God is in the Mess – Genesis 38
I have a confession to make. I took one look at the Old Testament passage assigned to me today, and made a bee-line to the New Testament. But somehow, that Still Small Voice pulled me back.
Genesis 38 is one of those chapters nestled in the Old Testament that makes you wonder what in the world God had in mind having it there. (I wish it were the only one). Right in the middle of the story of Joseph, we find a little sidebar. The story of Judah and, um, his daughter-in-law.
It’s one of those blips in the Bible that makes you scratch your head and secretly hope your non-believing friends never see it.
The funny thing is, when I tried to escape it and find refuge in the New Testament passage, I landed in Romans 8, which is home to a famous verse we’ve all memorized and loved.
“In all things God works for the good for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose.” (v.28)
“There is plenty to focus on right here in this verse,” I said to myself.
But with Genesis 38 still on my mind, my eyes couldn’t stop staring at two words.
Surely Paul wasn’t talking about Old Testament things. Women who end up parenting children with their father-in-law things.
Or was he?
Let’s recap Genesis 38. (I’m going to move fast, so you may want to read s l o w).
Tamar was a woman who was married to 2 brothers who each died—one after another—and left her a widow twice over. She was denied the third brother as a husband (probably because her in-laws secretly wondered if he would die too). Trapped in a home without an heir, she finally took things into her own hands, disguising herself as a prostitute and bedding her father-in-law (gulp) to have the babies she formerly deserved.
Are these things included in the “all things” that can “work together for the good”?
We find our answer in Matthew 1. Because there we find this woman, along with her children, in the middle of Jesus’ line.
There are many things I would edit out of the Bible if I were in charge. Genesis 38 is certainly one of them. But the really preposterous thing is that God not only doesn’t edit this story, He makes it a part of the story of His Son.
Apparently God does not blush when it comes to our messes. He has the audacity to occasionally put them on display. It’s not just Tamar’s mess that Jesus’ line includes. Take a closer look at each woman in the genealogy, and you will find prostitution, illicit sex, and desperation. You will also find redemption, second chances, and new starts.
Apparently God does not blush when it comes to our messes. He has the audacity to occasionally put them on display.
In other words, “God working for the good—in all things—for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.”
On a final note, I’ve always thought it was peculiar at the end of Genesis 38 that Judah proclaims Tamar “righteous.” Somehow Judah saw beyond her deception to her desperation. And he owned his part in it. Perhaps this integrity was part of the reason God chose Judah to carry the line of his Son.
But Judah would also carry a messy story that would live with him forever. It was the children he fathered with Tamar who held the Messiah’s seed. This shows us the amazing truth that there was someone else besides Judah who included himself in the mess.
The One who came to absolve it.
Laurie Short (formerly Polich) is a speaker, associate pastor, and author of fourteen books for students and youth workers. This year, she’s releasing her first non youth ministry book, called Finding Faith in the Dark (Zondervan, 2014.) The subtitle is “When the Story of your life takes a turn you didn’t plan,” which is a pretty good description of Laurie’s life. Single for 48 years, Laurie married and became a mom in 2009. (Her stepson was six when she married). Her experience with singleness, marriage and (now) motherhood allows her to speak to women on a variety of levels.
Laurie is passionate about God’s word, and hopes this site will help women uncover new insights from familiar (and not so familiar) passages of Scripture. She has a Masters from Fuller Seminary, works part time at Ocean Hills Covenant Church, and balances the rest of her time as an author, speaker, wife and mom. (Don’t all women have five jobs?) LauriePolich.com.