Last week we discovered the beginning of the story of Joseph. His story began with his brothers selling him into slavery that would take him to Egypt. A tough way to begin your adult life – but God would use it to shape him into the man he needed to be.
But the story of Joseph seems to get interrupted with chapter 38 of Genesis which is all about Judah. It seems like we were just getting started with Joseph and then here comes this chapter that’s filled with all kinds of vanity and wickedness that seems to have nothing to do with Joseph. Why is this chapter here?
First of all, it’s chronologically accurate to have this chapter here. While Joseph is going through his trials in Egypt as a slave to Potiphar, Judah is carrying on with life in Canaan as a slave to sin. Both heading different directions in life at the same time.
Also, this chapter serves as an extremely important genealogical reference. As we continue through the book of Genesis we must always keep in mind God’s covenant with Abraham – that through his seed He would bring forth nations and peoples that would bless the entire world. We know that this ultimately came true through Jesus Christ. This chapter helps to connect the dots between Jesus and Abraham.
So, this seemingly out-of-place chapter is actually perfectly placed and extremely important. And it all starts with Judah wanting to carve out his own family.
I. The move into a pagan lifestyle
[Read Genesis 38:1-5.]
Now I think there’s several reasons as to why Judah moved away from the family.
1. To get away from the scene of the crime
Remember, he was the one who came up with the idea to sell Joseph into slavery. He
probably wanted to distance himself from the witnesses to his part in the crime. And I’m sure that home wasn’t a very happy place to be with Jacob constantly mourning the loss of his son.
2. To establish his dominance in the family
Judah was now probably going to receive the first-born’s inheritance. Remember, the
other three eldest brothers, Simeon, Levi and Reuben had forfeited their rights with their wickedness and Joseph, (daddy’s favorite), was gone. So the honor would fall to Judah. Moving away and building up his own family would enhance his dominance.
3. To have some fun
It will show later in the passage that Hirah, who invited Judah to his city, was Judah’s
friend and that they would go our carousing together. Judah enjoyed the sensual, pagan lifestyle so that’s where he decided to live. But it was a lifestyle that would dearly cost him.
II. The cost of a pagan lifestyle
[Read Genesis 38:6-10.]
In this culture, when a man died before giving his wife a son, his brother was expected to marry his widow and have kids with her. The firstborn son from that marriage was to be named after the deceased first husband to carry on his name. This was called a levirate marriage and later became distinguished in the Mosaic Law.
[Read Deuteronomy 25:5-10.]
Now the reason the law had to be so specific is because often men wouldn’t want to marry their brother’s wife. “What if she was mean and ugly!”
The real reason was because the son of the new marriage would get the firstborn inheritance that could have fallen to the younger brother if there was no son of the firstborn. That’s why Onan wouldn’t allow himself to get Tamar pregnant. He knew that if she remained childless then he would get the first born inheritance from Judah.
So that in and of itself was bad and displeasing to the Lord. But what made it worse was the fact that he continued having sex with Tamar, just not enabling her to get pregnant. He selfishly used her just for sex.
But just like with his older brother, time ran out on him and the Lord took his life. Judgment had come twice to Judah’s household because of the utter wickedness of his sons.
Now you’d think this would get Judah’s attention. You’d think that he might repent of his leading his family into such depraved lifestyles that were no-doubt as a result of where they lived and his leadership in the family. But it didn’t. Things just got worse. And you know, when God speaks to someone about their sin this is what happens. They either listen, repent, and have their life restored. Or they ignore God’s voice and get worse. Judah chose the latter.
III. The wickedness of a pagan lifestyle
[Read Genesis 38:11-12.]
A few years have passed and Judah’s wife dies. When the customary time of mourning was over he went with his friend Hirah to sheer his sheep. Translation – road trip! And this wasn’t just a trip to do some business. This trip was all about getting paid and partying down. This was like going to Vegas with a big bonus you just got from your job.
But this didn’t come as a surprise to Tamar. She probably expected Judah to behave like this. So with his lack of character in mind, she does the unthinkable and poses as a prostitute right where Judah would be out looking to have a good time. Why would she do such a thing? Because she knew Judah wasn’t going to give her his youngest son for a husband so she could have kids. And in her pagan mind, she’d rather be dead than childless.
[Read Genesis 38:13-19.]
So the sexual transaction is made and Judah gives her a pledge until the goat can be sent to her. This pledge would later be used to identify the father of her sons because it was Judah’s personal seal, which was a ring hanging on a chord, and his staff, which probably had personalized markings on it.
Not only does sin make you do incredibly wicked things, but it makes you stupid as well!
[Jerry Springer paying for prostitute story.]
But this really is a sad story isn’t it? Judah, one of Jacob’s sons, who knew the truth of God, was out partying like a pagan. And think about this, in this area, prostitution was incorporated into their heathen, cultish, religious practices. Judah went and picked up a temple prostitute – when he knew of how God should truly be worshipped. Judah’s wicked lifestyle was so evident that his own daughter-in-law knew what he’d be up to so she set up this wicked plan to get pregnant by him. So sad.
