Surprised By Grace
Text: Genesis 38
Proposition: The deception and disobedience of man can in now way prevent the grace of God in fulfilling the Promises of God.
Introduction: Have you ever been surprised by grace, doing something that was wrong and being stubborn about it and then all of a sudden out of the middle of nowhere grace is shown to us when we least deserve it and it turns our hearts. Today we are going to look at the story of a man who did everything wrong and was stubbornly persistent about it. It’s one of those, ‘I didn’t know that was in the Bible’ stories that comes right out of the blue. Joseph has been sold by his brothers to a group of Ishmaelite traders, on their way to Egypt. We’d expect the story to trace how things go with him. Instead, Scripture shifts its focus to the brother that said, ‘What profit is there in killing our 17 year old brother, let’s sell him’, and so they did, into life long slavery, such was the evil that was in Judah’s heart. What becomes evident in today’s chapter is that verses 1 to 12 cover at least twenty years of time whereas verses 13 to 30 cover about nine months. So the first twelve verses are in rapid time which sets the context and the last two thirds of the chapter are in slow time so that we see the main point. Let’s look at the actions of Judah, the prodigal father who was surprised by grace. Turn to Genesis 38.
I. Judah’s Wrong Choices, ‘a Reaction From’ and ‘an Attraction To’. Judah was probably about 20 when he chooses to leave his deceiving father Jacob and to put behind him his ten brothers and a sister. Judah decides that the company of Canaanites is better than the company of family and he goes for a visit and stays there, for the next twenty years. He marries a girl who is from there and they begin to have a family as Judah takes up the work of being a shepherd. Likely by the time Judah is 25 he has a family of three sons and a wife. The youngest son Er grows up and Judah picks a wife for him, so add about another 17 years and Judah is now 42. The young woman he picks is a Canaanite girl called Tamar but it tells us Er was wicked in the sight of the Lord, “and the Lord killed him.”. We’ll struggle with that phrase in a little bit, with the idea that God can in a righteous way, kill people. So Judah tells the next oldest brother, Onan, to marry Tamar and have children in the name of the Er, to keep that family line preserved. Onan sleeps with Tamar but did not want to impregnate her. It says “he emitted on the ground”, because he didn’t want his child bearing Er’s name. Because of what he did it says, “therefore the Lord killed him also.” So Judah has but one son left, Shelah who is probably about 14 and he tells Tamar to return to her fathers house and to wait until the boy is older and then Shelah will marry her, but in his own mind Judah is thinking that this girl Tamar is the problem. That’s the first eleven verses so what were the wrong choices that Judah made?
1. He left behind the very people that could speak truth into his life, his family.
2. He underestimated the attraction of friends and culture.
3. He didn’t see that loneliness is not an emotional issue, it’s a faith issue. His reaction to loneliness was to marry a Canaanite woman.
4. If you won’t disciple your kids, the world will. The first two sons of Judah were wicked and selfish, men who did not have an interest in knowing God. To some extent this too was part of Judah’s choice as he raised them. Truth, especially spiritual truth in the Lord, is what children need to face the future.
5. Judah chose to ignore the possibility that the direction he was attracted to might be godless and dangerous. He never once considered that the death of his sons was at the hand of God.
Wrong choices often begin as ‘a Reaction From’ something and become ‘an ‘Attraction To’ that which causes greater ruin. Fathers flee from sin and be attracted to God, guard yourselves that it is not the other way around.
