Welcome to Genesis, Book 12, Episode 2.
The first episode, last week, began with family politics and ended with betrayal.
Basically, this is what is going on: Jacob has 12 sons, but only one of them can inherit the Head of Household position when he is gone. The oldest three sons have disqualified themselves, leaving the next two in line to fight over the position:
Judah, the oldest son of his father’s first wife, has the strongest legal claim.
But Joseph, the oldest son of his father’s second wife, is his father’s favourite.
Or — really, I should say: Joseph was his father’s favourite.
Because, at the end of last week’s episode, Judah persuaded the rest of his brothers to sell Joseph as a slave to a passing caravan of merchants. And by doing this, Judah accomplished two things at once: he removed Joseph from the contest, and he consolidated his power over his brothers — because now they are bound together into a conspiracy of silence. At this point none of them can challenge Judah’s authority without also potentially exposing their own guilt.
And, on paper, this sounds like a very secure position for Judah: now he has the strongest legal claim to the Head of Household position, and he has the enforced support of all his brothers.
But life is not lived out on paper: there is always an unexpected emotional cost to seizing power illegally.
And for Judah, this terrible emotional cost came due as soon as he arrived home. He brought Joseph’s bloody clothing in to his father and said, “See if you recognize this…” and his father quite naturally assumed that Joseph is dead.
So Judah carried out the perfect crime, and got away with it!
But then his father refused to be comforted.
Normally, in that culture, a father would mourn for seven days over a dead son…and then he would move on with his life. But Jacob did not stop, even with all his sons and daughters begging him to return to normal life.
And Moses does not say so directly, but it seems that after a little while Judah just could not stand it anymore: the guilt of watching his own father pay for the consequences of Judah’s secret sins.
So Judah moves away:  At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah. And over the next few years, he marries a local Canaanite girl and has three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah.
And we are supposed to realize that Judah is not the first man in Genesis to leave his father’s family behind in the mountains, go “down” and intermarry among the people of the land:
Esau just did this. Before him, Lot did this. Ham also did this. In fact, going right back to the very beginning: Cain was the first man to do this.
So right away, Moses wants us to realize that Judah has set himself upon a very dark path: he is the corrupted spirit of Cain reborn.
But there is more: Judah is also not the first man in Genesis to have three sons.
Adam had three sons. Noah had three sons. Abraham had three sons. At every important turning point in Genesis, God has always provided a father with three sons to act as a messiah for his people.
So Moses wants us to realize that Judah is also one of these men: he is also the messianic spirit of Noah reborn.
So what we are seeing here is that Judah has the power of God’s messiah mixed with the murderous corruption of Cain.
Not an auspicious beginning.
But, as usual, disobedience seems to go well at first: the sons survive infancy and grow up into manhood, and so  Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar.
 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.
Now, we do not know how exactly Er was wicked, but this word Moses uses is the same word he used to describe the conditions on earth before the flood, back when Cain’s people ruled, the same word he used to describe the people of Sodom and Gomorrah when Lot lived there.
So what this means is that Er was openly and unashamedly corrupt: he was not deceptive or sneaky about it. So the Lord put him down.
And this creates a problem for Judah, because now he has a young widow in his family who needs children of her own.
And I’d better explain why Tamar needed children:
In those days — and right up until our modern age — children were like health-insurance and life-insurance policies. Everyone gets sick; everyone gets old; everyone, eventually, needs younger, stronger bodies to do the hard work that the parents can no longer do.
And so, in those days, for a man or a woman to be left without kids was a serious economic problem, not just for them as individuals but also for their community. Because when they got too old to work, they would become a drain on community resources.
Now, this was — and is! — a universal problem, and so every culture in the world has had come up with some kind of solution. Historically, most solutions have been pretty brutal. In many cultures the solution was simply to kill the elderly as soon as they became unproductive. Some cultures in the West are beginning to do this again! On the island where I grew up it was the custom of some tribes to actually eat the elderly…
And the reason I bring all this up is so we can realize that the solution ancient Middle Eastern cultures came up with was actually quite a merciful solution by comparison. They had a system in place that tried to maximize a widow’s chance to have kids.
This was their solution: if a man died and left his widow without kids, his brother was obligated to marry her and give her kids.
