Summary: This story of Judah and Tamar reminds us that God’s grace comes in spite of our sin - even through our sin. Grace overcomes the mess that we make of our lives and provides us with something that we could never provide for ourselves.
There are many passages in the Bible that are difficult to preach.
Genesis 38 is right up there at the top of the list.
It’s not BORING
It’s not DEEP THEOLOGY
It’s not IRRELEVANT
Simply put, it’s TOO RACY!
But the story must be told, because it’s an amazing story about GRACE.
The story concerns JUDAH and TAMAR.
To understand the story, we must chart out the relationships in a family tree structure.
This sermon will review eighteen events that are described in Genesis 38, and the important lessons that we can learn from them. So you might say it’s a nineteen point sermon! But don’t worry, because the events of chapter 38 are simple to understand, and the salacious account will keep your attention!
(Thank you Phillip Yancey for the great title of your book, "What’s So Amazing About Grace." This sermon makes use of Yancy’s title)
1. The FIRST part of the story begins with JACOB, our patriarch. His fourth son was JUDAH, whose mother is Leah. Judah is the main character in Genesis 38.
2. From the very beginning, Judah is a COMPROMISER, getting himself into trouble by having a very close friendship with Hirah, the Adulamite. Genesis 38:1 "At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah." Hirah was a Canaanite, and Judah breaks the family tradition of marrying from within his clan and staying away from the Canaanites. The results are devastating, as Judah soon adopts the practices of the Canaanites, and engages in prostitution.
3. Judah marries a Canaanite woman, the daughter of Shuah. Genesis 38:2 "There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and lay with her;" Her name is not given in the text, other than “Bath-Shuah” (the daughter of Shuah).
4. Judah and Bath-Shuah have a son, whom they name Er (Gen. 38:3).
5. They have another son, whom them name Onan (Gen 38:4).
6. Their third son is named Shelah (Genesis 38:5).
7. Furthering his connection to the Canaanites, Judah gets a wife for his firstborn son, Er. Her name is Tamar, and she will become an important part of this story. Genesis 38:6 "Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar."
8. Er is wicked and the Lord takes his life (Gen 38:7). The fact that the Lord takes his life might sound hard for us to understand, but this is a time in God’s plan where He is working directly through the descendants of Abraham to establish a new nation of people through whom his blessings will flow to the world. God’s methods were very direct and unmistakable at this point in the history described in the Bible.
9. Judah is now left with the childless daughter-in-law of his oldest son. Judah is without an heir, and he is responsible for the care of Tamar. According to the customs of the day, Judah requires Onan, his second oldest son, to take responsibility to provide finances for Tamar and to give her a child. This custom, called Levarite marriage is “from the Latin levir, “husband’s brother”. Through this law of marriage, the second son, Onan, was to marry Tamar, the widow of his brother, and raise up offspring for his brother”. (Allen P. Ross, "Genesis", The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985). 88.)
10. In vividly clear language, Onan refuses this responsibility and takes advantage of the situation for his own sexual gratification (Gen. 38:8-11). God punishes Onan for this selfless act and Onan’s life is also cut short by the Lord. Now Judah is left with 2 dead sons, one widowed daughter-in-law, and a third son too young to marry.
11. Judah sends Tamar to her father’s house to wait for his youngest son Shelah to be old enough to marry and take care of her (Gen. 38:11).
12. At this point Judah’s Canaanite wife Bath-Shuah dies. After his time of grieving, Judah seeks companionship from his old friend Hirah and he meets up with him during sheep-shearing time, which would have been a time of festivities and celebration in this society of shepherds (Gen 38:12).
13. It’s now been years since Judah promised Tamar that she could marry Shelah when he was ready. Tamar sees that Judah intends to neglect his responsibilities to her and leave her forever a widow in the care of her father. She comes up with a plan to deceive Judah and get from him the care that she was promised. Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute and gains Judah as a customer! (Gen 38:13-16)
14. For the price of her services, Tamar accepts a young goat - something that Judah did not have with him at the time (Gen 38:16-19). She makes him leave a pledge that he will fulfill his promise to pay her. For the pledge, she asks for his seal and cord, and his staff. A seal was an important piece of identity, most likely a cylinder with etchings on it. It would be rolled over wax to seal a letter with your identification, or rolled over the handle of a clay pot when it is being made to identify it as yours. The cord might have allowed Judah to wear this around his neck. Giving this to Tamar was the equivalent of giving her his drivers licence to hold until he returned with the money. She also asked for his staff, something that no one would have normally given up. It is obvious that Judah is completely committed to having sex with this woman who he thinks is a prostitute.