Summary: The Life of Joseph Sin, Suffering, and God’s Grace Genesis 38
The Life of Joseph
Sin, Suffering, and God’s Grace
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.
When Judah’s wife dies he goes to Timnah to shear sheep with Hirah. Tamar gets wind of this and knowing Judah’s character, she seeks to get justice because she had heard that Judah had no intent of giving her to Shelah. She disguises herself as a religious prostitute, veils herself to hide her identity, and stands alongside the road to Timnah. Judah comes along and propositions her, not knowing that she was his daughter in law. She negotiates a wage for her service, a goat from Judah’s flock, and looking for leverage, she requests a pledge to secure payment, so she gets his signet and his staff. The signet is a seal used to identify documents like a signature and the staff was often uniquely carved to identify the owner. Both are like ID cards. Tamar conceives from this encounter (14-18). Later Judah attempts to pay the prostitute but instead of going himself, he sends Hirah to find the her and pay her but he can’t find her and when he enquires about her, no one has ever seen a prostitute on that road! This is how Judah responds, “let her keep the things as her own, or we shall be laughed at (21-23).” He is trying to escape the shame of the incident but he has acted shamefully in the whole story. One of the purposes of the story is to draw a contrast between Judah with Joseph, who acted uprightly toward his family in chapter 37 and acts uprightly toward Potiphar’s wife when she repeatedly makes sexually advances toward him. Who do you want to be like? Judah or Joseph?