Judah’s Pledge

A Foreshadowing of Jesus



Bible Studies

Autobiographical Sketch

‘After a long time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Judah had recovered from his grief, he went up to Timnah, to the men who were shearing his sheep, and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went with him.  When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,” she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face.  Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you” (Genesis 38:12-16).

The following is an excerpt from the transcript of a sermon preached on April 13, 2008.  The whole transcript may be read here as a PDF, and it may be listened to by going to Sermonaudio.  Three short clips may be heard by clicking here, here or here.




Remember, in those days women covered their faces with a veil.  Even prostitutes did that.  And so we read on.  “‘And what will you give me to sleep with you?’ she asked” (Genesis 38:16).

Verse 17.  “‘I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,’ he said. ‘Will you give me something as a pledge . . .’”  The Hebrew word there is the Hebrew word, arrabon (arrabon is pronounced: ar-rah-bone).  It is interesting that when the rabbis sought to translate the Hebrew Scriptures for the Jewish people roughly a century to a century and a half before the time of Christ, to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek—because most Jewish people no longer read Hebrew well—they did not translate this Hebrew word, arrabon—which means deposit, can be understood as earnest money—they did not translate this word, but transliterated it in Greek.  It means that they simply took the Hebrew word and spelled it out with Greek letters.  And so the Greek word that is there in the Greek translation of the Old Testament sounds exactly like the Hebrew word, arrabon

And so she says, “Will you give me something as an arrabon until you send it?” she asked.  And he said, “What arrabon shall I give you?”

Verse 18:  ‘“Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,” she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him.   After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow’s clothes again.   Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite . . . to get his pledge back—his arrabon back—from the woman . .’ (Genesis 38:18-20).

See, he left his deposit there:  ‘ . . . to get his arrabon back from the woman, but he did not find her.  He asked the men who lived there, “Where is the shrine-prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?” “There hasn’t been any shrine-prostitute here,” they said.  So he went back to Judah and said, “I didn’t find her. Besides, the men who lived there said, ‘There hasn’t been any shrine-prostitute here.’”  Then Judah said, “Let her keep what she has, or we will become a laughing-stock. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you didn’t find her.” 

‘About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.” Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!” (Genesis 38:20-24)

Now, I want that to soak in for a moment.  “Bring her out and have her burned to death!” (Genesis 38:24) What was implicit is now explicit. What was implicit?  What was implicit is that Judah is not blaming himself. He is not blaming Er. He is not blaming Onan. He is blaming his daughter-in-law. “She is a bad girl. Man, she is bad news. That girl is bad luck. She has got a hex on her.  She’s jinxed. I don’t want her around the place.”  See, that’s kind of implicit. It is not explicit.  But now it is explicit.

The daughter-in-law is pregnant. He has gotten news of it. And just like folks at the First Self-Righteous Church of Pascagoula, they are going to kick her out of Church.  Do you think we ought to kick somebody out of Church because they get pregnant?  The devil wants to kick people out of church because they get pregnant. Do you know what you ought to do when a girl gets pregnant outside of wedlock?  You ought to call her forward.

You say, “Well, that’s embarrassing.”

Look, the church is a place where people get real.  It is not a place for fun and games. Southern churches are full of hypocrites—so are northern churches—because they play fun and games. They don’t get real.  Look, when a girl is a pregnant, and she is not married, she needs the love of the people of God.  You ought to bring her down and lay your hands on her and pray for her. And you ought to help take care of her. If nobody is going to take care of her, you ought to take her in your home and take care of her. And you ought to . . . if she is in school, you ought to give her the money to take care of her.

Let me tell you something.  Giving money to church isn’t where it is at.  It’s giving money to God’s people that’s where it is at. When a girl is a single mom, and the man won’t do right by her, and her parents aren’t sticking with her, it is the obligation of the church to take care of her and to take care of that child. And you don’t go kicking somebody out because they get pregnant.

