We’ve already seen some events in the lives of Jacob’s sons that did not reflect very well on them. For example, there was a situation involving Jacob’s oldest son Reuben. He chose to dishonor his father by sleeping with a woman who was married to him. Then there was the example of Simeon and Levi. These men deceived the entire male population of a town into following a religious custom so they could murder them in a revenge killing.
Then in Genesis chapter 37 we saw how Jacob’s sons conspired together to put another one of their brothers named Joseph into an empty well so they could leave him to die there. But later on they changed their mind and sold him as a slave to a group of traveling merchants. So if we take these things and put them all together, we can see that Jacob’s sons had grown up to become a group of men with some serious character issues.
But now that we’ve reached Genesis chapter 38, the focus is going to shift to one particular member of Jacob’s family. That person will be Jacob’s fourth son, a man named Judah. While Genesis chapter 37 ended with the news that Joseph had been sold to a high ranking Egyptian official, Genesis chapter 38 will tell us a little about what was going on back home during this time– and what was going on wasn’t very good. In fact, if we were using this chapter as the basis to write a detective mystery, we might call it, The Case Of The Vanishing Prostitute.
“At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah” (Genesis 38:1).
Notice that this verse begins by saying, “At that time…” This is a reference to one of the last things we saw in the previous chapter: “All (Jacob’s) sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.” So his father wept for him” (Genesis 37:35). It was at that time that Judah decided to leave the rest of his family.
So what was it that caused Judah to feel the need to get away? Well, it could be that Judah wanted to get away from his father’s sadness over what had happened to Joseph. But a closer look at Genesis 38:1 tells us something different- and we’ll look at some other possible reasons that may help to explain Judah’s decision next.
“About that time Judah left his brothers and went to stay with a man named Hirah, who was from the town of Adullam” (Genesis 38:1 GNB).
Notice that this passage doesn’t tell us that Judah left his father; it says that Judah left his brothers. So why is that important? Well, let’s consider the possibility that Judah was feeling guilty over what he had done to Joseph and the way that Joseph’s disappearance had affected his father.
If this was the case, then the presence of his brothers would serve as a constant reminder to Judah about what they had done. So it may be that Judah wanted to get away from his brothers for awhile in the hope that it would help him escape the feeling of a guilty conscience.
Of course, it’s also possible that Judah simply wanted to get away from all the fraud and hypocrisy that he had seen in his family over what had been done to Joseph. After all, it must have been difficult for Judah and his brothers to keep silent when they knew the truth about what happened to Joseph- and their responsibility for it.
In any event, Judah decided that it was time to leave home and find another place to live. The place Judah chose for his new address was the home of a man named Hirah. Hirah’s hometown was a place called Adullam and it was located about 15 miles (24 km) away from where the rest of Judah’s family was at that time.
Although he will later be identified as a friend of Judah, it’s not likely that Hirah followed the God of Judah’s great-grandfather Abraham, his grandfather Isaac, or his father Jacob. This means that Judah’s friendship with Hirah was probably not the sort of friendship that was going to help him become the person that God wanted him to be- and neither was what he did next…
“There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man whose name was Shua. He married her and slept with her” (Genesis 38:2 GW).
The “Canaanites” were a group of people who lived in the land area that God had promised to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Canaanites were also known for their worship of many different false gods as well. In fact, the reputation of the Canaanites was so bad that Judah’s grandfather Isaac and great-grandfather Abraham both refused to allow their sons to marry anyone who came from there. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Judah thought about this before he made the decision to marry someone from that area.
“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.” (Genesis 38:1-2a NLT).
So after leaving home, Judah went to stay with a friend named Hirah. While there, he met and married a woman from the land of Canaan. These verses don’t say that Judah prayed or asked for God’s direction before making these decisions. It simply looks as if Judah was living his life without any input or direction from God.
In any event, Judah’s new relationship quickly began to produce some children…
“she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was named Er. She conceived again and gave birth to a son and named him Onan. She gave birth to still another son and named him Shelah. It was at Kezib that she gave birth to him” (Genesis 38:3-5).
