Summary: God has some bitter medicine that can kill or cure the scoundrel in you.
Airport security personnel have a fairly mundane job. They scan people with metal detectors, look through their bags, check their shoes, and sometimes pat them down. It’s probably not uncommon to find a knife accidentally left in someone’s pocket. On rare occasions they might find drugs or fire arms or explosives. For the most part it’s boring and routine.
Imagine how surprised security personnel at Dusseldorf airport in Germany must have been when a man headed for Libya asked them not to pat him down too hard because he had birds in his pants. That’s right, he had four pigeons hidden in his pockets. They were pets he didn’t want to leave at home for such a long trip. That’s weird and random. But guess what? This has happened before. On February 3rd a man attempting to board a plane in Melbourne, Australia was stopped and searched. He had 2 pigeons hidden inside his pants that he was trying to smuggle out of the country. Search “pigeon in pants” on Google News and you can actually see a picture of the guy’s extremely hairy legs with the pigeons strapped to them.
Why did I tell you these weird and random stories? Chapter 38 of Genesis is weird and seemingly random and I couldn’t think of a better introduction. This incident is so strange and out of place that many scholars think some later editor smashed it into the Joseph narrative. They think it’s just an odd story not really tied to big picture. Peculiar things happen in the story that will make you blush in mixed company if you’re paying attention. Roman Catholics have used one incident in the chapter as proof that God hates birth control. But that’s not really the message being conveyed here.
The story is really about the rehab of a scoundrel. We’ve already seen this in the life of Jacob where God reshaped his character. Compared to Judah, the star of this story, Jacob was a boy scout. Here are the ways he’s described in chapters 37 and 38: slave trader (a crime punishable by death in the Bible – Deut. 24:7); befriended a godless playboy Canaanite; married a godless Canaanite; shirked his duty to train up his boys; irreligious; blamed others for his own problems; fornicator; and a hypocrite. That’s all we learn from two chapters. I imagine there was much more. Nevertheless God providentially rehabilitated this man Judah. His life changed so dramatically that by the end of Genesis he’s given leadership of the tribe. God blessed Judah to such an extent that from his descendants arose the royal line of David and, eventually, Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
What this story reveals is God’s amazing and scandalous grace. God used methods to transform Judah that make the theologically correct a little bit nervous. We can learn some lessons from God’s methods which will help us to deal with some of the scoundrels in our lives. God will also use this process to rehabilitate the scoundrel in you.
I do need to add this word of caution. The treatment for this level of sin is a lot like chemotherapy or some kind of invasive surgery. The solution is so drastic that it has the potential to kill you. I do not recommend that you try to practice the following voluntarily, but if you ever find yourself in these situation remember that it could be part of the cure.
Bad Medicine to Kill or Cure You
Disconnection from the community of faith
As a pastor I almost hate to say this, but the first step in Judah’s rehabilitation was a step away from the community of faith. The chapter begins with ominous details of Judah’s departure from God’s people.
At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah. There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her … Genesis 38:1-2
That doesn’t seem like a big deal to us, but the original audience of this story would have been horrified. To leave the faith community was to abandon the covenant, protection, and blessings of God. In fact, in later Israelite history the only punishment worse that death to the Hebrew was banishment from the community. This was true in Jesus’ day as well. Many people refused to openly confess faith in Jesus for fear of being “put out of the synagogue.” To lose entrance to the synagogue meant that you simultaneously lost connection to the community. You lost the personal security of friends and family as well as your relationship with God, so they believed.
When Judah walked away from his family he turned his back on the God of his family. Thankfully, for Judah, God wasn’t finished with him. He was just getting started.