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God’s Word for You

1 Chronicles 2:1-4 Sons and sins of Judah

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, September 25, 2023

2 These are the sons of Israel: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun,  2 Dan, Joseph, Benjamin, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher.

The twelve sons of Jacob are given in an unusual order. First there come the six sons of Leah, from Reuben to Zebulun. Issachar and Zebulun were born later, while the concubines were giving birth to the four sons they produced (Genesis 39:14-18). After Leah’s six sons, the Chronicler names Dan, the first of the concubines’ sons (through Bilhah), and then the two sons from Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. After them, the other three sons from the concubines. Is this because Rachel looked on Dan as the one through whom she would build her family (Genesis 30:3)? The actual order of the sons, based on Genesis 29-30 (the account of their births), seems to be: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah (each from Leah), Dan, Naphtali (both from Bilhah), Gad, Asher (both from Zilpah), Issachar, Zebulun (once again from Leah), Joseph and Benjamin (from Rachel, who died giving birth to Benjamin in Bethlehem). All of the older eleven brothers were born while Jacob worked for Laban in Padden Aram. Of the daughters, we only know the name of Dinah. In the Scriptures, it is significant that nobody outside the family could tell the order of the brothers because they were born so close together apart from Benjamin, so that they were astonished when the Egyptian seated them in precise order of their age when they came to visit him (he was of course their brother Joseph, but they didn’t know it, Genesis 43:33).

3 The sons of Judah: Er, Onan, and Shelah. These three were born to him by the daughter of Shua. She was a Canaanite woman. Now Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and he put him to death. 4 His daughter-in-law Tamar also bore him Perez and Zerah. In all, Judah had five sons.

We are not told what Er’s sin was, but since the Chronicler makes it a point of reminding us that his mother was a Canaanite, it may have had to do with their abominations. While sexual immorality may have been involved, I think it is more likely that he was at the same time an unbeliever and a false teacher or false prophet, and that to silence his heresy from within the family God ended his life in judgment. This was God’ practice later on with all of the Canaanites. It was their idolatry that would lead God’s people away, through many different temptations. God warned: “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land (of Canaan); for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same” (Exodus 34:11). And again, God said: “You must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy” (Deuteronomy 7:2).

The Chronicler passes over the story of Onan’s sin, and so shall we, but he mentions Er’s sin and he describes Judah’s mistake when he was deceived by the widow of Judah’s son Er into thinking that she was a prostitute. This was after Judah’s wife also died. She conceived by him, and this turned out to be the twins, Perez and Zerah. It was through Perez that the line of the Savior ran, by his great-great-great-great grandson, Boaz with Ruth the Moabite woman.

What swift brushstrokes the Chronicler uses! His method of telling the long, long story with the fewest words is also like a composer who weaves themes in and out of a score so that the audience is given hints and clues about the past, present and future. There is just enough to guide us. Onan’s sin is left out, but Judah’s sin, sex between a widowed father-in-law with his widowed daughter-in-law, was a sin in the eyes of the patriarch who committed it even though there was not yet any law forbidding this apart from the law of marriage. Sex between the unmarried is forbidden by the institution of marriage itself. But Judah understood his sin and he refrained from ever repeating it. When he learned what he had done, he said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her my (third) son Shelah” And he did not sleep with her again (Genesis 38:26). Why did God tolerate this sin? We know that God doesn’t tolerate any sins. God hates sin of all kinds (Deuteronomy 12:31).

But look at what word comes erupting up out of the text like the first flower of spring! Here it is, for the very first time in this book: The LORD. The Lord’s name appears hundreds of times in the book, and it is in the very first verse of 2 Chronicles and occurs twice in the last verse as well, but this is the first time it has appeared so far. “LORD” is a reminder of God’s grace, of his faithful forgiveness and love. And what a moment to appear—just as we are wondering about the sin of Judah and the inclusion of such a sin in the line of the Savior. There by grace, the grace of the LORD who forgives and forgives and keeps on forgiving, there is God’s love and kindness showing patience and deliverance for Judah and his lover; a woman who should not have become his lover but who needed a son from this family through the Levirate law, just as Ruth did.

Old Jacob prophesied that the Savior would come from Judah’s line. “The scepter will not depart from Judah… until the one it belongs to has come. He will receive the obedience of the people” (Genesis 49:10). But Judah could not be very puffed up about this. What a miserable sinner he was; what miserable circumstances of his children’s conception! What terrible sins weighed down on Judah’s conscience, and yet the Lord spoke through Judah’s dying father: Your sins are forgiven, Judah. You are the ancestor of the Savior. Just as the Magi must have wondered when they entered into Bethlehem: Does a king really come from this place? So quiet, so bashful. Nobody wanted to lead them to the baby’s crib, and the baby was treated no differently than a newborn calf, asleep in the hay. But from such lowliness and human smallness does God accomplish his great and glorious plan. What grace is here in Judah’s sinful family tale! What grace is here is all our sinful stories. What sinners we are! What a gracious and forgiving God we have! “He mocks proud mockers, but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34).

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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