The thirty-eighth chapter of Genesis tells a most peculiar story involving Judah, the fourth of the twelve sons of Jacob. Here’s the short version...
Judah moved away from his father’s dysfunctional family, selecting a homestead in a Canaanite community. There he chose a Canaanite wife who quickly bore him three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah.
When the boys grew up, Judah arranged for Er to marry a Canaanite woman named Tamar. “Now Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the Lord’s sight, and the Lord put him to death” (Genesis 38:7, CSB).
This left Tamar as a young widow, so Judah told his second son to take Tamar as his wife. He did. But Onan “did evil in the Lord’s sight, so he put him to death also” (Genesis 38:10).
That left Tamar a widow for the second time. Because Judah’s third son, Shelah, was a bit too young for marriage, Tamar was sent to live in her father’s house until Shelah came to claim her as his bride. (I’m not making this up! Read Genesis 38.)
After a while, Judah’s wife died. After a proper period of mourning, Judah went to check on the shepherds who were sheering the sheep at a place called Timnah.
At the same time, Tamar was impatiently waiting for Shelah. So, after hearing that Judah was coming to Timnah, she set a trap for her father-in-law. She dressed up like a prostitute with a veil over her face and sat down by the highway.
Judah, weak and sinful, fell into the trap! “He went over to her and said, ‘Come, let me sleep with you,’ for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, ‘What will you give me for sleeping with me?’ ‘I will send you a young goat from my flock,’ he replied.
But she said, ‘Only if you leave something with me until you send it.’ ‘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 38:16–18, CSB).
Later, Judah returned with the young goat, but surprisingly, no one had ever heard about a prostitute working that street-corner. Oh, well...
About three months later, Judah heard that his daughter-in-law, Tamar, was pregnant. Ever-compassionate and mercy-filled Judah responded, “Bring her out ... and let her be burned to death!” (Genesis 38:24, CSB).
That’s when Tamar brought out the incriminating evidence: the driver’s license, passport and blood sample... oh yes, the signet ring, cord, and staff. She declared, “these belong to the father of my baby!” Gotcha!
Jesus’ genealogy reads, “Abraham fathered Isaac, Isaac fathered Jacob, Jacob fathered Judah and his brothers, Judah fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar...” (Matthew 1:2, CSB).
Do Judah and Tamar deserve to be mentioned in the Lord’s family tree? Do we? Nope... “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20, ESV).