So there doesn’t seem to be anything unusual about this so far, right? All these verses tell us is that a couple got married and had three children, so what’s the big deal? Well, this account of Judah’s family is about to accelerate many years into future- and the next verse tells us that Judah’s oldest boy had now become a man…
“Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death” (Genesis 38:6-7).
The Bible doesn’t tell us what Er was doing wrong, but it must have been something so bad that God made the decision to end his life for the things he had been doing. We’ll talk more about this in a little while, but for now, let’s pick up the story again as Judah spoke with Onan, his second-oldest son…
“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’” (Genesis 38:8 NLT).
If a man died without having any children during that time, it was his brother’s responsibility to marry his widow and have children with her. If any children were born from their relationship, those children would then be considered as the heirs of the man who died. This was done to allow the dead brother’s family name to continue and to provide for someone who could support his widow in her old age.
Unfortunately, we’ll soon see that Onan didn’t have any of those concerns for his dead brother or his widow.
“Then Judah said to Er’s brother Onan, ‘Go and sleep with your brother’s widow. Fulfill your obligation to her as her husband’s brother, so that your brother may have descendants.’
But Onan knew that the children would not belong to him, so when he had intercourse with his brother’s widow, he let the semen spill on the ground, so that there would be no children for his brother” (Genesis 38:8-9).
These verses tell us that Onan was happy to use Tamar for his own sexual pleasure but when it came to fulfilling his responsibilities, he wasn’t interested. In other words, Onan wanted to make sure that Tamar didn’t have any children that he would have to support, but wouldn’t belong to him. So Onan wanted the sexual part of his relationship with Tamar but not the responsibility that went along with it.
But there is another possible explanation for what Onan did. Remember that any children born from Onan’s relationship with Tamar would be legally recognized as the children of his deceased brother. As it turns out, Onan’s brother was the first born son and in that culture, the eldest son always received a larger portion of the family inheritance.
So let’s think this through: if the first born son was dead and didn’t have any descendants to receive his family’s inheritance, then who would be next in line? Well in that situation, the family’s inheritance would automatically fall to next oldest son. And who was the next oldest son in Judah’s family? You guessed it- Onan. This may explain why Onan was so unwilling to allow Tamar to have a child to carry on his brother’s family line- it meant more money and more inheritance for him.
While Onan may have had a few different motives in this situation, there is at least thing we can definitely say about what he did: If Onan really didn’t want to have any children with Tamar, then he should have never had sex with her at all. Instead, he wanted to sleep with Tamar without accepting any responsibility for their relationship.
But as it turned out, Onan ended up losing his inheritance- and his life…
“What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so he put him to death also” (Genesis 38:10).
Now it’s possible to read this verse and think, “Does this really mean that God might actually kill someone because of something that person was doing?” This is a good question and we’ll look at some possible answers to that question next.
“Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death” (Genesis 38:6-7).
“What (Judah’s second son Onan) did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so he put him to death also” (Genesis 38:10).
Is it possible that God might actually kill someone because of something that he or she had done?
Well, perhaps it might help to think of this question in terms of sports like football, baseball, basketball, or hockey. For example, let’s say that a goaltender plays poorly and gives up some goals early in a game that puts his or her team behind. In a case like this, a coach will often pull that goaltender from the game and put in another player because the first goaltender’s play has hurt the team.
There are similar examples in other sports too. For instance, a baseball pitcher who gives up too many hits, a quarterback who throws too many interceptions, a hockey player with too many penalties, or a basketball player with too many fouls may all have to leave the game before it’s over. The point is that a player who doesn’t play well may not get to play as long as the coach or manager originally wanted them to play.
When a coach makes the decision to remove a player who is hurting the team, the game is usually over for that player. In one sense, this idea is just as true for people today as well. If God decides to give someone a red card * for something that he or she has done (as He did with Er and Onan), then it’s “game over” for that person.
