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Bible Study Notes – Genesis 38.

The family account of Judah & his Daughter-in-Law Tamar in Israel’s history,

  • Contrasting Judah’s sinful character compared to the virtue of Joseph.
  1. Introduction & setting the context.
  • As you read chapter 38 reflect on why the writer Moses includes this account, sometimes known as the Judah-interlude, within the chapters recounting the story of Joseph.
    • Commentators indicate that the events recorded are chronologically in the correct place (38:1 “at that time”).
    • With older brothers - Reuben, Simeon & Levi - out of favour for earlier recorded acts of incest & treachery Judah would likely be the next in line in keeping with heritage traditions of the time.
    • Yet, as we shall see in the coming weeks from the events recorded in this chapter Judah was no better than his brothers & in the hindsight of scripture we can observe the immoral character of Judah compared with the virtue of Joseph.
    • We will also observe at the end of the chapter how God maintained his sovereign plan & Judah - despite himself – was part of that.   
  • What part did Judah play in his younger brother Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt – Genesis 37:25-28.
    • It was his idea to sell him to the Ishmaelite traders – financial gain with additional justification of not having the blood of his brother on his hands.
    • (offline study Exodus 21:16 & Deut. 24:7 to note how this behaviour of selling your brother would later be prohibited under Mosaic law).  
  1. Judah leaves his brothers & journeys to Adullam – read Genesis 38:1-5.
  • Locate on the map where Adullam is in relation to nearby cities.
    • It is in Canaan some 10 miles north west of Hebron – some 60 miles south of Dothan where his brothers were with their father’s flock – Genesis 37:17.
  • Reflect on other than the geographical relocation what were the additional impacts on his life as a result of Judah’s separation from his brethren.
    • Do you think Judah sought either Gods or his father’s guidance on the move? He may have but we have no recorded confirmation.
    • His family had not provided a good example – recall Jacob remained in Shechem10 yrs with no apparent relationship with God.
    • Matthew Henry indicates it was estimated that Judah was a young man not much above 15/16 years of age.
    • In his formative years, he had left the influence of his family & was now open to the temptations of the Canaanite culture and his new friend Hirah.
    • He married a Canaanite woman (Bath-shua 1 Chronicles 2:3) – a marriage not made by his father who would appear to not have been consulted but influenced by Hirah (38:2).
  • Application: 
    • When we have to relocate it a good practice to seek out a biblically based Christian church to enter into fellowship with & thus helping to build a shield to deflect the influences of the surrounding culture.  
    • We should thank god for the blessings of a good Christian upbringing and/or church fellowship and seek to remember those lessons as we move forward.
    • All thru the history of Israel they continued not to heed the Lords command - which was not to integrate with the local inhabitants - with similar consequences to this – refer to the story of Judges & Gods instruction thru Moses (Numbers 33:50–52 & 55-56). 
    • Yet the Lord thru Joseph had a plan to bring them out of the land.
  1. The wickedness of Judah’s sons (Er & Onan) – read Genesis 38:6-11.
  • Refer to Deut. 25:5-10 for the biblical law/instructions concerning the duty within the family of a brother to his dead brother’s widow.
    • These instructions from the Lord thru Moses were given after the time of Judah in Genesis 38.
    • Known as ‘Levirate marriages’ (husbands brother).
    • This provided that the brother of a dead man who died childless could marry the widow to provide for an heir & she would have sons to support her. 
  • Recall another biblical widow who married a relative of her husband after the death of her own husband.
    • Boaz married Ruth in order to redeem her & the estate of her dead husband.
  • Judah’s marriage to the Canaanite woman had resulted in 3 sons – he had married young & carried on the trend by seeking to also marry his sons young.
    • Was this a happy period in Judah’s life? 
    • No, the first son Er was executed by the Lord for unspecified wickedness & the second Onan had a similar fate because of his rebellious rejection of his duty to his brother’s widow.
  • Application: Again, we see the results of living in a family where the focus was not on God and with a wife who was a Canaanite.
  1. Judah’s sin with Tamar – read Genesis 38;12-26.

4.1Judah is deceived by Tamar – read Genesis 38:12-23.

  • As you read this section reflect in the motivations of both Judah & Tamar in the actions recorded for each of them.
    • Judah was lonely following the death of his wife & let’s his sexual desires control him – 38:15&16b.
    • He had gone back on his promise to give Shelah, when he was grown up, to Tamar – 38:14b.
    • Tamar saw a way to trick Judah, obtain a son, give her an heir in the family & overcome her difficult existence without a husband.
    • She did not trust Judah & requested something as a pledge that he would pay her – this was also part of her deception. 

4,2Judah is confronted by Tamar – read Genesis 38:24-26. 

  • Summarise Judah’s actions & motivations in seeking to recover his pledged items.
    • He used his ‘friend’ Hirah probably to maintain his dignity – 38:20.
    • The pledged items appeared of less worth than his dignity – 38:23. 
    • Signet rings were used as an imprint when formalising agreements.
  • Was Judah’s recognition of Tamar’s righteousness (38:26) an accolade from him for her moral character & faith?
    • No!! 
    • More a commendation by him for her attention to the inheritance rights of her family line & his shameful neglect thereof.
  • Application: 
    • Would you trust a man like this?
    • He was willing to consider the potential death of Tamar whilst not acknowledging his own sin – Matthew 7:4 (first take the speck out of your own eye……)
    • When studying Genesis 39 contrast this with the virtue of Joseph!!
  • Let’s further contrast this with Judah’s role in Israel’s history as foretold by his father Jacob in Genesis 49:8-12.
    • Was Jacob’s praise for Judah for his son or as a prophesy of the future line of Judah in the Lords plan culminating in the coming of the Messiah?
    • Despite the human sin & disobedience we can rejoice that scripture confirms that the Lord had a sovereign plan in Tamar getting pregnant & would not be thwarted 
    • We shall study this in more depth when we get to Genesis 49. 
  1. Perez & the line of Jesus thru David – read Genesis 38:27-30.
  • How many sons did Judah have – Genesis 46:12?
    • Five – Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez & Zerah. 
  • Refer to Matthew 1:1-3 & Luke 3:33 to observe that both Judah & Perez were in the genealogy of Jesus.
    • God took the son of this ungodly situation & put him in the family line of the Messiah.

Reflect on personal applications & takeaways from reading this chapter.

  • A glorious & beautiful example of sovereign grace. God chose them despite their works to have a role in God’s plan for redemption.
    • Judah & Tamar were living for themselves & for pleasure.
    • Yet God used them to produce an ancestor in the line of the Messiah.
  • Does this example give us the freedom to sin & go against God’s desires?
    • No – Romans 6:1-4. We see here where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.
    • There is always a danger that during a period of God’s grace, sinners will mistakenly believe that things will go on that way for ever.
  • As we contrast the different characters of the 12 brothers we can observe that The Lord remained in control of his sovereign plan first begun with this family in his promise to Abraham.
  • This leads to the record of the ‘virtue’ of Joseph as described in the next chapters.