HOPE CHAPEL - Sunday, April 25, 2021
Teaching Series - “Our Family Tree–Through the Bible in 2021"
Weekly Topic - “Guilty Conscience” – Communion & Sharing Sunday
Text – Genesis 37-38
Have you ever done something and experienced regret—whether instantaneously or over time? I would be shocked to find out that there is one single person who hasn’t! And when it comes to moral failures especially, when that moment of regret happens, we are left with one of two choices: fess up or feel guilty. When we choose to own up there is often ‘fallout’—embarrassment, need for restitution and potentially years of rebuilding a reputation and trust. This sounds too hard for many and they choose the route of living with their secret guilt feelings, but there will always be those who know—possibly accomplices, victims, God…and of course yourself.
Two weeks ago, we were in Genesis 34 and learned how Jacob’s sons had taken revenge on an entire town as recompense for their sister Dinah’s rape. Unfortunately, a couple of chapters later in Genesis 37, we will soon discover that their ire and harsh responses were not reserved solely for strangers, but were also directed at times at members of their own family.
Theirs was a family divided by competition and favouritism—conditions that only seemed to grow worse as they aged.
How many wives did Jacob have? [four]
Who was his favourite? [Rachel]
Therefore, who do you think his favourite son was? [Joseph, Rachel’s son]
And Jacob’s favouritism wasn’t even subtle. He has a fancy coat made specially for his seventeen-year-old Joseph; and either in his naivety or parental-endorsed entitlement, this favourite son appears to have no real clue as to the depth of his brothers’ hatred for him. Some time later, his father sends him out to the field to check on his brothers and when they see him coming a suggestion is made that they should kill him. I have my suspicions that this idea may have originated from Simeon or Levi, given what we know of their temperament, but Reuben, as the oldest, suggests a different plan. He isn’t in agreement and tries to sort out a way to rescue Joseph without angering the others. “Let’s not kill him ourselves. Let’s toss him in this empty well and let the desert do the job for us.” All the while planning to rescue him later.
All agree until lunchtime, when another idea comes to Judah, who appears also not to have the same bloodlust as some of his brothers. They see a caravan of Midianite traders heading their way and the decision is made to sell Joseph to them—no murder, no need to cover-up any incriminating remains…and the best part of all, he won’t be around to irritate them any longer. They had thought of everything…done!
But they hadn’t. Almost instantaneously we hear the regret. When he finds out what his brothers have done, Reuben is distraught; as the oldest, he is sure to bear the blame for Joseph’s disappearance. And it’s at this point that the lies begin to pile up. They plan to deceive their father by ripping apart Joseph’s signature gift—his fancy coat—and kill one of the flock to smear it in blood. They’ll just say that they found the coat and let Jacob assume the worst. As long as no one goes and blabs they’re in the clear.
What they don’t count on is Jacob’s reaction. Genesis 37:33-35 tells us, “Their father recognized the coat immediately. “Yes,” he said, “it is my son’s robe. A wild animal must have eaten him. Joseph has clearly been torn to pieces!” 34 Then Jacob tore his clothes and dressed himself in burlap. He mourned deeply for his son for a long time. 35 His family all tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “I will go to my grave mourning for my son,” he would say, and then he would weep.” If the brothers had hated the favouritism their father had shown Joseph when he was alive, they completely miscalculated how additionally undervalued they would become in the eyes of their father at the news of his death. Not one of his family was able to console him.
At some point, I suspect all regretted their decision. They were faced with a choice—fess up or live with the guilt. It appears that each and everyone of them chose the latter. We don’t know much about how most of the brothers dealt with their guilt. Next week, we will discover that it haunted them for the rest of their lives. But how did they choose to live with it until it finally came out in the open? Genesis 38 follows Judah into adulthood and we can gain clues from his life how a guilty conscience can have a long-range impact on many aspects of our lives.
POOR CHOICES – Genesis 38:1-5
“About this time, Judah left home and moved to Adullam, where he stayed with a man named Hirah. 2 There he saw a Canaanite woman, the daughter of Shua, and he married her. When he slept with her, 3 she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, and he named the boy Er. 4 Then she became pregnant again and gave birth to another son, and she named him Onan. 5 And when she gave birth to a third son, she named him Shelah. At the time of Shelah’s birth, they were living at Kezib.”