So,  Judah said to Onan — Er’s younger brother — “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.”
And Judah’s comment here reveals that this solution was not just about taking care of the widow’s physical needs, it was also about making sure the lines of inheritance flow correctly — especially lines of spiritual inheritance.
For most of us, today, inheritance is just about money and property and perhaps family status.
But in those days inheritance was also linked to the afterlife. Many cultures believed that a person’s spirit still needed food and drink and clothing. And it was the special duty of the oldest son to use some of his inheritance to provide these things for his dead ancestors.
— and we understand this duty very well here in Asia, don’t we!
Basically, Judah wants to make sure that his oldest son, Er, has an oldest son who will take care of Er’s spirit in the afterlife. So Judah is telling his second son, Onan, to help Tamar have a son who will grow up to inherit the rights and duties of the first-born son.
But Onan — son #2 — realizes that, if he gives Er a son, then Er’s son will inherit the Head of Household position from Judah, who is going to inherit it from Jacob.
Onan realizes that he will be passed over as Head of Household if he gives his dead brother a son.
So Onan practices a very simple form of birth-control: he makes sure that Tamar can never get pregnant by him.
But  what he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight.
And, just to be clear, it was not the birth-control that was wicked in the Lord’s sight, it was Onan’s motivation:
Onan is doing to Er exactly what his father Judah did to Joseph: he is destroying any chance his brother might have at a decent future, a decent afterlife. And he is doing it in order to guarantee wealth, power, and status for himself.
And, as if that is not bad enough, he is also condemning a helpless widow to the same fate.
So the Lord put him to death also.
And this moment was Judah’s wake-up call. His oldest son was openly wicked, and God put him down. His second son was secretly wicked, and God put him down. These deaths — these acts of judgement — were invitations for Judah to pause and examine his own life and wonder if perhaps he was on the wrong path somehow. If perhaps, the Lord might put him to death if he does not repent of his wickedness.
But Judah refuses to accept that this might be a warning from God. Instead, he blames the girl. In verse 11 he sends her back to wait at her father’s house for his youngest son to grow up — but actually he has no plans to let her marry his youngest, because he believes she must be cursed or something.
So the years go by, and  after a long time Judah’s wife dies. Too bad. But after an appropriate period of mourning, Judah gets back to work: he went up to Timnah, to the men who were shearing his sheep, and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went with him.
In the meantime however, Tamar has figured out that Judah is never going to let her marry his youngest son. So she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah.
And  when Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face.
And this is where we say, “Huh?”
Because in many cultures today it is the respectable women who cover their faces, not prostitutes. And even in our cultures where women do not normally cover their faces, there is usually one significant moment in her life when she does: on the day she gets married.
Well, interestingly enough, the ancient cultures of Genesis were like our modern cultures in this regard: women did not normally cover their faces…except on their wedding day. We saw this illustrated in the moments before Rebekah met Isaac, and we saw it again in Leah’s marriage to Jacob.
But if that is the case, why did Jacob assume that Tamar was a prostitute? Why didn’t he simply assume that she was a bride on her wedding day?
Mmmmm. So this is where it gets interesting: in those days women did not just marry men, they also married gods.
Why? Because the people of that time believed that their local gods also needed food and drink and clothing, just like the spirits of their dead ancestors. But unlike the spirits of their ancestors, their local gods also needed sex and children.
Why? Well, because a happy god is a generous god, who blesses the local people with rain and rich harvests and victory in battle and all those good things.
In order to keep their gods happy, ancient societies would make sure to provide women for them. In some places, families would give one of their daughters to the god, and she would be the god’s wife for life. In those places each god had many wives! But in other cultures, every married woman in the community had to take turns living in the temple as the god’s wife for a while.
Okay. Clear so far. But how does this concept connect with the idea of prostitution?
Well, the thing is: gods are spirits. They do not actually eat or drink or make their wives pregnant. Which is a problem! Because how can you tell whether your god is having a good time if his wife does not get pregnant?
Well, those ancient cultures also had a solution for this problem: the local men would do for the god what the god was unable to do for himself. They would take turns to go, and pay, and sleep with the god’s wife and hopefully make her pregnant: thus providing a son or a daughter for the god, guaranteeing the god’s happiness and guaranteeing the god’s blessing upon that man and his community.
