Community Group Study “Genesis: More Righteous than I”
Read Genesis 38:1-30
When we were last in Genesis we met the final “major” character of the book, Joseph. Joseph was the 2nd youngest son of Jacob and the first born to his favorite wife, Rachel. Jacob followed in the footsteps of his parents and favored Joseph over the rest. This created animosity and resentment from the other brothers. To make matters worse Jacob gave Joseph an expensive coat of “many colors”; and God visited Joseph with dreams about what he would do in and through this family. Those dreams were a wonderful gift from God to help Joseph endure the trails to come, but they included Jospeh ruling over his brothers which created an even bigger divide between them. At the end of Genesis 37 Joseph finds himself thrown in a pit with his brothers debating whether they should just kill him or sell him into slavery and pretend like a wild animal got him. They ended up listening to Judah’s plan, and they sold him to some Midianite slave traders and Joseph goes on his way to Egypt.
Genesis 38 turns our attention to what happens next in the life of Judah and it covers around 20 years. This section of scripture is in the storyline of Joseph because foreshadows future events with what God is doing in this dysfunctional family. Judah will undergo a tremendous transformation through being confronted with the reality of his sin. After Joseph comes to power in Egypt he finds his brothers standing before him, just like what God revealed to him in his dream. Joseph decided to test his brothers to see if they’ve changed and he does this by holding Benjamin in prison. The only brother to step forward to try and protect Benjamin is Judah who offers to trade his life for Benjamin. How does someone go from being a slave trader to trading their life for someone else? The answer to that question comes from Genesis 38.
Judah finds change and transformation only after he is confronted by the reality of his sin. Up until this point he had shown no remorse for his selfish behavior or the harm of Joseph; he just ends up living his life on his own terms. Genesis 38:1 tells us what happened immediately after Joseph was sold into slavery. Judah went and developed a life with the Canaanites. This may seem like he’s being a good neighbor and making some non-Christian friends, but what we actually see is that he is sliding out of the people of God and into Canaanite worship and religion. Judah befriended Hirah the Adullamite (Genesis 38:1, 12), he married a Canaanite woman ( Genesis 38:2, 12), he married off one of his sons to a Canaanite woman named Tamar (Genesis 38:6) and then we see two of his three kids act in really wicked ways both of whom end up dying because of their actions (Genesis 38:7, 9). To make matters even worse, Judah seemed to have been engaging in Canaanite religious practices during this 20 year period of time (Genesis 38:21-22). The Canaanites were to be avoided by the people of God because of the danger of getting pulled into their worship which consisted of religious sexual practices and child sacrifice. God will later judge the Canaanites for these actions after the events of the Exodus, in the book of Joshua.
Moreover, Genesis 38 gives us a vivid picture of how sin is really rooted in unchecked selfish desires (Genesis 38:6-11). One of Judah’s kids, Onan, is asked to marry Tamar, who is his brother’s widow. This was a common practice in the ancient world as a way to love for your deceased brother and to care for his widow. The goal was to provide a male heir for your brother who was dead, and to make sure his wife was financially supported. This would come at a cost for Onan because it would impact his kids inheritance and be a financial “drain”. What we see in the text is that Onan did not want to build up his brothers house, so he used Tamar physically but refused to try and give her a child. God put Onan to death for this. Judah then continues to engage in selfish practices in relationship to Tamar. He promised to marry her to Shelah, his youngest son, when he was old enough. However, Judah sent Tamar home to her father and did not seem to have any intention of keeping his promise because he essentially forgets her.
Tamar hears that Shelah is old enough and she goes to wait for Judah, presumably to talk about marriage to Shelah since she took off her widows garments and put on a veil which is the sign of betrothal. The story takes a wild turn here though because Tamar is waiting for Judah, dressed this way, he mistakes her for a prostitute and for unknown reasons Tamar goes with the proposition but works a plan to have a way to identify and embarrass Judah for his actions. She asks for Judah’s signet, cord and staff as a pledge of future payment.
Tamar conceived as a result of the circumstances and when Judah finds out he wants to have her executed. This whole time Judah had been treating Tamar like a problem to get rid of and it shows in his response. Yet, Tamar brings out the items that identify Judah. With dramatic irony, Tamar used the same words that Judah and his brothers used when they tricked their father about Joseph’s death (Genesis 37:32, 38:25). It was in that moment that Judah realized how far he had drifted from God and how much sin he really had in his life.
In our culture today, we spend a lot of effort avoiding the need to recognize our sin. We distract ourselves with comfort, we chase after bigger pleasures and we tell ourselves that the unsettled feeling we have is just because we haven’t achieved what we’ve been pursuing “yet”. But, what if the avoidance of realizing our sin and need for God’s grace keeps us from achieving the thing we desire most… joy, purpose and transformation? All of those things come from being reconciled to God through faith in Jesus and that reconciliation starts as God pursues and as we confess our sin and see our need to repent and turn to him. Judah realizes all these things as he states “She is more righteous than I”… or as some say a better translation of the Hebrew would be, “She is righteous, I am not.” Judah’s life changes when he recognized his sin, and the same thing happens in the life of everyone who follows the Lord.
Finally, one last thing we need to recognize is that throughout the story people were treating Tamar like a problem to be managed but notice how God looked at her. Genesis 38:27-30 ends with a story of the birth of twins. The first born child is the one that God used to carry on the promised family line to Jesus. Take a moment to look at Ruth 4:18-22, Perez gets named as the beginning of this family line to King David. Likewise if you look over at Matthew 1:1-18 you can read the Genealogy (family line) of Jesus. This genealogy has 3 sets of 14 male names leading to Jesus, but in the process 5 women are specifically mentioned: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. The Holy Spirit highlights her place the redemptive line leading to Jesus. Once again we see an example of how God uses the weak and the unexpected in his plan; Tamar was forgotten by everyone else in the story except for God.
Main idea: We can spend a lot of time drifting from God, avoiding the reality of our sin and doing “our own thing”. This passage shows us the freedom that comes from recognizing our sin and our need for God. As God lovingly confronts us with our sin, we ought to repent and recognize our need for the mercy and forgiveness offered to us in Christ.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Genesis 38:1-30
How does Judah drift away from God in this passage? Are there specific things in this passage that followers of Jesus should be on guard against in their walk with Christ?
Why would God put to death Er and Onan? How does Judah model selfishness throughout this chapter and specifically in his response to Tamar?
Why is the confession of “She is righteous, I am not” such a difficult thing for someone like Judah to admit? How does it lead him to freedom and transformation? Read Genesis 44:18-33, how does Judah demonstrate changed character?
If you do not yet follow Jesus, this recognition of sin serves to help bring you into relationship with God. Being confronted by you sin is meant to reveal to you your need for grace and mercy from God. The proper response is to turn from your sin and confess your need for God. If you follow Jesus, these moments can serve as warning lights for us and push us back towards the Lord. Read 2 Corinthians 7:9-11. How does this passage relate to what we’ve learned? What is God’s ultimate goal in those moments where we experience this kind of grief?