I imagine Judah couldn’t get away from home fast enough. His father’s mourning and his brothers’ guilty looks would have acted as constant reminders. Did Judah think that a little distance between himself and his family could alleviate his own feelings of guilt? Quite possibly. But what does he do in the process? In trying to outrun his guilt, he makes some very poor choices. He separates himself from his family and makes some alliances that his father would not have approved of…nor God either. He distances himself from the family, becomes partners with Hirah and marries a Canaanite woman.
Had he begun to do what many do who suffer from a guilty conscience, but have no intention of admitting error, which is to blame others? “If Joseph hadn’t paraded himself around!” “If Dad hadn’t played favourites!” “If my brothers hadn’t talked me into it!” It appears that Judah desperately wanted a fresh start, but chose to go about it the wrong way…by compounding his bad choices. Ever found yourself in that situation? Digging a deep hole for yourself in an attempt to get out? It never works!
LOSS OF CREDIBILITY/
INEFFECTIVE ACCOUNTABILITY – Genesis 38:6-11
“In the course of time, Judah arranged for his firstborn son, Er, to marry a young woman named Tamar. 7 But Er was a wicked man in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord took his life. 8 Then Judah said to Er’s brother Onan, “Go and marry Tamar, as our law requires of the brother of a man who has died. You must produce an heir for your brother.”
9 But Onan was not willing to have a child who would not be his own heir. So whenever he had intercourse with his brother’s wife, he spilled the semen on the ground. This prevented her from having a child who would belong to his brother. 10 But the Lord considered it evil for Onan to deny a child to his dead brother. So the Lord took Onan’s life, too.
11 Then Judah said to Tamar, his daughter-in-law, “Go back to your parents’ home and remain a widow until my son Shelah is old enough to marry you.” (But Judah didn’t really intend to do this because he was afraid Shelah would also die, like his two brothers.) So Tamar went back to live in her father’s home.”
In the culture of Judah’s day, he was to be the leader of his family and the role of training his sons up after a certain age was his responsibility. But, Judah’s guilty conscience appears to have robbed him of his ability to keep his sons in line. We don’t know why Er was condemned as “wicked in the Lord’s sight,” but we do know that Onan refused to abide by honourary customs of the day, which also appear to have been an expectation of God’s. [Deuteronomy 25:5 “If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. 6 The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.” For more information on the laws surrounding levirate marriage check out the link under ‘for further study’. The laws were given to Moses long after Jacob’s time, but there may have been a longstanding moral code in regards to widows and the continuation of a dead man’s lineage.]
I’m left wondering if Judah provided his sons with any knowledge of God? I suspect he had erased God from the equation of his life while attempting to get away from his family. We can be quick to give up on our families, our values and even God under the torment of a guilty conscience. We want to find relief from the thoughts and feelings that plague us. We want to downplay moral failure. And, as is apparent in Judah’s life, any attempts to hold others to a moral standard defeats our efforts to relieve our own guilty consciences. Easier to ‘live and let live,’ then to deal with the stuff in our own lives so that we can help others in their ability to discern right from wrong.
How do you see this kind of thinking in our world today? [‘I don’t tell you how to live, so you can’t tell me how to either.’]
But it gets worse…
HEARTS HARDEN – Genesis 38:12-26
“Some years later Judah’s wife died. After the time of mourning was over, Judah and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went up to Timnah to supervise the shearing of his sheep. 13 Someone told Tamar, “Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.”
14 Tamar was aware that Shelah had grown up, but no arrangements had been made for her to come and marry him. So she changed out of her widow’s clothing and covered herself with a veil to disguise herself. Then she sat beside the road at the entrance to the village of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. 15 Judah noticed her and thought she was a prostitute, since she had covered her face. 16 So he stopped and propositioned her. “Let me have sex with you,” he said, not realizing that she was his own daughter-in-law.
“How much will you pay to have sex with me?” Tamar asked. 17 “I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” Judah promised. “But what will you give me to guarantee that you will send the goat?” she asked. 18 “What kind of guarantee do you want?” he replied. She answered, “Leave me your identification seal and its cord and the walking stick you are carrying.” So Judah gave them to her. Then he had intercourse with her, and she became pregnant. 19 Afterward she went back home, took off her veil, and put on her widow’s clothing as usual.