This idea can also apply to Christians as well…
“If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that” (1 John 5:16).
Now someone may read this and say, “Hey, wait a minute- are you saying that God might kill somebody if they do something wrong?” No, but if there is a Christian who constantly gets into trouble and “hurts the team” so to speak, then God may decide to be merciful to that person and wrap up his or her life before that person really gets into trouble.
We’ll look at another example to illustrate this idea next.
* In football (or soccer as it’s known in the United States), a player who is given a “red card” is ejected from the game and is not allowed to return. That player’s team must then “play short” or complete the rest of the game without the full number of players. So a player who gets “carded” is hurt, but also hurts his or her teammates as well.
Is it possible that God might actually put someone to death because of something that he or she has done?
Well, we’ve already seen some Old Testament examples of this idea in the book of Genesis when God put two brothers named Er and Onan to death due to their wickedness (see Genesis 38:6-10). But there is another Biblical example that tells us of a group of people whose lives were also shortened because of something they had done. That example has to do with some people in the first century church who had decided to take communion in a disrespectful manner.
You see, just before His death and resurrection, Jesus gathered His disciples together for one final meal. During that meal, the Scriptures tell us…
“(Jesus) took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.’ After supper he took another cup of wine and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you” (Luke 22:19-20 NLT).
This act of remembering Jesus’ sacrifice is known as “Communion” although it is also known by other names such as “the Eucharist,” or “the Lord’s Supper.” Communion is recognized as a sacrament of the church, or a special religious observance that was established by Jesus and recorded in the New Testament for Christians to follow.
Communion consists of two elements: bread, which is representative of Jesus’ body, and wine (or grape juice) which is used to represent His blood. When God’s people gather to take Communion, there is an opportunity to remember what Jesus did in offering Himself on the cross as a sacrifice for our behalf (see 1 Corinthians 11:26).
Unfortunately, communion is something that can be treated improperly, especially when people don’t take the time to really think about the importance of what it represents. This is really not a new problem because there is a New Testament book that speaks about this very issue. In that book, God used a man named Paul to address some problems in the first century church that met in a town named Corinth.
We know that message today as the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians and in it, Paul had some strong words for those who had begun to treat Communion in a disrespectful manner. We’ll see what all this had to do with the possibility of an untimely death next.
In the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul had some sharp words for some people in the church who were treating Communion (also known as “The Lord’s Supper”) in a disrespectful manner…
“When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. For some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk.
What? Don’t you have your own homes for eating and drinking? Or do you really want to disgrace God’s church and shame the poor? What am I supposed to say? Do you want me to praise you? Well, I certainly will not praise you for this!” (1 Corinthians 11:20-22 NLT).
So it seems that when this church got together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, some members ate well (and even get drunk) while others didn’t get anything. This was not just an accidental mistake because we’re specifically told that, “…some of you hurry to eat your own meal.” This tells us that these church members intentionally decided to eat fast in order to avoid the obligation of sharing with others.
This represented a real problem back then because there were a large number of slaves and poor people within the early church. Because of this, these meetings probably offered the only real chance for such people to have a good meal for the entire week. So as you might expect, the Apostle Paul had some serious words for this church…
“So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup.
For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died” (1 Corinthians 11:27-30 NLT).
So this Scripture makes a definite connection between the acts and attitudes of these people and the fact that they didn’t get to enjoy a longer life. But later on, we also read this…
“Yet, when we are judged and punished by the Lord, it is so that we will not be condemned with the rest of the world” (1 Corinthians 11:32).
Although it may be bad to miss out on living a long, full life, it’s still definitely better than being condemned. So while the thought of God ending someone’s life early may not fit in with everyone’s preconception of Him, don’t forget that everyone will eventually die; it’s just a matter of how and when. Remember that God reserves the right to recall anyone’s life at any time- and that reality should have a definite impact on the way we choose to live.