One of the ways these women would signal their role to the men of the community was by putting on a veil and sitting in the gateway of their town. This was a way of saying, “Today I am a bride on her wedding day to the god, and I am looking for a man who can act in the god’s place.”
That is why Judah thought she was a prostitute: because she had covered her face, and was sitting at the entrance to her village.
 Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.”
“And what will you give me to sleep with you?” she asked.
 “I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” he said.
And this is a very generous offer, by the way!
But of course, Judah does not have the goat with him: his flocks are up ahead, with the men who are shearing them.
“Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?” she asked.
 He said, “What pledge should I give you?”
“Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,” she answered.
She is basically asking for his IC.
So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow’s clothes again.
And this moment, friends, is meant to be especially chilling for us. Because Judah has just committed three sins, each one worse than the last:
He just slept with a prostitute. That is fornication, a sexual sin.
He just slept with his daughter-in-law. That is incest, which is worse than fornication.
But worst of all, Judah has just participated in false worship. And he did it on purpose in order to purchase that local god’s blessing. That is why he offered such a huge price to the girl: he was not paying for sex — sex is cheap! — he was offering a sacrifice to that god in exchange for that god’s blessing.
Judah knows he disqualified himself from the blessings of his fathers’ God the moment he sold his brother into slavery. But instead of repenting, instead of returning to his family, instead of telling the truth about what he did to Joseph, and accepting the consequences, Judah has decided that it is easier to just change religions and seek the blessing of other gods.
And all of this is made even more horrible when we remember who Judah is. He is the next Head of Household over the family of Abraham. Yes, he has disqualified himself in four different ways: slave-trading, fornication, incest, and false worship — but his father does not know about any of that!
Which means that, if the truth does not come out somehow, or if the Lord does not put him to death, Judah will become the Head of Household over God’s covenant family…and God’s plan to provide a Saviour for all mankind will be finished.
So here we are: God’s plan is once again hanging by a thread over the eternal fires. Judah is now set to become Satan’s Trojan Horse. Satan will be able to use Judah’s body to destroy God’s plan, just like he once used the body of the serpent to defile God’s garden.
…what an absolute train-wreck!
What do you think, should we go on, into the darkness?
Let’s go on:  Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his IC back from the woman, but his friend did not find her.  He asked the men who lived there, “Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?”
— and this confirms for us that Tamar was pretending to be a bride of the local god.
“Ummmm, there’s no such thing around here!” they said.
 So Judah’s friend comes back and tells him, “Nobody knows what you’re talking about.”
 Then Judah said, “Fine, let her keep my IC, I’ll just apply for a new one.” And he stops asking around, because he doesn’t want people to start laughing at him.
And I should explain this part as well:
In that culture, sleeping with a shrine prostitute was okay, because that was a man’s religious duty for the good of the community! But sleeping with an ordinary prostitute was adultery, which the local people were actually very sensitive about. Sleeping with a shrine prostitute could get you blessed by the gods; sleeping with some random woman who might be married to some other guy could get you cursed by the gods — and/or murdered by the woman’s husband.
So Judah is understandably reluctant to let everyone know that he was just fooled into sleeping with some random woman.
And this just confirms for us that Judah is committed to making sure the truth about him never comes out. He is willing to keep on lying in order to preserve his current status as Head of Household.
Besides, he has a bigger problem to deal with now:  About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.”
And this is an oddly specific charge, isn’t it? They don’t say she is guilty of adultery, they say she is guilty of prostitution. So it seems that Tamar has already been forced to confess the details of how she got pregnant.
Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”
And this, again, confirms for us that Judah is now secretly possessed by the spirit of the serpent, the vengeful spirits of Cain and Lamech, who murdered a young man for insulting him: because this is an extremely unjust response. This is not the appropriate penalty for prostitution or adultery.
But really we should not be surprised. The older sons of Jacob have already murdered a city full of men in order to wipe out their family’s dishonour. Judah is just proving to have the same murderous temper as his older brothers, the same violent obsession with his family’s honour.
 As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”
And in an instant, as Judah sees his own IC lying there, and as he hears her words, “See if you recognize these” — in that instant Judah remembers his own words from so many years earlier when he brought Joseph’s bloody clothing in to his own father and said, “See if you recognize this.”
