Peninsula Community Church
December 2, 2012
God’s Gift of Family – Dysfunctional to Break Through
As we continue our this series this morning, I am reminded of what Tim Keller, the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City had to say about this particular story and stories like it in the Bible. He stated that “we can’t always read the Bible as inspirational stories for us to imitate.” The reason for this is that some stories serve to warn us about the consequences of broken promises, disobedience and dishonesty. And this is certainly one of those stories as it is filled with deceit and broken promises and moral degradation. And yet, we can learn so much from the failures of the characters represented in this text.
Our text this morning is Genesis 38, but rather than read the entire text I will allude to different passages at different times throughout the message. It is interesting to note the placement of this particular story as it is almost a sidebar to the story of Joseph. It seems out of place but we know that God does not do anything by mistake. He chose this story as it shows us how open the arms of God are.
This is a story of a dysfunctional family. Our story opens with Judah leaving the safety of his family and his religious heritage to go to Canaan. There he became accustomed to the religious beliefs of that land and he married a Canaanite woman who bore him three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah. When Er was old enough, Judah arranged for him to marry Tamar. But, in verse 7 we see that Er was wicked in the sight of God and the Lord put him to death. By law Judah’s 2nd born was to marry Tamar in order to carry on the family name and to provide the eldest son with a lineage and a means to pass on his inheritance. But Onan refused to follow through with the commitment of providing offspring for his brother. As a result, he too was put to death because of his evil acts. Then Judah promised his youngest son to Tamar but he was not old enough to marry at this time. But as we will see Judah reneged on his promise.
On a first read of this text, it is possible to be left with a misunderstanding about the story. But to fully understand the story, we must review two cultural issues at play in those that culture.
The first if these is what was known as the Levirate Law. In those days, the law stated that if a wife’s husband died, it was the father-in-law’s responsibility to provide protection and security for her. This was accomplished by having the next oldest unmarried son to marry the widow. This was necessary so that the family’s name might be carried on and so that the widow would be protected. In those days, this was important because the future inheritance and lineage of the eldest son was critical. This was most important in view of the coming Messiah, the one who would redeem the world from sin.
A second cultural issue was the status of widows. To be a widow in that day was the worse thing that could ever happen to a woman. As a widow, she was an outcast and she was not always selected as the marrying kind.
The problem was that when this law went unfilled two problems were brought to bear. There was an embarrassment for the father for not having an heir and there was shame on the part of the woman who was not able to bear children.
As we continue with this story, we see that Judah reneged on his promise to give Shelah to Tamar as a husband. As a result, Tamar decided to take things into her own hands. She knew that Judah would be headed to sheer his sheep. She positioned herself on the roadway so that she would be seen by Judah. She took off her widow’s clothes and replaced them with the clothes of a prostitute. It is interesting to note that she must have had a clue to Judah’s lifestyle and his susceptibility to prostitution or else she would not have used this as a temptation for him. He went in and lay with her. When she sought the agreed upon payment, he agreed to leave his staff and signet ring with her until he could pay her later. It should be noted that leaving these things behind would be like leaving your wallet and credit card behind in today’s culture.
As the story progresses, we see that word comes to Judah that Tamar is now pregnant. What does Judah do but he orders her to be burned to death, immediately. But the plot thickens as she reveals that she possesses the staff and signet ring belonging to the one who impregnated her. Judah is caught in a trap as he recognizes his staff and signet ring. As a result he calls off the death sentence which, honestly, was harsh even for those days. He is convicted as seen by his words to Tamara. “She is more righteous than I since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” Note, that he did not say that she was righteous or that her deeds were righteous but simply that her she represented a more righteous position than he did.
So how do we apply this story to our lives?
First of all we can never be driven by misplaced fear. Uncontrolled fear always has unhealthy results. It appears that Judah was driven more by fear rather than by faith in God. He was afraid that if he allowed Shelah to marry Tamar that he would face the same end that his brothers did. It is also interesting to note that Judah’s wife had also died and with the circumstances involving his other two sons he reacted in fear and refused to allow the marriage to take place.
Secondly, we must never blame others for our faulty emotions. Because of his faulty emotion of fear, Judah blamed Tamar for everything that had happened. In verse 11, Judah sends her home and promises to give Shelah to her as a husband. But because he was afraid rather than take responsibility it was easier to blame her. He did not want to admit that he had a role to play in this. For him she was the problem. There was something wrong with her. He sent her away with no intent to marry her off. Many of us may have been in that spot where we have been the scapegoat of blame. There was a season in my life, whether it was real or imagined, I believed that I was being blamed for my parent’s issues (divorce, anger toward one another and so on). Perhaps, you may have experienced this first hand but we can move forward from being dysfunctional to accepting breakthrough faith.
Thirdly, regardless of the circumstances of our lives breakthrough is possible. We see here that Judah had a breakthrough because as he was confronted by Tamar and was shown the staff and signet ring, he repented and called off the death sentence. It is interesting to note that Tamar says do you recognize these items. This was a break through moment for Judah. He recognized not only his staff and signet ring but he also recognized his sin. In essence he repented by declaring her more righteous than himself.
The story could have ended here but six months later Tamar gave birth to twins. One of the twins born to Tamar was named Perez. His name meant “breach” or “breaker through.” Names in those days were important as these names were often prophetic as to the future of the one who was named.
While he was born into a dysfunctional situation it did not stop him from having a breakthrough in his life. Here, we see the grace of God breaks through every situation and it breaks into our lives. We do not know much about Perez but we know that he was the great grandfather of Boaz, David, Solomon and eventually Christ himself. What a heritage? What began as a dysfunctional family ended with the one who would be a break through child and would become the predecessor of the King of Kings. Perez was to be the vehicle by which Christ came. We also see in this story that while Judah was punishing Tamara for his sin the real Jesus takes on our sin and forgives us.
So what do we learn from this story? We learn that regardless of your past, regardless of your mistakes you have made, sins committed, or wrongs done to you; there is potential for breakthrough. How about you? Are you ready for a breakthrough? Are you ready to move from a state of dysfunctional circumstance to receive Christ who brings a breakthrough? He invites you to come. So, will you?