and Tamar have twin sons, Perez and Zerah. Perez becomes the ancestor of David (Ruth 4:18-22). And David becomes the ancestor of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:3). Wow!
Immersed in a culture where prostitutes were common, the question of sexual morality never seems to enter Judah’s mind.
While Judah was driven by lust, Tamar was driven to be the matriarch of Judah’s oldest family line. Layman’s Bible Commentary observes: “There is evidence that among ancient Assyrian and Hittite peoples, part of the levirate responsibility could pass to the father of the widow’s husband, if there were no brothers to fulfill it. Thus Tamar was, in one sense, claiming what was due her. She had tricked Judah into fulfilling the levirate responsibility and now would bear his children.”
Neither Judah nor Tamar, however, were justified in their actions.
Although Judah concealed the very sin he thought Tamar committed, fury fueled him as he demanded her death. When we become angry over a sin we see in others, maybe we should ask ourselves: “Am I struggling in this same area?”
Next week we will read how Joseph’s integrity stands in striking contrast to Judah’s immorality. Have a wonderful weekend!