Would you stand… Genesis ch.38:
“It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and turned aside to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. 2 There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua. He took her and went in to her, 3 and she conceived and bore a son, and he called his name Er. 4 She conceived again and bore a son, and she called his name Onan. 5 Yet again she bore a son, and she called his name Shelah. Judah[a] was in Chezib when she bore him.
6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. 10 And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also. 11 Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow in your father’s house, till Shelah my son grows up”—for he feared that he would die, like his brothers. So Tamar went and remained in her father’s house.
12 In the course of time the wife of Judah, Shua’s daughter, died. When Judah was comforted, he went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13 And when Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,” 14 she took off her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, wrapping herself up, and sat at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she had not been given to him in marriage. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16 He turned to her at the roadside and said, “Come, let me come in to you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” 17 He answered, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” And she said, “If you give me a pledge, until you send it—” 18 He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” She replied, “Your signet and your cord and your staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. 19 Then she arose and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood.
20 When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite to take back the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her. 21 And he asked the men of the place, “Where is the cult prostitute[b] who was at Enaim at the roadside?” And they said, “No cult prostitute has been here.” 22 So he returned to Judah and said, “I have not found her. Also, the men of the place said, ‘No cult prostitute has been here.’” 23 And Judah replied, “Let her keep the things as her own, or we shall be laughed at. You see, I sent this young goat, and you did not find her.”
24 About three months later Judah was told, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has been immoral.[c] Moreover, she is pregnant by immorality.”[d] And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” 25 As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” And she said, “Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” 26 Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.
27 When the time of her labor came, there were twins in her womb. 28 And when she was in labor, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 29 But as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out. And she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” Therefore his name was called Perez.[e] 30 Afterward his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah.” THIS is the word of the Lord…
5 Sins here that will tear a family apart:
#1 – Straying (38:1-5)
Things go bad right from the start. Keep in mind: this isn’t the first time we’ve MET Judah. Judah was the one who hatched the plan to sell his brother Joseph back in ch37. So that ought to give us an EARLY indication of the kind of guy we’re dealing with here. But look back at vv1-5: “It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and turned aside to a certain Adullamite…”. The Hebrew reads: “Judah LEFT his brothers and SETTLED with an Adullamite.” God had blessed Judah by graciously allowing him to be born into the single, solitary family of faith in existence at this time; millions of people running around the planet, only a DOZEN of them know the Lord – Yahweh, the true God – and what does Judah do? He LEAVES them! To go join up with this Canaanite. The last time Judah met a Canaanite, the guy raped his poor sister, Dinah, back in ch.34! Yet he runs away from home, to hang out with those folks! And sure enough, this “friend”, Hirah, immediately leads him astray. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Bad company corrupts good character.” Judah’s character wasn’t great to BEGIN with, so you can imagine how bad he becomes. Actually, we don’t HAVE to imagine; the very next verse informs us that Hirah’s friendship was just the first step in Judah’s complete Canaanization; next, he MARRIES a Canaanite, and produces pagan children.
They say “a journey of a 1,000 miles begins with a single step”. That is equally true of a person’s journey to HELL. Very few people start out on the “highway to Hell”. It’s usually more like you just get tired of driving on the straight and narrow, so you decide to pull off at an exit ramp to take a little break. But then you realize, “Hey, there’s some pretty interesting STUFF off this exit. I’m just gonna check it out for a minute.” And before you know it, a little detour turns into an entirely different ROUTE altogether.
Judah didn’t set OUT to be a rebellious, apostate, incestuous, prostitute-patronizing hypocrite; he was just tired and wanted a change. Wanted some new friends. Some of you here at West Hills have severely prodigal sons or daughters; they consciously took the expressway to unbelief. But many MORE of you have children who just got TIRED of attending church. Waking up early on Sundays during college. Reading their Bibles. Following God’s will for their life. Swimming upstream, against the culture. Living for Christ is NEVER the path of least resistance in a fallen world! So they took the easier road. Not a complete 180, onto the highway to Hell. Just a little detour. That’s how walking completely away from the faith begins.
A marital affair doesn’t start in the bedroom; it starts long before that with a seemingly innocent text message. That becomes an ongoing, private chat. That becomes a relationship. That becomes emotional. That becomes sexual.
Proverbs 4:14 warns against “straying onto the path of the wicked… Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.” Don’t take that exit ramp. And part of LOVING others means WARNING THEM too! James 5:19-20 says “if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from DEATH and will cover a multitude of sins.” That’s tough to do! Pointing out to someone you care about that they’re straying; it feels judgmental. In fact, we often misinterpret Scripture about “not judging others” to try and get ourselves off the hook! So we don’t HAVE to confront a wandering brother or sister. But LOVE compels us. We’ve got some spiritual family members here at West Hills who are STRAYING. Some of them just took a little detour, during Covid. And now they’ve wandered DANGEROUSLY far from the path of righteousness. Are you reaching out to them?
