In the opening line of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin observes, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: knowledge of God and of ourselves.” Our Scripture passage today is a story about recognition. Judah comes to know himself more truthfully, which leads to a significant change in his life.
Years passed since Tamar was dismissed by Judah to go back to her father’s house (v. 12). She realized Judah deceived her by not giving her his youngest son in marriage. Cast aside by Judah, she acted in desperation.
The time of shearing sheep was frequently accompanied by parties and social gatherings. When Tamar heard that Judah was coming to Timnah for this festival, she decided to act. She posed as a prostitute, and Judah took the bait. He propositioned her, and she took his seal, cord, and staff as a pledge until her payment arrived. Her scheme succeeded, and she became pregnant with Judah’s child (v. 18).
His lack of sexual restraint stands in sharp contrast to Joseph’s response to temptation in the next chapter.
When Judah discovered that Tamar was pregnant, he responded: “Bring her out and have her burned to death!” (v. 24). Tamar then played her trump card. She used the same words that Judah and his brothers said when showing the bloody garment of Joseph to Jacob: She asked Judah to “recognize” the seal, cord, and staff she had taken (v. 25).
The deceiver had been deceived. Judah’s response is a model of repentance and change. He acknowledged his wrongdoing, and as we’ll see later in the story, for the rest of his life he was a changed man.
The sons of Tamar and Judah are Perez and Zerah. Perez is an ancestor of David (see Ruth 4:18). The Gospel of Matthew reminds us that Perez is also in the line of the Messiah, Jesus (see Matt. 1:3). God can use and redeem every part of our lives, even what we’ve deemed shameful or embarrassing. Praise Him for His redemption in your life!