Judah and Tamar

Sorely in Need of a Savior

The angel said, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:11

It’s a sordid story. But many stories of mercy and grace are. Judah was the fourth of Jacob’s twelve sons. In Genesis 38, he committed a series of sins. First, he married a Canaanite woman. Years later, he assured his widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar, that she could marry his youngest son, then refused to honor the promise. After Judah’s wife died, he had sexual relations with a woman he thought was a prostitute.

The woman was Tamar, disguised as a prostitute and determined to bear a son who could claim her dead husband’s inheritance. Although Genesis 38:8-10 and Deuteronomy 25:5-10 indicate that her motives were justifiable, Tamar’s methods were not. She harbored resentment against her father-in-law Judah, deceived him, and had sexual relations with him.

Yet God allowed Tamar to conceive and bear twin sons: Perez and Zerah. And even though Judah’s other son, Shelah, was older than Perez, God selected Perez as an ancestor of Jesus Christ. Why would He do that?

The foolish, flawed ancestors of Jesus remind us that “there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:10-11). They illustrate how unconditionally God loves His people, how determined He is to redeem them, and how completely He forgives them when they repent.

Although the Bible doesn’t mention Tamar again in Genesis, we do know more about Judah. In Genesis 43-44, he was the brother who finally took responsibility for the crimes he and his other siblings had committed against Joseph. First, he claimed full responsibility for Benjamin’s safety in Genesis 43:8-9; then he offered his own life in exchange for Benjamin’s in Genesis 44:33.

God rewarded Judah for these sacrificial acts by choosing him as the progenitor of both the royal and messianic line (Genesis 49:8-12). Tamar, too, is honored because the line of descent passed through her son and she is mentioned by name in Matthew’s genealogy.

Oh how merciful our God is! We’re all Judahs and Tamars. Ensnared by error. Shackled by sin. Deserving punishment, but offered forgiveness. Thanks be to God for providing the solution: a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!


What similarities and differences do you see between the Judah of Genesis 38 and the Judah of Genesis 44? What do you think prompted his actions in Genesis 44?

Reflect on your own need for a Savior by reading Romans 3:9-20. Then celebrate the gift of God’s Son by reading Romans 3:21-24.

Is there a loved one in your life who’s resisting God’s gift of salvation? Read Jeremiah 31:3 and 2 Peter 3:8-9. Don’t despair. Keep praying.

The Hebrew word for savior, yasha, is first used in 2 Samuel 22:3. David wrote that hymn (recorded in both 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18) as a tribute to his mighty Savior who had delivered him from so many troubles. Take time this week to praise your Savior for all the times He has delivered you.

Denise K. Loock

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