Chapter 38 is another one of those sections in the Book of Genesis that seems out-of-place. Chapter 37 leaves off with Joseph being sold as a slave to Potiphar in Egypt and Chapter 39 picks up in the same spot. Chapter 38 spells out the sordid misdeeds of one of Joseph’s brothers, namely Judah, and seems to be an irrelevant parenthetical account; an unnecessary interruption in the narrative which has been focusing on Joseph.
While the incidents surrounding the sins of Judah do very little to advance the story now before us, they do serve as a very enlightening background and explanation for what will follow. We caught a glimpse in Chapter 37 of the level of depravity that the sons of Jacob had fallen to, now we get a more detailed, up close look at one son in particular. Perhaps it is intended that we consider him as an example and his wickedness recorded here but an illustration of the great sinfulness which characterized the entire family. Nevertheless, there are at least three main reasons why we are told about Judah’s actions here:
Judah’s Sin Shows The Need To Get The Israelites Out Of Canaan
First and foremost, the sinfulness of Joseph’s brothers (we saw another example in the lives of Simeon and Levi back in Chapter 34) demonstrates the need for God to get the family out of the land of Canaan. Here we are only three generations removed from Abraham himself and the family has already so adopted the practices of their pagan neighbors that they are morally no better than the inhabitants already living in the land. Everything about Judah’s dealings with Tamar were typical behaviors of the Canaanites. Even his grave, hypocritical double-standard as recorded in Verse 24 is characteristic of the worldly, man-of-the-flesh. The vilest of heathen is indignant when confronted with the sins of others, though he himself sees no injustice in his own.
If the family of Israelites had become so utterly corrupted by the influence of those living around them in just three generations, how much greater would the contamination have been had they remained in Palestine all along? Thus God chose for them to dwell in the incubator of the wilderness of Egypt, removed from the corrupting influences of their neighbors. Even the Egyptians’ contempt for tall keepers of sheep served the purposes of God, for it allowed the family to be further segregated in the land of Goshen within Egypt.
Judah’s Sin Shows the Contrast Between Joseph’s Character And His Brothers’
It is not likely just a coincidence that we are told of the sexual impurity of Judah just before we are told of the chaste behavior of his younger brother, Joseph. It is safe to conclude what Judah’s (and probably every other brother, except Benjamin) response would have been to the advances of Potiphar’s wife. As we began to see in Chapter 37, Joseph is different from his brethren. Joseph fears God and respects others while his brothers seem to simply take whatever they want and mistreat others for their own selfish interests.
Judah’s Sin Characterizes The Line Into Which The Lord Jesus Will Be Born
“Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram” (Matthew 1:2-3 ESV)
Chapter 38 of Genesis serves as a profound reminder how great humanity’s need for a Savior really is! We see that even those who were in the lineage of the Lord were sin-stained, imperfect people. Perez was the illegitimate son of Judah and his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Yet he became the father of Hezron and ultimately an ancestor in the line that led to the Lord Jesus. The sordid deeds of Judah show us that God did not choose the noblest, the most morally upright, or the most righteous of the sons of Israel through which to bring the Lord Jesus into this world. He used sinners to bring about His purposes. If men like Judah fit into the plans of God, maybe He can use the rest of us sinners, too.
*English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.