Genesis 38:11-30: Pointing the finger.

“Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, ‘Live as a widow in your father’s household until my son Shelah grows up.’ For he thought, ‘He may die too, just like his brothers.’ So Tamar went to live in her father’s household. 12 After a long time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Judah had recovered from his grief, he went up to Timnah, to the men who were shearing his sheep, and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went with him. 13 When Tamar was told, ‘Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,’ 14 she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16 Not realising that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, ‘Come now, let me sleep with you.’ ‘And what will you give me to sleep with you?’ she asked. 17 ‘I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,’ he said.‘Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?’ she asked.18 He said, ‘What pledge should I give you?’‘Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,’ she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. 19 After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow’s clothes again.20 Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back from the woman, but he did not find her. 21 He asked the men who lived there, ‘Where is the shrine-prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?’‘There hasn’t been any shrine-prostitute here,’ they said.22 So he went back to Judah and said, ‘I didn’t find her. Besides, the men who lived there said, “There hasn’t been any shrine-prostitute here.”’23 Then Judah said, ‘Let her keep what she has, or we will become a laughing-stock. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you didn’t find her.’24 About three months later Judah was told, ‘Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.’Judah said, ‘Bring her out and let her be burned to death!’25 As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. ‘I am pregnant by the man who owns these,’ she said. And she added, ‘See if you recognise whose seal and cord and staff these are.’26 Judah recognised them and said, ‘She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.’ And he did not sleep with her again.27 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 28 As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, ‘This one came out first.’ 29 But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, ‘So this is how you have broken out!’ And he was named Perez. 30 Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out. And he was named Zerah.”NIV

It’s been said that whenever you point a finger at someone else, you point three back at yourself. Why is it that we condemn so vehemently the sins in others we know to be in ourselves (24)? Judah was outraged at the misbehaviour of his daughter-in-law, but didn’t seem concerned about his own antics. At least, not until he was forced to take a look in the mirror (26). Judah did not intend to commit incest, but he was okay, it appears, with fornication. Gordon Wenham, in the ‘New Bible Commentary’, suggests one reason for the inclusion of this story, at this point in Genesis, is to prepare the way for the softer Judah we run into in chapter 44. He was severely chastened, it would seem, by this experience. He got his fingers badly burned.

When we fail to do right by others, we may be the cause of their stumbling. I don’t say this to excuse Tamar’s conduct. She didn’t have to do what she did. But Judah toyed with her regarding his son ‘’Shelah’’ (11, 26). He fuelled her sense of desperation; drove her into a corner. Doesn’t it encourage you, though, to see Tamar in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:3)? The characters we read about in the Bible are not paragons of virtue, but many of them stand out as ‘monuments of mercy’, as someone put it. Jesus came to save the ‘Tamar’s’ of this world; He came to save the likes of you and me.

PRAYER: Thank you Lord, for your ‘amazing grace’.