God throws A curveball. I don’t watch much baseball, but watched the last part of a recent mini MLB playoff game. The game ended with the pitcher throwing what looked like a fastball ~~ just as the batter took a mighty swing, the ball nosedived in front of the plate. God is constantly throwing curveballs. Not everything is as it seems.
The main idea holding the Bible together is God’s promise. /commitment. God always does what he says he will do. God did not accept sin and destruction but promised he would bring salvation to those who accept Him. The promise was given to Abraham… Isaac… Jacob. God spoke of a nation of people that would be faithful and follow Him. Jacob (Israel) has 12 sons. Each of these sons has children and from that point on there is an explosion of growth. Turns out the fast growing family of Israel are still people that are sinners and often reject God. As time goes on, God’s promise is refined. God speaks through his prophets that out of Israel will come one Savior who will redeem sinners. Today we know his name: Jesus Christ.
One of the major questions as you study the Bible is with whom does the promise rest? God has a master curveball. Reading Genesis, it seems clear the keeper of the promise must be JOSEPH… chapter after chapter is devoted to Joseph. Joseph is a great story with division, deceit, selfishness, reconciliation, transformation. Then you get to the irritating Gen. 38 about a crazy bully brother named Judah that is so immoral he mistakes his daughter-in-law for a prostitute and sleeps with her. Genesis 38 is nobodies favorite chapter.
Judah’s sins. Surprise: in terms of the big arc of God’s promise leading to Jesus Christ, Genesis 38 is the main story; Joseph is a curveball. Isn’t that the way God works. You think God has abandoned you. You think you are not worthy. Every month I talk to dozens of people, hundreds every year, thousands every decade…. We live at a time and in a place where many people know they are sinners, they know they have made bad choices, they do not feel they deserve to be blessed by God….they live in a Gen. 38 mindset that seems dirty, wondering how could God bless such behavior… I don’t need to convince most people I talk to they are sinners. I try to point them to Jesus Christ as the one who came to bless them, to love them, to care for them… Judah is proof positive God is in the business of redeeming sinners, even vulgar immoral bullies like Judah… This is a story of grace, God makes everything beautiful in it’s time. In terms of God’s promise being handed down, one of the most important verses in the book of Genesis is one we hate: the end of Gen. 38:18 [Tamar] became pregnant by [Judah]….
The promise of God is passed down to Judah. Judah is not the first born of Jacob… not a son of Jacob’s favorite wife… back in Gen. 37 when the brothers of Joseph conspire to throw Joseph into a pit, it is Judah that suggests they sell him into slavery and concoct a story to tell their father Jacob that he was killed by a wild animal. Good for Judah for not killing Joseph, but making money by selling him as a slave is hardly noble. That is how Joseph goes to Egypt. God had a plan, but sin is sin even if God brings good of it.
After Joseph is sold into slavery, comes the disturbing Gen. 38 about Judah and Tamar. Gen. 38:1-2 says, READ. Judah was a disappointment to his father by marrying a woman from another nationality. Taking a wife outside of the faith is the problem…
Judah is low character. He has three sons with Shua the Caananite. The oldest marries a local woman, Tamar. Er is so evil the Lord puts him to death, doesn’t say what the evil is… (Gen. 38:7.) As was the custom of the day, the 2nd son marries Tamar, but he refuses to have a child with her and is put to death (Gen. 38:8-10). Shelah, Judah’s youngest, is too young to be married, so Judah sends Tamar away. READ Gen. 38:11. Judah is blaming Tamar. He is shunning Tamar.
The low point for Judah comes when his wife dies. Tamar hears Judah will be in her neck of the woods, so she disguises herself. I could be wrong, but I don’t see that the Bible says she disguised herself as a prostitute: it is Judah that jumps to that conclusion. Tamar disguises herself, Judah sees her and assumes she is a prostitute (Gen. 38:13-22). Judah sleeps with her; Tamar becomes pregnant. He gives her his seal and staff to hold intending to later send a goat in payment… that’s like his drivers license… Judah isn’t all that bright (typical guy J)… when Tamar cannot be located, he resolves to drop the matter hoping it goes away (READ Gen. 38:23). Case closed… Judah’s sins are hidden. /// God has other ideas…
When we do wrong, why is our first line of defense to hope it goes away… but that doesn’t change us… Our bad behavior will eat us up if we don’t deal with it. Judah says to let the matter drop, it’s too embarrassing…. Our bad behavior will eat us up if we don’t deal with it. I like the story of the Pastor. on his way to church he’d pass the local golf course, often seeing church members playing golf and not going to church. He was jealous. One Saturday he decided to skip church and play golf. He said he was sick and made arrangements for a substitute speaker. Sunday morning came and the pastor loaded up the clubs and drove an hour away to a course where nobody would recognize him. An angel was watching. And the angel nudged God and said, “look at this…” you’ve really got to punish the pastor for playing golf on a Sunday morning. God winked at the angel. The angel was getting ready for lightning or something to punish the pastor. The pastor tees up at the first hole, takes a swing ~~ a hole in one. The angel is shocked. The same thing happens for the next 17 holes. a perfect score! The angel says to God, I thought you were going to punish him. God winked again. “I did,” God said, “Whose he going to tell?” Your sins will eat at you if you don’t deal with them…
Judah just wants the problem to go away, but God has other plans…
Confession and Redemption. About three months later it says in Gen. 38:24, Judah is told Tamar is pregnant. A whore. Judah says, burn her to death. Judah had been blaming Tamar all along for his own sons death. Killing her, to him, is justified revenge. He had withheld his third son from her even though he was now grown. Kill her.