If a man had a brother who died without having any children in the days of the Old Testament, it was customary for him to marry his brother’s widow. If any children were born from their relationship, those children would then be accepted as the children of the man who died. This was done to allow the dead brother’s family name to continue and also to provide support for his widow when she became older.
This was the tradition that Judah’s son Onan followed after his brother Er died. But as we saw earlier, Onan wasn’t interested in supporting any children who wouldn’t belong to him. Instead, he decided to use his brother’s widow for his own sexual pleasure while denying the opportunity to provide her with the children that were so important in that culture.
Unfortunately for Onan, he paid for that decision with his life because,“What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so he put him to death also” (Genesis 38:10). So two of Judah’s three sons had been married to the same woman and both had died. That left Judah’s youngest son Shelah as the only brother left. But while Judah seemed willing to allow Shelah to marry his daughter-in-law Tamar, it turns out that he was really thinking something else…
“Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, ‘Live as a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up.’ For he thought, ‘He may die too, just like his brothers.’ So Tamar went to live in her father’s house” (Genesis 38:11).
Apparently Judah’s third son was too young to get married, so Judah told Tamar to go back and live with her parents until he became old enough to wed. But in the back of his mind, Judah was actually thinking, “I’m down to my final son- what if he marries this woman and then he dies too?”
While that might seem to be a reasonable concern (at least on the surface), the reality was that the deaths of Judah’s sons had nothing to do with Tamar. The truth was that both of them had brought God’s judgment upon themselves.
The other problem was that Judah made a promise to Tamar that he had no intention of keeping. So he sent her away with the idea of going on with his life and leaving her to eventually fend for herself. But while Judah went about the business of getting on with his life, there was one thing that he didn’t anticipate: Tamar was someone who was a lot sharper than he thought she was.
“After a long time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Judah had recovered from his grief, he went up to Timnah, to the men who were shearing his sheep, and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went with him” (Genesis 38:12).
This must have been a very difficult time for Judah. Remember that he had already dealt with the deaths of his two oldest sons and now his wife had passed away as well. Some time later after Judah had finished mourning for his wife, he left to go on a road trip with his friend Hirah to the town of Timnah.
This trip took place while Judah’s sheep were being sheared, an event that usually occurred in the spring of each year. So why is this detail important? Well, sheep-shearing was a difficult process and when the work was done, the laborers always got together for a big celebration. This meant that there would be plenty of drinking and partying going on when the work was finished and that was the place where Judah wanted to be.
But word somehow got back to Judah’s daughter-in-law Tamar that he had left town- and that’s when she decided to take a little road trip of her own…
“When Tamar was told, ‘Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,’ she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife” (Genesis 38:13-14).
Remember that were no such things as government assistance, pension plans, or insurance in those days. If an elderly woman had no family to help her in her old age, it meant that she would be doomed to live in poverty for the rest of her life. When Judah made the decision to leave Tamar alone to fend for herself, it practically guaranteed that she would live out a future of poverty, hardship, and destitution.
So even though Judah had asked Tamar to go back and live with her parents on a (supposedly) temporary basis, it had now become clear to her that he had no intention of ever following through on his promise to give her his youngest son in marriage. But Tamar apparently knew Judah pretty well and she came up with a plan of her own- a plan that involved Judah himself. We’ll see exactly what Tamar had planned for him next.
“As soon as Tamar was told that her father-in-law was on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep, she took off her widow’s clothes, covered her face with a veil, and disguised herself. Then she sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah…” (Genesis 38:13-14a GW).
People often make judgments about others based on their character, or the distinguishing features and qualities that identify a particular person. This is exactly what happened with Tamar and her father-in-law Judah. You see, Tamar must have noticed something in the character of her father-in-law that led her to believe that he would be open and receptive to a certain plan. That plan involved dressing up in a disguise that identified Tamar as a prostitute, but still prevented anyone from recognizing her real identity.
But why would she do something like that? Well, let’s go on…
“When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, ‘Come now, let me sleep with you…'” (Genesis 38:15-16a).
