Have you ever wondered if the Lord is sometimes random? Take Genesis 38, for example. For the first 11 chapters of Genesis, the Lord revealed how He created everything, why Mankind rebelled against Him, and how our ‘independence’ only gets worse. Then for 25 more chapters, He unfolded His history with Abraham, Issac, and Jacob and their rocky but blessed roads. And we just begin reading about Joseph (Jacob’s youngest son at the time), who, by the way, is the primary focus of the rest of the book when…”STOP!”…God jumps to a strange, disturbing account of Jacob and Tamar.
If you haven’t read that far yet, I’ll summarize for you. But read it for yourself. It’s worth every detail. The Lord had individually called Abraham and his son, Isaac, and Isaac’s son, Jacob, as part of His same covenant: a permanent bond in blood. And each had their own major hurdles and doubts, but the Lord proved His faithfulness every time. Still, if you’ve read the whole book, it seems that Joseph accomplished more than any of them.
After all, he eventually ruled over all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh (Genesis 41:40-41). He supervised the storage of food and saved the whole country from starvation, and he rescued his father (now “Israel”) and all his family by bringing them to Egypt where God greatly blessed them.
So, again, what is going on with the weird interruption of chapter 38? Let’s see.
Judah had three sons by a Canaanite woman, and the oldest, Er, had married Tamar. But the Lord put him to death because of his wickedness. Then, in order to maintain Er’s family line, his brother, Onan, married her. But God killed that wicked man, too. And, apparently, the last brother was too young to marry. Judah told Tamar she would have to wait for him to grow up. But the last brother did grow up, and it looked like Judah had either forgotten his promise or changed his mind about tough-luck-Tamar. In the meantime, Judah’s wife died, and he decided to “comfort himself” with a prostitute.
Or so he thought.
In reality, Tamar had disguised herself as a prostitute to trick her father-in-law to get herself pregnant.
To make a long story short, she did become pregnant. And Judah was going to have her killed (not yet knowing he was the father), but she proved to him that he had done the dirty deed. So then he praised her for “keeping the spirit of Judah’s promise to maintain the family line and acting with more righteousness than himself.
How does an incestuous encounter between two deceivers warrant interrupting the amazing story of the much more impressive Joseph?! Seriously, of all the people in the Bible, he is one of the few who seems fairly flawless – except maybe for his apparent lack of discretion in sharing his God-given dreams of grandeur with his jealous brothers.
But that is the very point of Genesis 38. Joseph is not the hero. In fact, his actual legacy did not extend much beyond the short-term physical security of Israel.
As you probably know, when Israel’s numbers exploded because of God’s blessings, a different Pharaoh soon enslaved them for over 400 years. And Joseph’s personal lineage paled in comparison to Judah’s. The descendants of Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, became the two half-tribes among the northern kingdom of Israel (after they split under Solomon’s son). It’s easy to note that all of those tribes were consistently rebellious against the Lord, for they were also the first to be taken captive (2 Kings 17:6).
Judah’s descendants, however, became the more faithful and prosperous tribe. Even a quick glance at the kings of Israel (the 10 northern tribes) shows all of them to be evil men. Most of Judah’s kings, however, were generally men of faith and faithfulness.
But how can this be? What sense does this make? Joseph was immeasurably more impressive than his older brother Judah. Again, that’s the point. We are not to fall into hero-worship of Joseph or any person. Take a look at Matthew 1:1-16, especially verse 3.
One of Tamar’s twin sons was in the physical lineage of Mary’s son. Jesus.
In fact, in Matthew’s traditional Jewish lineage of Jesus (through the mother, as opposed to Luke’s lineage through Mary’s husband, Joseph, written to more of a Gentile audience), there are five women mentioned, and all of them are marked as undeserving: Tamar (the deceptive daughter-in-law), Rahab (it seems the prostitute of Joshua 2 and 6:17), Ruth (of Moab with whom Israelites were not to intermarry), the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba, the victim of David’s adultery), and Mary, the pregnant pre-wed virgin. So what is the point?
The God of grace is our hero. He comes to those who are undeserving to rescue us from ourselves, to forgive and change us to become people who trust and follow Him, just as Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary did. And God has come in the flesh in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ to be our Hero in the truest most necessary sense. He rescues us, not merely from physical famine as Joseph did, but from spiritual starvation. The Lord Jesus does not merely bring us physical security in a stronger country. He brings us eternal security with Himself in the New Earth (Isaiah 65:17ff, Hebrews 11:16 and 13:14, 2 Peter 3:7-13, and Revelation 21-22). He was, is, and always will be our only Savior and King (John 18:33-36, Hebrews 13:8, Revelation 1:8, etc.).
So why didn’t God just put the account of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38 between Genesis 35 and 36 instead? That might have been a smoother, genealogical and chronological flow. It seems that there are at least two reasons.
First, interrupting the story of Joseph’s bloody rags-to-riches story does exactly what it did: it forces us to stop and ask “why?” After all, the Lord consistently calls us to understand and meditate on the deeper, rich meaning of His salvation (Isaiah 1:18, John 15:15, Acts 17:11, etc.). And second, if we dig deeper as we just did, it reminds us that we are not to put our ultimate hope in any human being – no matter what their position of power or apparently extraordinary abilities.
If you’re reading this post at the time of its original publication, you know that the United States just elected its 45th President. And as is the case with every election, many seem to see him as their greatest hope for physical safety and prosperity and even for spiritual renewal.
He is not.
For whatever real good he may or may not do, neither they nor any government official, husband, parent, CEO, neighborhood role model, or celebrity must be our primary focus of hope and joy. Our only Hero is to be the Lord Jesus. When we focus our faith to follow Christ in active obedience, we will not sit back and wait for a mere man or woman to work worldy accomplishments for us. Our only hope and certain future is by His grace to call the undeserving to follow Him. Can I get an “amen!”?
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