Summary: Among the sins which God judges most harshly and most swiftly are sins dishonouring one’s family. Such swift and terrible judgement speaks to the importance of the family in the divine economy.
“Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. And what he did was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and he put him to death also.” 
God is holy. We ignore this truth to our own detriment. He judges sin, always revealing divine justice. Though all sin is an offence to Holy God, and though all sin shall be judged ultimately, some sins ensure judgement in this life. Among the sins which God judges most harshly and most swiftly are sins dishonouring one’s family. Such swift and terrible judgement speaks to the importance of the family in the divine economy.
Throughout Scripture are found warnings against dishonouring our parents, against dishonouring our lineage. It is a serious sin against the Living God to dishonour the family. To realise the verity of this statement, one need but recall the fifth commandment, the initial commandment to be given with a promise: “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” [EXODUS 20:12]. To dishonour one’s parents is to invite God’s wrath. To despise one’s family is to incur swift judgement.
The Wise Man wrote an arresting proverb that I required my children to memorise.
“The eye that mocks a father
and scorns to obey a mother
will be picked out by the ravens of the valley
and eaten by the vultures.”
Dishonouring one’s family invites divine judgement—judgement that can result in death. Overarching this current series of studies of individuals whom God killed is a verse that we do well to always hold in mind. Whenever I am reading accounts of divine judgement, I always hold in mind these solemn words, “These things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” [1 CORINTHIANS 10:6]. God has provided such examples to warn against behaviour that displeases Him, against attitudes and actions that are unworthy of His people.
Though undoubtedly there have been other individuals who were killed because they defied the Living God, among the first accounts to be included in the Word of God are two brothers—Er and Onan. These two sons of Judah should have stood in the lineage of the Saviour; instead, they were put to death by the LORD God for their actions. What can we learn from the failure of these two men to honour their family? Let’s explore the divine text to discover what God would have us learn.
THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL — The deaths of Er and Onan did not happen in a vacuum; these two brothers grew to manhood in what can only be described as a dysfunctional home. Perhaps one could argue that all homes are dysfunctional to one degree or another, but the home in which these boys grew to manhood appears to have stood out for its lack of a strong father in the home. As a great grandson of Abraham, Judah, their father, should have been a model of righteousness; however, early in his life he revealed a bent toward the self-life. Though Judah’s name is intimately associated with the Messiah, he didn’t start well in life.
Other than being named as a son of Jacob by Leah, Judah’s youth is otherwise unknown. His character is first revealed in a dark incident that cast neither him nor his brothers in a positive light. Ten of Jacob’s sons are tending the family flocks in Shechem when Jacob sends Joseph to check up on them. Of course, you will recall that his brothers were quite put out with Joseph because he was a favourite of their father. Jacob appears not to have given much thought to the matter, but jealousy was simmering in his family.
Joseph was the firstborn of Rachel, Jacob’s favourite wife. Jacob had been tricked into marrying Leah when he thought he was marrying Rachel. The story is sordid and the consequences are devastating and long-term [see GENESIS 29:1 ff.]. Rachel attempted to manipulate God and her husband, but she remained barren while Leah was giving birth to multiple children. Unlike modern families, in which children are often seen as a burden to the family, throughout most of history, children have been welcomed. It seems that only in societies marked by extreme affluence are children seen as a drain on parents. Wealth tends to blind people to what is truly valuable; and modern society has grown both affluent and incapable of realising the value of children. It can be said of our society that we know the cost of everything and value of nothing.