Genesis 38 - 40
Observe: These verses in Genesis contrast sin and righteousness. After Joseph had been sold into slavery, his older brother Judah, from whose line Jesus would eventually be born, went his own way and married a Canaanite woman. Together, they had three sons named Er, Onan and Shelah. As was the custom, Judah found a wife for Er named Tamar, but Er was such a wicked man that God killed him before he could have children with her. Onan, the second son, was then told by Judah to fulfill his duty to his dead brother and have a child with Tamar so that Er‘s line could continue. But, Onan refused to have a child with Tamar because it would not considered his own, so God killed him, too. Judah then promised Tamar that she could marry Shelah when he was old enough, but Judah failed to keep his promise because he was afraid his youngest son would also die if he married her. After Judah’s own wife had died, he mourned and moved on. Tamar realized that Judah had cheated her, and decided to get even by disguising herself as a prostitute so he would sleep with her and give her a child that way. They negotiated the price of goat, but Tamar didn’t trust Judah, so she asked for a pledge of his signet ring, cord and staff. Judah agreed, the deed was done, and she became pregnant. When Judah found out Tamar was pregnant, he wanted her killed for immorality, but Tamar him the pledge he left her, so Judah knew that his own sin had been found out and didn’t have her killed. Judah realized that Tamar was more righteous than he for not marrying her to Shelah. Tamar later gave birth to twins, Zerah, and Perez.
The story then switches back to Joseph who was sold by his brothers to the Egyptian, Potiphar. Potiphar saw that Joseph was successful in everything he did because the Lord was with him, so he put Joseph in charge of his whole household. Potiphar’s scheming wife tried to get Joseph to sleep with her, but Joseph refused because he didn’t want to wrong Potiphar and, more importantly, he didn’t want to commit sin against God. Rejected, Potiphar’s wife grabbed Joseph clothing, but he ran away leaving a piece of his clothes in her hand. She used Joseph’s clothes to frame him, so he was sent to prison. But, even here the Lord was with him and Joseph was put in charge of all the prison’s activities. While in prison, God enabled Joseph to interpret the dreams of two fellow prisoners: the pharaoh’s cupbearer and the pharaoh’s baker. He interpreted that the cupbearer would be soon be returned to his former position in Pharaoh’s court, but the baker would be executed in three days. He asked the cupbearer to remember him when he was returned to his position. Everything happened just as Joseph said it would, except the cupbearer forgot him.
Interpret: The story of Judah and his dysfunctional family is quite graphic and not a little disturbing. Scripture doesn’t tell us what Er did that was so wicked, but it must have been very serious for God to just strike him dead. Then, there is the description of Onan who would “spill his semen on the ground” whenever he slept with Tamar. In the culture of his day, if a man’s married brother died without having any children, it was his duty to take in his sister-in-law and give her children so his line could carry on. But, Onan didn’t want to give Tamar a baby, because that child would be considered Er’s, and would have all the privileges of first born children over his own. He didn’t seem to have any problem with his own self-gratification, but he wasn’t going to fulfil his familial duty. So his crime wasn’t that he removed himself from Tamar, his crime was not fulfilling his oath. Judah too, seems to have been a morally ambivalent person. First he takes a Canaanite wife, then he deliberately doesn’t allow Shelah to marry Tamar, he hires a prostitute, and finally, and hypocritically, he tries to have Tamar killed for immoral behaviour. Fortunately, Judah eventually does recognize his own sinful ways, and never harms or touches Tamar again. These last verses appear to show a turning point in Judah’s life.
These verses also highlights the contrast between the sexually driven Judah and the chaste Joseph, who we catch up with in the next chapter. Even though Joseph finds himself in one bad situation after another through no fault of his own, he maintains his trust in the Lord, and the Lord remains with him and makes him successful in everything he does. Joseph didn’t want to dishonour his employer, he didn’t want to sin against God, and he gave all the glory to God for his interpretation of dreams. Nevertheless, he goes from being Jacob’s favoured son to being sold into slavery; from being wrongfully thrown into prison to being in position of authority; and from being a prisoner to being the second most powerful person in Egypt. God allows him to experience all the bad as well as all the good things in life in order to be humbled before becoming a great leader.
Application: In these chapters, we see the continuing downward spiral of human sin and disobedience on the one hand and God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises to His chosen people on the other. In Judah, through whose line God will eventually raise up the saviour of all people, Jesus Christ, we can see our own human failings highlighted in his leaving his brothers and family behind to pursue his own way. He falls in with an ungodly crowd, lies to his daughter-in-law, commits adultery and is a hypocrite in pointing out the sin in others while engaging in it himself. In the story of Joseph, we see a whole series of bad things happen to a good man, but ultimately he triumphs over the hardships because God is with him. God continues to keep His promises to His people, and is faithful to us no matter what happens. The stories of these two brothers, Judah and Joseph, laid out side by side, show us the differences in how we can respond to God. One runs away and does his own thing, while the other waits on God to do His will. One is fearful of losing what he has, while the other trusts God to provide what he needs. One gives in to immorality, while the other maintains his integrity. We see that doing things in our own way doesn’t usually turn out veryat well, but when we wait on God to unfold His plan for us, it succeeds so much better. Although Pharaoh’s cupbearer forgot Joseph, God never did. Even Judah, with all his faults, God still fulfilled His promise to bring about the salvation of the peoples through the line of Judah in his greatest descendant, Jesus.
Questions: Have you ever regretted doing something your own way, even though you knew it wasn’t the right way? Have you ever waited patiently on God to show you the right way path to follow? How would you explain the difference to someone who doesn’t know Jesus?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for Your unfailing faithlessness and mercy. You have plans for us from before the foundations of the world were laid. Give us the courage and patience to follow your will for our lives and in our church fellowship. In the mighty and merciful name of Jesus, Amen.
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.