Parsha Vayeshev (and he settled)
Genesis 37:1-40:23 | Amos 2:6-3:8 | Matt 1:18-25
In this week’s reading, we get to see the opening of the story of Joseph. In fact, the story of Joseph is the longest story in Genesis about a single person. His story is powerful, prophetic and profound. However, in the middle of the narrative there appears what would seem to be a very out of place story.
Joseph has just been sold into slavery by his brothers and the purchases have sold him to Potipher, an Egyptian official. Then Chapter 38 opens with this:
"It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and turned aside to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah."
The story goes on to describe how Judah left his brothers to marry a Cannanite woman. She gave him three sons. One of the sons grew and was married to a woman named Tamar. This son, Er, the husband of Tamar was evil in G-d's sight and died young without giving Tamar children. As was customary and Biblical, the next son would take the widow as a wife to continue the family name and take care of the woman. This son of Judah, Onan, would not bear children with Tamar and did what was evil in the sight of the L-rd and so he also died. Now Tamar was promised by Judah, her father-in-law, that when his third son was of age he would be given to her to marry. But Judah had no intention of fulfilling that promise. Despondent, Tamar came up with a plan. She disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced, without any difficulty, Judah. Judah did not recognize her. iWe read the set up in their negotiations:
Genesis 38:16 "He turned to her at the roadside and said, ‘Come, let me come in to you,’ for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, ‘What will you give me, that you may come in to me?’17 He answered, ‘I will send you a young goat from the flock.’ And she said, ‘If you give me a pledge, until you send it—’ 18 He said, ‘What pledge shall I give you?’ She replied, ‘Your signet and your cord and your staff that is in your hand.’ So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him.19 Then she arose and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood."
She becomes pregnant with twins and when Judah is told about the "immorality" of Tamar becoming pregnant out of wedlock he demands that she be killed. Then he finds out the truth.
25 As she was being brought out, she sent [the items] to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” And she said, “Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.”26 Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.
The chapter ends with the birth of the two sons. One of the twins born from this relationship, Perez, becomes the great, great, grandfather of King David.
The next chapter goes right back into Joseph’s life. The Judah/Tamar story seems out of place and one can certainly see that Judah’s behavior was out of place. His actions towards his daughter-in-law and his brother Joseph are appalling and painful. He has significant character issues. However, it is this same man Judah and his tribe that become the lead tribe of warriors and worshippers of G-d. They become the namesake for the nation of Israel. They become one of only two tribes to remain in the land when the other ten are dispersed throughout the world. They become the people of King David and Yeshua the Messiah.
Although the Judah/Tamar account seems out of place in the middle of the story of Joseph, I believe the placement has strategic intent. One thought is the redemption of Judah in the story of Joseph. Second, is the example that G-d leaves for us of how He can change a person who repents and then use him for His kingdom glory. There are other thoughts.
Questions to consider
Can you think of some reasons G-d placed the story of Judah and Tamar where He did?
What areas of your life and circumstances have seemed out of place?
How has G-d used those circumstances for His kingdom?
If those areas do not appear to be "redeemed,”, how are you going to respond to G-d?
In what ways can you encourage others with this story?