Genesis 38: When your past comes back to bite you in the…

There isn’t much of anything I enjoy more than when justice is served. And of course, this means that I like it when a criminal is caught and brought to trial, or when someone races past me on the highway, and I see them pulled over by a police officer a few miles ahead. But I enjoy it even more when those who are less able to fend for themselves get the retribution they deserve. This is what happens in the story in Genesis 38.

The story begins by telling how Judah (Jacob’s son) married a Canaanite woman and had 3 sons of his own. The oldest son, Er, married a woman named Tamar. Er was wicked and God decided to put him to death, so as was the custom of the day, Judah told Er’s brother Onan to step up and sleep with Tamar so that Er could have offspring (a little twisted reasoning, I guess, but that’s just the way it was). Onan didn’t want to give his dead brother children, so he ended up ‘withdrawing’ himself from the situation (pun intended…). God saw this as wicked and had Onan put to death as well.  Judah didn’t want to give his youngest son Shelah to Tamar (everyone who was with her seemed to die!), so he sent her back to her father’s house, which we end up learning later is in Timnah, a little north and west of Hebron. A while later, Judah’s wife dies,  and after mourning for her, he takes his sheep up to Timnah to have them sheared. Tamar hears that he is coming, so she veils herself and waits for Judah. When Judah sees her, he thinks she is a prostitute and propositions her, but she demands something in return. He promises her a goat (weird payment for those kinds of services if you ask me…), but she demands something as a pledge that he will actually send the goat, so he gives her his seal, his cord, and his staff. I assume that these are valuable to Judah, and that they can be traced back to him. Anyway, Judah sleeps with her and impregnates her, and he goes on his merry way. He tries to have a goat sent to her and to get his stuff back, but Tamar couldn’t be found, so he decides to leave things be.  After a couple of months, people find out that Tamar is pregnant out of wedlock, so the people come to Judah and tell him that she is guilty of prostitution. Judah automatically says to have her killed (burned to death, of all things!). But Tamar has Judah’s seal, cord, and staff sent to him to show that he is the father of her soon-to-be twins.  So Judah proclaims “She is more righteous than I…”.

BOOM! I love it when justice is served! Going by the standards of that day and time, Judah was obligated to give his son Shelah to Tamar, but he thought he could circumvent the rules and just send Tamar away. Unfortunately for Judah, God had a plan for Tamar (her son Perez was in the genealogical line of Jesus), so Judah wasn’t able to just throw her away. Because she was a woman and they didn’t have as much say-so back then, there wasn’t much she could do, but when she heard that Judah was coming, she thought she could disguise herself and get closer to him. I’m not sure what she planned to do – it doesn’t make it sound like she was intending to make herself a prostitute. But Judah, whose conscience is not as clear in this whole thing, thought she was and for some reason when he asked her, she accepted. Not a great decision on her part (she got pregnant!), but it was because of that decision that Judah had to eat his words. And when someone who thinks they are above the law gets caught doing something shameful and has to eat their words, I say that justice is served. And I like it.  A lot.

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Filed under Bible Study, Genesis

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