Oct. 15, 2019

When God Seems Harsh

Genesis 37, ends with ten of the sons of Jacob (Jacob was also called Israel) acting out an extremely cruel deception against their father. Those who are familiar with the story know that the ten brothers harbored intense jealousy and disdain for the eleventh brother, Joseph. The ten carried and nursed among themselves a vile hatred against him. So much so that the majority agreed to sell him into slavery but report to their father that he had evidently been killed by a wild beast. The brothers’ hearts were tremendously blackened by the sin of jealousy. They were more content to see their father in deep depression, grief and mourning than to live peaceably with Joseph. The ten brothers, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar and Zebulun all kept the secret for about 13 years that they had faked their brother Joseph’s death.

Genesis 38 continues with a portion of the life of one of the ten brothers.

The fourth in line of the ten brothers was Judah. He possibly could not endure watching his father’s heart weep for the son he thought was dead. It was Judah’s idea to sell Joseph instead of killing him. Killing Joseph had been their original plan.

Genesis 37:26-27 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)

26 Y’hudah said to his brothers, “What advantage is it to us if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Yishma‘elim, instead of putting him to death with our own hands. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.” His brothers paid attention to him.

When Judah made the suggestion to sell Joseph he was probably feeling pretty good about himself. He may have thought he had even come up with a ‘noble’ alternative to taking the life of their own flesh and blood. Plus the brothers gained a bit of money by selling Joseph for 20 pieces of silver. However, seeing his father in such misery after the brothers led Jacob to believe Joseph was dead, probably began to take a toll on Judah’s conscience. Judah’s bright idea to sell his own brother possibly didn’t seem so keen as he watched his grief-stricken father wrestle with the death of his son day after day.

Genesis 38 opens with Judah having left his brothers and his father’s house to go stay with a friend. I imagine Judah was wanting to distance himself from the part he played in the callous deception with which he and his brothers had assaulted their father. No doubt he was plagued with guilt and regret but felt it was too late to tell the truth. So he left…possibly thinking he could forget his father’s aged and forlorn face. By changing the scenery of his surroundings maybe he thought he could push the memory out of his mind of his confused and frightened 17-year old brother as he was unceremoniously shuffled off to a foreign land in shackles and chains.

Whatever the reason, Judah left home and stayed with his friend Hirah. It appears that Judah actually took up residency there in the land of Canaan. He got married and he and his wife had three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah.

When the sons were of age Judah chose a wife for his eldest. The wife’s name was Tamar. Genesis 38:7 is the verse from which the title of this post was drawn: “When God Seems Harsh”.

Genesis 38:7 CJB

But ‘Er, Y’hudah’s firstborn, was evil from Adonai’s perspective, so Adonai killed him.

Genesis 38:7 King James Version

And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him.

Yikes! I don’t know your thoughts but to me, this seems rather excessive. There are plenty of other wicked folks in the bible but God didn’t just get rid of them with no explanation. There was the wicked king Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel spoken of in I Kings 19-22. I Kings 21:25-26 has this commentary about Ahab.

I Kings 21:25-26 KJV

25 But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up.

26 And he did very abominably in following idols, according to all things as did the Amorites, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel.

The bible account of Ahab’s reign is horrendous. The details given about his rulership and character offer nothing virtuous. And yet even this man, who was supremely wicked, was shown mercy by the Lord.

I Kings 21: 29 KJV

29 Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son's days will I bring the evil upon his house.

In contrast, it seems that Er, the son of Judah is not given the same degree of consideration. The extent of his life and death are expressed in one line. No details. No explanation. No offering of second chances are shared in the text.

Genesis 38:7 King James Version

And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him.

Straight to the point. No coddling. No wooing to do better. Bam…you’re dead.

As if that wasn’t shocking enough, something similar happens to his brother Onan.

Genesis 38:8-10 KJV

And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.

And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.

10 And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him .

Following the custom of the time, the third son was then promised to the twice-widowed Tamar. But because of what had happened to his first two sons Judah was afraid to let the third son marry Tamar.

Onan, the second son of Judah, did not want to have and raise a son and not get credit for it. According to the custom, he was to marry Er’s widow and raise up seed for his dead brother. Onan would be the biological father but the son would be considered to be Er’s. Onan refused to do it. He was more concerned with his own personal legacy. So the Lord killed him too.

This seems harsh. It seems rash. We see Ahab who was an unthinkably wicked king over God’s people and yet God shows him mercy. The bible doesn’t explain anything about Er’s life. He is simply described as wicked and the Lord cuts him off. Onan decides he doesn’t want to continue his brother’s legacy. Perhaps that way of thinking is a bit selfish but hardly seems worthy of a death sentence. Does it?

Have you ever looked at people who seem to get away with all sorts of lewdness and don’t seem to suffer any consequences? Then another person has one seemingly small slip-up and pays dearly for the error. At first glance it seems imbalanced and unfair. But God is never wrong. He is never imbalanced or in error.

Judah, one of the first ten sons of Jacob, is the line through which the Messiah would come. Er’s wickedness could not be a part of the lineage of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Our Heavenly Father had already determined that Jesus would be the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Jesus had to be a descendent of Judah, presumably through one of his sons. Er was swiftly disqualified. The bible isn’t specific about what kind of wickedness Er practiced. But whatever it was, was sufficient for him to be erased from the lineage.

Likewise, Onan, refused to participate in God’s plan. What God had orchestrated was far greater and exponentially superior to any of the individual players.

You may not know why God seems to have restricted your activities more than others. It may seem to you that other believers have more liberty in God than you do. You may look around and think that God seems to be requiring more of you than He does of some of your acquaintances and friends. The reins with which God guides your life are to help you fulfill God’s purposes for your life. What you do should bring glory to the Father. There is no comparison between the blessings of obedience and the consequences of disobedience. Sometimes what God is requiring doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. You may feel that it isn’t necessary to do it exactly like He said. Or you may want to take a shortcut and eliminate some steps of the process. But He doesn’t do anything without purpose. Don’t neglect your assignment or any portion of it. All of it is important. Whatever the Lord has instructed you to do, do it with vigor and set yourself in complete agreement with God. Don’t complain about it. Understand that he made you and He is all-knowing. You have a reason for being here. Fulfill your purpose so that God gets all the Glory. Amen.

Not to leave you hanging, in case you don’t already know the story, Jesus is descended from the line of Judah. But it wasn’t through any of the three sons mentioned above.

Tamar, Judah’s widowed daughter-in-law, disguised herself as a harlot and was impregnated by Judah after his wife died. Because of her disguise, he did not know it was her. Imagine his surprise when he found out he was about to be the father of twin boys by Tamar. The first-born twin Pharez is the one that carries the legacy to the birth of Jesus.

None of these people knew how vital their decisions were. Just like many of us, they just thought they were making normal, everyday choices. Every believer should be attuned to the voice and heart of God. What is He saying? Am I obeying?