Devotional Series -Genesis 38
After being introduced to Joseph in the preceding chapters the Bible moves on to his brother Judah also one of Jacob’s sons.
The story begins with an introduction to his firstborn son Er who it was claimed was put to death by God for his wickedness. We will however come back to this in a moment.
Before dealing with this we will need to look at the seemingly strange set of circumstances which follows this with the requirement of each brother to stand in and marry/bear children for their deceased brother.
After being killed Er’s brother Onan is expected to be a stand in for his brother and marry his wife Tamar and bear children for her. He according to Genesis 38:9 does a wicked thing and is also put to death by God (the Bible again doesn’t hold back with the details). The responsibility would then fall to the next son in this family, but due to his age Judah wants Tamar to wait which then displeases her and Judah’s motives are eventually then exposed.
How can we understand these seemingly strange set of incidents?
To begin with the idea of a brother standing in for his brother in this way was a common practice in the ancient world at this time and is still practised in parts of the world today.
The practice is known at Levirate Marriage and was practiced by societies with a strong clan culture where marriage outside the clan was forbidden. This set up served to protect the widow in a society where women could not be self-sufficient. The practice was considered extremely important in ancient times and as said still remains in many parts of the world today. Having children enabled the inheritance of land and offered security and status.
This practice was mandated in Deuteronomy 25:5-6 were the child would be treated as the deceased brothers. This may then explain why the second brother did not want to have children which would be considered as belonging to his dead brother.
This practice was even practiced in England as Henry VIII was known to have married his brothers wife Catherine of Aragon based on this practice of Levirate Marriage.
The second thing to say re: the unsavoury incidents which follow are that, just because something is in the bible doesn’t mean it is endorsed by scripture. The Bible does not hold back in describing human nature as it really was and this chapter is no exception.
What can we learn re: God putting to death these two brothers? The first thing to say is that we are not given the specific details as to why God took the life of Er although we do have the details on Onan.
What we can say however is that scripture clearly describes something which we must remember. God holds all of our lives in the palm of his hands. He knows our time and only he can decide when that day will come.
The phrase from Daniel comes to mind when God warned King Belshazzar saying; you have been “weighed in the balance and found wanting” (Daniel 5). This description surely fits with Er and his brother Onan in this story where due to their actions God decided that their time was up.
Jesus gave a similar response when confronted with an individual in Luke 12 who wanted to get his inheritance of his brother. He told the man about an individual who lived his life for himself and his pleasures and thought the goal of his life was to accumulate more possessions. The tragedy of this story is that God had decided that tonight was his last night on this earth and all that he had worked for meant nothing.
The parable in Luke 12:13 essentially reminds us that our very life could be demanded from us at any time. We cannot waste our time fixing and striving after this worlds pleasures and riches all the while ignoring what really matters.
Genesis 38 and the lives of the two brothers is a sober reminder that our lives are not our own and we must be ready for that day as we do not know when it will come.
Wether we like it or not there is someone that we must answer to. Our lives will be weighed in the balance and God may decide to wait or may decide that he should take action sooner as was done in the case of the two brothers.