Judah left home and moved to Adullam, where … he saw a Canaanite woman, the … and he married her … she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, and he named the boy Er … In the course of time, Judah arranged for … Er, to marry a young woman named Tamar. But Er was a wicked man … so the Lord took his life … So Tamar went back to live in her father’s home. Some years later Judah’s wife died … Later, Judah was told, “Tamar, your daughter-in-law, has acted like a prostitute. And now, because of this, she’s pregnant.” … When the time came for Tamar to give birth, it was discovered that she was carrying twins. —Genesis 38:1-27, NLT
One of the most sordid tales of the book of Genesis had a happy ending. Judah, the immigrant, married a local Canaanite woman and had three sons. He practically assimilated into Canaanite life, in view of the details that follow. His first son, Er, married Tamar, another Canaanite, and before fathering children Er died because of his evil deeds. According to the culture and customs of Judah, his son Onan had an obligation to give Tamar a child, but he also died because of his sexual misbehavior toward Tamar. Judah unjustly divorced himself of his responsibilites toward Tamar and effectively threw her out of his home, sending her back to her family of origin.
Desperate in her barrenness, Tamar heard that Judah, now a widower, was in her town. Believe it or not, the Canaanite religion was based on fertility and its unworthy “worship” offered shrine prostitutes for those who desired to participate in its rites. Tamar dressed up as a shrine prostitute and intercepted Judah on his way. Judah approached her, offering payment to have relations with her. As a result, she conceived and bore twin sons.
The story offers neither admirable elements nor heroes. But the life of some immigrants today lacks nothing in equaling the immorality of Judah’s family. Far from their loved ones and the support of their religious community, for some people sex becomes a refuge from their lonliness; for others, a diversion from their sufferings. No one of another race or nationality has any right to point an accusing finger at them, since morality is in decay around the world. But the difficulty of immigrant life becomes even greater when sexual sin enters the picture. New generations pay the consequences, condemned to grow up in unstable homes.
Nevertheless, the rest of the story begins with the birth of the twins Perez and Zerah. Perez would beget a series of leaders in the tribe of Judah that would include many of the heroes of the Bible, including King David and the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. God made something good out of the disastrous family of Judah, and he can also make something beautiful out of the ruins of your life if you will give yourself over to God for the rest of the story.
Dr. Joseph Castleberry is President of Northwest University in Kirkland Washington. He is the author of Your Deepest Dream: Discovering God’s Vision for Your Life and The Kingdom Net: Learning to Network Like Jesus. Follow him on Twitter at @DrCastleberry and at http://www.facebook.com/Joseph.Castleberry.