May 04, 2023

Understanding the Bible: Judah & Tamar

This is a special bonus episode of Tell Me More About! Whit and Casey dig into understanding the Bible, specifically Genesis 38: Judah and Tamar’s bizarre and seemingly out-of-place story.

Sometimes, you read something in the Bible and think, “Woah, what is that?” Why is this chapter included? How can we understand the story in the context of the culture it was written in? It’s important not to blow past these instances but to turn back and investigate. So, that’s exactly what we’re going to do!

Check Out this Episode on Judah and Tamar:

The Bible can be intimidating for many people because certain parts are hard to understand or interpret. The story of Judah and Tamar is a great example of this.

In Genesis 38, in the middle of the story of Joseph, is this seemingly out-of-place chapter about one of Joseph’s brothers: Judah, and his daughter-in-law, Tamar.

How do we begin to understand the Bible more and more?

As you read a story like Judah and Tamar, it’s crucial to remember these things.

1. We’re living in a wildly different culture.

The culture in Genesis 39 is a shame and honor culture. It’s motivated by drastically different things than what we’re motivated by today. It was within the family that justice was done, needs were met, and women, specifically, found protection.

This chapter involves the idea of levirate marriage:  The word “levirate” comes from the Latin word for “brother-in-law.”  This law stated that if a married man died without an heir, his next-in-line eligible brother was to marry the widow.

Judah owed Tamar his next eligible son, and to withhold this from her left her incredibly vulnerable.

2.  We won’t always have a clear answer.

We often read a story like Judah and Tamar’s and think, “Why is this here?” and honestly, that’s a great question to ask. But to truly interpret scripture, you have to get comfortable with uncertainties.

There are different ways to view this story’s inclusion within Joseph’s story. Some people think it’s a turning point in Judah’s story—it gives a character arch that shows why he is willing to sacrifice himself for Benjamin later in the story.

Another view is Judah serves as a contrast to Joseph; Joseph resists the temptation of Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39, and Judah fails to resist sexual temptation in Genesis 38.

Judah is unrighteous and dishonest, while Joseph does what’s right even though it hurts him.

The story parallels Genesis 39 in an interesting way as well. Tamar finds herself in a purgatory situation, much like Joseph, and makes the most of her circumstances.

3. Pay attention to repeated words or phrases.

The author is trying to link you to specific ideas or themes. For example, robes and garments are used deceptively throughout the story of Joseph and his family.

In Genesis 27, Jacob, Joseph’s father, steals his brother Esau’s blessing by wearing his garments. Later in Genesis, Joseph’s brothers deceive their father by showing him Joseph’s robe covered in blood. In Genesis 38, Tamar deceives Judah by wearing the robes of a prostitute.

This family continues to take matters into their own hands, using deception to receive what they believe is rightfully theirs.

4. The Bible always points back to the faithfulness of God.

God’s plan was not stopped by the deception and betrayal we see in Joseph’s family. We see repeatedly that God is faithful to His people even when they’re not faithful to Him.

He can redeem any situation, no matter how badly humans fail. Jesus, the Messiah of humanity, was a descendant of Tamar and Judah.

Now, that’s a powerful portrait of redemption.

Read the story of Judah & Tamar for yourself in Genesis 38.

Show Notes From the Episode: 
Listen to the Theology in the Raw episode they reference HERE


Check out another blog on studying the Bible:

How to Read the Bible by Casey Shirley


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