Are you, personally, on the “straight and narrow”; there are PLENTY of ways to stray besides skipping church. Jesus said, “The gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. But the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt 7:13-14). There are exit ramps EVERYWHERE! So Paul says, “Don’t give the devil a FOOTHOLD” (Eph 4:27 ). If you give him an inch; he’s gonna take a MILE. Just a little straying; on a journey from L.A. to Hawaii, being just 1 degree off means you end up in NORTH KOREA! So Scripture says, “Make NO provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires, but put on the Lord Jesus.” A little straying can lead to a LOT of suffering; an ETERNITY of suffering. Stay the course, brothers, sisters…
#2 – SEDITION (38:6-11) will destroy a family.
Sedition is “Rebellion against authority”. A little straying from the path, can eventually lead to all-out rebellion, against God. You start to compromise, push the boundaries, bump up against God’s guardrails, and before you know it, you’re on a different path entirely.
Judah certainly did. Judah raised three – or at least TWO; I guess we don’t know about young Shelah – but he raised two lawless, GOD-less sons. The first, appropriately named “ER” – cuz he “erred” BIG time – his sin was SO egregious, v7, that God just killed him, no explanation given. God knew that I was gonna have to stand up here in church one day and READ Er’s sin out loud to you, and whatever he did was apparently SO bad, that God in his MERCY, didn’t even NAME it! It was even worse the Judah’s sin, more embarrassing than ONAN’S sin; you can just let your imaginations run wild, about Er and his sin.
But what in the world is going on here with Onan? Well, this is the earliest biblical evidence we have for the practice of “Levirate marriage”, whereby the oldest unmarried brother of a man who died without producing children was obligated to marry his brother’s widow in order to produce for her an heir to the family line. The purpose was two-fold: #1- to carry on the family NAME, of the deceased older brother; and #2- to ensure his widow would be taken care of. Remember, this was long before social security, Medicaid; there are NO social safety nets. The safety net, for a widow, was: you marry your dead husband’s brother! And HE takes care of you, HE helps produce children, to care for you in your old age. And Levirate marriage would actually become OT LAW, later in Deuteronomy 25.
But v9: “Onan knew that the offspring would not be his.” Onan had no INTEREST in carrying on his BROTHER’S name. In letting Judah’s birthright pass from HIM, to his dead brother’s presumptive offspring. In caring for his BROTHER’S widow. And yet, he’s got no PROBLEM taking advantage of her body. Using Tamar, for his own selfish pleasure. God’s very first command, all the way back in the Garden in Genesis 1, was to “be fruitful and multiply”. But Onan, lawlessly, defiantly, selfishly, “wastes his semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother.” So in v10, God kills him too.
Then in case you forgot where these two sinful sons learned their dereliction, we hear in v11 that Judah TOO refuses to fulfill HIS duty, by giving his third son Shelah to marry Tamar, “for he feared that he would die, like his brothers.” So Judah makes up an excuse – “go back to your father’s house, until Shelah grows up”; but Judah never had any intention of giving Shelah to Tamar in marriage; V14 divulges that even after Shelah is grown, Judah has forgotten all ABOUT poor Tamar.
Now their straying has become all-out sedition. Rebellion. Disobedience, of God’s law. Romans 2 tells us God has written his law on EVERY human heart, so that no one is without excuse. We call it our conscience. But 1 Timothy 4:2 also warns that it’s possible to “SEAR” – literally, to cauterize and render callous – your conscience. A seared conscience is like “spiritual scar tissue”, numb and desensitized.
I’ve shared my testimony with you all before, that when my father left our family, I hated God so much, I didn’t just stray; I wanted to HURT God. I figured God had broken MY heart, so I would break His in return, by breaking His law. So being a middle school boy, I turned to the easiest, darkest, most short-term gratifying, long-term devastating outlet I could find: internet pornography. And I can tell you from personal experience, the cumulative effect that years and YEARS, image after image, the searing effect that has on the conscience.
Sedition destroys families by destroying HEARTS. God doesn’t just give us His Law to regulate interpersonal mistreatment, but to mitigate personal misery. All the “Thou shalt’s” and the “Thou shalt NOT’s” of the Bible – they’re not just about governing our social interactions, keeping everybody from KILLING one another; ultimately, God gives us His commands for the purpose of promoting human flourishing. Sin leads to DEATH. But God desires LIFE for us, life to the FULLEST. So the question we have to ask ourselves is: Do I trust that God knows what is BEST for me? That when GOD says, “Love your enemies,” or “Forgive your offender”, or “Don’t sleep with that person”, or “Be fruitful and multiply,” or “Submit to the governing authorities”, or WHATEVER command God has given us, that God knows what is BEST. He’s not the “fun police”, trying to make sure no one has a good time. On the contrary, God KNOWS what our sin, our sedition, does to our own hearts. How it HURTS us. And he HATES it. Because God LOVES us. Like any good father, He wants to protect His children. But sin left unaddressed intensifies.