In that instant the blindfold is torn from Judah’s eyes and he is forced to acknowledge the truth: he ran away from his family, he hid himself from the consequences of his sins, he married into a foreign nation and pledged allegiance to foreign gods…but no matter how far he goes he cannot not out-run who he is, who he has become. And he cannot out-run his fathers’ God.
And just as Jacob recognized Joseph’s clothing, and had his life turned upside-down, so now Judah recognizes his own possessions there, and says, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.”
And Judah’s comment that Tamar is more righteous has puzzled people over the years, because — all else being equal — at least Judah did not know he was committing incest, whereas Tamar clearly did.
Except that, in Tamar’s culture, what she did was not considered incest.
As a widow, it was her right, by law, to marry one of her dead husband’s brothers; and, by law, if her dead husband had no brothers, it was her right to marry her father-in-law.
So, according to the laws of her people, what she did was not incest, it was her legal right. And the fact that she had to use deception is not a mark against her, it is a mark against Judah, because he was refusing to fulfil his legal obligation to provide a child for her.
So Tamar really was more righteous than Judah, in the eyes of the local people, and in the eyes of God: because she, alone, of all the family, had a compassionate concern to provide her dead husband with a son, and to avoid becoming a burden on her community.
But still, we are told, Judah did not sleep with her again. Because even though their marriage is not incest by local laws, it is incest according to the law of Abraham’s family and Abraham’s God.
So right here at the end we get this glimmer of hope that Judah has decided to retrace his steps back up into the mountains. He has decided that he is no longer going to live according to the laws of the local people; he is going to return to the ethics of his ancestors’ God.
But Moses wants to give us more than just a glimmer of hope, so he ends with this:
 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb.  As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.”  But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, “So this is how you have broken out!” And he was named Perez.  Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out. And he was named Zerah.
And this is not meant to be just a feel-good, Hollywood-style ending. This is still Moses teaching theology to his readers.
He wants us to notice that this is not the first time a woman has been pregnant with twins in Genesis. This is not the first time the twins were brothers who fought with each other even before they were born. And this is not the first time the younger brother has ended up surpassing the older brother.
This little post-script is designed to take us back to Book 9, the story of Isaac and his sons, Esau and Jacob. This is designed to remind us that this is not the first time God’s plan has looked like a total train-wreck. There have been dark times before, and there will be dark times again. But this call-back to Book 9 is also supposed to remind us that out of the wreckage, out of the ruins, the Lord has always managed to lift up an unexpected messiah, an unexpected saviour for his people. So we should be expecting him to do it again here in Book 12.
But that is not all:
The fact that the younger brother bypasses the older here is also supposed to point us back to the larger story of Book 12: the contest between Joseph and Judah. Last week we saw Joseph sold into slavery and death: it looks like his story is over. This week we have seen Judah sell himself into slavery and death: it looks like his story is over also.
But this little closing reminder that God often chooses the younger brother to rule over the older brother…is designed to make us wonder if, perhaps, Joseph’s story is not yet finished.
We will find out next week.
But in the meantime: how are God’s people supposed to apply this to their lives?
There are some obvious applications, I suppose: don’t sleep with prostitutes. Don’t sleep with your daughter-in-law, even if you think she is a prostitute. Don’t participate in pagan worship —
But those are, like I said, obvious. And we are not here for the obvious. This episode was not written to teach us what we already know. It was written as a warning against something more subtle.
As we discussed last week, Moses has reached a point in his book where he is trying to prepare his people for the far distant future, for the Age of the Kings.
At the time he writes this, his people — the ancient people of Israel — are just a collection of 12 tribes in the wilderness, getting ready to cross the Jordan River and reclaim the land of their ancestors. But Moses knows that one day God is going to lift up one tribe over all the rest, and from that tribe will descend a line of kings that will one day produce the eternal God-King, the Son of Eve who will crush the serpent’s head once and for all and then usher in a golden age of peace and safety for all the nations of mankind.
Knowing all this, last week Moses began to paint a very detailed picture of what the kings of Israel are going to suffer on their journey toward kingship, a very detailed picture of what the final God-King is going to look like. And Moses’ purpose, his application for his people, was simple: keep your eyes open so that you can recognize God’s anointed kings when they are revealed — and when you do recognize them, submit to them!
