Scandalous Heritage

With the recent news about scandals and cover ups saturating my brain, the question I’ve been pondering is

When should a Christian cover sin from the public eye?

As I look to the Bible’s example, I conclude one of the answers is … we should never cover sin to save our own reputation, or the reputation of our “group”, however much damage we think it will do to the kingdom of God. If God’s reputation can survive the scandals of Genesis, His Name will survive our sin as well.

The book of Genesis is soap operatic. Bad choices are the status quo. Yet God inspires his people to remember the foibles of their family. This is the heritage of His redeemer..the Christ Jesus. He doesn’t cover up their mistakes and wickedness. He records them.

Chapter 38 of Genesis, which is the story of Tamar,  cuts into the record of Joseph which begins in 37 and then picks up again in 39. It is a mystery why. Why not put Tamar before Joseph’s story? Or leave it out altogether? I think the answer lies with Judah. We get to know a little about Judah when he suggests selling Joseph instead of killing him. It is the only solution his murderous brothers will accept. They are intent on ridding themselves of their hated, dreaming, little brother. Judah is the voice of compromise.

But wait. Unless you begin to think too highly of him, here is the story that he is most remembered for…fathering his own grandchildren. The story of Tamar’s seduction of Judah, her father-in-law, is inserted next. Then we pick up again on the story of Joseph in Egypt.

But again, why do we care what is recorded about Judah? Because of the promise.

God blessed Abraham with this promise: that he would father a great nation and through him the whole world would be blessed. Judah, Abraham’s great-grandson, was on the brink of destroying that promise by allowing his family line to end.

Judah’s Shameful Behavior

Judah moved away from his family and intermarried with the Caananites. He had three sons. Tamar was the wife of his first son who died before they had children. This left Tamar childless and widowed… not a good place for a woman in the ancient world to find herself. Judah, following the custom of the times, asked his second son to “sire” a child with Tamar in the name of his first son. Onan hated that plan. Instead of outwardly defying the custom and insulting his dead brother, he refused to impregnate Tamar. He died too without leaving any children.

Judah now only had one son left, and Shelah was too little to marry. Judah was tired of taking care of Tamar and asked her to leave his house. Tamar’s only choice was to go home and live with her parents. She was unable to remarry because she was promised to the child Shelah. She waited and waited. But Judah never summoned her home to marry Shelah. Her marriage rights, as accepted by practice in those ancient times, were repeatedly violated. As a childless widow, she had no rights and would never be able to hold a place in society. And so she took matters into her own hands.

Disguising herself as a temple prostitute with concealed face, she seduced Judah. A baby was conceived. Tamar obtained Judah’s identification, his staff and seal, as proof of her child’s parentage. When her pregnancy was discovered, Judah, unaware he  was complicit, was furious.

Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”

Harsh, eh?

Tamar must have had an inkling of how it would go down when she sweet talked Judah into leaving his ID with her. Wise woman.  “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said, revealing Judah’s staff and seal.

Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again.

Judah’s Humble Confession

Judah didn’t excuse. He didn’t blame another. He didn’t hush things up and do damage control. He confessed. He accepted fault. He exonerated Tamar. And he exalted her reputation above his own.

“She is more righteous than I.”

The scandal of Judah and Tamar was not covered up. It was told and retold for thousands of years, until it was penned again in the birth record of Jesus.

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham … Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron,  Hezron the father of Ram. Matthew 1

Tamar’s Righteousness

Judah’s declaration of Tamar’s rightness is enlightening.

  • She was not a daughter of Abraham.
  • She reverted to prostitution to procreate.
  • She deceived her “parent.”
  • She broke family sex taboos.

Not much there that looks righteous to me! What was right about her behavior? Or was her righteousness birthed from the same place Abraham’s was? From faith in the promise of God? Was she looking out for her own self interests in obtaining a child, or did she have her eye on continuing the line of Blessed Abraham?  We can’t say for sure. But, I’d like to think that Tamar believed the promise and, like Jacob, would take any means necessary to obtain a portion of that blessing for herself. Because she believed God.

Either way… she created scandal with her accusation. Instead of calling her a liar or insisting she was in it for his money, Judah’s reaction to her testimony is humble and gracious.

I wish more men of God today, who are involved in scandal, would take the lesson from Judah.

3 thoughts on “Scandalous Heritage

  1. I think from the ancient Hebrew mindset, Tamar was not actually committing prostitution. Her rights were being denied her by the patriarch, so she took her due from him. She never actually accepted payment for the act, so she was not a prostitute. She was only pretending to be one. Wrong was being done, and she made it come right by the only means available to her. She was indeed more righteous than Judah, who was not righteous at all in the matter!


  2. Interesting reflection on current events, Kay. One has to wonder, though, how scandalous it was for Judah to avail himself of a prostitute – seems like it wasn’t too taboo in that time for powerful men. Sinful, yes, but not so scandalous in the world’s eyes then. Yet we continue to see the double standard for the women – some things never change.

    Maybe that’s why Judah wasn’t afraid to quickly “fess up” – didn’t make him look that bad anyway?

    If Judah was thinking of the promised line – and his failure to carry it on – the comment does make sense. Interesting…


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