When Out of Order is Really in Order
There are times when we are reading the Bible that we come to a place where in the
middle of an event, it seems as if an unrelated story or series of verses appears
within the text. We know that every word in the Holy Scriptures was written by G-D’s
design, so that means that these seemingly unrelated verses must, in some way, be
related to the text found both before and after them.
One such text is found in Genesis 38, which is the story of Judah and Tamar. This
chapter is found folded between chapter 37, which tells of Joseph being sold into
slavery by his brothers and chapter 39, which continues the narrative of Joseph’s life in slavery. Basically, if you read chapter 37, then turn past chapter 38 to chapter 39,
we find a seamless continuity of the narrative of Joseph’s life.
So, we must ask why the story of Judah and Tamar is placed in-between chapters 37 and 39 in such a way that it breaks up the story. When reading the text, it almost
feels as if we turn the page and find that someone has bound a page from another
book in the wrong location. Or, to put it into more modern terms, it seems as if for a
few minutes, the channel gets changed and we begin to view a completely different
Yet, because we know that the Bible is perfectly constructed, we know that chapter
39 was placed where it is in the text because it belongs there. Knowing this, we, as
the intended audience, must take the time to read the text to find the connection
between these two seemingly disjointed events. Then we can find how these
chapters become part of the Torah (instructions) for our lives.
So, let’s take a look. In chapter 37, we read that Joseph’s brothers hate him enough
to kill him. Judah convinces his brothers that instead of killing Joseph, it would be
better for them to sell him into slavery. After selling Joseph into slavery, his brothers
inform their father, Jacob, that an animal has killed Joseph. Then, we read that Jacob
mourns the death of his son.
As we enter chapter 38, we find that Judah experiences the loss of two of his sons.
Judah learns first-hand what his father went through when he and his brothers lied
to Jacob about the death of Joseph. Judah feels the deep loss and pain of losing not
just one, but two of his sons. It is this experience in Judah’s life that causes such
repentance in him when later he is willing to become a slave in the place of
Benjamin to keep his father from experiencing the pain of losing a second son.
Genesis chapter 44:33-34 says:
3 So now, please let your servant remain as my lord’s slave in the boy’s place, and let the boy go up with his brothers. 34 For how can I go up to my father
and the boy is not with me? Else I must see the evil that would come upon my
As we see this subplot involving Judah, we realize the two stories are not separate;
they are intertwined. Judah’s painful experience in chapter 38 shaped his life so
dramatically and unto true repentance that he is willing to give his life for his
brother. The placement of chapter 38 isn’t a mistake; it isn’t out of proper order at
all. In fact, it is the events of chapter 38 that brings the story of Joseph and his
brothers into proper order. Chapter 38 also brings the repentance, which makes it
possible for Joseph and his brothers to be brought back into proper order.