The Bible is full of interesting, even arresting human histories. Apart from the first two chapters whose chronology covers billions of years, the rest of the Bible is a condensed 6,000 years of history - the Book of Revelation excepted.
One of the most compelling chronicles in the Bible is the genealogy of Judah, the 4th son of the patriarch Jacob. Judah had three sons. And in what is particularly indefensible two of these sons are reckoned wicked by history. They post-shadowed the participatory wickedness of their father in the attempted murder of Joseph, his half brother. His sons were wicked to themselves too. The middle son was wicked to the memory and genealogy of his elder brother.
This is the story. It is found in Genesis 38, where incidentally we first came across the word "breakthrough" in the Bible. By the principle of first mention - a Biblical hermeneutic principle - we must pay attention to the story. Judah married a wife for his first born, Er. Her name was Tamar. Er erred before the Lord. He "grievously offended God" and God took his life. According to the custom, when a man died prematurely without an issue, his brother must produce offspring for him. So Judah told Onan his second born, “Go and sleep with your brother’s widow; it’s the duty of a brother-in-law to keep (his) brother’s line alive.” And this is where it gets interesting. Onan knew that the child wouldn’t be his. So, whenever he slept with Tamar he spilled his semen on the ground. Technically therefore he obeyed his father but he worked against the purpose of the instruction.
We do the same in various ways. We technically dance round the commands of God, defeating the spirit of his instruction. We seek to bind others to the letters of the law to the detriment of God's intendment. We obey the letter of the Word of God but our motivation is contrary. Yet motivation matters to God. Onan didn't want to produce a child for his brother. It's why he spilled his semen on the ground. "God was much offended by what he did and also took his life." There are details of life we think a "Holy God" pays no attention to. This story confounds our religiosity.
But imagine the emotional trauma of Tamar. To everyone she was barren. Couldn't conceive. And everyone who slept with her seemed to die! There's a stigma. She's the Black Widow. Superstition abounds under such circumstances. And superstition is disrespectful of salient facts.
According to custom, Judah ought to ask his third son, Shelar to sleep with Tamar to produce offspring. The principle of procreation for Israel is that lineages are established lines of multiplication. But she's the Black Widow now. Judah withheld his last son using the excuse of his lack of pubescence. He deceitfully told Tamar: “Live as a widow at home with your father until my son Shelah grows up.” He was worried that Shelah would wind up dead, just like his brothers. Tamar was a bad omen. Amazing Judah never examined why his sons kept dying. He never saw his sons as wicked and evil. Instead he transferred the label of transgressor to Tamar. She became causative factor though victim. How very much like us to ignore root causes for the "apparent", making simplistic illogical connections.
In the course of time Judah became a widower himself. His wife died. Soon after the mourning period he resumed his business activities. On one of his business trips he relieved his sexual pressure by sleeping with a prostitute. Unknown to him the "prostitute" was in fact his daughter-in-law, Tamar. She had gained knowledge of his itinerary and hatched a plan to get pregnant by disguising herself as a prostitute. She positioned herself on the road Judah was going to take and that was how he ended up sleeping with her. It all seems ingenious, but the timing of Judah's journey, his sexual pressure, the choice of route, Tamar's incidental knowledge of his itinerary, his decision to sleep with a prostitute from that particular junction, the alignment of that decision with Tamar's ovulation calendar... There are too many coincidences! Such level of detailing and alignment bears the signature of Providence. He only needed to sleep with her once!
Tamar had realised by this time that she wasn't going to be given in marriage to Judah's last born. She had suffered several layers of injustice from this family. And God executed poetic justice. The irony was that when Judah was told Tamar was pregnant, he decreed she must be burnt! She was "a whore". He seemed to have forgotten HE patronised a prostitute not that long ago. Sometimes the most vociferous and condemnatory are the guiltiest. In judging others they judge themselves.
In lieu of payment for services rendered he had given his staff and signet seal to Tamar. She simply told the persecuting audience she was pregnant by the hand of the man who owned the staff and seal! Judah saw they were his. He said, “She’s in the right; I’m in the wrong - I wouldn’t let her marry my son Shelah.” No matter how remote, when poetic justice comes we always know the root cause. Guilt knows its roots.
Well, it turned out she was pregnant with twins. God compensated with extra blessing. As she was giving birth, one child put his hand out; the midwife tied a red thread on his hand. But then he pulled it back and his brother came out. She said, “Oh! A breakout!” So she named him Perez (Breakout or breakthrough). Then his brother came out with the red thread on his hand. They named him Zerah (Bright). And that was the first mention of "breakthrough" in the Bible.
The first twin who "put out his hand" represents human effort - our determination, our smartness. But the second twin broke out inexplicably. He represents grace. He defied the odds, overcame convention. Grace makes the unlikely a reality. It does not follow natural sequence. Grace shunts the queue. It does not matter what competitive scenario you find yourself in, the grace of our Lord will confer advantage on you.
With this understanding of grace, I’m saying The Grace should take on new meaning for you. By grace the last became the first, the tail became the head. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is favour, eminence, promotion, inexplicability, odds defier.
May God favour you, give you preeminence, promote you, beat the odds for you. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.