The Sin of Judah

“And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I.”

GENESIS 38:26

 

There are certain portions of Scripture which are very difficult to read. It is not the language that is hard; it is the content. They tell of things which we do not care to know of, things which are repulsive to our sense of propriety, of things which we ordinarily would never think of talking or writing about. We would not think of selecting these portions of Scripture to read in public, we hesitate to read them in the home when children are present; even in our private reading we do not choose to dwell very long upon them. They discuss sins in terms that tend to shock us. At times we may even wonder why the Holy Spirit has thought well to have recorded them in the Scriptures. Such a portion of Scripture is that found in the 38th chapter of Genesis concerning the sins of Judah and his sons. The fact of the matter is that this and other portions like it have a very definite purpose to serve. There is something amazing and truly wonderful about the fact that sins are so, consistently and accurately recorded for us in the Bible. 

In our study of the history of the Church as recorded in Scripture we learn to know the saints that have lived in former years. The more we study their lives the more we begin actually to experience a oneness of life with them. In their experiences we see our own lives clearly reflected. Their joys and sorrows, strengths and weaknesses, victories and sorrows, loves and hatreds are essentially the same as ours. They arouse within us a spiritual sympathy. In essence we travel the same road as Abram coming from Ur and Moses through the wilderness; we fight the same battles as Joshua and David; we defend the same truth as Elijah and Elisha. When in the pages of Scripture we hear them speak in faith, the confession of Ruth re-echoes in our own heart, “Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” The communion of saints binds us together in the body of Christ, spanning all time and space. 

As we study these lives recorded for us, we are often inclined to picture them in our minds as men far more perfect than they actually were. We see them in their strength and tend to minimize their weaknesses. We are apt to forget that they also were mere men with all of the weaknesses, temptations, and sins with which we have to struggle in our own flesh. We are rather naturally inclined toward hero worship in which we take mere men and in our minds raise them to positions of absolute perfection. It is then disconcerting to come to chapters such as the one which we are now considering, chapters which point out in sharp terms that also the saints of former days were sinners. They could be guilty of the grossest sins. The Scriptures tell us time and time again of sins, terrible sins, of which some of the greatest saints in the history of God’s Church have been guilty. There is hardly a precept of God’s law which cannot be found to have been transgressed by one of the saints in Scripture. 

This fact is for us of considerable importance. In the first place, it prevents us from idealizing men. There is no room found in Scripture for the worship of mere men. There is only One who is worthy of being worshipped and that is God. Whenever you have mere men, you have sinners. That fact the Word of God will not let us forget. In the second place, it is a warning against hypocrisy. If the Holy Ghost had recorded for us only the virtues of these saints, we might easily come to the conclusion that to be a child of God we have to lead perfect lives. Since we could only appear to do this through the means of hypocrisy, the results of this for us would be disastrous. But God tells us that His children are not perfect; they also are yet sinners. We need not be afraid of admitting that this is true of ourselves. In the third place, it reveals to us the universal need which God’s people have for atonement. There is no man who is righteous of himself. Even the fathers of the Church were by nature men of corruption. If anyone is to appear righteous before the sight of God, he must be robed in the righteousness of another, and that can only be in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. In the fourth place, this can keep us from discouragement. It is a hard thing for a child of God to have to live in the constant awareness of the corruption which asserts itself in his own flesh. If we could know only about our own lives, or if we could only judge by what actually comes to light in the lives of our fellow saints, we might easily become totally discouraged as to the possibility of our own salvation because of the sin which we always see in our own inner lives. The record of God assures us, however, that sin has been the constant reality in the lives of all of His people. Finally, this is for us a warning against self-confidence. Let us never look at ourselves and think that we are free from the possibility of gross sins. Some of the greatest of the saints have fallen deeply into sin. There is not one of us that is in himself one bit stronger than they. We may all well take warning and look to God and pray, lest we fall into temptation. 

Furthermore, this fact that so many sins are so accurately recorded is one of the great assurances we have as to the divine authorship of Scripture. If the Bible were a mere work of men, it would never be so. The world’s history and even its mythology always tend to the glorification of favored men. Of George Washington there is hardly any record left of anything that he did which was bad. Lincoln’s every utterance and deed is considered nigh unto sanctimonious. And every nation does the same with its heroes. Even in the Church we rarely escape the tendency to emphasize the virtues and soft-pedal the weaknesses of such men as Calvin and Luther. But this God never does. His record of the church’s history is very accurate. When He records a man’s life, He records; it as it was with all of the weaknesses and sins which are important for us to know. There is no gloss. The Bible’s record concerning man is just as it took place with sins as sin, and virtues as virtues in all honesty and truthfulness. This complete honesty is one of the greatest testimonies to the divine authorship of Scripture. 

