A Lesson in Redemption
Judah, having lost two sons, instructs his daughter-in-law to return to her home as a widow and wait until his third son is old enough to marry, and then he will send for her. After waiting (although the text does not say explicitly) a long period, Tamar gets tired of being childless. She changes her appearance and disguises herself as a city prostitute. When Judah comes to town, she entices him and he sleeps with her. He has no money to pay her, but offers her his ring and staff as a guarantee that payment will come. Months pass and Judah hears that Tamar is pregnant. He calls her a harlot and demands she be burned.
When she appears before Judah, she presents the ring and staff and declares that they belong to the father of her child. Judah recongnizes them and claims she is more righteous than he is, for he failed to give his third son to her. She eventually gives birth to twins, Perez and Zerah, and the chapter ends.
When I was listening to the story, I didn't give it much thought. My initial reaction was that she had sinned in her deception and adultery with Judah. I kept driving down the road as the cd progressed to chapter 39. Then, a few days ago, I was reading everyone's favorite NT passage, Matthew 1, the genealogy of the Messiah. I noticed that the story of Judah and Tamar were part of the lineage. That caused me to dwell on the story even more.
I must confess, I've done only a little reading of Matthean commentaries on this issue and no reading in Genesis commentaries (hence, I now reserve the right to change my opinion about what I am about to write, based on future research). However, I have given this story much thought in recent days. The more I consider it, the more I believe Tamar was not the one at fault in this story. She had a right to bear a child, and it was Judah's responsibility to provide his daughter-in-law with another husband to produce an heir for his first son. By fearing his third son would meet the same end as his first two sons, Judah withheld giving his third son to Tamar (Gen 38.11). Although her method was not what we would consider ethical, she procured a stable future for herself by becoming pregnant (that is, a widow w/o a son in those days had no hope for economic security). Judah was the one at fault, by not fulfilling his duty for his first son.
What does this have to do with redemption? The more I consider God's sovereignty, the more I am convinced that there are more occasions than we are aware of where He redeems our bad choices. This is the case with Judah. His sin (in failing to compose a leverite marriage and in sleeping with a 'temple prostitute') produced Perez, who was one of many in Jesus' genealogy. We always hear of Jesus being from the Tribe of Judah, but we often forget of the circumstances of the relationship between Judah and Tamar.
It has happened to me before. When I was in open rebellion towards God about seven years ago, He orchestrated my circumstances so that while living in Nebraska I would meet a person that would influence my decision and bring me to New Orleans for seminary. Meeting this person in Nebraska allowed me to get my first year of tuition paid for; otherwise, I would never have been able to pay for the tuition. God worked through my sinful rebellion and brought about a 'chance' encounter that turned out for my good.
Now, as I live in Ft. Worth due to Katrina and begin to worry about where I should live or what I will do, part of me is scared to make the wrong decision. However, I trust God's sovereignty to guide my steps and, if necessary, even to redeem my sinful choices. I think that is what He did with Judah in Genesis 38 and I know that is what He did for me in 1999. I am grateful for a God that turns our mistakes into blessings.
posted by Jason Sampler at 5:23 PM