20 Later Judah asked his friend Hirah the Adullamite to take the young goat to the woman and to pick up the things he had given her as his guarantee. But Hirah couldn’t find her. 21 So he asked the men who lived there, “Where can I find the shrine prostitute who was sitting beside the road at the entrance to Enaim?” “We’ve never had a shrine prostitute here,” they replied. 22 So Hirah returned to Judah and told him, “I couldn’t find her anywhere, and the men of the village claim they’ve never had a shrine prostitute there.” 23 “Then let her keep the things I gave her,” Judah said. “I sent the young goat as we agreed, but you couldn’t find her. We’d be the laughingstock of the village if we went back again to look for her.”
24 About three months later, Judah was told, “Tamar, your daughter-in-law, has acted like a prostitute. And now, because of this, she’s pregnant.” “Bring her out, and let her be burned!” Judah demanded. 25 But as they were taking her out to kill her, she sent this message to her father-in-law: “The man who owns these things made me pregnant. Look closely. Whose seal and cord and walking stick are these?” 26 Judah recognized them immediately and said, “She is more righteous than I am, because I didn’t arrange for her to marry my son Shelah.” And Judah never slept with Tamar again.”
I don’t know how much more ‘righteous’ Tamar was than Judah, but she obviously took a really big gamble…and could have lost; she would have too if she hadn’t thought through how this could all play out. Many in their day would have applauded Tamar for her commitment to preserve the family line, just as Judah ends up doing…once they knew the whole story.
But when Judah first gets the word that his daughter-in-law is pregnant through prostitution, what does he decree? “Bring her out and let her be burned!” He was in his full legal right, but totally ignored the fact that it was he who had put her in a very desperate position. Living for years with a guilty conscience does not make a person empathetic; it makes them intolerant and hard hearted.
Judah’s refusal to give Tamar to his son Shelah as a wife had probably been adding to the guilt of his already tormented thoughts. Now, Tamar had provided him with an easy out—killing the unfaithful daughter-in-law would have rid him of a problem that I am certain had the neighbours talking. By not having Tamar marry Shelah, Judah was not living up to his obligation to his dead son, his daughter-in-law or even his own family line.
Fortunately for Tamar, she had thought ahead. She needed to be able to prove that the father of the child she was carrying was Judah himself, which she wisely revealed to him in a manner that didn’t further shame or call him out, until he was ready to admit the role he had played.
What do you think of Judah’s responses? How many times have we heard of some very vocal anti-whatevers being guilty of the very thing they profess to be against?
It might interest you to know, if you don’t already, that Tamar would give birth to twins—Perez and Zerah. They would grow up in Judah’s household as his sons/grandsons and travel with the whole family to Egypt years later.
We often believe, falsely, that living with a guilty conscience is better than having to face up to our failures. But while we can play pretend for others, keep the secrets hidden and appear to get on with our lives, we cannot get away from our own condemning thoughts. And if we allow ourselves to become impervious to the constant pounding of our consciences by undealt with guilt, it is likely that the hardness of our hearts will lead us into deeper regrets.
· Unresolved regret over moral failure leads to guilt feelings; these lead to further poor choices, the inability to receive or provide wise guidance and lack of empathy.
· We are all prone to making mistakes and moral failures—we are after all sinful; however, as believers we have the Holy Spirit to help us. It is not okay to simply do wrong without considering the consequences, nor is it wise to ignore our lapses. Honesty, humility and reliance on God are the keys to living a life that is free of guilt and free of damning secrets.
· God has a way of redeeming even our very bad choices. Perez, one of Judah’s twin boys with Tamar, would become one of the many ancestors of Jesus. So, rather than getting eaten up by guilt, I would suggest humility and making things as right as can be, allowing God to help us through the process.
· God has made a way for us to experience forgiveness; we would be wise to take him up on his offer.
Jesus has made the final sacrifice required by God’s Law, but we still need to keep a pliant heart toward God—allowing Him to break us so that we can know restoration and acknowledging our sin and being repentant so that we can experience His forgiveness.
Jesus died to make it possible for us to live without a guilty conscience!
Further Study –
“What is Levirate Marriage?” https://www.gotquestions.org/levirate-marriage.html
Sunday, May 2, 2021- “God’s Miraculous Reversal” (Genesis 39-50) - ONLINE Only
Pastor Jane Peck, Hope Chapel, Collingwood
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!