Well, this week, Moses is showing his people what will happen if they do not submit. Just as Joseph’s betrayal was a preview of what will happen to God’s anointed, so now Judah’s life is a preview of what will happen to those who reject God’s anointed.
Judah’s life here is an example of this warning Moses gave his people at the end of his Book of Deuteronomy: If you do not carefully follow all the words of God’s law, and do not revere his glorious and awesome name, then the Lord will scatter you among all nations. There you will worship other gods. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart.
This is exactly what Judah suffered in his life. And this is exactly what the tribes of Israel suffered also. 700 years after Moses, during the Age of Kings, most of the tribes of Israel did reject God’s anointed kings — the sons of David. First the nation descended into civil war: brother against brother. Then they began intermarrying with the surrounding nations, and worshiping foreign gods, and finally God let them lose themselves among the nations, since that was clearly what they wanted anyway.
And another 700 years after that…it happened again. The remaining tribes of Israel rejected God’s final anointed king, the last son of David: Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus demonstrated every sign, he exhibited every piece of evidence necessary to prove that he was the One, the Messiah, the great God-King who would bring peace to mankind — and still his own brothers rejected him and betrayed him and sold him into death at the hands of foreigners.
And so, for the last 2000 years, the descendants of Judah have been re-living the life of their ancestor: exiled among the nations, intermarrying with foreign men and women, worshiping foreign gods: the gods of prosperity and power, never realizing that these are the gods that actually create anxious minds, eyes weary with longing, and despairing hearts.
And all this has been especially painful for us to watch, because — as Christians — the Jewish people are like our older brothers in the faith. When we were still in our infancy, we looked up to them, we copied them, we wanted to be them. But then, when they rejected the Messiah our God sent to save us…they left the family. And ever since, we have been stuck in this uncomfortable relationship where our Jewish brothers and sisters claim to worship the same God we worship, but we keep wondering, “How can you expect our Father to accept your worship when you refuse to accept his own Son?”
Okay. But now we are wondering if this whole warning is also meant for us.
Because we are not the older brother in this story, we are not the descendants of Judah. As Christians, we are the younger brother: our ancestral nations spent centuries — millennia! — in slavery before God sent his Son to rescue us from the serpent’s tyranny. And, in what often feels like an unfair twist of history, just as our nations were being brought back into God’s family, our older brothers left. And so we have ended up inheriting all the covenant blessings of God that our Jewish brothers and sisters spent more than 2000 years protecting, from Abraham to the birth of Jesus!
So what are we to make of this? Our older brothers in the faith disregarded Moses’ warnings, and we have benefited.
But are we also in danger? Is this warning meant for Christ’s Church as well?
In the New Testament Jesus warned his own disciples against falling away from faith, and those disciples went on to warn the rest of us. It is possible for us to end up following in Judah’s footsteps. And it can happen to us for the same reasons it happened to Judah:
First, sometimes, we are not willing to give up our ambitions. Even though we have recognized our Messiah and King, we say to him, “Look, I know you are God, but I am not going to trust you with this part of my life.” We refuse to repent of the idols that are most precious to us.
Second, sometimes, we are not willing to give up our fears: our fear of shame, our fear of exposure, our fear of the consquences of our sins. And so we find ourselves unable to confess and tell the truth, unable to trust in our Father’s promises of mercy and forgiveness.
And these two things — ambition and fear — are intertwined: they feed each other, and feed upon each other.
And our response in every case is also the same as Judah’s: we can’t stand being in our Father’s presence. We can’t stand seeing his grief over our sins! So we run. We withdraw from the family of God. We join ourselves to people who share in our ambitions and fears. We seek out gods that only demand money instead of repentance, gods that will let us live however we want as long as we are willing to sacrifice our family members to them.
And this does not just happen to us as individuals, this can happen to whole churches — it has happened to whole churches.
Many times over the last 2000 years whole congregations and denominations have betrayed Christ and turned aside into ambition and fear. Many have become obsessed with prosperity and power, and many have become obsessed with legalistic perfection, because — if you are perfect, if you never sin, if you are always right — then you never need to confess or experience consequences! You never need to receive mercy! and you never need to show mercy either.