But that’s what happens when a person decides to live amongst pagan people. Now Judah probably never intended things to get this bad, but once you crack open the door to sin, before you know it the door’s wide open!
[Steve getting pot from homosexuals story.]
Judah’s life and family are all messed up because he cracked open the door of sin when he moved right into pagan territory. Two of his sons are dead, his wife is dead, and his daughter-in-law is pregnant by him. The effects of sin are clearly evident in his physical world. But they were also evident in his mental world. Because now we’re going to see:
IV. The hypocrisy of a pagan lifestyle
[Read Genesis 38:20-26.]
How hypocritical. Judah decides to get all indignant when he finds out that Tamar is pregnant. Probably the only reason it upsets him is because her pregnancy isn’t by his youngest son. Remember, she’s still waiting in mourning over her two previous husbands until Judah gives her the all-clear for her to marry Shelah. Judah’s offended that she didn’t obey him and wait for Shelah.
He’s so upset he even wants her to be burned to death for being a harlot. Now, she was a harlot. There’s no doubt about that. But he was too! Who was he to stand in judgment? But often people speak the loudest about what they struggle with the most in an attempt to hide their weaknesses from others.
But his sin is found out as Tamar pulls out the proof that it was Judah that paid her for sex while on that business trip three months prior. Wouldn’t you have liked to see the expression on his face when she pulled out his stuff? That’s like one of those talk shows where they test guys DNA to find out who the father of some baby is and reveal it on national tv. (What is wrong with people….)
Well, we’ve got us a pretty bad scene here. Judah has done everything he could possibly do to ruin his family. But God steps in and does something amazing here. His plans will not be thwarted no matter the stupidity of the people. Because even if people get their minds off of God’s plan for the world, He is ever faithful.
V. God’s victory over their pagan lifestyle
[Read Genesis 38:27-30.]
At first glance, just another set of twins born in the line of Abraham. But in reality we see how the Lord is being faithful to the covenant He made with Abraham so many years earlier. Because through the line of Abraham, down through Isaac and Jacob, and down through Judah and Perez, a Savior known as Jesus Christ would come into the world.
I love how Perez is the younger brother who actually came out before Zerah who was technically the “first-born” first since he stuck out his arm first. The name Perez means “breach” or “push through”. You get the impression that he needed to push his was out into this world. Well God here had to push some buttons to achieve His will through this family that had turned away from Him. Let’s connect the dots through Perez to Jesus. Turn to the book of Ruth.
We all know the story of Ruth. The daughter in law of Naomi whose husband had died agreed to take care of her no matter what. They move back to Bethlehem and Ruth meets Boaz who becomes her kinsman redeemer husband. It’s a beautiful story of love and of God taking care of His people. It’s also a story of the lineage of Christ.
[Read Ruth 4:16-22.]
And of course Jesus comes from the house of David. Out of the story of a widow comes the line of the Savior. Along with that, think about this. Ruth was a gentile, Moabite, convert to Judaism. So Jesus not only comes through the line of Perez, but also from a gentile woman. But that makes sense right? Since He’s the Savior of the world, not just the Jews. Jesus’ lineage is again recorded in the book of Matthew.
[Read Matthew 1:1-3.]
You could go all the way down through the 42 generations between Abraham and Jesus.
God pushed through all that paganism and sin and wickedness and kept the line of the Savior intact. No way was any one person or any family going to stop the Lord from bringing forth the Messiah. You see, God loves us too much to let that happen. He cares too much to let anything stand in the way of His promise. His Will will be done with or without us and often times in spite of us! God defies the odds and does amazing things in this world.
Let me read for you a modern story of how God “pushed through” in someone’s life to do something amazing. This is the story of Pastor Danny Hodges at Calvary Chapel in St. Pete.
I come from a broken home. My mother was divorced when I was 4 years old, and then remarried a short time later. By the time I reached fourth grade, my step-father adopted my older brother and me, so I went from being Danny Griggs to Danny Hodges in one day. I’m not sure how much this turmoil in my childhood affected me psychologically, I only know that it was not long after this that I began to rebel and live my life independently of my mother, grandmother, or any other authority figure. By middle school I was experimenting with marijuana, and before long I was trying just about any drug that came along. Near the end of my junior year of high school I was expelled from school as a result of my drug addiction. I spent the next couple of years searching for something in life that would finally satisfy me, but no amount of drugs, parties, or girlfriends worked. I was empty inside. Deep down I knew what I needed. I had learned about Jesus Christ through my mother and grandmother, but I had never received Christ as my Savior. For months I thought about giving my life to Christ, but I kept resisting. Then one evening I came home from a local bar. It was a weekday in the small town where I grew up in South Carolina, so there wasn’t a whole lot happening "downtown." My mother and grandmother were watching a prime time television special with a preacher named Jack Van Impe. I didn’t want them to know I was listening, so I hid around the corner in the kitchen. When the preacher gave the invitation to receive Christ, God got a hold of my heart. I went out into the front yard, knelt before God, and gave my life to Christ. From that point forward, I’ve never been the same!
Now did anyone in Pastor Danny’s young family think he would ever turn out to be anything but a loser? No way. They thought the worst. But then God comes along and pushes through the darkness to do something great. God is so good!