You've probably seen the commercials: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” It's a simple concept, really. The idea they're selling is that you can come to a wild town where you don't know anyone, indulge yourself in whatever you desire, and then return home like nothing happened. No one will know what you've done. At least, that's what they want you to think.
I imagine that's exactly how Judah felt in Genesis 38 when he visited Timnah. He was going there to have his sheep sheared. He might have been thinking the same things the Las Vegas commercials are promoting. He's alone in a strange town and probably thinks he can indulge himself with anonymity.
On the road leading to Timnah, Judah encounters a veiled woman. The Bible doesn't say why, but for some reason Judah believes she's a prostitute. The Bible does says she was veiled. Perhaps that was a practice among prostitutes so that they can engage in their trade while remaining anonymous. If so, isn't it curious that Judah would be aware of such a practice? I wonder if he's done this before. Anyway, Judah propositions the woman and agrees to give her a kid (a baby goat) in exchange for sex. The woman agrees but Judah wasn't traveling with a goat. Instead, he leaves some personal items with her as a sort of deposit until he can send the kid later.
Here's where it gets interesting. What Judah did not realize is that the veiled woman was his own daughter-in-law, Tamar, the widow of his late son, Er. Tamar had been waiting on the road leading to Timnah so that she could confront Judah about marrying his youngest son, Shelah. The Bible doesn't say why she agreed to Judah's advances; perhaps it was so that she could later blackmail him into letting her marry his youngest son but Tamar became pregnant as a result of her time with Judah.
Judah went on his merry way believing the elicit encounter was over and done. After all, what happens in Timnar, stays in Timnar, right? Well, some time after returning home, he found out that Tamar was pregnant. He became furious because he knew she was betrothed to his son and demanded that she be punished. Realization set it, though, when she produced the personal items that he had given her as a pledge. In modern vernacular, we might say he was “busted.” Tamar went on to deliver twins – Pharez and Zarah.
It's not hard to imagine the horror Judah felt when he learned that his supposedly discreet fling would have such public and lasting consequences. But I think not even Judah was fully aware just how enduring his shame would be. Not only are we reading about his exploits centuries later, but he and the product of his affair are immortalized in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:3. How sad it must be to be mentioned in the Bible not because of your devout faith, but for your complete lack of morals. What might have been a badge of honor is diminished to a source of embarrassment.
I wonder sometimes if we might act differently if we knew our dirty secrets would all be revealed. The idea that whenever you're in strange a place anything you do will be kept secret is a lie. Perhaps our misdeeds will not be published in the Bible but we should never suppose that they will never be known. We are warned in Numbers 32:23, “and be sure your sin will find you out.”