The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” – Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV)
Let’s continue our discussion from the previous two posts. In part I, I told how I recommended to a friend that he read the Old Testament story of Joseph, and how he didn’t expect to encounter the story of Judah and Tamar — a single chapter in the book of Genesis that appears in the middle of the story of Joseph. In Part II, I explained why the story appears in the Bible. Today, I want to explain why this seemingly random story matters, and what we can learn from it. But first, we have to state a most important premise:
The Bible is ultimately all about Jesus. (He said so.)
As surprising as it may seem, Judah and Tamar figure in His story, too. After all, Jesus is not the descendant of Levi, and even though Joseph’s story is magnificent, Joseph is not the direct ancestor of the Messiah. Judah is.
Look at Jesus’ family tree in the gospel of Matthew.
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.” – Matthew 1:1-6 (NIV)
And, of course, this is just the first part. You can read the entire genealogy of Jesus here, or you can listen to Andrew Peterson’s song Matthew’s Begats below.
Lessons from Judah and Tamar
Here’s what I take away from this story and its presence in the Bible:
- It all fits together — The sacred and the profane, the glorious and the scandalous are part of the picture. This doesn’t justify the profane or inglorious, but it does illuminate the grace and generosity of God. The Japanese art of kintsugi made use of gold to repair broken cups and dishes, making the brokenness and the repair part of the beauty and the story of the vessel. God, the master craftsman, can take all the broken parts and communicate something eternal through each one of us.
- God’s purpose can’t be thwarted — If God were as dainty as we imagine, the slightest human frailty would derail His plans. Here we see God, like a master of jiu-jitsu, taking the fallibility of Judah and Tamar and using it to continue progress toward the advent of the promised Messiah.
- It all matters (even the bad stuff) — Again, I’m not advocating that we all go out and sin just so we can experience the joy of forgiveness. But recognize that every occasion of failure is a new opportunity to find comfort from our Father in Heaven, and to know His love more profoundly. Note that if Onan hadn’t rebelled, and if Judah and Tamar hadn’t conceived, Perez would not have been born.
- Nobody’s here by accident — If your parents ever described your birth — or worse, you — as an accident, it’s time to shake that off. As we see in this story and in the genealogy of Jesus, there are at least two births that technically shouldn’t have happened, yet they did. Perez and Solomon were both the sons born of liaisons that were not by the book, and yet each man had his role in bringing about the central fact of history, the birth of Jesus our Redeemer. None of us can tell from here what our life’s total contribution will be to the larger story, but isn’t it better to live in the expectation that one has such potential, and to aim for it?
- The Bible is true — The story of Judah and Tamar illustrates the space-time reality of the life of Jesus. He isn’t some cipher of unknown origin. The writers of scripture placed Jesus in direct descent from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David — and all of this in accordance with prophecy. These are additional reasons you can hang your hat on the reliability of the Bible.
A little more about that last point: If you and I were trying to start a religion from scratch, we wouldn’t include the flaws and failures of our founders. Yet that is exactly what the Bible shows again and again. Look at Tamar posing as a prostitute to get an heir, and look at Judah the lonely (and randy) widower who falls into the honey trap set by his scorned daughter-in-law.
Then look ahead to Rahab the harlot in the lineage of Jesus — King David’s great grandmother. And that’s not all. David famously betrayed loyal Uriah the Hittite to cover his adulterous affair with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Yet it was Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba who built the Temple in Jerusalem and carried the messianic line forward.
This frankness about the earthy nature of Jesus’ earthly ancestors shows that God is not faint of heart, nor squeamish when it comes to our preoccupation with sex. Nor is he put-off by our rebellion and resistance. Instead, He is patiently and persistently loving fallen and fallible people like you and me. You and I — broken as we are — can be and are redeemed and take our place in the Great Story God is telling. Even though you may feel far away from God based on something you’ve done or are doing, if you’re breathing it isn’t too late to turn to Him.