The Restored Orchard

Deeper Roots – Genesis 38:1-26

photo of an open book on a tree s roots

A humbled and open heart is fertile soil for God’s seeds of wisdom to be planted. Establishing deeper roots requires analyzing God’s word to discover truths, values, and lessons for application to our lives. Periodically, a scripture or passage calls for further exploration, like Genesis 38:1-26.

About this time, Judah left home and moved to Adullam, where he stayed with a man named Hirah. There he saw a Canaanite woman, the daughter of Shua, and he married her. When he slept with her, she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, and he named the boy Er. Then she became pregnant again and gave birth to another son, and she named him Onan. And when she gave birth to a third son, she named him Shelah. At the time of Shelah’s birth, they were living at Kezib.

In the course of time, Judah arranged for his firstborn son, Er, to marry a young woman named Tamar. But Er was a wicked man in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord took his life. Then Judah said to Er’s brother Onan, “Go and marry Tamar, as our law requires of the brother of a man who has died. You must produce an heir for your brother.”

But Onan was not willing to have a child who would not be his own heir. So whenever he had intercourse with his brother’s wife, he spilled the semen on the ground. This prevented her from having a child who would belong to his brother. 10 But the Lord considered it evil for Onan to deny a child to his dead brother. So the Lord took Onan’s life, too.

11 Then Judah said to Tamar, his daughter-in-law, “Go back to your parents’ home and remain a widow until my son Shelah is old enough to marry you.” (But Judah didn’t really intend to do this because he was afraid Shelah would also die, like his two brothers.) So Tamar went back to live in her father’s home.

12 Some years later Judah’s wife died. After the time of mourning was over, Judah and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went up to Timnah to supervise the shearing of his sheep. 13 Someone told Tamar, “Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.”

14 Tamar was aware that Shelah had grown up, but no arrangements had been made for her to come and marry him. So she changed out of her widow’s clothing and covered herself with a veil to disguise herself. Then she sat beside the road at the entrance to the village of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. 15 Judah noticed her and thought she was a prostitute, since she had covered her face. 16 So he stopped and propositioned her. “Let me have sex with you,” he said, not realizing that she was his own daughter-in-law. “How much will you pay to have sex with me?” Tamar asked.

17 “I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” Judah promised. “But what will you give me to guarantee that you will send the goat?” she asked. 18 “What kind of guarantee do you want?” he replied. She answered, “Leave me your identification seal and its cord and the walking stick you are carrying.” So Judah gave them to her. Then he had intercourse with her, and she became pregnant. 19 Afterward she went back home, took off her veil, and put on her widow’s clothing as usual.

20 Later Judah asked his friend Hirah the Adullamite to take the young goat to the woman and to pick up the things he had given her as his guarantee. But Hirah couldn’t find her. 21 So he asked the men who lived there, “Where can I find the shrine prostitute who was sitting beside the road at the entrance to Enaim?” “We’ve never had a shrine prostitute here,” they replied.

22 So Hirah returned to Judah and told him, “I couldn’t find her anywhere, and the men of the village claim they’ve never had a shrine prostitute there.” 23 “Then let her keep the things I gave her,” Judah said. “I sent the young goat as we agreed, but you couldn’t find her. We’d be the laughingstock of the village if we went back again to look for her.”

24 About three months later, Judah was told, “Tamar, your daughter-in-law, has acted like a prostitute. And now, because of this, she’s pregnant.” “Bring her out, and let her be burned!” Judah demanded.

25 But as they were taking her out to kill her, she sent this message to her father-in-law: “The man who owns these things made me pregnant. Look closely. Whose seal and cord and walking stick are these?”

26 Judah recognized them immediately and said, “She is more righteous than I am, because I didn’t arrange for her to marry my son Shelah.” And Judah never slept with Tamar again.

Genesis 38: 1-26 NLT

Our Deeper Roots passage in Genesis shows how God can take our impulsive and deceptive actions and redeem them for His glory. Our scripture selection begins with Judah marrying a Canaanite woman and giving birth to three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. Judah arranges for his oldest son, Er, to marry Tamar. Before they can have children, God takes his life because he was evil. So Judah directs his second son, Onan, to marry Tamar and produce an heir for his brother Er. But Onan was determined not to have an heir for his brother, so he interfered with having a child and God struck him down. At this point, Judah sends Tamar back to her parents to wait on Shelah to come of age. Judah had no intention of letting Tamar marry his son because he did not want Shelah to die like his brothers. Years pass and Tamar hears that her father-in-law, Judah, is headed up to shear sheep. Tamar comes up with a plan to carry on the family name and fulfill her duties. Tamar gets pregnant by her father-in-law, but she takes three items, an identification seal, its cord, and his walking stick, as a guarantee. As the pregnancy progresses, the people accuse her of being a prostitute. When they are getting ready to sentence her to death, she sends the seal, cord, and walking stick to Judah and tells him that the owner of those items is who got her pregnant. Judah recognized his belongings and realized that he had done Tamar wrong because he didn’t arrange for Shelah to marry her.

The desperation of Tamar pushes her to do things that at first glance seem odd and unusual, but God uses her actions to continue the lineage of Judah. There are two customs from the time period at work here: Levirate and Hittite. In Levirate law of marriage, when a male dies without an heir, his brother is obligated to marry his widow and produce an heir to carry on his brother’s name. So Er’s death created a conflict for Onan. Onan didn’t want his brother to have an heir and he decided to spill his seed on the ground. This act was seen as detestable and God took his life too. So now Judah has lost two of three sons and doesn’t want to lose his last son, Shelah. So Judah sends Tamar back home to her parents to wait. Years pass and Tamar still finds herself unmarried and childless. She has endured so much and now she devises a plan to dress as a temple prostitute and sleep with Judah. In the Hittite legal code, if the brother was not available to produce an heir, then it was the father-in-law’s responsibility to continue the lineage. Tamar uses their encounter to secure three distinct items that were distinguishable. It is also important to note how hypocritical Judah was when approached about Tamar’s pregnancy. He lacked integrity and yet he was willing to punish Tamar for her lack of integrity. When Judah realizes that he was the one who impregnated Tamar, he realized how dishonorable he had been. This series of events changed the whole trajectory of Tamar’s life. She was able to birth twin boys, Zerah and Perez; and carry forward the lineage of Judah.

Tamar used deceptive means to entice Judah, but God used it for good. It was in that situation that Judah realized how hypocritical he had been in judging Tamar’s integrity and Tamar continued to take risks to fulfill her duties under the law. They both had flaws, but God used them both in the lineage of King David and Jesus Christ. This scripture selection shows that our actions can be redeemed. Our sins and missteps and mistakes can be transformed by God.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: