Genesis 38 records an unrighteous act of Judah, a son of Jacob. It is an unusual story, but one that shows the power of confession.
Judah arranged for his firstborn son, Er, to be married to Tamar. The Torah says that Er was wicked in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord put him to death. As per tradition, Er’s brother Onan was to produce a child with Tamar, to be raised up in Er’s name. Onan would not do so, so he also died.
Judah withheld his third son Shelah from Tamar, as he was too young; and he did not want to lose him as well. Yet, years later, after he had matured, while Tamar was still promised to Shelah, Judah continued to withhold him.
Tamar takes matters into her own hands; as to be childless was not just a social blemish, but, as she advanced in age, it meant certain death. She, hearing where Judah was settled, endeavors to trick him.
Tamar, dressed as a prostitute, is approached by Judah, who makes a business arrangement for her services. He gives her his cord and staff as a pledge of payment – items that identity Judah.
Tamar, then, disappears.
Months later it is discovered that Tamar is pregnant. When it is reported to Judah, since he has withheld Shelah from her, she can only be with child by an unrighteousness act. Judah demands the pregnant Tamar to be brought out, and burned alive.
The power of confession.
Imagine Judah marching, self-righteously, with torch in hand to put to death his daughter in law. In the face of the flame, Tamar bravely says, “I am pregnant by the man who owns these” … “And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are” (Gen. 38:25).
Judah had a choice, acknowledge his sin or put innocent life to death to cover his sin. Judah, recognizing his cord and staff confesses, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah” (Gen. 38:26).
Undoubtedly others would have recognize Judah’s possessions, but faced with the evidence – the truth – he confesses his guilt.
Judah’s confession saved three lives: Tamar and her unborn twins.
We do not often think of it in this way, but confession goes hand in hand with repentance. Repentance is, in the most basic understanding, a turning from to. Before God, repentance turns us, while confession moves us face to face.
The fruit of Judah’s confession and repentance are witnessed when we next hear from him: as he stands before his yet unrecognizable brother Joseph. Judah was not the man he once was, and Joseph recognizes this. Judah has experienced the deep pain of loss, and the humiliation of public exposure and confession.
The gift of God’s grace frees us from the grip of secret and shame, to soar upon confession, forgiveness, and restoration.
The apostle James writes, “Confess (acknowledge, talk about, profess) your trespasses (fault, sin, wrong) to one another (those injured by your action), and pray for one another, that you may be healed (made whole). The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man (clean, right, straight before God) avails much” (Jas. 5:16, amplification added).
John wrote, “If we say we have no sin (professing innocence), we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (because we speak against the truth). If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:8-9, amplification added).
Confession will result in restoration (being made whole), and cleansing. Judah did not recognize his brokenness until Tamar, the one he condemned to death, held up the evidence of his sin, “she has been more righteous than I.”
When we are fractured, broken, or soiled, especially by our own doing, we scarcely recognize the lengths we go to in order to cover it up, and plead righteousness, deceiving ourselves.
Confession brings the wounds to light for healing. Grace then does its work as the faithful are embraced by forgiveness, and confession clears away the debris of destructive sin.
Judah’s confession saved three lives, and the reformed Judah offered his life to save Benjamin from years of prison, as Judah was already free.
Confession, along with the shame and embarrassment that often accompany it, renews our walk with God, and the human other. It is a hurt that heals under His sovereign hand, and a sorrow leading to cleansing by the faithfulness of God.
Yeshua/Jesus has already paid it all. Everything needed, the grace for cleansing, forgiveness and reconciliation is in Him.
Be well. Shalom.