Judah Jeopardizes his Genealogy (verses 1-11)
While Jacob is in the midst of grieving the loss of his son Joseph, Judah attempts to escape his guilty conscience and looks for a fresh start elsewhere. He quickly deviates from the path of loyalty, making friends with Hirah the heathen and then “seeing’ and “taking” the daughter of Shua. Judah first separates himself from God’s people, then associates with pagans, then assimilates to their lifestyle, and finally contaminates himself and his line. Not only does Judah intermarry with the daughters of the nations, but he arranges for his firstborn to intermarry as well. Through Judah’s compromise, the people of God become indistinguishable from the world (c.f. Isaiah 63:19).
Now that Judah has married outside the chosen line and arranged a similar marriage for his son, he now begins losing heirs by the hand of God due to their wickedness. First, the Lord takes Er’s life because he is evil. Then, Onan refuses to perform the duty of a brother-in-law, since doing so would preserve his dead brother’s name and inheritance. Because of Onan’s selfishness and disobedience, the Lord takes his life also. Judah, lacking spiritual discernment, thinks that Tamar is cursed and that she is the cause of his sons’ deaths. He sends her away until the third son is of age, though it becomes obvious that he had no intention of giving him to her in marriage. Unquestionably, there is steep moral decline in the chosen family!
Messianic Messiness (verses 12-23)
Judah’s wife dies and considerable time passes, but Judah has not kept his word regarding Shelah, his son. Tamar implements a plan to secure a son and plays the part of a prostitute. She secures a three-fold pledge that identifies Judah—seal, cord, and staff. Judah’s willingness to take a prostitute reveals how much the culture of the Canaanites had influenced him. Tamar, on the other hand, is more committed to the promises of God than Judah. What she does is an act of faith, based on the promises God has made for the line of Judah.
Mysterious Mercy (verses 24-30)
Judah hears of Tamar’s unfaithfulness to the family—she has acted immorally by practicing prostitution and is now three months pregnant. He is outraged and hypocritically intends to burn her for his own sin. But Tamar puts her plan into action and uses the three items of the pledge to prove that Judah is the father. Now that Judah is exposed, he confesses his guilt and acknowledges that Tamar is more righteous than him. After a lifetime of blaming others, Judah recognized his own guilt. Marking a turning point in his own life, he owns his sin and exonerates Tamar (c.f. Proverbs 28:13; 2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 32). We do not have to admire Tamar’s strategy, but we can admire her determination to achieve the goal.
Tamar is pregnant with twins, one of whom is Perez. From the line of Perez comes King David, and from the line of David, the Messiah. Royal lineage results from unrighteous means. Tamar, whom Judah once considered cursed, has now become a model of blessing (c.f. Ruth 4:12). Though she was once a childless, abused, discarded harlot, God intervened and she becomes mother to the Messiah!
- Judah was a religious hypocrite; Tamar was a worldly sinner. Both were recipients of God’s grace. Which of the two does your past reflect? Do you ever think your past is too messy? Your family is too dysfunctional? Whatever sin characterizes your past or present, “He who knew no sin became sin for us!” Because of the grace that flows through Christ, God uses unlikely people with very imperfect backgrounds to accomplish His purposes. There are no second-class Christians. There are only those who are adopted into His love through the blood of Christ.