In our last post about Joseph, his brothers plotted to kill him and threw him into a dry cistern. We explored how Jesus said the Old Testament spoke of Him throughout, and how Joseph’s life is an example of this. We saw how both their fathers held them as favorites, how both Joseph and Jesus’ brothers envied them and plotted to kill them, how Joseph went down into the cistern, and how Jesus went down into the grave, how both were raised up, how both saved their people. (For more see previous post: Joseph and Jesus)
The plan to kill Joseph was on track until Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” (Genesis 37:26-27) The brothers who were present agreed, and Joseph was sold into slavery, eventually finding himself the property of Potiphar, Pharoah’s captain of the guard.
After selling Joseph into slavery, Judah leaves his brothers and heads down to his friend Hirah’s place in Adullam. There he meets a Canaanite woman named Shua. They wind up marrying and having three sons, Er the eldest, Onan the middle son, and Shelah the youngest.
Judah’s association with those outside the family of faith will prove costly. He first finds a friend, then a wife, then, later, we’ll see him participating in the Canaanite practice of soliciting sex with a shrine prostitute. There are only two types of close friends to associate with, those who will influence you for Christ, and those who you will influence for Christ. It’s inevitable, you’ll begin to value yourself based on the opinions of those you hang with. Judah is a classic example. What trouble might have been avoided had he chose his friends more wisely? And what blessings did he miss?
When Er is old enough, Judah finds a wife for him named Tamar. But the Bible tells us Er was wicked in the Lord’s sight, so He put him to death.
Then Judah invokes a custom of that culture for widows who are without an heir. He tells his middle son, Onan, Er’s brother, Go sleep with your brother’s widow, and fulfill your obligation as her brother-in-law, to raise up offspring for your brother.
But Onan knows Tamar’s child won’t be his, so whenever he sleeps with her he spills his sperm on the ground so she won’t conceive. This was wicked in the Lord’s sight, so He put him to death also.
Life was hard in that place at that time, especially for women, and even more so for widows. Without a man around Tamar would receive no inheritance from Judah. And without a son, Er’s family name would not be preserved. The law requiring a brother-in-law to provide seed for the widow is later described in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. According to this passage, if the brother-in-law of the widow refuses his duty, his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.
I wonder if it was because of situations like Onan’s, the Lord instituted such a law.
So now Judah has lost two sons. He says to Tamar, Go home to your father and live with your family there, as a widow, until my youngest son Shelah grows up.
Judah’s thinking, Wow, I wonder if Tamar has anything to do with the longevity (or lack thereof) of her husbands. I think I’ll keep my only remaining son Shela, at a safe distance.
So Tamar went back home to live in her father’s house.
A long time passes, and Judah’s wife Shua dies. After Judah recovers from his grief he goes up to Timnah with Hirah the Adullamite, to the men who are shearing his sheep.
Well word gets back to Tamar her father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep, so she hatches a plan. She takes off her widow’s clothes, covers herself with a veil, and sits at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah.
So what’s this all about? Well the Canaanites had this cult prostitution thing going on to promote fertility. Followers of the fertility goddess Ishtar would dress up in veils, symbolizing they’re the bride of another god named Baal. Then the men who were planting fields, or helping their sheep birth lambs, or shearing sheep would use the prostitutes’ services to promote the fertility of their crops or herds. So Tamar takes off her widow clothes, special clothes women wore in that culture to identify themselves as widows, and she dresses in veils, posing as one of these cult prostitutes.
She does this because she’s realized Shela is past the time when he’s eligible to marry, yet she still hasn’t been given to him as his bride, as Judah had promised.
So Judah, on the road to Timnah, and completely oblivious, like an ox going to the slaughter, sees her and he thinks she’s one of these cult prostitutes. He doesn’t realize she’s his daughter-in-law. He goes over and propositions her, saying, Let me sleep with you. (Proverbs 7:8-27)
What will you give me in return, she asks.
How about one young goat from my flock, he says.
How about you give me something as a pledge until you send it? she asks.
What pledge do you have in mind?
She says, Your seal, and its cord, and your staff.
He agrees, so he gives her his stuff and sleeps with her.
And she becomes pregnant.
After she leaves him she puts on her widow’s clothes again.
Meanwhile Judah asks his friend Hirah the Adullamite to deliver the young goat so Judah can get back the stuff he pledged. But Hirah can’t find her.