Judging from the way this passage is written, it certainly looks like Judah had some prior experience in picking up prostitutes who were hanging out near the entrance to town. In fact, Judah seemed to treat this proposition like any other normal business transaction: “Come now, let me sleep with you…” So it appears that Tamar knew Judah well enough to know that he wasn’t a very moral guy. She also knew that Judah would be likely to approach her if she was able to convincingly look and act like a prostitute- and sure enough, he did.
So now that she had Judah hooked, it was time to negotiate the agreement…
“‘…And what will you give me to sleep with you?” she asked. ‘I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,’ he said. ‘Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?’ she asked. He said, ‘What pledge should I give you?’ ‘Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,’ she answered….” (Genesis 38:16b-18a).
Judah apparently didn’t have any money with him so he asked this “prostitute” to extend him some credit in exchange for her services. Tamar agreed, but notice that she made sure to ask for some collateral, or some items that could be held as a guarantee to ensure payment. This collateral will become very important later on and we’ll take a closer look at the items Tamar asked for next.
“‘How much will you pay to have sex with me?’ Tamar asked. ‘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. ‘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” (Genesis 38:16b-18 NLT).
So Tamar asked for some collateral (a type of deposit or pledge) to guarantee that Judah would pay the agreed upon price. This collateral took the form of Judah’s personal seal, it’s cord, and his walking staff.
The seal was usually a ring of some sort that carried a personally identifiable mark. A seal was used during that time for authentification purposes. For example, when someone sent a letter to another person in those days, he or she would often seal the envelope with a small amount of wax. The writer would then impress his or her personal seal on the soft wax and send their letter. This let the receiver know that the letter they they received was authentic and not a forgery.
The staff or walking stick was also custom designed for the person who owned it. So the items that Judah gave Tamar were directly traceable back to him, and they will soon become very important as we’ll see later on.
“After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow’s clothes again” (Genesis 38:19).
So Judah and Tamar agreed on the price, they slept together, and Judah went on his way. Tamar also left to go back back home to stay with her Mom and Dad. But then it came time for Judah to pay the agreed upon price…
“Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back from the woman, but he did not find her. He asked the men who lived there, ‘Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?’ ‘There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here,’ they said” (Genesis 38:20-21).
Did you notice that when Hirah arrived at the place where this “prostitute” was supposed to be, he went to the local people in the neighborhood and specifically asked for the “…shrine prostitute who was beside the road…” (emphasis added). We’ll look at exactly what Hirah meant by that next.
“And he asked the men of the place, ‘Where is the cult prostitute who was at Enaim at the roadside?’ And they said, ‘No cult prostitute has been here'” (Genesis 38:21 ESV).
It seems that Judah thought that Tamar was just another prostitute, but his friend Hirah knew better.
Notice that Hirah specifically identified the woman that Judah slept with as not just a prostitute, but as a “cult prostitute” (ESV), “shrine prostitute” (NIV), or “temple prostitute” (NASB). That’s a small, but important change.
Remember that Hirah originally came from a town named Adullam. As it turns out, Adullam was known as one of the royal cities of the Canaanites, a people group who lived in that area at the time. (1) Because of his familiarity with this culture, Hiram knew that the Canaanites worshipped a so-called “god of fertility.” He also knew that the women who followed this “god” spent time prostituting themselves to other men as part of their religious observance.
So when Hirah went to look for this woman in order to pay off Judah’s debt, he naturally asked to see the “shrine” prostitute who had been there earlier. But Judah was so spiritually and morally insensitive that he apparently had no idea that he might have been helping someone worship a false god by sleeping with this woman.
To Judah, this relationship was only about sex but to the the people of that area, it was an act of worship. So Judah was not only involved in something immoral, but he could have also easily been involved in something idolatrous as well.
“So he went back to Judah and said, ‘I didn’t find her. Besides, the men who lived there said, ‘There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here.’ Then Judah said, ‘Let her keep what she has, or we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you didn’t find her'” (Genesis 38:22-23).
