God’s Word is factual—it’s rooted in human history, not folklore. That’s why it gives us the good, the bad and the ugly. That also means it’s painfully transparent—it presents God’s people, warts and all. And that’s why the Bible is a book of grace—for the desperately flawed human race could not survive without God’s unmerited patience and kindness.
The Journey // Focus: Genesis 38:16,24
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.” …About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.”
Well, this is an awkward chapter to get a devotional from, wouldn’t you say? God kills Judah’s son, Er, because he was wicked, then he slays his brother, Onan, because he refuses to carry on the family line with Er’s widowed wife, Tamar (according to custom). So Tamar, realizing that producing an heir is hopeless, disguises herself as a prostitute and seduces her father-in-law, Judah (and why this patriarch was sleeping with prostitutes is a whole different matter). Tamar gets pregnant from the encounter. Judah wants to stone her for sexual promiscuity—until he finds out the kid is his. And they all live happily ever after.
One of the things I never anticipated was having to explain Old Testament stories like this—and there are a few of them—to my children, whom I encouraged to start reading the Bible through at a certain age. On several occasions, they would come to me with, “Eww! Dad, what’s the deal with this?” And my standard answer was, “Hmmm…better ask your mom about that one.”
So why is a story like Judah sleeping with his daughter-in-law disguised as a prostitute in God’s book in the first place? And is there any devotional benefit I can wrest from this sordid account? Well, it is a gross story for sure, and definitely sad, but still, there are a handful of encouraging take-aways.
Firstly, this story is in the Bible because it is a piece of history. It happened. And since God’s work is rooted in human history and not folklore, it is important that the good, the bad and the ugly are accounted for. God’s Word is historical.
Which, secondly, leads me to the fact of transparency. God doesn’t try to hide the flaws of his people. He allows the bad to be included in the good, because that is the way sinful human life is lived out. If I were to write a fictional account of God, I would have whitewashed these stories to put God and his people in the best light possible. But you can’t whitewash non-fiction; history is what it is. And this in itself gives a high degree of credibility to the Bible. The fact that it is painfully transparent makes me love this book—and its Author—even more.
And thirdly, in this story, and throughout Genesis, the only possible explanation for the human race continuing to survive, given its propensity for every kind of evil, is simply grace. It is obvious, but often forgotten, that God ends up using people, warts and all, to carry out his purposes. And I, for one, am overwhelmingly grateful that he does. Given that fact, it is clear to me, if not to you: I’ve got a fighting chance to still be used mightily by the Lord.
Now again, keep in mind as you read accounts like this, that their inclusion in scripture doesn’t excuse the bad behavior that is recorded. It simply explains what people do, and how God works through them to accomplish his purposes.
So as I read this salacious story yet again on my periodic journey through the entire Bible, I can’t help but grow more confident in the veracity of God’s Word.
Likewise, I come away with a deeper appreciation for the stubborn providence of God to carry out his plans in spite of man’s dumb efforts to derail them. In this case, the family line of Judah continues on despite the dumb and depraved things that happen in Genesis 38—and from this line of goof ups springs forth the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
And finally, it fills my heart with hope that I, as a deeply flawed person, can still be used by God to fulfill his purposes on this planet and bring him glory through my life, warts and all.