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The Mystery of Godís Providence: The Case of Genesis 38

 

One of the most difficult chapters in the Holy Bible is Genesis 38, the story of Judah and Tamar. On first reading it is hard to find any virtue in this chapter; sin follows sin, one catastrophe after another. Yet it was from the offspring of this pair that Christ our Lord was descended (compare Gen 38:29 with Mt 1:3).

 

In the beginning of the chapter we are told that "Judah went down from his brothers and settled near a certain Adullamite whose name was Hirah. There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; he married her and went into her" (vv. 1-2). Later, after begetting children from the Canaanite woman, Judah took Tamar as a wife for his firstborn son, Er, who then dies because of his wickedness (vv. 6-7). Tamar was then given to Onan, another son of Judah, so that he may "perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her;" and raise up a son for his brother. Out of greed, Onan, not wanting his brother's fortune to go to anyone else, refused to impregnate Tamar. For this wickedness--and not the method of prevention--God shortened the days of Onan (vv. 8-10). Again Tamar was promised to a third brother (v. 11). When the promise was not fulfilled, however, she tricked Judah himself into impregnating her (vv.12-18), and she brought forth twins: Perez and Zerah. It was through the lineage of Perez the son of Judah and Tamar that our Lord and Savior descended (cf. Mt 1:3).

 

Though the whole of chapter 38 is contrary to our sense of morality, we must remember that these events occurred before the coming of the Mosaic law. Still, this chapter reveals a great mystery. It begins with the willful departing from oneís own (v. 1), which is a topos in the book of Genesis that symbolizes our turning away from God and His ways. Needless to say great sin and troubles ensued, but the chapter ends with the birth of Perez.

 

What we see here is an encapsulation of the whole story of salvation. Man, through his own free will, chose to depart from the way of God (v. 1), which lead him to sin (vv. 7, 10, 18). But by the end of the chapter, Perez was born and with him hope and salvation. Perez is a symbol of Godís deliverance. The chapter begins with a falling away, which is consummated by sin, with God ultimately providing salvation. Is this not the theme of Genesis? Is this not the theme of the Old Testament?

 

In sum, the mystery of God's providence is that even when we freely choose the wrong path He makes it right by using the very product of our sin as the means for our salvation. Perhaps nowhere else can we see the dialectic between manís free will and Godís providence so clearly illustrated as in this chapter. Gen 38, is a microcosm of the whole story of salvation;  man is free to sin, but even his sin is transformed into Salvation through the loving kindness of God. As we say in the Gregorian liturgy "You have turned my punishment (the result of my free will) into Salvation."

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