Judah and Tamar

38: 1-30

Why is this story here? The conclusion of Chapter 37 would lead beautifully into Chapter 39 without the seeming intervening story of Judah and Tamar. The human author Moses takes us to the edge of our seats with Joseph’s abduction and sale into slavery. But just as Yosef is chained and dragged off to Egypt, Moshe diverts our attention with the far less interesting subplot about Judah’s family. Nonetheless, the Judah storyline is crucial and the Ruach HaKodesh skillfully weaves it into Joseph’s story with powerful effect.

First, the narrative at the end of Chapter 37 leaves us in suspense. No sooner are we informed that Joseph has been sold to Potiphar in Egypt than suddenly we are left to wonder what happened to him. The Judah-Tamar narrative is a detour that takes us, like Joseph’s family, far from him and back to Canaan. Yosef is left alone, where he grows up without his family as Judah marries, raises his sons and they marry as well.

Second, it creates a sharp and unmistakable contrast between Judah’s behavior and Joseph’s character in the next chapter. There Judah marries a Canaanite woman whom he should not have married, then has sex with his ex-daughter-in-law who he thinks is a prostitute, but to draw a distinction, Yosef refuses to fall victim to sexual sin. In contrast to the exemplary moral character that Joseph exhibits in faraway Egypt even though no one was watching him, Judah is in a spiritual free fall.

Third, this chapter gives us perspective in the development of Judah’s character. The impact of Tamar’s actions on Judah adds an unexpected twist to her story. For a man whose life was spinning out of control, his collision with Tamar was more like hitting a cement wall. Twenty-two years later, at the end of Genesis when Judah meets Joseph again, he is a changed man as he pleads for the life of his youngest brother Benjamin and sacrificially takes his place as a slave.

Fourth, this chapter gives us some insight into why the children of Israel needed to spend four hundred years as slaves in Egypt.The sins of Judah in this chapter are merely representative of all the brothers. But because Jesus Christ would come through him, he is the most prominent, and thus used as the example. In this chapter we find that the chosen family begins to intermarry with the Canaanites and to participate in their sins as well. This is exactly what Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were careful not to do. So the four hundred years of slavery in Egypt were necessary for the preservation of the Jewish nation and of the Jewish faith. Because the Egyptians would have little to do with them, they were kept separate, they multiplied, and in their persecution they were forced to rely on God.

Finally, the story points us forward with the birth of Perez, who will become the forefather of both King David and the Messiah Himself. The point is that the Lord will carry out His purposes of 3:15 and the seed of the woman no matter how people act. Even though they may be unfaithful, the sovereign will of the Lord will accomplish His purpose for His people.579 Once again the name of God is absent from this chapter.


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