Judah married a Canaanitish woman (Genesis 38:1-2). He and his bride produced three sons during their marriage (Genesis 38:3-5). We’re not told how long they were married; However it, evidently, was for some long time: They lived together long enough to see at least two of their sons reach adulthood and die (Genesis 38:6-11).
In the passing of time, Judah’s wife also met death (Genesis 38:12). This must have created a great loneliness and emptiness in his life. Bob Spurlin has written on the loneliness after the death of a spouse “Regardless of how long your marriage lasted before its separation at death, when you remain behind, a part of you is gone. No longer are you a couple as changes will occur and adjustments must be made, and the same will be true with your friends who remain a couple. Normalcy as you know it is over and you are no longer considered a couple, which causes a sense of stress with your married friends. If our spouse dies after the children have left home you discover how empty the house is and what a lonely place the house has become. You sleep alone, instead of next to a warm body. You eat your meals on your own and eating out is difficult, if not impossible. There is a great void in being alone. If you have not experienced handling finances, taking care of, or servicing the car, handling the lawn mower, cooking a meal, making use of the washer and vacuum cleaner may take an adjustment” (Don’t Ever Give Up, p. 55-56). Could this describe how Judah might have felt?
Judah, perhaps in his loneliness, went into a veiled woman he took for a harlot (Genesis 38:12-18). “We need to realize that after one has spoken the beautiful language of sex with his mate and his mate dies that there might be added temptation to get involved in activities like these, but they are sinful. Sex can be enjoyed only in the realm of scriptural marriage.” (Wesley Simon’s chapter in the Book of Genesis, 2001 Memphis School of Preaching Lectureship, p. 363).
The woman was really Tamar. Tamar was a widow, and twice over Judah’s daughter-in-law. God had struck her first husband – Er, and her second husband- Onan dead (Gen. 38:7, 10). According to Leverite custom she should next be wedded to Shelah. Judah instructed her to wait until Shelah was old enough to marry (Genesis 38:11). But then, when Shelah was of age, Judah still hadn’t given him to her for a husband (Genesis 38:14). What was she to do? She was not free to marry, she had been promised to Shelah. If she could not have this last son of Judah’s as her husband, she would remain childless and have no one to care for her in her old age. Judah feared to give Shelah to her (he thought she was cursed, it seems – Genesis 38:11). Thus, she took matters into her own hands and schemed a way to compel this family of Judah’s to care for her.
Three months elapsed. The story circulated that Tamar’s with child (Genesis 38:24). Judah heard the reports. He had her brought to him with the intent of having her put to death (Genesis 38:24). But, when she was brought forth she produced evidence which proved that she had been with Judah. Judah’s reaction is found in Genesis 38:26, “Judah acknowledged them (the evidence – B.H.) and said, ‘she hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more.’” To Judah’s credit he acknowledged his sins and he never again committed fornication with her.
It is easy for us to be guilty of “Judah’s Justice.” We see the sins of others so plainly. Yet, we overlook our own sins, and don’t apply the same standards to them (Matthew 7:4-5; Romans 2:1-3, 21-23). Before we apply God’s word to others, let’s remember to also apply it to self.
Something else: Judah initially knew if this thing were known it could bring shame (Genesis 38:20-23). I heard someone on the radio say the other day that there are three things to keep in mind when making an ethical decision: (1) What if everyone knew or could see what I’m about to do? (2) What if everyone did what I am about to do, would the world be better or worse? (3) What would my heroes, those I look up to, do if they were in my shoes? Read 1 Peter 2:21-ff; Phil. 2:5; John 13:35; Hebrews 12:2-4; 1 Corinthians 11:1.