And when a whole church or denomination goes bad the result is the same as it is with an individual: we end up compromising with the cultures around us until no one can tell anymore if ours is a Christian church or not. We marry the same people, we worship the same gods, we pursue the same ambitions and desires, we buy into the same philosophies. We are happy to go to church or mosque or temple or corporate boardroom, we are happy to do whatever we have to do to get ahead, no matter how stupid or degrading or destructive it may be! — just as long as no one asks us to actually face the truth about who we really are, the truth about how we have grieved the Father who created us for so much more.
So that is a problem. The history of Christianity tells us that the danger is real.
What are we supposed to do to protect ourselves? How can we take this warning to heart and act upon it?
Well, there are two main things we need to do: first, we need to keep our eyes focused on our King. Second, we need to keep an eye on ourselves.
And both of those things are happening right here, in our worship. It is our purpose here, every week, to come together and learn more and more how to recognize our King. And week by week, as we learn to see Jesus more and more clearly, we will find ourselves changing. Our ambitions begin to morph. Our fears begin to fade. Little by little we learn how to be more honest with one another and with ourselves. We even learn how to see the consequences of our sins as acts of our Father’s mercy and discipline in our lives.
So the first thing we need to do is make sure that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached faithfully here every week. Churches better than ours have gone wrong, have turned away from Christ. Pastors and elders better than ours have gone wrong. So as we love Jesus, and as we love one another, let us keep watch on every sermon, every song, every soul here, to make sure our focus does not waver.
And the second thing we need to do is to keep a watch on ourselves, on our own lives — individually and collectively. Seeing Jesus clearly is supposed to change us. If we look at ourselves and we are not being changed, if we are just as unrepentant and fearful as ever, if we still find ourselves living by the values of the cultures around us — then this is evidence that we are not seeing Jesus clearly enough, and that we are in danger of falling away into a miserable kind of life, estranged from Father and family.
Now, this needs to be said delicately, because the truth is none of us is seeing Jesus clearly enough. If we spend too much time taking an honest look at ourselves we will find a thousand areas that need improvement and we can potentially fall into despair, wondering if we really belong to God at all. So another very good piece of advice goes like this: for every single look we take at ourselves, we need to take ten looks at Christ.
In other words:
When we examine ourselves we are not looking for perfection, we are looking for progress.
And progress does have something in common with sin: it is often invisible to us. We examine ourselves and we do not recognize our own sinful patterns; and then, even when we have recognized our sins and repented of them, we often do not recognize the progress God’s Spirit is making with us.
And this brings us back around to why it is so important for all of us to be part of a faithful worshiping community: we all need people who can point out our sins and our progress when we cannot see them in ourselves.
So the way we take these warnings to heart, the way we protect ourselves from following in Judah’s footsteps is by learning what Jesus looks like, and then checking to see if our lives are beginning to look like his.
But this does leave us with one closing question: what about those who have already fallen? What about those individuals and churches that have left God’s family to join other nations and other gods?
History has taught us that family members leave. We lost our older brother — the Jewish people — 2000 years ago, just as our nations were beginning to be brought back into God’s family. Some of the oldest Christian churches in the world started hiding the truth from themselves many centuries ago; and some of the youngest Christian churches in the world hardly had a chance at all before they were swallowed up by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, just as Judah was.
And the Apostle John, in the New Testament, tells us that they went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
Is their story over?
Or you may even be sitting here thinking: Is my story over? Have I gone too far?
Well, if there is one hope that we find here in the story of Judah’s life, it is this: when it comes to our Father’s love for his children, there is no such thing as too far. Judah was on the run from God for what must have been at least 20 years. He participated in slave-trading, perversion, incest, false worship…and still God chased him down and opened his eyes to the truth.
So, friends, let us not give up hope for ourselves when we fall. And let us not give up hope for our brothers and sisters in the faith — older and younger — who have run away from God. It could be that — as the Apostle John said — they never really belonged to us in the first place. But it also could be that they do still belong to us, and that God still has a plan to bring them back into the family, just as he did for Judah. We just don’t know which is which!
So, when we are confronted with such questions and such fears, let us turn our eyes back to our King, the author and perfecter of our faith, and pray for his mercy. He is the faithful shepherd. He knows his sheep even before his sheep know him. And there is no distance too great, no price he is not willing to pay to win us all to himself.
…but that is what we will be talking about next week.