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Genesis 38 / Does God Choose The Wrong People?

Campus: Rooty Hill
Mar 28, 2021

Judah may have abandoned Tamar, his daughter-in-law, but the Lion of the Tribe of Judah will never abandon those who come to him.

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Have you noticed that God seems to choose the wrong people to advance his kingdom, the worst being Jacob. Now the questions is, which of Jacobs 12 sons will provide the seed of Abraham, who will destroy the devil and bless the world.

It can’t be Rueben, Jacobs first born because he slept with his fathers wife, so he is out. The 2nd and 3rd sons were engaged in mass slaughter, so they are out. The next in line, son no 4, Judah, well he seems another unlikely candidate, he has already sold his own brother Joseph into slavery. 

In fact, if you were putting a bet on who would carry the line for the saviour of the world it has to be Joseph, the only decent one in the family, but Joseph’s story is interrupted by todays tragic passage. Don’t get confused, Jacob is the father of Judah

At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah ~Genesis 38:1 (NIV)

While Joseph was forced to leave his family, Judah chooses to leave his family. He then adds to his sin by marrying a Canaanite woman. The Canaanites worshipped other gods, and encouraged child sacrifices. Judah is given 3 sons with 3 great names. The first is my favourite, "you will call him 'Er'", the second Onan, the third Shelah (he must have thought he was having an Aussie daughter.)

Then Judah finds Canaanite women for his sons

Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death. ~Genesis 38:6-7 (NIV)

We are not told what Er's did but it was serious enough for God to put him to death. It was expected that the nearest relative would marry their dead brother's wife. Who is glad they live in the new covenant? 

This would allow the name of the dead brother to pass on. So, the 2nd brother Onan reluctantly marries Tamar. He has sex with Tamar and then withdraws before he could make her pregnant. Rather than me explain - lets read it

Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfil your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. ~Genesis 38:8-9 (NIV)

Its called Coitus interruptus, he got the sex without the responsibility. He failed to fulfil his duty to his dead brother.

So there was no doubt that he was sinning

What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also. ~Genesis 38:10 (NIV)

With two dead brothers who were both married to Tamar, Judah was afraid to give his 3rd Son for fear that he too would die. Did he fear that this woman was cursed? Did he not realise the husbands were the problem? 

Elisabeth Elliott, a famous missionary, outlived her first two husbands and married to number 3, she joked that it was a dangerous thing to be married to her.

Judah withholds his son from Tamar and so abandoned her

Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s household until my son Shelah grows up.” For he thought, “He may die too, just like his brothers.” So Tamar went to live in her father’s household. ~Genesis 38:11 (NIV)

Judah's fear stopped him from doing the right thing. Again fear fed by not trusting God promises.

• He failed to take care of Tamar

• He lied to Tamar, promising his 3rd son in marriage

• He shames her by sending her back to her family

• He abandons her by REFUSING to give his last son

Our focus is now on Tamar. She is forced to takes things into her own hands, so she disguises herself as a prostitute to get her father-in-law to provide her with a child. Desperate people do desperate things,

there is a difference between a poor person stealing and a rich person stealing, its why courts have extenuating circumstances.

Her plan had to assume that Judah had a custom of going to prostitutes and Judah does not realise that he has had sex with his daughter in law whom he abandoned. He didn’t want to give his 3rd Son to Tamar but he now ends up giving his semen and makes her pregnant. Judah didn’t have a goat to pay her for the sex so he gives his chord, seal and staff as a pledge. These are like his ID and credit cards. Tamar does not want the goat she wants JUSTICE and 3 months later, Judah finds out that Tamar, his daughter in law is pregnant.

About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.” Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!” ~Genesis 38:24 (NIV)

In a wave of self righteousness he orders that she put to death.

Its hard to know what is worse, that he wants her dead or the hypocrisy behind it. Bring her out and have her burned to death for doing the very thing he had just done. This is the ultimate version of take the log out of your own eye. Now Tamar doesn’t publicly shame her father in law, she returns his staff, cord and seal and she privately makes it clear to Judah that he is the father

As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.” ~Genesis 38:25 (NIV)

The seal, cord, and staff function like DNA testing, proving he is the DAD. At this point Judah could have still used his place of power to deny it. Notice his response!

Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again. ~Genesis 38:26 (NIV)

Notice that its an immediate confession and its public confession, “She is more righteous than I, it’s a complete confession. It literally read “She is righteous rather than I”

It is a true repentance because we read that he did not sleep with her again.

We must never forget, whenever hypocrites and the sexual immoral humble themselves and repent they will receive mercy from God. The apostle Paul himself was the self confessed worst of sinners and he was an example to all of God patience.

