Genesis 38-40! Maybe it’s just me, because I was raised in a very conservative environment, but these chapters feel a little awkward to write about. Nonetheless, they’re a part of the Bible, and they are profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). If you’ve heard someone say “the Bible isn’t trail mix! You can’t pick and choose what you want out of it, you have to have the whole thing!” that’s coming into play here.
So, in these chapters, things seem bad—even from a worldly point of view. However, it’s not that different from the rest of the Bible. The whole book talks about man’s sinfulness from cover to cover, sometimes we just don’t really look at it. And, maybe that’s a good idea not to go into detail if you’re teaching children; but, we can’t always read it as watered down, or fuzzied-up, because if it’s in the Bible, it’s important to our lives.
That being said, the first two chapters deal with sexual sin. In today’s culture, I think this has become more and more of a gray area where we just say “hey, it’s no big deal! Everybody is doing it. Nobody’s perfect. We just won’t make a huge deal out of it anymore.” Cue the buzzer noise from Family Feud “XXX!”
God puts two men to death for their sin in this chapter. It’s a big deal. Now, this isn’t the only place that God puts someone to death for their sinful actions, and this doesn’t mean that sexual immorality—in whatever form—is the worst sin; but, it’s a reminder that God cares about this.
The beginning of the trouble in this chapter is probably that Judah took a Canaanite wife, something that, from previous chapters, we know is not okay. But Judah has three sons with Shua, his wife, and by verse 5 nothing too bad has happened. Until we get all up in this business with the wife Judah gets for his firstborn son.
God is displeased with the actions of Er, Judah’s firstborn son (now married to Tamar), so he is put to death (38:7). Then, when Judah’s second son is supposed to take Tamar as his wife and father his brother’s children, Onan disobeys (38:9-10). So, what happens? He also gets put to death (38:10). I sort of wonder what Tamar was thinking at this point.
Then, Judah gets himself into trouble. He tells Tamar to live as a widow until his youngest son is old enough to take her as his wife, but then he never follows through (38:11, 26). Tamar takes matters into her own hands. She tricks Judah into sleeping with her by disguising herself as a prostitute (38:13-25).
Tamar ends up getting pregnant. (But, wait there’s more!) When Judah is ready to have her burned to death because someone tells him that she’s been found guilty of prostitution, she casually says “I’m pregnant by the man who owns these…see if you recognize them” (38:24-25). And what does she send him? His seal, cord, and staff that he gave her as collateral until he sent her the goat that was supposed to be her payment (38:25; 16-18). Ouch. That’s embarrassing. Needless to say, he doesn’t burn her.
Then, in chapter 39, Joseph is faced with his own awkward situation. Although, I must say, he handles it much better than Judah does. Joseph was put in charge of Potiphar’s estate. God was with him, and the Egyptians recognized this and gave him a great deal of responsibility (39:1-6).
But, Potiphar’s wife (insert disappointed head shaking here). She saw that he was handsome and she lusted after him (39:6b-7). Not only that, but she spoke to him “day after day” trying to get him to sleep with her (39:10). Joseph would not have it. He knew that it would be a sin before God, and that it would also be a sin against his master who had placed a lot of trust in him (39:8-10). He tells her no repeatedly (and probably emphatically).
One day, she confronts him when no one is around and he runs from her (39:11-12). He literally flees from sexual immorality (2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Corinthians 10:8; 1 Corinthians 6:18-20). However, Potiphar’s wife lies about Joseph, saying that he tried to rape her (39:13-19). Potiphar believes her and throws him in prison (39:20).
From these two chapters, it looks like whether you do or you don’t commit this kind of sin you lose. Why even bother if you can’t win either way? Well, this isn’t exactly a no-win scenario when you keep reading.
First of all, the Bible says that this kind of sin is a sin against your own body (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). It may not be the worst sin you can commit, but it is different from other kinds of sins. This kind of relationship is intended to be in the context of marriage. It’s supposed to be symbolic of the way husband and wife become one, it’s supposed to bring them closer together, and it’s intended for procreation (Mark 10:6-9; 1 Corinthians 6:13-16). It’s not just for “funsies” and it’s not meant for anything outside of marriage.
When you take it out of this specific intended context you set yourself up for a bad situation. It’s like setting a fire on your kitchen table instead of the fireplace. A fireplace is meant to shelter the fire, be a place that can sustain it, and, when it is where it’s intended, it is beneficial to those around it. If you start setting fires in other places you’re going to damage whatever it’s around. Even if it seems like a good thing at the time, it’s probably not going to be something that can be sustained, it can do damage to heart, can affect your health, or possibly even affect your children later on.