You say, “Oh, you are going to encourage our kids to be loose.”

No, I am not.  Let me tell you something.  Looseness is in your children because they are your children.  May I say it again? Looseness is in your children because they are your children.  And I know about most of you.  And I also read hearts.  And I am going to tell you. This is the human condition. And you can come up with all the rules and regulations you want, and you are not going to keep your children from fooling around. 

Legalism has never kept anybody from sin.  Only the Holy Ghost can keep people from sin. It takes the Spirit of God changing someone by the grace of God that deals with sin. A church needs to be oriented towards grace and forgiveness and mercy and love.

But we look here at Judah. At this point in his life, he doesn’t know God.  And let me tell you. Whenever you point your finger at somebody, you’ve got three fingers pointing back at you. 

Can you believe this old man at this point?  He is going to have her what? Tortured to death.  Not just bring her here and let me dress her down and fuss at her and bless her out because she is pregnant outside . . .   “Bring her here and let me burn her slowly. Let me roast her.  Let me burn her to death.”

You know, there is nothing more cruel than religious people who aren’t dealing with their own sinfulness.  Do you believe that? There is nothing more cruel than religious people who aren’t dealing with their own sinfulness.  I don’t care whether those religious people are Baptists or Methodists or Presbyterian or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or you name it.  Religion is the worst thing that human beings have ever used in this world to do evil with. 

Fundamentally, Christianity isn’t even a religion. It is a relationship.  It is not about what you do. It is about what God has done for you and a relationship born of grace that grows out of it. 

But I want you to see here, this old man, he is bloated with self-righteousness and his self-righteousness leads him to a harsh and cruel treatment.  What should happen when somebody falls into sin in the Church?  They need to be confronted with it.  And then if they repent and they ask God to forgive them, they need to be embraced. They need to be loved. They need to be held on to and cherished (2 Corinthians 2:5-11). 

All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

There are things about your momma that you don’t know.

My daddy was always proud of our genealogy, and my daddy’s mother was a Salley. Salley was a Huguenot family that moved to Switzerland and then came to America and went up the Edisto River from Charleston and settled in Orange County, South Carolina. And some of them ended up over here in Louisiana. 

And he . . . there was a big book—Daddy always called it the Salley book. I don’t think Daddy read the whole thing because there I found one of my Scottish ancestors, a Jane Bruce, eloped with a Yankee. Wow! 

And my daddy was always proud of his genealogy.  And he said, “You know, Robert,” he said, “Our ancestors came over on the Mayflower and Isaac Allerton was the lieutenant governor of the Plymouth Plantation.”

And then I discovered that Isaac Allerton was the first true American politician because he was caught embezzling funds and was banished from the colony.  And Franklin Delano Roosevelt is also descended from that man—and so Isaac Allerton—all I’m saying is—when worship we our ancestors, but we discover they are just rogues and rascals like the rest of us. Nobody is blue-blooded. And the only blood that counts with God is the red blood of Jesus.

So here is this self-righteous man. “You know, we have got this scum in our family, this daughter-in-law who doesn’t measure up, and she has gotten pregnant and she has gotten pregnant without being married.  Bring her here and let her be burned.” 

Verse 25.  “As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. ‘I am pregnant by the man who owns these,’ she said. And she added,” verse 25, “’See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.’”  (As soon as I finished reading verse 25, I reached behind the pulpit and retrieved my Boy Scout staff I had hidden in the ferns.)

Well, in those days, people all had staffs.  It is part of what you had to do.  And each person’s staff is going to be unique. This is a very unique staff, isn’t it?  I was given this staff in 1995, when I completed a course in leadership that took over a year to complete with the Boy Scouts of America, and it was a gift.  And it is very special.  A man found a piece of wood and worked on it and carved it. It was already shaped like that because of vines, but he put all kinds of things on there, my name and other symbols. So this is a special staff.