This all is very clearly exemplified in the Genesis 38 record concerning Judah and his children. Judah was in the promised line of the covenant. From his line of generations was to come the Christ. Were the Old Testament merely a record made by the historians of Israel, we may be sure that he would have been presented solely as a man of virtue. Surely the events of this chapter could easily have been passed over. But God’s ways are different than man’s. He would not suppress the truth, even concerning the line of Judah. Rather it was God’s very purpose to reveal that Christ did come from a line of sinners. The glory of Christ is not contingent upon the glamour of His forefathers as is so with the heroes of men. His greatness is purely in the love of the triune God Who sent Him to be born to men guilty and lost in sin. Because the Scriptures are not mere history but the revelation of God’s grace in salvation, this fact for us is important. 

Consider once how differently we might look upon Judah if we did not have the record of this chapter. Then the chief basis for our evaluation of him would be based on the plea in behalf of Benjamin before the face of Joseph (Gen. 44). That was surely a most beautiful plea manifesting great love and spiritual courage. It testifies to the fact that Judah was a true and excellent child of faith. We might, in fact, easily conclude that the promise was given to the line of Judah due to his moral superiority over his brothers. But God has given us also a record of his relations with Tamar, and our evaluation of Judah becomes much more accurate. Although this in no way may be allowed to detract from the excellency of the plea which he made before Joseph, neither must we think that his selection to be the father of Christ was due to the fact that he was any less a sinner than his brothers. God’s selection was not based on the works of Judah but only upon His own eternal good-pleasure. 

Still another reason for the sin of Judah with Tamar being recorded is to be found in the immediately following history. This event reveals very clearly why it was necessary for God to provide for the children of Israel to be taken into Egypt. The reason is that Jacob’s children were falling far too much under the influence of the Canaanitish people. Abraham and Isaac had kept themselves comparatively free in their life times from the inhabitants of the land walking as strangers and pilgrims within Canaan. When Jacob returned from the land of Canaan, however, this changed. The people of the land were quite willing to make friendship with Jacob’s children, and they had not the strength to refuse. They began to live like these peoples. How great these sins became, we learn in this chapter. In the first place, Judah went out from his father’s house to go and live with the Canaanites. This in itself was a great sin. Abraham and Isaac, his fathers before them had done their utmost to keep themselves free from the influence of the Canaanites. This discretion Judah now completely neglected. Then he married a Canaanitish woman. Esau had been severely condemned by Isaac in former years for having done this very thing; now Judah of the promise line went out and did the same. In addition he gave his son to marry a Canaanitish woman also Finally the two oldest of his sons were slain in judgment by God for the extreme wickedness in which they engaged. From a human point of view it would have been impossible for the covenant line to have continued in such an environment for even a few more generations. The children of Jacob were much too susceptible to the friendliness of the world. It was the grace of God which removed them to the land of Egypt where the people of the world were much less desirous of their friendship. There they could develop into a nation free from the temptations which they were not strong enough to withstand. Only after Canaan was ripe for judgment would they be brought back. 

One thing which we should not fail to note concerning Judah, however, is the fact that he was, in spite of his many sins, a child of God. We might be inclined to conclude after a superficial reading of this chapter that he was yet an unregenerate man. There is one fact that reveals that this is not true, that is the fact that when Tamar showed to him his sin he was willing to confess that he was guilty. He was not indifferent to his sin; nor did he attempt to excuse it. He confessed, “She hath been more righteous than I.” Although the Scriptures tell us no more, we would believe that from that time his life did proceed in a more sanctified way. 

In conclusion there is one more thing which we would like to say about the contents of this chapter generally. It might be thought that because this portion of Scripture describes sins which ordinarily we do not feel free to discuss openly, it constitutes a justification for the modern literature which floods our land today under the name of “realism.” Actually the two are in direct contrast. Modern literature treats sin, and in this treatment it glamorizes it. Its descriptions go far beyond propriety. It enlarges upon the emotional passions that motivate it. It makes man a helpless victim of his feelings for which he ought not be held responsible. Quite different is the treatment of Scripture. Its descriptions go no further than is necessary to point out the nature of the sin. It makes no allowance for the emotions or feelings of men. Sin is treated as sin, that which is abhorrent before the sight of God and to the sanctified conscience of His people.

B. W.