One of my writing professors often said, “Sometimes in order to tell one story well, you need to tell two.” Sometimes two narratives, when placed side by side, deepen the impact of each individual story. At first glance, Genesis 38 feels like an intrusion into the life of Joseph. In chapter 38, we jump ahead to Judah’s story, you may wonder what will become of Joseph. We learn that Joseph’s brother Judah married and had three sons. But as soon as Judah arranged for his first son Er to marry Tamar, things spiraled downward. Because of Er’s wickedness, God put him to death (v. 6). Levirate law dictated that if a woman’s husband died, his brother must bear a child by her to continue the dead brother’s line. When Judah’s second son, Onan, refused to comply, God put him to death also (v. 10).
What a sorrowful time this must have been in Judah’s life! In response to Judah’s instruction, Tamar lived as a widow. A long time later, Judah, whose own wife had died, came to town. Hittite levirate law also stipulated that when a widow married her late husband’s brother and he died, she was to marry his father. On the surface, it may seem Tamar was obeying this law, but her actions (disguising herself as a prostitute) continued her family’s legacy of deception.
When Tamar revealed her pregnancy, Judah condemned her to death. But when she revealed his own culpability, he acknowledged his sin, which begins a stunning transformation. This same Judah promised to keep Benjamin safe (Gen. 43:8–9). This same Judah offered himself in place of Benjamin (44:18–45:3). This same Judah was blessed by Jacob with the royal line (49:8–12). And this same Judah carried—along with Tamar—the line of Christ (Matt. 1:3).
>> Are you open to seeing the sin that may exist in your own life? Set aside time today to spend in God’s presence, asking Him to expose any sins that need to be revealed.
With David we pray, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24).