II. The Prodigal Father is Surprised by Grace.
Judah’s wife dies and only Shelah his youngest son remains as the last possible means of preserving this family. Since Tamar won’t be given to Shelah because of Judah’s superstitious fear of her, she takes an extreme risk, she dresses up as a prostitute and with her face covered goes out in pursuit of Judah. He sees her yet does not know who this is and propositions her for the price of a goat. Since he doesn’t have the goat with him, she asks for some kind of collateral until he can deliver the goat. Was it the loneliness for his deceased wife, was it the celebration at Timnah where the wool of the sheep was sheared and sold, was Judah intoxicated when he met Tamar, did Tamar know that this would likely be the circumstance? All quite possibly true, whatever the case, Judah is asked for two things as a guarantee of payment before sex… his signet held by a cord and his shepherd’s staff. The signet was a small cylinder that was used to sign his mark on business transactions, the staff was likely carved on top to signify his authority and was a protection to him. In essence Judah gives an unknown prostitute his credit card and the keys to his office in order to have sex with her. He squanders what is of great value in order to have a brief moment of sensuality. It’s the prodigal father looking for life in all the wrong places. Tamar sleeps with her father-in-law as a desperate attempt to have the family she was promised and this desperation was used of God in an incredible way. Tamar, the Canaanite woman, conceives as a result of this union with Judah, the son of Jacob. Keeping the signet and staff, she goes into obscurity and though Judah tries to recover his property, the ‘harlot’ was nowhere to be found. Months later it is discovered that Tamar is pregnant and Judah orders her to be burned alive. He doesn’t even investigate the issue but sees it as a way of getting rid of the future wife of Shelah. That’s when Tamar produces her trump card, she says that the man would committed this adultery with her is the one who owns this signet and staff. The death sentence for Tamar was really also a death sentence for Judah, except he is both Judge and Defendant. He finds himself guilty as charged, he declares Tamar as more righteous than he. He confesses his sin of withholding Shelah. Grace really is amazing isn’t it? It is in a moment, just a moment, that Judah is broken, when he is ashamed of his sin and turns from it and when he is again used by God. Judah is surprised by grace, by a grace he didn’t deserve, by a grace that he confers on Tamar and by a grace that is conferred on Judah by God. The prodigal father is restored!
Look at what happened when Tamar gave birth…she had twins and the first born twin was a child by the name of Perez. Over 700 years later in the book of Ruth, the elders of Bethlehem blessed Boaz’s choice of Ruth saying, “May your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring which the LORD will give you from this young woman." (Ruth 4:12) They remembered the union as a good event, as a fruitful thing and even as something the Lord had directed to be. When we look into the New Testament in Matthew 1:3 and Luke 3:33 (put up Matt. 1:3-6) we see that Perez was in fact the father of the line from which Boaz was born and even the same line from which king David was born.
God had promised Jacob that his descendents would possess the land and that from him would come nations and kings of nations. That promise that God made was intended to be fulfilled through Jacob, then through Judah the chosen son of Jacob and then through Er. The wickedness of Er was an act of treason against the Person of God and the plan of God. The righteous wrath of God withdrew Er from that gift. Onan also refused the gift of being in the line of the Messiah because of his vain selfishness and experienced that same righteous wrath. It was Perez, the son born because of the desperation and risk of Tamar and the foolish actions of Judah that continued the promised line of Christ. We are surprised by grace because the deception and disobedience of man can in no way prevent the Grace of God in fulfilling the Promises of God. That is what the last two thirds of this chapter emphasises. A post script to this surprising grace of God:
In the next years, Judah, his brothers, their children and Jacob (or Israel) all end up in Egypt. Joseph’s care for them is providential but after 110 years of life Joseph dies in Egypt. It is likely that the brothers and their sons were still alive after this time, for instance we know that Levi lived for 137 years (Ex. 6:16). What this means is that the brothers who sold Joseph into slavery were also made to know what slavery felt like. This also means that Judah died in Egypt in slavery and left his son Perez there in slavery. Perez’s son, his grandson and his great grandson all died in Egyptian captivity. If you follow the genealogy of Matthew 1:3 the great, great grandson of Perez is Nahshon, who shows up as a prince of Israel under Moses in Numbers 2:3. From Nahshon comes Salmon, from Salmon comes Boaz and the godly line continues through David to Jesus Christ… to you, in Christ!