Trading Our Spiritual Authority for Sexual Pleasure: Judah, Jehu and Jezebel Part Two- Judah and the ProstituteRead Now
When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.” GEN 38:15-16
Judah was one the twelve sons of Jacob and such is one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Judah was also the lineage through which Jesus would eventually be born. In fact, in the book of Revelation chapter 5, verse 5, Jesus is referred to as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. To be crowned with such an honor, Judah must have lived an exemplary life, probably much similar to Noah who was saved because of his righteous life of reverence to God. Not so fast.
Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, was instrumental in getting rid of his half-brother, Joseph, by helping to throw him in a pit until such a time as a band of Midianite traders came by and Judah and his ten other brothers sold Joseph into slavery. Then they lied to their father and said that they found Joseph’s clothing with blood on it leaving Jacob to only assume the worst - his son Joseph must have been killed by a wild animal. Strike one. Secondly, he didn’t really seem to have exercised fatherly authority over his sons. His first son, Er, married a woman named Tamar, but Er lived wickedly before God. It doesn’t say how, but Er died because of his disobedience to God. As was custom, the next male in line would assume his brother’s widow as his wife and so continue the bloodline. Well, his second born son, Onan, did marry Tamar, but at the last second, in the middle of a sexual encounter, Onan pulled out and “let his seed (semen) spill on the ground.” (Gen 38:9) He may have even attempted to cover it up with dirt and dust so as to make it look like he officially consummated his nuptials. This displeased the Lord as well and Onan ended up on the dead son’s list. Strike two. Down two sons to one, he told Tamar to remain celibate until his younger son, Shelah, became of age for her to marry. We are not told how long that might have been, but it would appear it would be a number of years because Tamar returned home to her family until Shelah would be old enough to sire of a child. What shame she must have felt.
In the culture of that time for a woman to not have a child was to live in a place of shame. A barren woman was thought to have a womb shut up by God, possibly because of some wrongdoing or sin in the bloodline. Ultimately, Tamar decided not to wait for Shelah to come of age. She heard that Judah, now a widower, was heading to a town called Timnah where his sheep were being sheared. The Bible tells us that Tamar dressed up like a pagan temple prostitute, veiling her face and traveled to a town called Enaim, which was on the road to Timah. She obviously caught Judah’s attention. Judah clearly made the assumption that she was prostitute, not recognizing who she was. So, as the story goes, he ended up having sex with her. I mean, who can blame him right? He lost his wife and two kids. All he had left was his youngest son, who it would appear may have already taken a wife for himself. We tend to do this don’t we? I mean, I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it is to bury one child let alone two and then lose a spouse. That is quite a bit of grief, trauma and loss. But as human nature would have it, end up letting all the pain fester in our soul. We simply don’t deal with it. It’s too painful to face the loss or whatever has left us feeling completely worn out and empty. We would rather find another way to cope, a way to just escape it all when what we really need is a long term recovery process in order to properly deal with this immense and overwhelming feeling. So, I’m sure at that moment, there was quite a bit riding on Judah’s shoulders. He saw this woman and just needed that physical and emotional release. However, he did not have any money on him at that time so she asked for his signet ring, cord and his staff as a pledge for payment. When he returned to pay her, she was gone and no one had any knowledge of a prostitute even being there.
Judah did not just simply give a few items up that might have had some value, he literally gave away that which would establish his identity (signet and cord) and his authority and power (his staff). The signet was like a stamp that was pressed into clay or hot wax sealing a document. It was like a claim. When that particular stamp was seen on anything, it meant it was from or belonged to the person to who owned that signet. It was his identity. The staff was very important to a man. Not only did it give one sure footing traveling around on the craggy terrain of the Middle East, it was a sign of who he was as a leader of a family or clan. All throughout history the staff was symbolic of authority and power as well as identity. You knew whose rod or staff belonged to someone. Many times they were marked on or designed purposefully to signify who that staff belonged to. As time went on, staffs became scepters that kings would use to establish their authority over a kingdom. So even though it’s a bit more organic, these items that belonged to Judah spoke more about him than the value that Judah placed on them at the time he traded them for a moment of sexual release. What Judah did in that moment was place more value on the moment of need instead of who God was forming him to be. The interesting thread that we will follow in these blogs will have to do more with the staff.
