Following his father’s time of mourning Joseph, Judah left for the city of Adullam. After some time there, he married the daughter of a Canaanite. Together, they had three sons named Er, Onan, and Shelah.
As was customary, Judah arranged for his oldest son, Er, to marry Tamar, a Canaanite woman.
But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord took his life.GENESIS 38:7
The Bible is stingy on the details.
Onan was Judah’s second-born son. Upon Er’s death, Onan was next in line to marry Tamar to provide her with an heir. But there was a catch: the heir would be for Tamar and the older brother Er, not an heir for Onan.
They married, but Onan wasn’t interested in providing an heir for his dead older brother. He refused to plant the seed ‘and spilled it onto the ground.’ (Wait while I regain my composure!)
God killed Onan as well.
That left Judah’s much younger son, Shelah, the only means to provide an heir for Tamar. And as a widow, this was her only chance for care and financial provision. It was a big deal.
To fulfill the responsibility, Judah promised Shelah to Tamar. But ecause of Shelah’s age, Tamar would have to wait for him to come of age. So, Judah sent Tamar to her father’s house to mourn. Like a good widow would.
But Judah broke his promise to her, afraid to lose his only son.
Years later, upon the death of his wife, Judah was the one mourning. In his grief, he turned to one stripped of her mourning clothes, waiting to deceive the one who had deceived her. And Tamar became pregnant.
Having heard of Tamar’s prostitution and pregnancy, Judah advocated killing her to avoid family shame. Little did he know.
But Tamar was shrewd. Holding a royal flush and ready to play her cards, she publicly exposed her hand for her accusers to see. And Judah knew.
Judah owned his mistakes. He confessed that he had denied Tamar what was rightly hers: a husband, an heir, and her rightful provision. And publicly proclaimed that she was more righteous than he.
Tamar was redeemed.
Hope redeemed her.
Six months later, Tamar gave birth to the sons of Judah. She named them Perez and Zerah.
Can you imagine? Tamar’s position? Her desperation? Her shame? Do you instinctively judge her and point a finger? Or are you Tamar? (I hear John 8 whispering here.)
Does this story bother you? Are you prone to but and if your way through it, trying to sterilize it?
Yes. This story drips with the kind of sin we don’t want to read aloud in Sunday School. Why? Why aren’t we grateful to hear stories that show honest brokenness? And a God who redeems all that mess?
This short chapter in Genesis interrupts the story of the beloved Joseph. (We’ll take another look at him tomorrow.) It seemingly contrasts the broken brother Judah with the faith-clinging Joseph. Though it highlights the sin and brokenness of its characters, it never condones it.
And yet, this scandalous story of Genesis 38 is referenced by Matthew. It’s a bold reminder that God uses whomever He chooses, often the most broken of people, to move His story forward. God doesn’t want us to hide our sin; He wants us to own it and confess it. He wants to forgive us and redeem us.
If you ever think your past is too scandalous. Or your present too messy. Or that you are too far from God’s story. Read Genesis 38. Matthew 1. And John 3:16. And know the Hope that redeems.
Father, I am Tamar. Her story may not reflect my own, but Lord, I’ve worn my own garment of shame. It seems to be one size and fits all. I am forever grateful that Your grace covers me.
It took me too long to let You love me lavishly.
Father, You used all of these broken people to write Your beautiful story. We have all fallen short of Your glory. And though it may seem some have fallen farther than others, no one falls too far. Surely Your arm is not too short to save, nor Your ear too dull to hear the cries of us who know our sin has separated us from You. Redemption is near.
I am so grateful that no one is too far from Your redemption. Amen.
Redeemed. It may be my favorite word.
Redeemed: (verb) atone or make amends for error or evil; compensate for the faults or bad aspects of something or someone; gain or regain possession in exchange for payment.
I have been redeemed.
I have been redeemed from my past, where I was separated from God by my own personal sin — and redeemed to my new life, a restored relationship with God by nothing I have done but by the work of Christ alone.
You can be redeemed as well.
Here’s a little something for you!