It’s easy to understand Judah’s concern in these verses. After all, what was he expected to do- go to the police and tell them that a prostitute had taken off with his personal belongings? It would have been far better to simply say, “…let her keep them… We tried our best. We’d be the laughingstock of the town to go back again” (Genesis 38:23 TLB).
But Judah’s personal items were far from lost. Instead, they were safely hidden away in a place where he would never think to look for them. And even though Judah will eventually have his property returned, it will come back to him from an unexpected source in a very unusual manner.
(1) Easton’s Bible Dictionary
“About three months later Judah was told, ‘Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.’ Judah said, ‘Bring her out and have her burned to death!'” (Genesis 38:24).
So three months went by and Tamar had started to show the fact that she was pregnant with Judah’s child. However, this particular pregnancy had some definite consequences in that culture.
You see, Tamar was still legally committed to marry Judah’s son Shelah even though Judah had no intention of allowing them to get married. So from Judah’s point of view, Tamar was guilty of breaking two laws: not only was she was guilty of prostitution but she was also guilty of committing adultery against Shelah as well.
However, it should be obvious that Judah had a double standard in this area. For example, it was apparently OK for him to sleep with a prostitute, but if his daughter-in-law was found to be pregnant without being married, then Judah’s response was, “Drag her out of town and burn her to death!” (CEV). Like some people today, it seems that Judah may have been over sensitive to his own character problems, especially when he saw them in others.
So it looked like everything was over for Tamar, but she was well prepared for her father-in-law’s reaction…
“As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. ‘I am pregnant by the man who owns these,’ she said. And she added, ‘See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are'” (Genesis 38:25).
While Tamar could have made a big demonstration over the fact that she had possession of Judah’s personal items, she chose not to do so. In fact, she didn’t even identify the owner of those items by name. She simply said, “‘The man who owns this identification seal and walking stick is the father of my child. Do you recognize them?'” (TLB). And with that, The Mystery Of The Vanishing Prostitute was solved.
“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” (Genesis 38:26).
So Judah responded by saying, “She’s a better person than I am, because I broke my promise to let her marry my son Shelah” (CEV). But even though Judah reversed Tamar’s death sentence and allowed her to come back into the family, he still decided not to accept her as a full marriage partner.
So The Mystery Of The Vanishing Prostitute had been solved and Tamar’s life had been spared- and now we’ll fast forward six months into the future…
“When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, ‘This one came out first.’
But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, ‘So this is how you have broken out!’ And he was named Perez. Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out and he was given the name Zerah” (Genesis 38:27-30).
In the culture of that time, it was very important to know which child was born first. That’s because the firstborn son was expected to become the eventual leader of that particular family unit. The firstborn son was also entitled to receive a double portion of the family inheritance- and in the case of Tamar’s pregnancy, it almost appears as if one of her twin boys was trying to jump ahead of the other during the birth process.
The midwife who was assisting Tamar during the birth of her children saw this happen and said, “So this is how you break your way out!” (GNB), or as we might say today, “Where did you come from?” And that’s how this baby got the name “Perez,” a name that means “breaking forth.” And believe it or not, Perez will later go on to become an ancestor of Jesus Himself (see Matthew 1:3 and Luke 3:33).
Of course, knowing that people like Judah and Tamar were part of Jesus’ family history brings up a good question. After all, it’s clear that these individuals were not spiritual all-stars, so why would God allow people like Judah and Tamar to be involved in Jesus’ family line? Well, the example of Judah and Tamar shows us that God may sometimes choose to use very flawed people to accomplish His purposes.
This also tells us that God doesn’t necessarily choose the smartest, or the richest, or the best looking, or the most popular, or the most talented people to do what He wants to do. Instead, He may choose to use ordinary people, along with all their flaws and shortcomings to do some important things. After all, if God can use flawed and messed-up people like Judah and Tamar to accomplish His purposes, then He can certainly do the same thing with people today.