Sunday, 18 May 2008

Paul Williamson on Genesis 38

A few weeks ago, my friend Dave Kirkman posted regarding Genesis 38 which is, by all measures, an enigmatic chapter of the Bible.

He admitted that he finds Genesis 38 puzzling - and so found himself struggling as to why the writer to the book of Ruth draws parallels with it.

I've recently been reading Paul Williamson's excellent Sealed with an Oath: covenant in God's unfolding purpose. Here's a couple of quotes he makes regarding Genesis 38:

'... [T]he remainder of the patriarchal narrative focuses exclusively on the family history of Jacob's sons, four of whom are singled out for special attention (i.e. Joseph, Reuben, Judah and Benjamin). Of these four, Judah is possibly the most significant, in that the Joseph story is abruptly interrupted by an episode in which Judah's 'seed' occupies centre stage. While the full significance of the brief liaison between Judah and his daughter-in-law is only later disclosed (c.f. Ruth 4:18, Matthew 1:3), the striking similarities with the birth story of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:24-26) together with the emphasis on Judah's 'seed', strongly suggests a special role in the promissory agenda for Judah. Genesis 38 thus provides yet another illustration of God's providence operating in the establishment of the special line of Abrahamic descent.' (page 93).

Later he returns to the royal consequences of this 'seed':

'In the Davidic-Solomonic kingdom the former covenant finds its most extensive fulfilment. With the promise of a 'great nation' now realised, attention now shifts from Abraham's national descendants to his royal descendants, the 'kings' to which attention was subtly drawn back in Genesis 17:6, 16. The importance of this royal line, which had already been traced explicitly through Jacob (Genesis 35:11) and Judah (Genesis 49:10), and implicitly through Perez (Genesis 38, c.f. Ruth 4:18-22), lay in the fact that its most illustrious descendant would be the individual, conquering 'seed' of Genesis 22:18. Thus the Davidic covenant identifies the royal dynasty from which the anticipated victorious 'seed' of Abraham would eventually come.' (page 145).

Seems to make a lot of sense when thinking about the place of both Genesis 38 - and the obvious link between God's sovereignty and the allusions to the Davidic covenant in Ruth.

I've also got to say that I've found Williamson's book massively helpful - not least on this little theological conundrum, as well as helping me to think more clearly about the place of the Law, the doctrine of adoption and the storyline of the Bible as a whole. Perhaps more thoughts in days to come...


Dave K said...

It makes sense. If there is one thing that ties most of Genesis 12-50 together it is problems having children. Problems with the promise of the seed.

Still thinking though, as God's hand does not seem to be in Genesis 38 in the same way as the other childless passages in Genesis (if you get what I mean).

Dave K said...

I've done some more thinking out loud on my blog if you are interested.

Lots to think about.