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Summary: The Life of Joseph Sin, Suffering, and God’s Grace Genesis 38

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The Life of Joseph

Sin, Suffering, and God’s Grace

Genesis 38

David Taylor

October 23, 2016

We are in our final series in Genesis looking at the “The Life of Joseph,” in chapters 37-50. Today we look at Sin, Suffering, and God’s Grace in the lives of Joseph’s brother, Judah. The first eleven verses move quickly and really serve as the backdrop to the heart of the story in verse 12-30. The story starts out telling us that this happened at the time when Joseph is sold into slavery and is now in Egypt. Last week we saw how messed up the sons of Israel’s were –disunity, jealousy, hate, lying, and thoughts of fratricide. You would think chapter 38 would tell us about Joseph in Egypt but the writer wants us to build suspense so instead we are told about Judah’s sin, his daughter in law’s suffering, and God’s grace intervening in their lives. Judah moves away from his brothers, becomes friends with an Adullamite, named Hirah , and marries a Canaanite woman (1-2). This is not just a brother stretching his wings but rejecting the Abrahamic covenant to walk with God in a covenantal relationship with the promise that God would make them into a great nation so that the nations would be blessed, ultimately in the gospel (12:1-3). So not only is he abandoning the family, he is abandoning the covenant and marrying a Canaanite. We see that Judah liked what he saw, he took her, they consummated their marriage , and she conceived, ultimately having three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah (3-5). We have already seen that the Patriarchal family did not want their sons marrying the women of the land (27:46; 28:8-9; 34:9-10) to protect the purity of the faith. The New Testament is even clearer not to marry someone who is not spiritually compatible (2 Cor 6:14). It is too common to have one spouse, often the husband, who is spiritually apathetic. They claim to be a follower of Christ but after marriage, there is no spiritual appetite. If you are not having any meaningful spiritual conversations before you are married, don’t expect them afterwards.

Then in vs. 6-11 we read about Judah’s three sons. When Er becomes an adult Judah finds him a wife, a Canaanite named Tamar. Er is said to be wicked in the sight of the Lord so the Lord put him to death (10). This is a reminder that God is both just. If one rejects God’s grace, they receive his judgement. What is even more remarkable is why does God let any of us live at all? It is a reminder that sin is no small matter and all of us are in need of forgiveness for our sin. So Judah tells Onan to fulfill the ANE Levirate Law which said that if a brother dies and leaves a widow without children then a surviving brother or father in law is to take that widow as his wife and father children with her. The child would then carry on the family line and inherit the family’s estate. This was significant for Tamar because she was married to the oldest son so her oldest son would inherit most of Judah’s wealth. Knowing this, whenever Onan had sex with Tamar he pulled out prematurely to prevent Tamar from getting pregnant. This was selfish and greedy, rebelling against God, his father, and using Tamar for his own sexual pleasure. What he did was wicked also so God kills him also (11). Then Judah thinks that Tamar is responsible for his son’s deaths so he tells her to go live with her father until his last son, Shelah, is of marriageable age (12). He did not consider that their own sin, which was evidently great, was the cause of their death. They were following in their father’s footsteps. But Judah had no intent of giving Tamar to Shelah. This really puts her in a tough spot because it deprived her of her rights to Er’s property and his inheritance. Judah’s sin victimizes Tamar and causes her to suffer.


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