Summary: Judah finds both repentance, and amendment of life
THE TESTIMONY OF JUDAH
I have often wondered why the account of Joseph’s plight in Egypt is interrupted by a chapter about his half-brother Judah (Genesis 38). However, this part of the narrative (Genesis 37-50) is headed ‘the generations of Jacob’ (Genesis 37:2). The whole of this section is more about the LORD’s dealings with all of Jacob’s sons, rather than just one of them - and through them, or even despite them, the outworking of the purposes of the LORD for all people (Genesis 50:20).
No doubt the placing of the chapter about Judah’s exploits at this point in the timeline has the advantage of chronological integrity. It also serves to illustrate how the cruel, scheming, care-less half-brother of Joseph (Genesis 37:26-28) became an honourable son to Jacob: humble, sensitive and self-sacrificing; caring for his father, and protective of Joseph’s younger brother Benjamin (Genesis 44:18-34). This is the testimony of Judah.
Having set out on the path of unrighteousness, Judah got himself into bad company, and went on to marry a Canaanite (Genesis 38:1-2). This was one of the same mistakes that his uncle Esau had made (Genesis 26:34-35). Perhaps we might excuse them, since the law had not yet been written, but there is no excuse for us who are told ‘be not unequally yoked with unbelievers’ (2 Corinthians 6:14).
The downward trend continued. Judah’s oldest son was ‘wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him’ (Genesis 38:7). The levirate law (Deuteronomy 25:5-6), whereby a man was obliged to marry his brother’s widow and raise seed by her (a law which would play such a great part in the history of Ruth and Boaz), was already a part of the common law in the land. So the second son made as if to fulfil this obligation, but reneged on his duty at the last moment - ‘which thing displeased the LORD, so He slew him also’ (Genesis 38:8-10).
Now Judah selfishly and insensitively deceived his daughter-in-law, sending her back to her father’s house, but never recalling her to marry his third son. So Tamar deceived Judah and posed as a (veiled) cult prostitute, easily luring Judah, by now a widower himself, into fornication and spiritual adultery (Genesis 38:14-18). Judah sent his payment but his Canaanite friend, ironically enough, could not find any (literally) ‘holy woman’ in that place (Genesis 38:21-22).
In order to avoid public humiliation, Judah then thought to cover his sin by ignoring it. Yet it is not for us to cover sin, but God (Psalm 32:1-2)! ‘Be sure your sin will find you out’ (Numbers 32:23).
Judah now plumbed the depths of self-righteousness and hypocrisy. The man’s daughter-in-law was still under his jurisdiction, and Judah heard that she was pregnant, and pronounced the death sentence against her. Yet when Tamar produced Judah’s pledges, Judah was brought to humble confession of his sins: ‘she has been more righteous than I’ (Genesis 38:26).