Should our concept of God include punishment?

American Christianity in the 21st century puts a lot of emphasis on what God does for us. There is little said about what God might do to us. Genesis has a story that illustrates why that may be unwise. This story is found in Genesis 38.

First, we read that Judah went and found a wife and fathered sons.

Gen. 38:1 ¶ And it came about at that time, that Judah departed from his brothers and visited a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.

Gen. 38:2 Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; and he took her and went in to her.

Gen. 38:3 So she conceived and bore a son and he named him Er.

Gen. 38:4 Then she conceived again and bore a son and named him Onan.

Gen. 38:5 She bore still another son and named him Shelah; and it was at Chezib that she bore him.

Next, we read what happened when Judah’s sons were adults. (Obviously, many years passed between verse 5 and verse 6.) What did Yahweh do to Judah’s sons, and why? Notice the words “evil” and “displeasing”.

Gen. 38:6 ¶ Now Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar.

Gen. 38:7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD took his life.

Gen. 38:8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.”

Gen. 38:9 Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother.

Gen. 38:10 But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD; so He took his life also.

Gen. 38:11 Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up”; for he thought, “I am afraid that he too may die like his brothers.” So Tamar went and lived in her father’s house.

Judah’s first son was evil so Yahweh killed him, and Judah’s second son was displeasing to Yahweh so Yahweh killed him, also. Contrary to the contemporary emphasis on all the good things God does for us, this story illustrates that God is willing and able to put people to death if they are evil. If God was able and willing to put Judah’s sons to death, he is able and willing to put us to death also. Consider the following verses and notice the word “example”.

1Cor. 10:6 ¶ Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.

1Cor. 10:7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.”

1Cor. 10:8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.

1Cor. 10:9 Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.

1Cor. 10:10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.

1Cor. 10:11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

The deaths of Judah’s sons are examples that we should learn from.


Further Reading

What is the fear of God?

Why does a glimpse of God inspire fear?

Why should we obey God if we’re assured of going to heaven anyway?


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“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”