Introduction: In this week’s notes, God offers us a contrast between the godly suffering of Joseph and the licentious freedom of Judah. Various reasons have been offered to explain why Moses interrupts the story of Joseph to record Judah’s sinful exploits in marriage here. Of one thing we can be sure: God cares about the way we live, and wants to use the sinful failures of His people of old as a warning to us to avoid their lives of unbelief (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-6). May this sober chapter’s meditation on Judah produce from our hearts the cry: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Monday: read Genesis 38:1-2; 38:16 & Psalm 105:17-19. Though enjoying freedom and standing in Canaan as one called one day to be a leader in Israel, Judah shows us that freedom can at times be more dangerous for our holiness than affliction. Joseph is enslaved; but with God’s help, he is able to resist the temptation of Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39:1-10). Judah, with all the privileges of his station as a free man, shows himself a man enslaved to his lusts, pursuing first a Canaanite woman and then his own daughter-in-law (compare Gen. 38:2 with 38:16). It is much better to have the iron of affliction on our necks while the Word of God proves itself true in our lives – as happened to Joseph according to Psalm 105:17-19 while in prison in Egypt – than to enjoy the bitter pleasures of sin with Judah for a time.
Meditate and Pray: When we suffer affliction, let us ask God to remind us that such trials keep us from becoming spiritual monsters fed by our own lusts. Let us pray with the first and fourth verses of the following hymn that the Lord would always restrain us from the allurements of soul-destroying sin:
Make me a captive, Lord,
and then I shall be free.
Force me to render up my sword,
and I shall conqueror be.
I sink in life’s alarms
when by myself I stand;
imprison me within thine arms,
and strong shall be my hand.
My will is not my own
till thou hast made it thine;
if it would reach a monarch’s throne,
it must its crown resign.
It only stands unbent
amid the clashing strife,
when on thy bosom it has leant,
and found in thee its life. (George Matheson, 1890) # 687 Trinity Hymnal
Tuesday: read Genesis 38:1-5. Until we are tested, we think that we are impervious to temptation and that we can live on our own strength. But when temptation comes, we quickly see the foulness of our hearts. Judah shows us such a heart, disregarding God’s law and parental concern by taking a Canaanite woman as his wife in Gen. 38:2 – even though warnings against such marriages had been repeatedly given (see Gen. 24:3; 27:46 & 28:1). In this way Judah walks with open eyes into years of compromise and heartache, producing sons who appear to be just as self-centered as he is.
Meditate and Pray: Pray for our nation, and for our churches, that the Lord would deliver us from compromise and friendship with the world, and that in our local church especially, godly parents would have the strength and courage to raise godly offspring who will fear the Lord and follow Him as they grow up.
Wednesday: read Genesis 38:1-10 & Genesis 15:12-15. The bitter fruit of Judah’s unbelieving marriage does not take long to show itself in his older sons. Er’s unnamed wickedness, just as Onan’s refusal to care for his widowed sister-in-law through the God-ordained institution of Levirate marriage, produce untimely deaths for both men, proving that unfaithfulness to God’s ways can blight our life on earth as well as imperil our souls for heaven. Such terrible judgments should prompt us to cry: “How can we deliver our families from this terrible cycle of deadly indulgence in sin?” Well, it is simply not in the power of parents or grandparents to change the hearts of offspring determined to pursue the pathway of sin. Abraham learned that this was out of his control as a grandfather when he fell asleep in Gen. 15:12 and became a spectator to what God alone could do to deliver his grandchildren from sin’s bondage: Take them to Egypt and the fiery furnace of 400 years of slavery!
Meditate and Pray: How thankful we should be that God was already laying plans to extract the sons of Jacob, including Judah, from the pollutions of Canaan. It would be good for Judah and his descendants to suffer 400 years of slavery in Egypt and to leave behind the compromise and loose living of Canaan. Are you living in a hard situation of family trial or temptation? Do you fear that the next generation will not be able to stand in God’s Grace though called by His Name? Be assured that God has His plan already in place to rescue you and yours when sin and temptation become overwhelming – just as through Joseph Judah and his brothers will be delivered from all their old sins in the land of their birth by making the journey to Egypt.
Thursday: read Genesis 38:6-14. Judah’s response to the deaths of both his sons is to superstitiously assume that the problem is with Tamar his daughter-in-law in Gen. 38:11, whom he puts off as far as any marriage responsibility is concerned. How blind is Judah to God’s judgments on his family as he blames Tamar for the death of his sons! Judah failed to reckon with the seriousness of the sin of the male members of his household, especially underestimating the wrong done to Tamar by them. What then was the responsibility of Judah and his sons towards Tamar? One word: inheritance. In Levirate marriage (as explained in Deuteronomy 25:5-6), the duty of giving a widow to another member of the family as a wife hinged on the need for the dead man’s name and inheritance not to be lost by death. The dead man’s brother was to father a son with the widow in order to ensure that the dead husband’s property would not be sold off but would stay the possession of the widow and her children. In this way, the security of the widow was ensured, as she would have a son to care for the family possessions as well as his aging mother. For Judah to neglect this important provision for Tamar, therefore, was to intentionally damage not only her future but the future of covenant offspring to be born of her. God always judges such sin against innocent future generations.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for His care for the weakest members of society. He especially cares for the widow and the orphan, and for the impoverished who have nowhere to look for help except to Him. Worship the Lord as He is described in Psalm 146:6-7: “The Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them – the Lord, who remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.” What glorious, exalted power combined with compassionate, condescending grace!
Friday: read Genesis 38:13-14 & Ephesians 5:22-32. There can scarcely be anything as lonely and desperate in the whole of the Bible as this Tamar, dressing herself up as a prostitute for male attention and seeking to seduce her father-in-law, as we will see in next week’s notes. What neglect from Judah’s family there must have been to drive this woman to the inexcusable sin of prostitution. This is especially dishonorable to see in the tribe of Judah, which was destined to father all the Kings of Judah, including the Messiah Jesus Christ. No wonder God responds with such terrible judgments against His royal tribe!
But this is nothing isolated in this royal family. As we have been discovering in our sermon series on King David’s life, this area of neglecting the duties of faithful marriage seems to run rampant in the household of David, with his multiple wives, and in his son Solomon’s palace too, with his hundreds of wives and concubines. It seems that the Devil sought early on to mar the institution of marriage in the highest places in Israel, in order to obscure God’s glorious plan to send His Son, great David’s Greater Son, to claim His Bride on the cross.
Meditate and Pray: How we should thank God, that in sending His Son as the royal bridegroom (see Ephesians 5:22-32), God restored the glory of what marriage was meant to be. In fact, Jesus the Son of David’s saving work actually revealed the deepest meaning of marriage, hidden as the Apostle Paul says, “as a mystery” until Christ came (Eph. 5:32).
How wonderful then, that no matter how bitter our family or marriage experiences may have been in this life, no matter how lonely we might have been, even perhaps never knowing the joys of marriage on earth, we can know the highest purpose of marriage in union to Jesus Christ. After all, He is the only Eternal Husband of the Church! May God give us, as we continue to study the Old Testament, more and more glimpses of the beauty of Jesus Christ, the Lover of our souls, so that we heed these verses of Psalm 45 in hymn # 169 verse 5:
“Amid your glorious train kings’ daughters waiting stand, and fairest gems bedeck your bride, the queen at your right hand. O royal bride give heed, and to my words attend; for Christ, the King, forsake the world and ev’ry former friend.”