Written by Dave Urbanski
As we continued our study of the life of Joseph in Genesis, our look at chapter 38 uncovered a parenthetical account of what became of Judah, one of his brothers. It’s a sad story about drifting from God — and the bad things that typically happen when we do.
As Pastor Scott emphasized, all relationships take work so that they may grow and thrive. Each person in a relationship needs to focus on the other, remain accountable, and continually demonstrate love. It’s not easy. And human relationships aren’t perfect because humans aren’t perfect.
But when it comes to our individual relationships with God, one party is doing it right all the time — and it’s not us! Indeed, each of us imperfect humans must work hard at our relationships with God to stay connected to him. The Lord doesn’t force himself on us; we need to decide each day to enter into God’s presence and commune with him.
Judah didn’t do that. He doesn’t really have a strong connection to God. He leaves the protection of his home, meets a friend who’s not a Jew, and ends up marrying a woman from another land. Sound familiar? How many believers have done the same thing? Any of us could be Judah and drift away. And problems certainly happened for Judah.
Judah’s wife gave birth to three sons. And God put to death his firstborn, Er, for being wicked. And God put to death his second son, Onan, for not following through on his duty to give a son to his older brother’s widow, Tamar. In short, Onan didn’t mind having intercourse with Tamar but knew a son wouldn’t be connected to him, so he “would waste the semen on the ground.”
As Pastor Scott pointed out, the awesome holiness of God should scare us — especially the fact that he cannot tolerate sin. And the fact that he blesses us and gives us life is only due to his mercy. “Our father who art in heaven, hallowed (holy) be your name.”
Not wanting death to come to Shelah, his third son, Judah sent Tamar to her father’s house to remain a widow until Shelah was old enough for her. But Judah didn’t follow through on his promise to Tamar. Over the course of time, Judah’s wife died — and then one day after Judah’s grieving was over, he was on his way to work. When Tamar found out, she disguised herself as a prostitute to entice Judah since he still had not given his son Shelah to her in marriage. And Judah had sexual relations with the disguised Tamar, not knowing who she was, and Tamar became pregnant.
When Judah found out Tamar was pregnant through immorality, he said “let her be burned.” Of course, Judah didn’t know that Tamar was the “prostitute” he met on the side of a road. When Tamar was being brought out, she sent word to Judah that the signet, cord, and staff he had given her as collateral after their sexual act belonged to the man who impregnated her. Judah was caught. He identified the items and confessed, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And Judah didn’t have sexual relations with her again.
As Pastor Scott pointed out, if we go down the wrong roads sexually, we end up losing a lot. Proverbs 5 tells us, “Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress? For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths. The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray.” In other words, sexual danger is out there — it’s all around us. We must be careful not to get involved in it.
As it turns out, Judah’s comeuppance may have been a turning point for him. As Pastor Scott noted, we’ll soon learn that he went back and reconnected with father and brothers. And even better, Judah’s father Jacob later in Genesis blessed him and said he will be like a lion — the Lion of Judah. And that term is an identifier with Jesus, who descended from Judah’s line.
And wouldn’t you know that it was one of the twin children — Perez — born through Judah and Tamar’s sinful act, who would continue the genealogical line to Jesus? Despite their moral failure, God miraculously turned it into something good. It’s yet another demonstration of the Lord’s mercy to all of us.
Of course, a much better way of going through life is to stay close to God and stay away from sin and listen to all the Lord’s words to us.
Are we, as Pastor Scott suggested, creating “mile markers” for ourselves as we move forward in life? And are these markers showing that we’re moving away from God or moving closer to him? When we see warning lights flashing before us as we journey, do we take the detour the Lord has made for us — or do we continue toward the danger? May we “obey the rules of the road” instead, so that we’ll arrive at our destination in good shape!