Before you read: Judah (another of the 12 sons of Jacob) had three sons. The oldest married a woman named Tamar but died before having children. According to the law, the man’s brother needed to marry the widow and give her children “for” the dead brother – to carry his name. So Judah’s second son married Tamar but – amazingly – he also died before giving her children. Now Judah needs to give Tamar his third and final son but he’s scared to, and doesn’t.
Read Genesis 38:12-30
This is a bizarre story, and feels very random. We’ve just started reading about Joseph (there’s lots more about him), and suddenly the story cuts away to this nasty bit about Joseph’s older brother Judah and his underhanded dealing with Tamar.
Nobody looks good in this story.
The customs of the time mystify us. Why should a widow have to marry her dead husband’s brother? Why would a woman get burned for prostitution but not a man? What was so very wrong about Judah not giving Shelah to Tamar to marry?
And why is this story here at all? It will never be mentioned again. We will never learn what happens to Judah, Tamar, and the twins.
But their names will come up. We won’t know anything about their story except this one episode, but we will see their names in unexpected places, because God is doing something here that is going to have profound implications for you and me.
He does stuff like that.
Just for a second, he takes the spotlight off Joseph and shines it into this dark corner where Judah and Tamar are sneaking around because he knows that later, much, much, later – their story will matter.
We don’t need to know why yet.
He can introduce something to the story, like a new colored thread into a tapestry, and then seem to take it away completely, only to have it show up later in a glorious explosion of color. He can work in this moment now, and at the same time be getting things ready for moments so far ahead we might not see them in our lifetime.
Judah and Tamar can’t see all this. Caught up in their own sorrow, conflicts, and fear, their lives seem to them to be only trouble. How can they know that God has set them apart for a special blessing?
They don’t yet.
But God’s not done with them.
He’s still writing their story.