Devotional & Reflection

Week 1, May 2004

Gen 38:24-26 :
Living Out Our Calling

By Pang Hee Hung, Katartizo Resources Ltd

Gen 38:24 About three months later Judah was told, "Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant." Judah said, "Bring her out and have her burned to death!" 38:25 As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. "I am pregnant by the man who owns these," she said. And she added, "See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are." 38:26 Judah recognized them and said, "She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah."

What is the significance of the narrative of Judah (Gen 38), which interrupts the narrative of Joseph in Gen 37 – 50? The narrative of Judah presents another far-reaching redemption story within the broader theme of Genesis. Genesis describes the fall of men and traces the primary thread of redemption and blessing. It begs the questions: From where would the blessing and redeemer come from? Through whom and which lineage?

The blessing and redemption would come from:
Seth (a child in place of Abel, Gen 4:25) and not Cain;
Noah and not the other worldly people;
Shem and not Japheth or Ham (Canaan);
Abraham and not Lot;
Isaac and not Ishmael; and
Jacob and not Esau.

And from whom would the blessing and redemption come from out of Jacob (Israel)’s 12 sons? The blessings would come through the “flesh and blood” sons, and not from sons of the maidservants, Zilpah and Bilhah. This rules out Gad, Asher, Dan and Naphtali (Gen 30:1-12; 17-16). The blessings would fall upon the oldest son. However, the eldest son, Reuben, disqualified himself when he slept with his father's concubine, Bilhah (Gen 35:22; 49:4). The narrator also hints at the ruling out of the next two older sons, Simeon and Levi, as they viciously massacred the Shechemites for raping their sister, Dinah (Gen 34:25, 30; 49:5-7).

In the immediate present, the redemption of Israel comes from Joseph, the eldest son of Rachel, so that the tribe of Israel could survive the famine. In the distant future, the redemption of Israel and the world comes from Judah, Israel's fourth son and the next qualified eldest son of the first wife, Leah. And this lineage of redemption comes under unusual circumstances too, as presented in this chapter.

Jeopardizing The Blessing

However, the far-reaching redemption story almost did not happen. Judah almost had no descendants from Er, his first son, who was survived by Tamar. The redeemer was to come through Tamar. The Bible is silent as to why God considered Er to be so wicked and was to be put to death (Gen 38:7). Then Onan, the second brother, was also put to death. God considered him wicked (Gen 38:10) for deliberately failing to perform the then customary practice of perpetuating the deceased brother's line, name and inheritance (later codified under Mosaic Law in Deut 25:5-6). Judah was afraid that this third son, Shelah, too, may die in the process of perpetuating the line.

The line of blessings was almost jeopardized because of the wickedness of Er and Onan as well as the human fear of Judah. The Bible does not specifically say how this arises.

But there is a hint of the reason when Judah married a Canaanite (Gen 38:2) in contrast to his forefathers who all married from their own people e.g. his father, Jacob (Gen 28:1), his grandfather, Issac (Gen 24:3-4) and his great-grandfather, Abraham. Judah did not seem to be walking with the Lord as his forefathers did. He visited prostitutes (Gen 39:15). It was also possible that owing to the Canaanite influence, Judah was given to visiting temple prostitutes (Gen 38:21), a ritual practised by the Canaanite fertility cult. In addition, Judah, like his father Jacob, seemed to lose control of his family. They were not walking with the Lord. In fact, Er and Onan were so wicked that God put them to death.

We, too, may not realize that we are the channel of blessings. We may jeopardize the blessings with our humanness, our wickedness, fears and failures.

Passing The Baton – Fulfilling Our Calling

We may never know how important are our actions and lives for the immediate or distant future. Our lines of blessings may be disrupted because of our humanness. But the impact may go beyond our descendants. Imagine if we do not fulfill our part of the calling, and someone is not saved … Or the world is lost …

Judah was actually in such a predicament. He had postponed and perhaps had no intention of getting Shelah to fulfill his duty. If Judah did not have an heir, there would be no David. If there were no David, there would be no Jesus. This is because the line of David and Jesus traces through to Perez and to Judah and Tamar (Matt 1:3-4).

1. What blessings do we carry? What dangers now confront us that may cause us to forfeit those blessings?
2. What tasks and calling do we need to fulfill to perpetuate our line of blessings, like Shelah, failing which we are like Onan?
3. How can we pass the baton and the line of blessings to our children and children's children?

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