And anyone who would see this staff would recognize, “Oh, that’s Bob’s staff.”  It is something that would mark you out.

And in those days men had unique staffs, why?  Because each one had one. You needed them when you were out there defending the sheep from a wolf. You have got to be able to swat him good. 

Sorry, Don.  You know about my lack of manual dexterity and my hand-eye coordination.  I’m infamous for that. 

So they had a staff, and it was unique, and you knew whose staff was whose. And then people also had a signet ring or some means of identifying themselves. Sometimes it was ceramic. Sometimes it was metal like this ring that was given to me when I had completed 25 years of service here. And this ring is a replica Martin Luther’s wedding ring. And it is unique, and you would know it immediately if you saw it. 

And so here Judah has summoned his daughter-in-law there and says, “Bring her out and let her be burned.” 

But she’s got an arrabon.  She has an arrabon.  She has a deposit. She has a pledge. And that arrabon is Judah’s staff and his signet ring on a cord.

And in those days, I want to tell you, it is not unlike a man’s driver’s license and credit card.  Can you imagine Judah dealing with what he thought was simply a prostitute, but she is disguised? And he says, you know, “How much?”

And she says, “Well, how about a goat.  And you don’t have it with you.”  Said, “I want a pledge, because, you know, I don’t trust you.”

And he understands. “I understand you don’t trust me, but here, let me give you my driver’s license and my credit card.”

And you say, “Nobody would be that stupid.”

Hey, believe me. I’m a pastor. I’ve been preaching since 1965. People are that stupid. 

But what I want you to see here is this.  The amazing thing is that when she pulls out the arrabon, when she pulls out the deposit—this is a Hebrew word that is only used three times in the entire Old Testament and they are all three found in Genesis 38 (Genesis 38:17, 18, 20).  The moment she brings them out, look and see what we read in verse 26.

‘Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again.   When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb.  As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.”  But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, “So this is how you have broken out!” And he was named Perez.  Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out and he was given the name Zerah’ (Genesis 38:26-30).

What I want you to understand is, out of this amazing, sordid saga comes the lineage of king David and, therefore, the lineage of the Messiah, Jesus. It is Judah’s child through his daughter-in-law, Tamar, in an unwitting fulfillment of levirate marriage, that comes the ancestor of King David and of the Lord Jesus.

Now, I want you to see something amazing happens. And bear with me for a moment.  Do you see what Judah says at this point when he says in verse 26, “She is more righteous than I”? (Genesis 38:26)

I submit to you that out of the most humiliating moment of his entire life comes a turning point in Judah’s life.  You see, up to this point Judah has been self-righteous.  Up to this point he has been a finger pointer. Up to this point he has been a blame-shifter.  But at this point he begins to take responsibility. At this point he begins to assume accountability for his own conduct. And he says of his daughter-in-law, “She is more righteous than I am.” He begins to question his own integrity.  He begins to question his own righteousness. He begins to see himself as he really is. And let me say this.  Sometimes in your life you come to a moment in time that you are totally devastated by. It is humiliating.  But out of that is the beginning of a freedom in your life you have never known before because you begin to have a true view of yourself and a true view of God. And that is what begins to happen in his life.

And let me show you how that this is not simply subtle, but that, just in a couple moments, how clearly it is worked out. 

Judah, I submit to you, begins to know God in this chapter. And the fruit of his knowing God and living up to his name—for his name not only comes to be the name of the Jewish people, Jew, as a contraction of his name—but his name in Hebrew means “praise.”  It is at this point when he is totally humiliated by the pledge, the arrabon, that his daughter-in-law has, that his life begins to change. And let me show you what happens as we turn over in the book of Genesis to chapter 44. You want to read along with me here. Genesis chapter 44, starting at verse 18.