And #3 – Sexual Immorality (38:12-19) destroys families.
First Judah strays off the narrow path. Then he outright, seditiously opposes God’s law. Now, with conscience seared, his sin deepens, devolves, into sexual immorality.
V12: His wife dies. And the Hebrew reads, “desiring to be comforted”, he went up to Timnah, with his buddy Hirah. Judah knows where to go, and with WHOM to go, to forget all about his troubles and his grief for a weekend. This calls for a night out on the town with his Canaanite crew. Gordon Wenham (368) notes: “Sheep-shearing was a lively festival, where wine was FREELY consumed.” And for her part, TAMAR, no longer content to be merely a passive victim, and lest anyone walk away from this story looking good, she seizes the opportunity, trades her widow’s garments for a prostitute’s veil, and waits for Judah by the road along the way. She knows what kind of guy her father-in-law is. The fact that she even thought to SET this trap for him tells us a lot, again, about Judah’s character. But once again, Judah removes all doubt, by falling for her ruse. V16: “He turned to her… and said, “Let me come in to you,””. He’s very direct; no beating around the bush. She says, “What’s in it for ME?” He answers, “A GOAT.” Apparently that was the going rate, at the time, for a harlot’s services. Side note: I find it interesting that he’s there to shear his SHEEP, but he offers her a GOAT, when he doesn’t even have one with him. Perhaps this foreshadows Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats, where goats represent WICKEDNESS? In any case, Tamar negotiates to accept Judah’s “signet and cord and staff” as a “pledge”, as collateral, in the meantime. A signet, or seal, usually worn around the neck affixed by a cord, was used for personal identification in letter-writing, making contracts, etc. One’s staff also included unique carvings to mark ownership (368). Wenham points out (367): “As the legal surrogate of the bearer, [these] would have served as a kind of ancient Near Eastern equivalent of a person’s [driver’s license and] credit cards.”
This highlights just how depraved Judah has become. What he was willing to RISK for a few fleeting moments’ pleasure and debauchery. Figuratively, he compromises his very IDENTITY. Any of you ever had your identity stolen? Well, Judah just hands his right over! He has lost all sense of who he is.
Sexual immorality does this to us in a unique kind of way. Some Christians have the mistaken idea that “all sin is equal”. But that’s not biblically true. Scripture differentiates between sins. And puts sexual immorality in a category of its own: 1 Corinthians 6:18 “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin[e] a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.” There is something uniquely PERSONAL, intimate about our sexuality, and thus, about sexual immorality. ESPECIALLY when you’re a BELIEVER and your body is therefore a “temple of the Holy Spirit”! Everything we see, watch, feel, desire, touch, engage in… God comes along for the ride!
Sexual immorality is so personal that Jesus considers it the only valid exception clause to his “no divorce” rule, in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 – “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Every marriage is gonna deal with its fair share of sin, but there is a TYPE of sin that is so personal, it so violates the marriage covenant, so breaches the trust that is required to sustain a marriage, that it potentially renders the marriage unsalvageable. Sexual immorality. It has a unique ability to tear families apart. The same even holds true for the CHURCH family. In 1 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul rebukes the church for condoning sexual immorality “of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.” Like Judah, who had his SON’S wife. Paul warns them not to even associate with such a person; “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”… they must “Purge the evil person from among [them].” You don’t get excommunicated for any old sin. But sexual immorality is different. It ravages hearts, and families.
And #4 – so does SUPPRESSING the truth (38:20-23). HIDING, in SHAME.
That is the natural progression. Or DI-gression, as it were. Straying leads to sedition. Which at its worst entails sexual immorality. But the most natural reaction to our sin, especially the most intimate, personal of sin, is SHAME and HIDING. What’s the first thing Adam and Eve did when THEY sinned, in the Garden? They scrambled for some fig leaves. To HIDE.
So does Judah. V20: he sends his good buddy Hirah on a cover up job. Judah can’t have his signet and staff, his IDENTITY, floating around out there in the possession of a common HARLOT! But Hirah can’t seem to track her down. He asks all over town. Until Judah finally says, “Forget it; if we keep asking questions about this prostitute’s whereabouts, people are gonna start to wonder about me.” It’ll soil my good reputation! He even remarks in v23, “Hirah: You’ll vouch for me, right, if she tries to hit me up for interest or late fees, that I tried to send her the goat.” I’m a man of my WORD! Judah has got to hide so many layers of SHAME that he’s fooled himself into believing that he’s really a good person, deep down.