Don’t get me wrong, sex is intended to be a good thing—God created it with a good purpose—but because so often it is in the wrong place, it becomes something that can be very detrimental (see above fire metaphor). It’s supposed to be uniting two souls. It’s not supposed to be divided and whittled down into merely a pleasurable experience that you can have with just anyone. When you take it out of its context it’s like gluing two ceramic pots together one minute, and, the next, smashing them apart (or if you’ve seen the movie Fireproof think of the salt and pepper shakers).
Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs), the book that is pretty much dedicated to expressing the satisfaction found in the right kind of sexual relationship, repeatedly says “do not stir up love until the proper time” (Song of Songs 2:7; 3:5; 8:4,6). This is one reason why our culture is so distressing. We are constantly bombarded with sex. It’s in our face 24/7. TV shows, commercials, radio, music, billboards, social media, anywhere and everywhere.
Whoever realized that “sex sells” took it and ran with it. Sexual immorality was a problem way back at the beginning of civilization, but it seems like it’s been magnified by this idea. It’s now blown up into a culture that is drenched in lust. We have issues with pornography, with teen pregnancies, with rape and human trafficking (and by extent abortion), and, in a less drastic example, a culture that tries to use sex as a measure of love, acceptance, success, and value/worthiness.
So what do we do? First, it is so important to know that your value does not come from sex or your sex appeal. You are made in the image of your Creator and that is the only place that your real value comes from.
Second, there is forgiveness for this kind of sin just like there is for every other sin. Even if you’ve really missed the mark. If we confess our sins God is faithful to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). But, that involves repentance and that’s not easy (Acts 2:37-39).
The good news is that there is grace for all our sins, and God understands the temptations that we endure (Romans 6; Romans 8; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Hebrews 4:14-15). He is fully aware that we are not perfect.
If you find yourself in this situation, where you are struggling with repentance, I encourage you to find someone you trust who can keep you accountable. You may feel the Holy Spirit prompting you to flee certain situations, but sometimes you just need an audible/tangible voice/person to help you. That’s okay! One of the reasons that we have the Church is because God knows that the Christian life is one that needs to be lived in a community (Hebrews 10:24-25). Our relationship with God has to be our own personal relationship with Him, but we need community and connection to other believers as support. We need each other.
I will also say that Jesus tells us that if our right eye causes us to sin, we should gouge it out, because it is better for us to enter heaven a little maimed than for us to go to hell fully intact (Matthew 5:29-30). If there is a relationship/person/hobby/what-have-you that cause you to stumble, you need to flee it. It may hurt as much as gouging out your eye, but it is not worth it to keep that thing and continue to live in sin. Sin is what separates us from God and we are called to lay aside everything that ensnares us and to be different from this world (Hebrews 12:1-2; Romans 12:1-2). Don’t let these things drag you down when you know God is calling you. He is so much better than anything this world has to offer.
Lastly, I want to say that God doesn’t stop using us even if we mess up. Take a look at Luke 3:33. Now, this is one of those places in scripture that we usually skip over because it’s just a bunch of names. (“I don’t know these people. Why is this important?” etc.)
Do you see that Judah is in this family line? Judah, and Judah’s son Perez (one of Tamar’s sons), and Perez’s son Hezron (Luke 3:33). Even though this looked like a horrible situation, these people are a part of Jesus’s ancestry! God includes imperfect, really messed up humans as a part of His divine, perfect plan.
Not only that, but when Joseph was thrown in prison over Potiphar’s wife’s sin, it opened the door for Joseph to interpret the cupbearer and baker’s dreams, which eventually allowed him to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Then, because of that, he became second in command over all Egypt and saved countless lives by storing up food for the years of famine.
God was with him when things looked bleak and when most of us would probably think about giving up. I’m getting a little ahead, but in Genesis 45:5-7 and 50:19-21 Joseph even tells his brothers that God used their hateful actions—a bad situation—to bring about so much good. Even though they had murder in their hearts, God had a plan for saving lives.
So, maybe not a win-win scenario (because I’m not sure we can count Judah as having ‘won’ in this instance), but just another point to say that God doesn’t need “perfect.” He just needs people who are willing to follow Him with all they have, and who will resist temptation to the best of their ability, like Joseph. And, when we succumb to temptation? People who will repent and turn back to Him.