‘Then Judah went up to him and said: “Please, my lord, let your servant speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself. My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’  And we answered, ‘We have an aged father, and there is a young son born to him in his old age. His brother is dead, and he is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me so I can see him for myself.’  And we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father; if he leaves him, his father will die.’  But you told your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.’   When we went back to your servant my father, we told him what my lord had said.  Then our father said, ‘Go back and buy a little more food.’  But we said, ‘We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother is with us will we go. We cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’  Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons.  One of them went away from me, and I said, “He has surely been torn to pieces.” And I have not seen him since.  If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my grey head down to the grave in misery.’  So now, if the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy’s life, sees that the boy isn’t there, he will die. Your servants will bring the grey head of our father down to the grave in sorrow”’ (Genesis 44:18-31).

Now look at verse 32.  “Your servant guaranteed the boy’s safety to my father.” The word that is translated “guaranteed” is a verbal form of that Hebrew word arrabon

I want you to let that sink in. The Hebrew word arrabon, “deposit, guarantee, first installment, earnest money, pledge,” is only used three times in the Old Testament.  But the verbal form is used more than that. And here Judah uses the verbal form (arb).

Bear with me for a moment, and let’s see if we can connect these dots. You see, up to the time of Tamar, Judah is what? Not only is he not accepting responsibility or accountability for his actions, he is shifting them to other people. But now, not only does he accept responsibility—notice he confesses his sin—but he does something else. He not only accepts responsibility for himself and his actions, he accepts responsibility for someone else.  He accepts accountability for someone else. 

I want you to see what he says. Look at it, because he is repeating what is said earlier in the book of Genesis.  The old man never did let Benjamin go with Reuben because Reuben said, “If I don’t bring him back you can kill my boys” (Genesis 42:37).

Do you know what Judah said?  Judah said, “Daddy, I will be responsible for this boy.  I myself will be an arrabon”—if you want to translate the verb that way— “I myself will be an arrabon for this boy. If I don’t bring him back, then I will bear the responsibility, the guilt of it for the rest of my life” (Genesis 43:9).

Do you see the principle of substitution?  Do you see here how the first Jew has come to know God and has come to take responsibility for his own actions, for his own conduct? And now as he has matured in his walk with God, he is now taking responsibility for other people. He is now offering himself as a substitute.

Let’s read further, because it is very powerful.  So he says, “Your servant guaranteed . . “ (Genesis 44:32).  That is, “Your servant [committed himself to be an arrabon] for the boy’s safety to my father.’ I said, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!’” (Genesis 44:32)

It is amazing that the old man saw something in Judah he didn’t see in Reuben. Reuben said, “If I don’t bring him back, kill my sons.” But he sees in Judah, “This man is taking responsibility seriously.  This man has gone from being a philandering, womanizing, skirt-chasing man, who shifts responsibility, to taking responsibility for his own conduct. And now this man is willing to take responsibility for the safety of my youngest boy.”

And that is why Jacob lets Judah take Benjamin down to Egypt.

Now hold on. It gets better.  And, “I said, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!’” (Genesis 44:32)

Verse 33:  “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers.  How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father” (Genesis 44:33, 34).

Do you see the amazing change in the character of Judah? Before, when he heard the old man weep and cry because his son Joseph was no more, the guilt drove him away to become a pagan living among the Canaanites.  But now he said, “I am going to take responsibility for my father’s peace of mind. I made myself an arrabon, a pledge for my brother and I am willing to give up my freedom for the rest of my life. Don’t take Benjamin.”  Joseph had had his cup hidden in Benjamin’s sack, if you remember the Bible story.  He said, “Don’t take Benjamin. Let him go back to my father so my father can have peace and joy the rest of his life. Let me go to prison and be your slave forever.”

Now, I want you to see two truths. Turn with me, if you will, to Ephesians 1:11, and we are almost done. Two great truths. In this sordid story, because Genesis 38 is one of the most sordid and vile incidents recorded in all of Scripture.  In the middle of it are buried two precious jewels that are a foreshadowing of the gospel. Ephesians chapter one.  And we will begin reading at verse 11 to get us to the context of verse 14.

