1st Wednesday in Advent
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, What in the world?? What do we do with an account like this? One thing that’s clear from an account like this is that we can’t read the Bible thinking that the Bible is a book full of moral examples for us to imitate. Judah is the great-grandson of Abraham, Abraham is the one to whom God promised to send a Savior for the world through his family and so in every generation there would be someone to carry the line of the promised Savior. Abraham and his descendants were to live uprightly, serve God, live lives different from the sinful world, Judah totally and utterly fails here! And Tamar? Is she right in all this? Is she the one we should imitate? Is prostitution ok? Is sexual entrapment ok? No!
At the end of the account we read how Tamar names her child Perez, which means “break through.” And as we see here in this account the Bible’s message is essentially: Morals won’t save you. What we have in this account is yet another example NOT of how you live to get God to bless you, but how God’s grace breaks through terribly broken and sinful lives.
This is what happened in the first verses of our text. Judah’s son Er was married to Tamar but all we know about him is that he was extremely wicked and the Lord put him to death. That’s all we know. Then Tamar marries Er’s brother Onan, since that was what was to be done if a brother died and had an unmarried brother- the levirate marriage. He then would have children for his older brother who died. He didn’t want to do that because as now the oldest son, he was in line for a double portion of his father’s inheritance, so if he had a child he would lose the inheritance, so he used Tamar for sexual gratification but would then spill literally his seed on the ground to keep from having a child with her. So the Lord put him to death too.
So, what does Judah tell her? “Go live as a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up.” Now realize that Tamar is probably only around 15 years old at this time. And she’s a widow. If you notice something about the Bible, throughout it, God has a special concern for widows. Why? Because they were the most vulnerable in society. She’s considered a single adult, an already married woman, as a woman she can’t just go out and get a job, no one is likely going to want to marry her, and so because of that, there was a hugely important law concerning widows. The father-in-law was responsible for taking care of and providing for a widow and if he had any other sons, providing one for her. Outwardly he says he’ll give the other son to her. But then sends her away, essentially saying, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” But he’s being dishonest. He thought to himself, “He may die too, just like his brothers.” He’s in denial, he doesn’t want to admit that something is wrong with his sons, doesn’t want to admit his failure as a father, and so he unfairly blames her, she’s bad luck, he assumes something is wrong with her, sends her away with no intentions of giving his other son to her. Essentially he assigns her to a dead end life.
So, she goes into action, takes off her widows clothes, dresses like a prostitute, sits in a place where she knows he’s going to be, not recognizing her, he goes in and sleeps with her thinking she was a prostitute. He doesn’t have anything to pay her with so he gives her his seal, cord, and staff as a pledge. Which indicates he’s a man of some means. It was kind of like his signature, perhaps like leaving your wallet as a pledge.
So what is she doing here? She’s going after justice. And notice how she does it, she uses his double standard against him. Apparently there was a sexual standard for women and one for men. Think to yourself, how would Tamar know that he would go to her as a prostitute? How did she know that he would want to sleep with her? That’s the way he was! It was his character. He could sleep with a prostitute, but when it’s found out what she’s done, he wants her executed!
And notice what Judah wants to happen to her when he finds out what she’s done: In Hebrew it’s just two words: Take. Burn. This is terribly hateful. The only people who were burned at this time were those who committed absolutely terrible crimes. Now why would he want such a terrible punishment? Could it be that he really needed to believe bad things about her to justify his sons’ wickedness? Could it be that he didn’t want to face his failures as a father? She’s the reason, she brought it on somehow, over the years he’s been sticking pins in her in his brain, now look at what happens, and murderous hatred spews out of him. Now he has something against her. I knew it!
Judah is about to do a horrible thing. And left in this hatred, left in his self-righteousness, he’s going to hell. Left on our own in our sins, we’re going to hell. He’s about to take a girl who has done nothing to him and torture her and murder her. He’s blind to his own sins; he’s justifying his own sinful behavior. Judah’s danger was that he was blind to his own sin. So often so are you and me. We too try to justify our sinful behavior. But look at how God’s grace breaks through here.
As she’s being brought out, dragged out to be burned, she says, “Wait! I have a message for my father-in-law, Haker Nah, is the Hebrew, recognize? Not just see, but discern, realize. By the way, the man who impregnated me, who deserves to be burned just as much as I do, these are his. Essentially saying to Judah, “Do you see who you are? Do you see what you did? Do you see where you’re headed?” By God’s grace he did recognize. And he said not, “What she did is right,” but, “She is MORE righteous than I.”
What does he realize? He realizes that he’s no better than the person he despised the most. That’s a truth we each need to learn, we’re no better than the people we despise the most. And what does it take to open our eyes? A painful experience. This was terrible public disgrace for Judah. He committed incest sleeping with his own daughter-in-law whom he thought was a prostitute. This painful experience turned out to be a turning point in Judah’s life.
Genesis 37 is where Judah and his brothers, who hated Rachel and her sons, because Jacob loved them the best, Judah’s plan was take the coat, put goat’s blood on it, take it to Jacob and say, “Haker nah?” Recognize? Jacob assumes Joseph is dead and gone. Judah started to go wrong in 37, more in 38, but by the end there’s an awesome moment when Judah and brothers are standing in front of the 2nd in command of Egypt and they don’t recognize him, and Joseph says, “I’m taking Benjamin,” and it’s Judah who steps forward and says, “No, take me, I’ll give up my whole life, my freedom, for the sake of my brother and my father.” Judah needed a painful awakening.
At the end Tamar says to one of her children, “You have broken through.” Perez. In the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1, we hear the genealogy of Jesus, it has something that almost no genealogies had, it has the name of a woman, Tamar and Judah, how come? Tamar got her life back when Judah looked at her and said in spite of your sin, you’re righteous, and her life was spared. Judah was pointing to the Savior. We need to hear the ultimate Judah, Judah and Tamar’s descendant Jesus and hear from Him, “In spite of all your sin, in spite of who you are and what you’ve done, you are righteous.” How come? Judah was going to punish Tamar for HIS sins! But the real Judah, Jesus, did the very opposite, HE was punished for OUR sins. So we could be righteous. Thank the Lord for Tamar’s son. Amen.