Do you have a family secret? That event or person which is a source of embarrassment to the family and which doesn’t get talked about. Most families have them.
In 1987 our Royal Family were dragged through a public outcry when their family secret became public. The Queen’s first cousins, Katherine and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon were declared legally dead in 1963. However, due to their disabilities and mental health they had been institutionalised into the Royal Earlswood Hospital in Redhill, Surrey, since 1941. The reality was that Nerissa died in 1986 and Katherine in 2014.
In the family of Jesus there was also a scandal of great magnitude. Matthew purposely mentions all the relevant names so that everyone remembers it.
“Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar” (Matthew 1:3)
Perez and Zerah were twins but only Perez was in the line of Jesus. So why mention Zerah? Probably to remind everyone of the despicable story which involved the 2 names either side of that verse, Judah and Tamar.
The story is found in Genesis 38.
Judah’s first son, Er, had died because of God’s judgment on him. His wife, Tamar, is married off to his brother, Onan, the second son. He dies again because of God’s judgment. So the third son, Shelah, is in line to take Tamar as his wife, but she is having to wait because he is not an adult. Judah at first makes this a promise but he regrets doing so. I mean, she must be bad luck and he doesn’t want to lose a third son. So Tamar takes matters into her own hands.
Judah had a close friend called Hirah and he goes to spend time with him. He had been with him when he had found his first wife and now that she had died he was looking for another and spending time with Hirah probably seemed like the way for that to happen.
Some people tipped off Tamar who felt rejected and deceived by Judah and she goes to the same town and pretends to be a prostitute. Judah sleeps with her. She wants more payment than the goat he was offering and he gives her his seal, cord and staff. She had played him.
Three months go by and reports are given to Judah that his daughter-in-law was pregnant. He erupts with rage and wants her burned to death. She saves her life by asking him who the seal, cord and staff belongs to who she slept with. He realises that she had done this because he had lied to her regarding his third son. He praises her ingenuity.
The twins are then born and again controversy! Which twin will be first? Who will receive the inheritance? During childbirth Zerah’s hand comes out first and a scarlet thread is tied around his wrist. He gets the inheritance! Wait, no he doesn’t, because Perez breaks through (that’s the meaning of his name) and is born first. Scandal!
That’s the family secret hidden behind the names. Matthew records all the names, Zerah and Tamar don’t need to be mentioned. He could have just said, ‘Judah fathered Perez’ but warts and all, this is the story, remember?
Of course as with all our stories we can see a thread of grace, redemption, sovereignty amongst many other things that God weaves.
Tamar’s determination to keep the bloodline of Judah continuing through levirate marriage to her father in law. Perez the person who wasn’t chosen and isn’t first but breaks through because God chose him.
We see the positives looking back. But they are the good from the bad.
Your family may not read like a romantic sweet story which has a U family viewing rating. It may be an 18 certificate! If it is then it is akin to the story of Jesus because the genesis of Jesus comes from sinful, ordinary people, like us.