How do you solve a problem like Judah?
Blessed to be a blessing to others.
That was the function of the nation of Israel from the very beginning, all the way since the call of Abraham in Genesis 12. They were meant to be the great family that shows God’s goodness to all the other families in the earth – drawing all men to Him.
But by the time we get to the sons of Jacob, 3 generations later, their identity as the blessed nation is barely recognizable.
In Genesis 34, the sons of Jacob end up using their privileged position as future heirs of Canaan to destroy and pillage the city of Shechem – making them a stench to the surrounding nations (34:30).
And in Genesis 37, we see that they are irresponsible shepherds rather than sacrificial caretakers. When their younger brother tries to point that out to them, they hate him and come upon him to kill him like a pack of wild dogs, skinning him of that beautiful coat – covering it in blood. Indeed some ‘wild beast’ devoured him – the wild beast that is the current nation of Israel.
Things get even worse in Genesis 38, exemplified through the youngest son of Leah – Judah. Judah has already portrayed himself to be more interested in money than in the well-being of his brother Joseph. And now by leaving his brothers (38:1), he enters deep into Canaan, intermarrying with their women – mimicking his uncle Esau.
His sons amplify his attitude. Onan, as Tze-Ming reminded us on Sunday, spills his semen on the ground because he’s acting selfishly to protect his own self-interests. He wants the double portion of the inheritance of the firstborn for himself. Judah blames Tamar for all that mess instead of seeing his own wickedness.
The result of all this is that Tamar comes up with a plan to have children through her father-in-law’s desires – indicating she must have known he would be up for sleeping with prostitutes. She didn’t even have to get him drunk, as in the story of Lot and his daughters.
The irony of all this is that Judah gets so angry when he hears about the fact that Tamar has been sexually immoral – so much so that he wants to burn her (38:24).
So on one hand, Judah has no qualms about pillaging, murder, slavery, fornication and deceit (though keeping face is important to him – 38:23). But on the other hand, he claims to be righteous (38:26) and insistent on certain religious practices (34:14, 38:8).
This whole nation of Israel at this moment seems to be full of contradictions. Full of moral statements and religious talk – yet highly self-seeking and fleshly in their behaviour.
Judah has shown us that these sons of Jacob have indeed embraced their place as rulers of Canaan (they certainly act like tyrants) – but have turned out to be Class A hypocrites.
Now that’s a problem.
If the generations of Israel continue this way, God’s goodness will never be known by all the nations. Indeed His name will be dragged into the mud by such twisted and perverse behaviour.
So, how do you solve a problem like Judah? In fact, how do you turn a hypocritical nation into one filled with God’s spreading goodness?
That’s the question we must be asking as Moses continues his story…
Pastor Dev Menon