What does it say?
Joseph has just arrived in Egypt when the scene suddenly switches back to Canaan and Judah (Gen 38). Read this story on the surface for what it is, a disgusting level of sin and self-centeredness in Judah and his family. Remember that the promised Seed will come through Judah, a promise clearly not based on purity, spirituality or performance. Why this change of scene in the story?
Judah’s sin is a stark contrast to Joseph’s integrity in Egypt (Gen 39). Once again, God blesses Abraham’s seed among the nations, as Joseph gains favor and blessing even in prison.
In prison (Gen 40), Joseph meets the head of Pharaoh’s household staff and his chief baker that have also been imprisoned. Both dream dreams that Joseph correctly interprets, giving all the glory to God.
What does it mean?
The flashback to Canaan and the horrible story of Judah, his evil sons and Tamar is even worse than you may have thought. God has determined that the promised Seed will come through Judah. Judah’s firstborn Er is so wicked that God kills him. In this region, having a child with a brother’s widow to carry on the family line was fairly common, but this family is irresponsible, wicked and dysfunctional. Had not Tamar not posed as a prostitute to bear children through Judah, there would have been no seed of Judah to continue. Not to justify her actions, but Tamar really becomes the heroine (38:26).
This is not merely a “throw-away story,” when we realize that this is all God working through Abraham and his descendants in spite of themselves. Pharez is one of the twins born to Tamar with Judah. Don’t forget this story. Ten generations later, a direct descendent of Pharez becomes King David of Israel.
Meanwhile, God planted Joseph in Egypt to save tribes of Israel. Would this have been necessary had Israel been fully engaged in God’s mission of blessing the nations?
How will I respond?
There’s no shame in having been an adulterer, prostitute, thief or whatever. The shame is thinking you have to stay that way. Do I have a point of shame in my life that I have not deal with in a biblical way? The pathway is clear: Acknowledge your sin; repent (commit to change); take small steps to grow into the person God designed you to be. What will I do today?
Engaging in God’s mission sets my focus outward, not inward. God will accomplish his mission with or without my cooperation, but life will be far better if I cooperate. Emil Brunner said, “The Church exists by mission, just as fire exists by burning.”