Formations 07.24.2022: Judah’s Repentance

Genesis 38:13-17, 24-26; 49:8-12

Today we have another biblical story about people who make morally corrupt choices. Similar to his brother Reuben, Judah tends to look out for himself above anyone else. He mistreats his daughter-in-law, refusing to fulfill the custom of providing another son for her to marry after her first two husbands die. Judah thinks she is the cause of their deaths, but they brought it on themselves (read all of Genesis 38 for the full story). He is wrong to withhold his son from her, and she takes action against him.

On one hand, Tamar’s action is morally repugnant. She poses as a prostitute, seduces her father-in-law Judah, and becomes pregnant by him as payback. She deceives him, uses her body to lure him, and makes him look like a fool.

On the other hand, though, Tamar’s action is admirable. In a time when an unmarried woman’s life is threatened in many ways, she refuses to let Judah subjugate her any longer and does what is in her power to find justice for herself.

We can look at either of these people and condemn them for their actions and behaviors, but the biblical writer is clear that Judah is more at fault. Learning of Tamar’s pregnancy and realizing that the baby is his, Judah confesses, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah” (v. 26). Tamar gives birth to twin sons, effectively “restoring two sons to Judah, who has lost two” (Frymer-Kensky). And later in Genesis 49, Judah is restored in a song of redemption and honor that calls him a lion of a ruler, praised by his brothers.

The Bible offers many stories like this one, where it can be difficult to separate the sinful person from the godly person. Rather than dismissing such stories, we can accept that they give us a fuller picture of human nature. We all have the capability of sinfulness and obedience, bad and good, wrong and right. Sometimes the two even blend together, as when we do something good with bad motives or act in wrong ways to help another person. The fact that God redeems both Tamar and Judah in this story should give us great hope in our own murky situations.

Source: Tikva Frymer-Kensky, “Tamar: Bible,” The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women, https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/tamar-bible.

Discussion

• How do you feel when you read Bible stories about sexual immorality, sexism, and other difficult issues?
• What do you think Tamar and Judah did right in this situation? What other options might they have had?
• What do you think each of them did wrong?
• How do you feel about the outcome of this story—that Tamar is restored as an honorable woman with the support she needs in her society and that Judah is restored as an admirable man worthy of praise?
• How could this story apply to situations you face?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theater productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she writes middle grade and young adult fiction for the pure joy of it.

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