Sovereign Over the Story
Updated: May 24
This devotional is part of a series through the story of Joseph. You can read the whole series here.
Genesis 37 introduces us to Joseph’s personality and gifts, as well as his abduction and enslavement. Genesis 39 seamlessly picks up where chapter 37 left off and continues with the story of Joseph in Potiphar’s house. This narrative continuation causes most of us to look at the contents of chapter 38 with some confusion. Why is it even there in the first place? Most of this chapter is disturbing, if not downright gross to many of us today. Some scholars have gone so far as to suggest that Genesis 38 was inserted by later editors. This view is no longer held by most scholars today but is understood as serving a special purpose in the first book of the Bible.
One reason we should look closely and carefully at this story is the very simple reason that God does not waste ink. One of the things that Christianity affirms is that Scripture is the very word of God. It is breathed out to authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for our benefit and His glory. Furthermore, all of the Bible tells one continual story of redemption. From Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, we read about God’s saving works. This little narrative is a critical part of redemptive history.
We should also consider the original audience to whom Genesis was written; namely, the recently liberated Isrealites. As for us today, and those at Mount Sinai, Genesis was written to inform God’s people of his faithful work of redemption throughout history. As we will see below, the story of Judah and Tamar depicts God’s faithfulness even amidst the faithlessness of his own people.
While we will not be able to exegete and look at every aspect of this chapter, there are two points I would like to highlight. The first is that this story provides a contrast between the sin of Judah and the righteousness of Joseph. In rapid succession, Judah dismisses, then lies to his widowed daughter-in-law, has adultery with her (albeit in ignorance), and then agrees to have her condemned and burned as an adulteress. In truth, it was not until Judah was boldly confronted with his own sin that he did anything we would feel comfortable calling honorable.
In contrast to Judah, Joseph resists the temptation of Potiphar’s wife, flees from her home, and suffers the consequences of his righteousness. Whereas Judah did not fear God, Joseph did and valued righteousness above all else.
The second point is that through Tamar’s firstborn son, Perez, comes the line of king David, through whom comes our blessed messiah, Jesus Christ. Whatismore, Tamar is not an Israelite, but a Canaanite. It is for this reason that Matthew includes her in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1. She is the first of five women mentioned. The first four, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba were all Gentiles. The fifth is Mary. Not only were these Gentile women grandmothers to Jesus Christ, but “Tamar and company declare that in Christ there is hope for the Gentile nations.” To quote R. Kent Hughes again, “Blessed be Tamar! Through her determination to have children of the promise, she scratched and clawed her way into Israel and secured for Judah the honor of fathering both David and the Savior of the world.”
Truly our God is able to bring about his plan of redemption no matter how messed up the world or ourselves appear. There is no sin so small that it does not deserve condemnation, yet no sin so large as to surpass the grace and mercy of God. Our God is also our Heavenly Father who works all things together for his purposes and His glory. If God can work redemption through a story as complicated as Genesis 38, He is certainly worthy of being trusted with our own stories.
Will Stockdale is a Ministry Associate and cohost of The Will & Rob Show.