Judah’s story is an interesting one. He was the fourth of Jacob’s twelve sons. When Joseph, the eleventh son, began having dreams that his older brothers would bow down to him, those older brothers–Judah included–didn’t like that so much and wanted to kill him. It was Judah’s idea to not kill Joseph but to sell him into slavery instead.
Judah later married and had three sons. This is where his story gets really interesting. He found a wife for his first son, but that son was “wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death” (Gen. 38:6). They didn’t have any children, so according to Jewish tradition his wife, Tamar, was given to Judah’s second son. The second son was not happy about that and made sure that he and Tamar wouldn’t have children. But God saw what he did and thought it was wicked, and so the second son died. Judah was afraid that if he married his third son to Tamar, he would die, too, so he told Tamar to go live in her father’s house and wait for that son to grow up and then Judah would allow them to be married.
But Judah never followed through on his promise. The youngest son grew up, but Judah never gave Tamar to him in marriage. So, she took matters into her own hands. She heard Judah was going out of town, so she went ahead of him and waited by the road, disguised as a prostitute. Judah saw her, but did not know she was his daughter-in-law. She conceived, and as a pledge that payment would follow, Judah gave her his signet, his cord, and his staff. When he learned three months later that his daughter-in-law was pregnant, he wanted to have her killed for adultery. Tamar showed him the three things he had given her, and he knew then what he had done, and said that “she is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son” (Gen. 38:26).
Later, when Jacob blesses his sons before his death, he gives this blessing to Judah:
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Gen. 49:10). This blessing points to David, a descendant of Judah who became king of Israel, but it also points even further down the line to Jesus, who was also a descendant of Judah and who is the ultimate ruler. If you look at the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1, you’ll see both Judah and Tamar listed by name. You’ll also see a lot of other interesting stories in Jesus’ genealogy. Check out the story of Rahab in Joshua 2, the story of Ruth and Boaz in the book of Ruth, the stories of David in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel, the stories of the kings of Israel in the Chronicles and the Kings, and the story of Mary and Joseph in Luke 1 and 2.
Looking at these stories about Jesus’ ancestors, we see the reasons we need a Savior. We are deeply flawed, sinful, broken people. We make mistakes…big ones and small ones. Like Judah and Tamar we use deceit to fight deceit. We break our promises. We need Jesus to save us, to redeem us, to make us clean and whole. And we thank God that Jesus has done these things for us!
Prayer: Heavenly Father, just as the people we read about in the Bible sinned and made mistakes, so do we sin and make mistakes today. Forgive us when we mess up, and when we go against Your Word and Your will. Thank You for using us even when we are flawed, and thank You for Jesus! In His name, amen