“When brothers live together, and one of them dies childless, the wife of the deceased man shall not marry outside to a strange man; her brother-in-law shall come to her, and take her to himself as a wife, and perform levirate marriage.
“The firstborn son whom she bears will then perpetuate the name of the dead brother, so that his name will not be obliterated from Israel.” (Deuteronomy 25:5–6)
Why would God perpetuate a custom that predates even Abraham?
One reason is grounded in eternal inheritance. The other is “for the express purpose of keeping alive the hope of resurrection in the minds of the chosen people.” (Elliott’s Commentary for English Readers, Deut. 25:5)
We see this in the book of Ruth: the wealthy Bethlehem landowner Boaz (who foreshadowed Yeshua) gave this hope to the widow Ruth (who foreshadowed those who follow Yeshua) when he became her bridegroom and she his bride. (Ruth 4)
This law kept alive the hope of resurrection and also the inheritance within the family name. It was fulfilled when Yeshua (Jesus) became the “Bridegroom” of all chosen people—Gentiles and Jews—creating a marriage covenant with all those who enter into that covenant with Him. Those who become His Bride receive His eternal inheritance.
All Believers who put their hope in Yeshua as Savior have the hope of the resurrection sealed into their spirit.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua HaMashiach! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Yeshua HaMashiach from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:3–4)
Obedience Is Rewarded
Still, we can well imagine that sin might get in the way of this hope, and it did in the case of Onan. In fact, the Lord was displeased with him because he essentially refused to raise up a son for his brother. In judgment, the Lord took his life also.
Instead of admitting that his sons died early because of their sin, Judah blamed Tamar. And though he promised her that his third and last son, Shelah, would give her a son, he did not want to risk losing him as well.
He told Tamar to wait as a widow until Shelah grew to maturity. But when Shelah became a man, Judah still did not give him to Tamar as her husband, so she took matters into her own hands.
Tamar disguised herself as a cult prostitute and lured Judah into an encounter that resulted in her becoming pregnant. Approximately three months later, when her pregnancy became evident, Judah ordered her executed for harlotry; but it was then that Tamar displayed Judah’s seal, cord, and staff, which Judah had given Tamar as pledge of payment for her services.
“As she was being brought out, she sent this message to her father-in-law, ‘I am with child by the man to whom these belong.’ And she added, ‘Examine these: whose seal and cord and staff are these?’” (Genesis 38:25)
Judah then realized that though Tamar’s actions were less than perfect, she had done so to fulfill the familial responsibility to raise up a child for her husband under the family name. He realized that she was more righteous than he was, so he set her free.
Tamar gave birth to twins, one of whom, Perez, became a forefather of Boaz, who became the great-grandfather of King David, who became a forefather of the Messiah. (see Matthew 1; Ruth 4:18–22).
Judah is considered, in traditional Judaism and in the Tanakh, the father of the Mashiach (Messiah), who we know to be Yeshua, the Lion from the tribe of Judah.
“The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants, until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honor.” (Genesis 49:10)
From Pit to Palace
What does this story show us? It shows us that God, by His mercies, can redeem us and take us from the depth to the heights. Although Judah made some very bad decisions that hurt people tremendously, and though he fell into immorality, God still chose to bring forth the Messiah of all mankind through his lineage.
Likewise, Joseph’s dark descent into a pit, his betrayal by his brothers, his period of slavery in Egypt, and abandonment in a dungeon for a crime he did not commit served to position him to be exalted over all of Egypt, next to Pharaoh.
In this exalted position Joseph was able to arrange for provision for all of Egypt during the seven-year famine. The people living around Egypt benefited and survived because of Joseph, including his own family, who also came into Egypt for relief from the famine in their land.
We also may have to endure many challenging situations in life as we journey toward fulfilling our calling in God.
When times are the darkest—when we have fallen into a pit, either by those who sin against us, or by our own sin—we can take heart because this is not the end of the story. God promises to make all things work together for our good, for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
It is during life’s dark times that the light of Yeshua seems brightest.
Yeshua said, “I am the Light of the World.” His true light can sustain us through the darkest of nights as we continue to place our faith and trust in Him.
“Then Yeshua spoke to them again: ‘I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)
Today is also a dark time in the lives of the people of Israel as we are being attacked on streets, in stores and synagogues, and on social media by Palestinian terrorists; but it is in the center of this darkness that Yeshua can shine His light through us.