I get cancel culture in its desire to face the injustice. It is so right to not make heroes out of villains. But what is missing is a lack of grace—no apology is good enough. And justice without mercy drives sin underground. Everyone is too afraid to own up to past failures and we end up with a new brand of secular Phariseeism—where everyone is giving the right answers from the wrong heart. Driven by fear not by love and service.

Training people to trust in their own righteousness and looking down on everybody else.

At this point you can’t but not think of sinless Jesus, when a woman caught in adultery was brought to him, she was about to be stoned, notice the man is not brought before Jesus. Jesus said “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

And we are told that every male beginning with the older men left. Its hard for sinners to throws stones at other sinners. And yet adultery is a serious matter, and so Jesus is clear with her

“Go and sin no more.” God is the original feminist

Its worth saying that this passage doesn't teach on either contraception or masturbation, it doesn't teach that I should marry my sister-in-law if my brother dies but this story does anticipate a number of issues, it serves as a warning.

It anticipates how the tribe of Judah will follow the sin of Judah and flirt with Canaanite culture and how Israel will neglect the powerless.

Your rulers are rebels, ….They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them. ~Isaiah 1:22-23 (NIV)

It also anticipates how God will judge the ones who go to prostitutes more severely than the prostitutes themselves

“I will not punish your daughters when they turn to prostitution, nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery, because the men themselves consort with harlots and sacrifice with shrine prostitutes—a people without understanding will come to ruin! ~Hosea 4:14 (NIV)

We know that sex workers have higher rates of sexual abuse and higher rates of drug use to numb the pain. Never forget that most prostitutes are victims of male sin.

When I started MBM, I was on my way back from bible study when I turned down a street and nearly killed a drugged prostitute who was coming out of a car. I told my mum I nearly killed a prostitute. She said, “Ray you should have taken her in the car and told her about Jesus.” I said “Mum probably not a good look for a minister to be found with a prostitute in the car” But I loved my mums heart, it was Jesus heart.

So when you see prostitutes either male or female, pray for them and remember they are only there because of those who pay for their service. There was a time we had some of women at MBM in a ministry to sex workers in the 14 brothels at St. Marys. That was a good ministry, but again we are reminded that God's purposes through Abraham’s line will reign supreme whether God is working with the obedience of Joseph or the disobedience of a Judah

But by the grace of God, we do see the beginnings of a transformed life in Judah. Judah will end up protecting his father from further grief by protecting his youngest brother Benjamin, he will do that in a Christ like way by offering to take blame and the place of his younger brother and paying whatever price is necessary. 

We might have expected the line of promise to follow righteous Joseph but in God's kingdom the first will be last and last first.

Toward the end of Genesis Jacob makes this extraordinary prophecy over his 4th son - Judah

Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his. ~Genesis 49:9b-10 (NIV)

From the tribe of Judah will come the lion of Judah, the one who will come will receive the obedience of the nations, so the one who will defeat Satan will be the son of Eve – human. The son of Abraham - one nation – Jew. The son of Judah - one tribe. The son of Perez - King David. God is narrowing down our options as to who is the coming one.

Fast forward 2000years and this explains why Matthew's gospel begins the way it does. At first it seems like a boring way to start a brilliant gospel but lets look again

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, ~Matthew 1:1-3 (NIV)

Jesus doesn’t turn up in a vacuum He is in the line of promise, but its not just Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and Perez who are mentioned, Tamar is honoured in Jesus line. She is one of four women mentioned in Jesus ancestry, the surprising thing is that Sarah or Rachel or Rebekah are not. 

The four women mentioned are tainted in some way:

  • Rahab and Tamar are connected with prostitution
  • Bathsheba with adultery
  • Ruth a foreigner

While the Saviour had to come from the Jews, He is the saviour for the world. This Jesus has come to invite Jew and non-Jew,

Male and Female, Sinner and Saint.

’For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” ~Matthew 9:13 (NIV)

Judah may have abandoned Tamar, the Lion of Judah, Jesus, abandons no man and no woman, no sinner and no foreigner, who come to him.

Years ago a woman came up to me after the Youth Convention talks at Katoomba. She was in my friend's bible study and she was a former drug user and prostitute. She had gotten pregnant 8 times and 8 times she had aborted her children. But I knew I was talking to a daughter of Abraham and a child of God, a woman that Jesus came to save, just like me, a woman who needed no more grace than I did, a woman forgiven in Christ with as much assurance.

That is why the gospel of our Lord Jesus is truly good news. And that is why we call it Good Friday, take the opportunity to invite friends to our Easter services so that they too may hear of this saviour. Take hold of this good news yourself.

God always chooses the wrong people to advance his kingdom then makes us right with Him by trusting in the promises of God.

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