Sex, Scandal, and Hypocrisy
When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. Genesis 38:15
As I’ve mentioned previously, my father is a now-retired pastor and when I was a kid, we went to church on Sunday morning and on Sunday evening. According to my memory, he preached from the New Testament on Sunday morning, which was a bit of a snoozer to a five-year-old – sorry Dad. On Sunday evenings though, he often preached from the Old Testament, which meant his sermons were filled with violence, sex, and treachery. I liked Sunday night’s sermons way better.
Today’s passage contains one such story, telling a twisted tale of hypocrisy with a painful lesson. It’s about Judah, who married and had three sons. His first son married a woman named Tamar, but then he died. According to custom, the second son took Tamar as his wife, but he also died. Again, according to custom, the third son was then supposed to marry Tamar. Judah thought Tamar was bad luck at this point though, so he promised Tamar that she would eventually marry his third son, but he never allowed it to happen.
When Judah’s wife died, Tamar hatched her plan to take revenge and to get pregnant with her own child. She covered her face and disguised herself as a prostitute, luring the all-too-willing Judah into a sexual encounter with her. As payment, Judah left her with some personal items and went his way, not knowing that he’d just impregnated his own daughter-in-law. So, when he later heard that Tamar was pregnant, and knowing she was unmarried, he proclaimed that she must be put to death. Tamar responded by showing Judah the personal items that he’d used to pay her for sex. By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant (Genesis 38:25). Judah realized his hypocrisy and relented, allowing Tamar to live, bearing his twins.
It’s a lesson for all of us who would judge others harshly for their failures. While in treatment myself, I remember several of the other clients mocking a guy who relapsed while in treatment – What an idiot. Though they’d only been sober for a few days themselves, they felt their newfound sobriety provided them the superiority to look down on those who were still struggling. I remember thinking – I’ll never look down on anyone. But, nine years sober, and I sometimes find myself being condescending towards someone who’s struggling – What an idiot.
The lesson of Judah and Tamar though, is that we’ve all got our own sins. We all fail in some way. It doesn’t mean we can’t identify sin as sin when we see it. It just means we should avoid being condescending and judgmental. It means we should keep our own failures in mind when addressing the failures of others. None of us is perfect and in God’s eyes, we’ve all got our flaws. He still loves us though, and so too, must we love others, even when they’re idiots – because, in some ways, we all are.