FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 17, number 8, February 22, 2018
“Judah was the father of Perez and Zorah by Tamar.” -Matthew 1:3a
Scoundrels in the Covenant Line
We find in Genesis 38 the story of Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar, which is pretty problematic to read in family worship with young children. Try explaining this story to your children under twelve or thirteen! Judah, one of the sons of Jacob, who is in the covenant line, departed from his brothers (never a good idea) and sought the friendship of a pagan Adullamite man named Hirah. While there he saw the daughter of Shua, a Canaanite, and as the Scripture often does, reports what happened in graphic detail. He went into her several times, obviously over several years, and she bore him three sons-Er, Onan, and Shelah. Judah gave Tamar (she apparently had no choice in the matter) to his first born son, Er. He was, however, a very wicked man so God struck him dead. Now in order to fulfill the levirate law the second son, Onan, was to marry Er’s wife, Tamar, to make sure she had a posterity. He hated the idea and the Hebrew text makes clear that not once, but multiple times, before finishing the sex act, he wasted his semen on the ground, thus preventing Tamar from bearing a child. God took his life as well. Now it appears that Judah wants no part of his last son also being struck dead by Yahweh, so he kicks the can down the road, and never gets around to giving the third son, Shelah, to Tamar to fulfill his duty to her of fathering a child. So Tamar dutifully waits for Shelah to marry her, but it does not happen.
Next we find that Judah’s wife dies and after mourning her loss for a short period of time, Judah decides to go up to the annual sheep-shearing observance at Timnah. Word gets back to Tamar that Judah will be there, so she disguises herself as a prostitute and waits for Judah to show up. Sounds like she knew he had a propensity for such things. Like clockwork, Judah shows up and solicits her for sex, telling her that he wants to go into her. She cuts a deal, saying that she needs a goat for her services, but must also have a downpayment of his seal and cord as earnest money. He agrees, lays with her, and she becomes pregnant. Three months later Judah hears that his daughter-in-law Tamar is pregnant, and he is livid. “She must be burned to death,” a form of execution for her fornication. But Tamar informs him that the father of the child is the one who owns the seal and cord. Judah is caught red-handed in his lie, deceit, self-righteousness, and fornication.
The time of the birth of the child soon comes and not one, but two sons, are in her womb. The first born is Perez, but Zorah shortly follows. As we turn to Matthew 1 we find the genealogy of the Lord Jesus, and there prominently displayed, without side-stepping the sordidness, is Judah having twins by his daughter-in-law Tamar. They are in the covenant line leading to Jesus the Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Judah and Tamar are not the only scoundrels in the covenant line of the Lord Jesus. Jacob is there too. He was a rip off artist of the highest degree. So is Rahab the harlot. And then there is David, the adulterer and murderer, whose child by Bathsheba, his adulteress, was Solomon, who gave himself repeatedly to foreign women who led him and his people into ruin.
What do we make of this? First, the Bible never sugarcoats anything. We see God’s people, warts and all. Second, while people mean things for evil, God can take their evil deeds and accomplish His purposes through them. Indeed, God works all things together for good (even our lying, deceiving, fornicating, murdering, and whoring after false gods) to those who love Him, and who are called according to His purpose. Three, we ought to be encouraged by the fact that no one is outside the pale of God’s grace. He can save anyone, no matter how wicked and perverse they are. And four, this story is a warning to us all. We all, even those who have been walking with Christ for many years, are capable of the most sordid, vile, and blasphemous acts, just like anyone else.
I wish, for a moment, to focus on numbers three and four, just mentioned. I hope, first, to encourage you. Were you once a wicked, perverse, blasphemous, vile sinner? Were you a deceiver, liar, or unrestrained sex-driven person? Were you given over to pornography, drug or alcohol addiction, or other sordid lifestyles? If so, and if you are now in Christ Jesus by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, then live with a profound sense of wonder and amazement. Indeed, how amazing is the grace of God!
If, however, you claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and persist in such sordidness, then you are in big trouble. Paul says to the saints at Corinth that neither fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, idolators, drunkards, thieves, the covetous, swindlers, or revilers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9,10). While God’s grace is magnificent, while He is long suffering with His people, He will punish the disobedient (2 Thessalonians 1:8,9, Matthew 7:21-23) who refuse to bow the knee to Him in sincere repentance, resulting in a change of lifestyle. Do not presume on the grace of God. Repentance is a gift from God (2 Timothy 2:25).
Finally, consider the warning gleaned from this text. Even if you are sincerely repentant of your sin and give credible evidence of God’s regenerating work in your life, please note that the consequences of sin often last a lifetime. David, for example, the man after God’s own heart, while forgiven of his adultery and murder, suffered the consequences of a family in chaos. Violence, deceit, and dysfunction followed for generations.
Christian, are you taking your sin lightly, presuming upon God’s grace? Are you presently ensnared in sin of any kind, wrongly assuming that you can persist and then repent whenever you feel like it? Don’t do it. Humble yourself and ask God for the gift of repentance. At the same time, we should live in wonder and amazement at the glory of God in the person and work of Christ. In the covenant line are many scoundrels, and you, no doubt, like me, are one of them as well. God’s grace, to the humble and contrite, is always greater than our sin.
1. The Canaanites worshipped Baal and regularly frequented temple prostitutes in the belief that such activity would cause Baal to grant fertility and prosperity to their families, crops, and animals.
2. Levir, from the Latin “a husband’s brother.” See Deuteronomy 25:5,7. If a man died without children, then the brother of the man, if not married, was to marry the brother’s wife, to insure the deceased brother’s name and family would be preserved.