You may have a different idea from me, but for me, I do not blame Tamar for this shameful episode. She is stuck. She is desperate…when people are desperate it’s amazing the decisions they make… Judah is the patriarch of his family and she has no options…Tamar is under his authority; she is blamed and shunned. Judah keeps his third son away from her… Tamar is desperate. We have desperate people around us, victims of a life they did not choose, caught in situations with no easy out…
Tamar has wisdom… she presents to Judah his seal and staff; instantly he realizes he is guilty. At last a noble statement from Judah in Gen. 38:26: “She is more righteous than I.” //// This is the turning point of redemption because he is admitting his sins. Tamar gives birth to twin boys, and the first born, Perez, who was almost the second born, is heir to the promise. God is wild. The heir is not Judah’s child #1, 2, 3, but #4 who was almost #5, born not to his wife, but to his daughter-in-law. After this crazy story, you’d never guess God would use the sins of Judah to be heir of the promise of God. You never know how God will use you. Don’t ever take anybody for granted, assuming they are beyond living a godly life… Tamar, a Caananite woman, shunned, sentenced to death, even makes it onto the list of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.
Later, Judah appears as a hero of the Joseph story. He is a redeemed man, a humble man, willing to sacrifice himself. A drought hits Canaan where Jacob, his sons and their families are living. They have no idea Joseph has risen to be a leader in Egypt and has saved grain for the drought. Jacob sends his sons to buy grain. They don’t recognize Joseph. Joseph recognizes his brothers and tests them. Joseph finds out there is another brother he’s never met, Benjamin, his only full brother. Joseph sends grain home with the brothers and says don’t return unless they bring Benjamin… Back home Jacob is heartbroken at the thought of losing Benjamin.
the famine continues. The need for food is great. The family needs more food but Jacob hesitates. Judah has an emotional plea (READ Gen. 43:8-9). Jacob relents… Joseph again tests the brothers, gives them grain, sends them home and Joseph plants a silver cup in Benjamin’s bag of grain… Joseph’s men hunt down his brothers, find the cup, and all return to Joseph’s court. Joseph wants all the brothers to go back to their father, but Benjamin. Listen to Judah’s response. Is this the same man that concocted the plan to sell Joseph into slavery earlier? The same man that blamed Tamar when his sons were killed, shunned Tamar, slept with Tamar, tried to cover up his sins, wanted to kill Tamar? This is a redeemed Judah ~ a different man. READ Gen. 44:30-34.
Who would ever think when reading Gen. 38 Judah, of all the brothers, would be heir to the promise of God? Who would ever think of Judah and Tamar as the heirs in line with the coming Messiah… one person seemed to know: Judah’s father Jacob. At the end of Jacob’s life in Gen. 49, Jacob blesses each of his twelve sons. Judah’s blessing is really the only one that stands out. Judah was not first born, he was not a son of his favorite wife, he was not the youngest, Judah took Joseph from Jacob. // Jacob saw his son was changed. God made something beautiful in his time. Some of these blessings are crazy…. Jacob says to Reuben your strong now but you’ll grow weak, He compares his son Dan to a snake, Simeon and Levi are violent, Gad will fall, Joseph has a good blessing when Jacob says he will be fruitful… only one blessings of Gen. 49 stands out: Judah. READ Gen. 49:8-12.
You will rise. You will lead. In retrospect this blessing echos Jesus Christ, a humble warrior with a donkey, garments washed in blood… blood signifies death…. Judah is the heir of the promise, which leads directly to Jesus Christ. God’s imperfect family.
God makes everything beautiful in his time. He redeemed Judah, a changed man. He can change you. He can make you beautiful. God seems to like curveballs so don’t be fooled. He knows you. He knows your needs. He is not overlooking you. You are as important as anyone. You are the reason Jesus died. You are the reason Jesus was raised from the dead! You’ll never find wholeness by trying hard, or hiding your sins, but rather you must be broken, recognize your sins, and confess that you can only go forward through the blood of Jesus Christ. God transformed the sinner Judah into a mighty saint. God has made everything beautiful in its time. Amen.