He asks around, Where’s the shrine prostitute who hangs out next to the road at Enaim?
And he receives a most interesting answer: What shrine prostitute? We don’t have a shrine prostitute here.
You see the seal she has is Judah’s one and only unique seal. In those times people used a precious or semi-precious stone, with an inscription on it, to press into wax, or a clay tablet, to provide their signature. The cord was used to hang the seal around Judah’s neck. Judah’s staff was another personal item, used in that day not just to assist walking but also to tend livestock and as a weapon. It may have been polished and adorned in such a way as to uniquely identify Judah even further.
These three items represent Judah’s person, possessions, and position: three things often lost when someone falls into temptation. If you don’t believe that, just read the news.
Judah will have some explaining to do.
So Hirah the Adullamite goes back to Judah and says, Hey, the men around there are telling me there is no prostitute who does business there.
Well then, I better just let her keep my stuff, or there’ll be a scandal and we’ll become a laughingstock. I did try to pay her. I sent her the young goat but you just couldn’t find her.
Three months go by…
Someone tells Judah, Your daughter-in-law Tamar has been found guilty of prostitution and she’s pregnant.
Burn her to death, Judah says.
That’s interesting because later in Deuteronomy we see prostitution punished by stoning. (Deuteronomy 22:23-24) We see punishment by burning for incest or for the daughter of a priest who prostitutes herself. (Leviticus 20:14, Leviticus 21:9) I’m reminded of David’s response when he learned of the rich man who stole the poor man’s lamb. ( see 2 Samuel 12)
We often find those sins we struggle with ourselves, most offensive in someone else.
But when she is brought out to be burned, she sends Judah’s seal, cord, and staff to him, along with a message: I’m pregnant by the man who owns these, maybe you should have a look to see if you recognize who they belong to.
Of course Judah recognizes them as his own and realizes what happened. He says, She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah as I promised. And he did not sleep with her again.
When it was time for the babies to be born it’s discovered she has twin boys in her womb. As she begins to give birth one of the boys puts his hand out first, so the midwife takes a scarlet cord and ties it to his hand to mark that he came out first. But then that one draws his hand back in and his brother comes out.
She says, So this is how you’ve broken out! And they name him Perez, which means breaking out (or breach).
Then his brother with the scarlet thread on his wrist comes out, and they name him Zerah, which means scarlet (or brightness).
Jesus and Judah:
After seeing Judah sell his own brother Joseph into slavery, and then impregnate his own daughter-in-law, it’s amazing how, later, in Genesis chapter 49 we’ll see Israel bless Judah by saying, “Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you.” (Genesis chapter 49 verse 8)
Judah is the line from which Messiah comes. Jesus is from the tribe of Judah. And not only from Judah, but from Tamar as well — she’s only one of four women named in the genealogy of Christ found in Matthew chapter 1. (see Matthew chapter 1, verse 3) His righteousness is His own, and isn’t derived from His ancestors (on His human side). Yet He’s not ashamed to be associated with the likes of Judah, or other sinners, such as you and me. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (see Mark 2:14-17)
We’re reminded again of how God does His work. His choices are made by grace and not by merit. He accomplishes His work organically. (see previous post: Serious Questions About How God Does Things)
He uses real people.
He uses people who make mistakes.
He uses sinners like you and me.
His treatment of Judah and Tamar in His genealogy is an amazing example of how gracious He is. It’s as though He’s saying,
Live for Me and I’ll even take your mistakes, and use them to link you to Christ.
[Image via TenaciousR, Creative Commons]
Walton, Matthews, Chavalas, (2000) IVP Bible Background Commentary, Old Testament
He was going down the street near her corner, walking along in the direction of her house at twilight, as the day was fading, as the dark of night set in. Then out came a woman to meet him, dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent. (She is unruly and defiant, her feet never stay at home; now in the street, now in the squares, at every corner she lurks.) She took hold of him and kissed him and with a brazen face she said: “Today I fulfilled my vows, and I have food from my fellowship offering at home. So I came out to meet you; I looked for you and have found you! I have covered my bed with colored linens from Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. Come, let’s drink deeply of love till morning; let’s enjoy ourselves with love! My husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey. He took his purse filled with money and will not be home till full moon.” With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life. Now then, my sons, listen to me; pay attention to what I say. Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths. Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death.