Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – The Irony of Judah (Genesis 37:32-33; 38:25-26)

Genesis 37:32-33; 38:25-26, “And they sent the robe of many colours and brought it to their father and said, ‘This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.’ And he identified it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.’ …As [Tamar] was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law [Judah], ‘By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.’ And she said, ‘Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.’ Then Judah identified them and said, ‘She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.’ And he did not know her again.”

Anybody familiar with the story of Joseph will remember that his brothers, particularly at the leadership of Judah, sold him into slavery. They took their father’s favourite and youngest son from him. We shouldn’t spend too much time determining whether it’s right for parents to play favourites with their children (because it’s not, as the entire story of Joseph tells how it leads to family discord). Rather, immediately after his brothers’ betrayal, we should examine the irony of Judah’s situation.

Judah, the leader of the cabal, conspires to sell Joseph into slavery (37:26-27), and it works. Their father falls for their plot. They give Israel the torn robe of many colours they bloodied up with animal blood, asked him to identify it, and he did (37:32-33). Then ironically, sometime later all of Judah’s sons are wicked and God takes them from Judah (38:6-10). It must’ve seemed to Judah that Tamar was cursed because the sons he was giving her kept dying (because of their wickedness, not because of anything Tamar had done). So, ironically, he fears his youngest son will die and keeps him from her despite his promise to give him to her when he became old enough.

After a string of sinful events with Tamar disguising herself as a prostitute and tricking Judah to lay with her, she asks for his signet, cord, and staff as a pledge that he would give payment for her service (38:12-19). Once it became known she was pregnant, and they were going to put her to death according to their customs, it is made known that Judah is the father through ironic means. Just as Judah and his brothers asked their father to identify the bloodied robe of Joseph, Tamar asks Judah to identify the signet, cord, and staff he had given her, and he does (38:20-26). Israel identifies and loses his youngest son. Judah, after losing two sons, identifies and gains two more sons—Perez and Zerah (38:27-30). Quite spectacularly, the line of Perez would lead to the birth of Jesus, the Messiah (Matthew 1:1-3).

This is one of my favourite stories in the Bible because it tells us two things about God: (1) He is faithful despite our faithlessness (2 Timothy 2:13), and (2) God does His good and gracious will despite our sin. Judah conspired to get his youngest brother sold into slavery; paranoid, he fails to give his youngest son, Shelah, to Tamar as he promised; and he has sex with a woman who’s not his wife, Tamar, whom he thought was a prostitute (which makes it worse). Despite all this, God spited Judah’s various sins to lead to the birth of Christ, the Saviour of the world.

Thus, the lesson here is that sin cannot stop God from doing His work of salvation. To make it personal, your sin cannot stop God from doing His work of salvation for you. It is already completed in Christ in His death and resurrection. Because you believe in Him, you have eternal life (Mark 16:16; John 3:16; 6:47; 11:25). You believe in Him; therefore, you are saved. It really is that simple. No sin you commit “will be able to separate [you] from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

Bibliography

Featured image from Judah and Tamar by Ferdinand Bol (1644). Wikimedia Commons.

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