I too got really familiar with suppressing the truth and hiding in shame in the heyday of my sin. I got really GOOD at lying and hiding. I lost all my FRIENDS, isolated all my FAMILY. There’s a whole ritual associated with hiding a sin like pornography. The bigger the sin grows, the more there is to HIDE. There’s the physical hiding – deleting your browser history, destroying the evidence – but then there’s the even darker spiritual hiding. The irony is that even though I KNEW what I was doing was bad, and hurting God’s heart, I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I was bad. That’s the difference between guilt and shame: guilt is feeling like you’ve DONE something bad. Shame is feeling like you ARE bad. And I couldn’t go there. And so for every image I clicked, every video I watched, every classmate I objectified, it was like I had to “Ace” another test, score another goal, win another award, memorize another BIBLE verse – church even became part of the cycle! – of trying to hide, to cover over my layers of shame.
And if that’s what sin and shame do to an individual’s heart, it’s no SECRET what they will do to a FAMILY. I don’t think my family even KNEW me, the REAL me, until a few years ago. I finally sat them down, and confessed that I had lived a lie all those many years. I had been HIDING, in shame.
Jesus said, “The light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness rather than the light… For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (Jn 3:19-20)
But Jesus ALSO said, “ I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” (Jn 12:46)
Friends, you can step into the light this morning. Whatever sin, whatever straying and sedition, even sexual immorality – Jesus said, “ALL sins will be forgiven the children of man”, except one. See, I TOLD you all sin wasn’t equal! Jesus says “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” is the ONLY unforgivable sin. When you feel the Holy Spirit tugging on your heart, calling you to confess and repent, calling you to step OUT of darkness and INTO the light, convicting you of your need for forgiveness… for a SAVIOR! and you IGNORE it, you suppress it, you BLASPHEME it – “that wasn’t GOD; the preacher was just a really persuasive speaker,” “I don’t know why I’m getting so emotional; it must just be my time of the month”. When you make excuses for LONG enough, ignore the Holy Spirit, refuse to repent and surrender your life to CHRIST, eventually, God will give you OVER, eternally over, to the hardening of your heart, and THAT sin is unforgivable. There is NO coming back.
So friends, don’t DO it! Don’t suppress the truth any longer. The truth about your SIN, and about your need for a SAVIOR. Jesus IS the truth, He is the way – don’t stray from him! – He’s the truth, and He’s the LIFE. And he’s the LIGHT – you can step out of darkness this morning. You don’t even have to clean up your sin first; that’s HIS job. Just trust him.
Because the alternative, #5 – is Speciousness (38:24-26).
I couldn’t ruin the “S” alliteration, so you get to learn a new word: means “apparently good or right though lacking real merit; superficially pleasing but deceptive”. It’s a synonym for HYPOCRISY.
Judah is an utter hypocrite. When he finds out in v24 that “Tamar is pregnant by immorality”, his response, without even blinking, is: ““Bring her out, and let her be burned.”” His immorality is okay, but HERS is unforgivable.
Our sin always looks worse on others, doesn’t it? If you refuse to come to the light, this is the way it goes: dress up your own sin but CONDEMN it in others. I tried that for YEARS. I was the most critical, HYPO-critical, judgmental person. Tearing down as MANY people as I needed to, to feel marginally better about my own sinful self. Instead of simply admitting that my sin was NOT okay, but I know a SAVIOR who dealt with my sin for me, paid the penalty, on the cross, in my place.
Fortunately, Judah eventually drops the charade. Tamar kinda forces him to, when she reveals that SHE’S the one with his driver’s license and credit cards. So V26: He owns up to his sin. Admits, “TAMAR is more righteous than I”; this was all MY fault – I refused to give her my son Shelah, as God commanded.
But look what happens, when we DO that, friends; God SAVES. (38:27-30)
We stray, we seditiously rebel, we’re sexually immoral, we suppress the truth, and we’re specious and hypocritical, but despite it ALL, God redeems and SAVES. Our God works THROUGH the Judahs of the world, to bring about his own good plans. Do you remember the name JUDAH, connected to anyone ELSE in the Bible? The LION, of the tribe of Judah? Judah begat Perez, begat Hezron, begat Ram, begat Amminadab, begat Nahshon, begat Salmon, begat Boaz begat Obed begat Jesse, begat King David. And 28 “begats” later, we get JESUS, who is called the CHRIST.
You can take heart, this morning, brother, sister: NO ONE, and no amount of SIN or family dysfunction, can thwart our God’s good plans. To RESCUE us from sin’s penalty, and REDEEM us from its curse. Praise GOD, for his mercy and grace. Let’s pray.