Accompanying Bob Deffinbaugh sermon: The Skeleton in Judah's Closet
Accompanying Keith Krell sermon: God's Dirty Laundry
I read through both of the above sermons but just didn't get around to getting my own thoughts put down, so here are some thoughts from Deffinbaugh:
Historically, this chapter had much to teach the ancient Israelites. To begin with, this event underscores the necessity of a sojourn in Egypt. Spiritual purity was essential for the purposes of God to be realized. Judah, the son through whom the Messiah would be born (Genesis 49:8-12), was so carnal that he was willing to marry a Canaanite woman, to have a heathen for his closest companion, and to enter into an illicit relationship with a cult prostitute. Something drastic had to be done, and the exile in Egypt was God’s remedy. There, living among a people who detested Hebrew shepherds (43:32; 46:34), even if the Hebrews were willing to inter-mingle and intermarry with these people, the Egyptians would not even consider such a thing. Racial bigotry, if not religious piety, would keep the people of God a separate people. While the sojourn in Egypt was in many respects a bitter experience, it was a gracious act on the part of God. Those Israelites who had gone through the exodus experience could begin to sense this as they read this account.
No Israelite could take this record seriously without a deep sense of humility. Israel’s “roots,” if you will pardon me for saying so, were rotten. They could not look back upon their ancestry with any feelings of smugness and pride. There were too many skeletons in the closet for that. Instead, they must acknowledge that whatever good had come to Israel was the result of grace alone....
The principal theme of this chapter is divine providence, which draws the entire section together; God is at work bringing about His purposes through men who are actively pursuing sin. In chapters 37 and 39 and following, God is providentially at work to fulfill His promise to make the descendants of Jacob a great and mighty nation (cf. 35:11), and at a time when these brothers were only intent upon diminishing their numbers. In chapter 38 God is at work, providentially assuring the fulfillment of His promise to provide a Messiah through the descendants of Judah (49:8-12).
Ideally, God’s sovereign power and all-wise and loving purposes are accomplished through obedient servants. But when His children go their own way, God’s infinite power is channeled through unwilling, disobedient men and women, who, in spite of themselves, achieve God’s plans. This they do unknowingly and unpleasantly.
Who would ever have thought that there was any chance of the messianic line continuing through Judah from the initial events of this chapter? Here was Judah, the ancestor of Messiah, taking a Canaanite wife, failing to keep his promise to his daughter-in-law, and propositioning a prostitute, who would just have well been a part of a pagan religious cult? In spite of all of Judah’s sins and in spite of Tamar’s impatience, Perez, the forefather of David and of the Savior, was born. Who but God could have brought such a thing to pass?....
Nothing could be further from the truth than thinking that God is somehow limited by man’s sinfulness.
The doctrine of the providence of God is one of the most comforting truths in all of the Bible, for it assures me that what God says, He will do, even if I am found to be actively resisting it. If the promise of eternal salvation were not dependent upon God’s character and His power, Who can bring about His will in spite of man, what kind of promise would it be? I might just as well quit now and avoid the rush. But if God’s promises are sure (as they are, Philippians 1:6) then I can diligently work for these goals, realizing that I cannot lose, even when I am faint of heart or go my own way through disobedience or rebellion.
At this point many are frightened by the implications of the sovereignty of God. They fear that Christians will conclude, “Why bother to obey God, to struggle against the desires of the flesh, or to fight the spiritual warfare? After all, if God’s will is going to be done whether I obey or not, why obey?”
There is the danger of God’s sovereignty and my security tempting me to complacency. That is why this problem is addressed in Scripture (Romans 5:19-6:23). But the danger does not disprove the doctrine. Many Christian heresies are the illogical misapplications of biblical truth. In the book of Romans, for example, the expression “God forbid” is an indication that this is the case. The principle is valid, but the application is not. Thus, when Paul teaches that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20), we recognize this doctrine to be true and one that is illustrated in Genesis 38. But to conclude from this that one should therefore sin in order that grace might abound even more (Romans 6:1) is an improper extension of a biblical principle. Some have been inclined to reject the doctrine of God’s sovereignty because of what some have done with it practically. It is the practice which should be condemned, not the doctrine.
Since much of what God does in this world is through His providential guidance, it is vital that we understand its implications for Christians today. The first is that godly living is necessary for the glory of God. Had we not been given the divinely inspired account of the sale of Joseph into slavery, we would not have imagined that it was part of God’s eternal plan. At best, unbelievers would have considered the outcome of the incident good luck or mere coincidence. You see, when God works providentially through disobedient men and women, not only are the instruments unaware of the hand of God, but so are the onlookers.....
In chapter 39 we are told, “Now his master saw that the LORD was with him and how the LORD caused all that he did to prosper in his hand” (verse 3). Why could this be said of Joseph’s master but not of his brothers nor of the Midianite traders nor of Hirah nor Tamar? It was because God was working through men in spite of themselves. Joseph gave a clear testimony to his faith in God; his good work and divine blessing verified his faith in the God of Israel. Judah did not witness to Tamar as he was bargaining over the price of her services. Hirah probably never learned that Judah was to play a part in the purposes of God.
The point is this: while God can accomplish His purposes without man’s cooperation by His providential working in this world, He can best be exalted and proclaimed to unbelievers through those who trust in Him and obey His will. Lest we be tempted to be lax in our spiritual lives, convinced that God’s will will ultimately be done anyway, let us remember that God desires to be glorified in His saints (cf. Genesis 49:3; II Thessalonians 1:10,12).
The second implication stemming from the doctrine of God’s providential rule is that we Christians must view every circumstance through the eyes of faith. Judah did not realize at the time that God’s promises were being fulfilled through his act of immorality. Joseph did not fully know that his sale into slavery was going to bring about the deliverance of his brothers and father. There will be many times in the life of the Christian when it will appear that everything is falling apart at the seams. Tragedy, disputes, divisions, and heartache will afflict us so long as we are in these mortal bodies. We, too, must trust that in these times of adversity there is a God Who does work providentially in our lives.
Being obedient to God truly is for our own good and for His glory.
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Genesis 39