The Genesis 38 story of Judah and Tamar is a powerful message of redemption within the family tree of Jesus. God using for good what seemed born of sin and brokenness shows once again that His grace can work miracles in the most unlikely of circumstances. In fact, the very “breakthrough” birth of their first son, Perez, comes before the anticipated earlier arrival of his twin brother, Zerah. This follows a pattern throughout the book of Genesis, whereby God reverses the expected order of blessing and favour in families, a sign to us that He still gives hope to the underdog and that He still “chooses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27).
We see Judah, the father-in-law of Tamar, who is obliged to provide for her according to custom. His two eldest sons, once married to her, have both died. The context seems to show Judah presuming her to be responsible in some way, so he somewhat understandably reneges on the pledge of his third son.
Tamar’s pursuit of justice for the shame of her social isolation comes in the form of sexual solicitation, as she disguises herself as a prostitute. Knowing too well that Judah will pursue her (albeit unaware of her identity) and that she (and not he) will be brought to account, Tamar is ultimately destined to be burned alive when her subsequent pregnancy is brought to her supposed protector. She shocks him into a spiritual awakening, though, upon presenting his signet and staff left as payment for her services. He had not previously recognised her, but he had not recognised his true self either.
“She is more righteous than I,” laments Judah. He now truly sees. Perhaps his realisation of the greater sin of failing to provide for his dependent daughter-in-law later results in him offering to substitute for his brother Benjamin as prisoner of the Prince of Egypt (another of his brothers, Joseph, who he also ironically does not recognise). The later “Lion of the tribe of Judah”, aka Jesus, redeems us from the prince of this world, Satan, though, by contrast, being fully aware of taking our place.
It is only as we see with the eyes of faith that we become truly aware of who we are without God’s grace in our lives. We can then appreciate its magnitude in saving us from sin’s ravages and for making us who we then become as a new creation in Christ. Lest we think our sins be mere seeds of triviality compared with others’ more advanced misdeeds, these can grow to bear the fruit of destruction. We can be deceived when we do not yet see. Even the smallest of sins is sufficient to see us fall foul of the perfect justice of God our judge, anyway.
Our own breakthrough comes as God redeems our future through a infusion of His grace in the form of accepting Christ’s sacrifice for our sin. Our every imperfection, nailed to his perfect sacrifice on Calvary’s cross, is exchanged for His righteousness when we accept this free gift for ourselves and live under His Lordship of our lives thereafter. The penalty is then lifted and we are cleansed of sin and given our new identity in Christ.
Only then do we see as God wants us to see. Only then are we free, just as He desires us to be free. Only then do we live as He truly wants us to live.