Nobody else is counting, but I am. This is my fiftieth blog in the series titled, “Recipients of God’s Great Grace.” In these posts, we have reviewed fifty Biblical individuals or groups that received God’s unmerited, undeserved, unwarranted, and unlimited grace. Their stories are similar, yet diverse. Rich and poor, powerful and helpless, Jewish and Gentile, men and women, each received what none deserved. As I have continued to explore the pages of Holy Scripture and review the stories of other people, all of them unworthy, I’ve discovered scores more who received God’s mercy and grace. So, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll continue this series.
Yesterday we considered Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, whose name appears in Matthew’s genealogy of the Messiah, Christ Jesus (Matthew 1:2-17). At close examination of the list, the reader finds the names of five women. This is unusual and unexpected. Genealogies in ancient times listed only the names of men. Women were rarely, if ever, named. The first female in Jesus’ genealogy is Tamar (Matthew 1:3), the mother of twin boys, Perez and Zerah (Genesis 38:27-30).
Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, a.k.a. Israel, rebelliously married a Canaanite woman, a godless pagan. Their marriage produced three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. When his first-born son was grown, “Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar” (Genesis 38:6).
The next verse is a bit shocking. “Now Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the Lord’s sight, and the Lord put him to death” (Genesis 38:7). We can be comforted to know that God’s justice is always just. We reap what we sow. Because Er was evil, God killed him.
I don’t pretend to understand what God was thinking when he inspired Moses to write Deuteronomy 25:5-6. But He did. That law, referred to as the Law of Levirate Marriage, required Judah to give Tamar to his second son. Yuk! Are you ready for another shock? When Onan refused to obey God’s law, God “put him to death also” (Genesis 38:10).
Now… Judah had three sons, but two of were in Boot Hill. Only Shelah remained alive, still too young for marriage. Judah didn’t want his only son to marry the black widow, so he sent his daughter-in-law home to her momma. Eventually, Shelah grew up, but Judah disobeyed God’s law, refusing to allow his only son to marry Tamar, his brother’s widow.
During sheep-shearing season, either in the spring or fall, Judah, now a widower, went to Timnah. Along the way, Judah’s lustful eyes fell upon a prostitute, so he stopped to pay her an unholy visit. When she negotiated payment, he promised to send a sheep from his flock, but she demanded collateral. “ ‘What should I give you?’ he asked. She answered, ‘Your signet ring, your cord, and the staff in your hand.’ So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him” (Genesis 38:18). A few days later, when he returned with the sheep, the prostitute had vanished. “Oh well…”
Three months after Judah’s immoral tryst, he was told that his daughter-in-law was pregnant. Indignantly, Judah demanded that she be put to death for her evil ways. But guess what she had in her possession to prove the identity for her baby’s father? Yep! She had Judah’s signet ring, his cord, and his staff. The prostitute was Tamar, Judah’s daughter-in-law.
I’m not making this up… read Genesis 38! It would be humorous if it wasn’t so sad!
But here’s what is so amazing. Israel’s first-born son isn’t listed in the genealogy of Jesus. Judah, Israel’s fourth son is in the Messianic lineage. The “Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Genesis 49:8-12) is born generations after Judah’s sinful encounter with his daughter-in-law, an assumed prostitute… “Judah fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Aram… and Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Messiah” (Matthew 1:3, 16). That’s amazing. That’s grace.