Back to the story. Due to that midday soiree between Judah and Tamar, Tamar actually conceived. But now Tamar had some ‘splainin’ to do because she was supposed to have conceived, according to custom, only within her family by marriage. When it was found out that Tamar was pregnant, and apparently not by anyone in Judah’s clan, she was accused of prostitution. Judah was all ready to burn her at the stake. Nice, right? Wound a little tight, Judah? Judah has sex with a prostitute - forbidden - and then wants to kill Tamar for her sin. To allow her the chance to tell her story, Judah asked Tamar with whom did she commit such a heinous act of adultery. Tamar then reveals something to Judah that he most assuredly did not expect to see, let alone in Tamar’s possession. Tamar shows Judah his signet, cord and staff - the very same items given as an IOU for said prostitution services. Oh to be a fly on the wall of that tent. Immediately, Judah relented in his anger, even going so far as to commend Tamar on her righteousness because she was committed to the family and the desire for an heir.
I recant this story not because of righteous Tamar who took matters into her own hands when Judah would not. I recant this story because the father of the bloodline of Judah saw a prostitute and took time out to have sex with her! - even trading in items that were symbolic of his authority and identity. This smells a bit of his uncle Esau, who for a bowl of soup traded in his entire birthright to Judah’s father, Jacob.
As mentioned, Judah was a widow and most likely did not have any sexual outlet. But to read this scripture passage, it seemed like a pretty natural thing for Judah to do. Was it a one-off? Or did Judah have a penchant for having sex with prostitutes? I wonder if he did this because his conscience was nagging him for selling his brother into slavery and lying to his father about it. As far as Judah knew, he would carry that lie to the grave with him; he and his ten other brothers. Can you imagine that stress?
I can only imagine that, mingled with the loss of his family, it would be a fairly hefty trigger that could drive him to do pretty much anything.
Following that line of reasoning, what is it that could cause you to go outside the boundaries of proper and righteous sexual behavior - stress, loneliness, boredom, emptiness, etc.? Regardless of how we feel, whether burdened in some way or hyper-sexual in need of a release, we are to be keenly aware that by improperly sexually gratifying ourselves through porn or other sexual deviant behavior is not only unhealthy for our body, soul and spirit, but that it is completely unacceptable behavior to God. We are told by Jesus in Matthew 5:28 that if you even “look at a woman with lust in your heart toward her, you have already committed the act of adultery.” You see, Jesus always goes to the motivation of the heart not just the behavior itself. When Jesus’ disciples were chided by the religious leaders of the day for not ceremonially washing their hands before eating, Jesus told the Pharisees, it’s not what goes into your body that makes you unclean, it’s what comes out - the thoughts and intentions of the heart - again speaking to the deeper issues that are not dealt with and dictate our behavior by pulling on us like puppet strings. And Judah had a bunch. When push came to shove, Judah gave in to his own desires. But the story is not without mercy because Judah received a special blessing from his father, Jacob, before Jacob died.
In Genesis 49, Jacob has been reunited with Joseph who he thought he might never see again, even the 10 brothers who had sold Joseph into slavery had restored their relationship with him and all 12 brothers were now at their father’s bedside and as was tradition, the patriarch of the family would bless his children. Words were uber-powerful back then. When you gave a blessing, it was done deal. Even names meant destinies. When Jacob got to Judah he said:
“Judah, your brothers will praise you;
your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons will bow down to you.
You are a lion’s cub, Judah;
you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his.
Read verse 10 again. (I bolded and italicized it to make it easy on you). The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet until it comes to Whom it belongs - prophetically speaking of Jesus the Messiah. Jacob is telling Judah that even though Judah traded in his identity and authority for a romp in the sack with a prostitute, in God’s mercy, that staff would be returned to him, not just by Tamar, but through God’s forgiveness and redemption and would be the cornerstone on which the lineage of Jesus Christ would be built. God is so cool. He knows what exchanges we have made in our life to follow after sinful, unhealthy behaviors and still, He loves us enough to give us another chance to fulfill our destiny. Pay particular attention to the term, "obedience of the nations." That will come back around.
Ok, you made it. Next time, get an oxygen tank because we’re going to jump in deep!