“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.  And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit . . “ (Ephesians 1:11-14).

The New Testament uses this Greek word, arrabon, the transliteration of the Hebrew word, arrabon, three times (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:14).  And in all three cases, they are used of the Holy Spirit. 

So I want you to understand the Hebrew word is used three times only, all in Genesis 38, referring to what?  Referring to Judah’s signet ring and staff.  But the New Testament uses the Greek transliteration three times, each time of the Holy Spirit. And what he is he telling us about the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 1:14.  He is the  arrabon of our inheritance. What does that mean? 

It means that if you go out to buy a home—let’s say you are going to buy a $100,000 home and you . . . there are several folks, perhaps, interested in it.  But you say, “Well, I want to buy this home.”

“So, well, I’ve got other folks interested. Do you have . . . are you willing to make some kind of pledge, some kind of commitment?  Are you willing to put some earnest money down?”

You say, “Yes, I will give you $1000 in earnest money which is guaranteeing my interest in the house.”

What happens if you back out on the deal a week later? What happens to your $1000?  You forfeit that $1000.  Your $1000 is—to use the Hebrew word—an arrabon.  It is like this staff and this signet ring. It is earnest money. It is a deposit. If you don’t live up to your commitment, you lose it.

Now I want you to understand something.  Jesus has earned for you and me, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is an arrabon. The Holy Spirit is a deposit, a pledge.  What does that mean?  It means that when you receive the Holy Spirit he is yours to keep.  And he is your guarantee that you are going to happen.

“How do I know I am going to go to heaven when I die?”

It is not up to me. It is not up to my goodness or my faithfulness.  It is up to Jesus who has given me the arrabon.  I have got the arrabon.  I have the deposit. I have the pledge. The pledge is the Holy Spirit. God will not abandon the Holy Spirit. God will take the Holy Spirit to heaven, and he will take me along with him. 

I want you to understand that the security of the believer is found buried in this sordid tale in Genesis 38, because the Holy Spirit is the arrabon, the pledge guaranteeing the full payment of your salvation. 

But I want you to see the other truth.  I want you to see that just as the first Jew, Judah, made himself an arrabon to guarantee that young Benjamin would be able to go be with Father, I want you to understand that the greatest Jew of all times, the Lord Jesus Christ, that true descendant of Judah, the Lord Jesus Christ, on the cross, made himself an arrabon for you. 

It is not just, “Well, I’m willing to go be in prison and be your slave for life.”  Jesus dies as your substitute in your place, and by his death he is an arrabon.  He secures, he guarantees that you will go be with Father. I want you to understand something that sometimes in the darkest places are the brightest things. Sometimes in the worst events are the best events. I want you to understand that in this chapter of the Bible that you probably never read when you read children’s Bible stories to your children at night because people said, “Well, that’s just not good for people to hear . . .”  People are too prissy for the Holy Spirit, you know.  So they just gloss over it.

I want to tell you that in the most sordid, unseemly saga in all of biblical literature are buried two wonderful truths.  The Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of your salvation and Jesus who, like his ancestor Judah, guarantees, at his own personal loss, your salvation, because Jesus died on the cross as your substitute. He secured your salvation so you would go be with Father.

You are like Benjamin, and he is like Judah. He is your arrabon, and he gave you the Holy Spirit as an arrabon

Do you know this Jesus?  Do you know this Jesus, this Jesus who is the great descendant of Judah, who becomes a slave for your sin in order that you would be free and able to go to the Father’s house, this Jesus who gave the Holy Spirit as an arrabon, who comes to live inside every believer, guaranteeing that one day you will go be with the Father? 

Isn’t it an amazing thing?  If Tamar had not been able to produce the arrabon, she would have been burned to death, and there would have been no King David, and there would have been no Messiah. But she was able to produce the arrabon.  Do you have the arrabon

Bob Vincent