Genesis 38 appears to be an interruption in the story of Joseph, since Joseph’s story begins in Genesis 37. Genesis 38 is the account of Judah and Tamar. It seems at first, out of place. However, with careful examination, one will find that it is actually perfectly in place—as all of Scripture is.

Steinmann comments:

“Although at first blush this chapter appears to be a diversion from the main story of Jacob’s family, it is a necessary component of the overall plot that demonstrates how God’s plan unfolded in the lives of the sons of Jacob, the twelve patriarchs of the people of Israel.” ~Steinmann, Andrew E.. Genesis (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) . InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. 

Using the same commentator above, I found several parallels to Genesis 37 which make it very clear that this chapter is placed intentionally together with it to convey it is about the story of Jacob’s family in a big way. In other words, the meaning stated above governs the arrangement of the chapters. Moses is telling a story of gigantic proportions of how the whole world will be blessed! 

Here are the items in brief that Steinmann relates about the similarities of the chapters which are on both sides of chapter 37.

  1. In the previous chapter (37) Jacob is sent a robe and told to identify it, and in this chapter (38) Tamar sends Judah his seal, cord, and staff and tells him to identify them.
  2. In ch.37 a goats blood was used to stain Joseph’s coat, and in ch.38 a goat was the price for Tamar’s services as a prostitute.
  3. In both chapters there is deception: In ch.37 Israel’s sons deceive him about Joseph; and in ch.38 Tamar deceives Jacob.
  4. The chapter that follows also shows the placement to be very intentionally telling this story. They both include similar openings: Judah went down from his brothers (38:1) and in 39:1 Joseph was taken down to Egypt.
  5. In chapters 37 and 38 both use evidence to persuade someone. In ch.37 Joseph’s bloodstained coat is used as evidence to persuade Israel that his son Joseph is dead. In ch.38 Judah’s seal, cord, and staff are used as evidence to show the man who impregnated Tamar. Additionally, in ch.39 Joseph’s garment is used as evidence by Potiphar’s wife to support her claim that Joseph tried to sleep with her. 

The connections noted above on these three chapters amazingly tell the reader that this is a story of how God lets no obstacle get in the way of his covenant promise to bless the nations. And with such we can too take heart as we read in the genealogy of the Messiah in Matthew:

“and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram” (Matthew 1:3 ESV).

Thus, God allows no obstacle to prevent his blessing the nations.