Thursday, September 26, 2019

Genesis 38 - Judah and Tamar

This article is part of a series of articles that resulted from my time preaching through the book of Genesis. The commentary on the passage is my own, resulting from hours of research and exegetical study. It is my intent to draw a biblical theology chapter by chapter through the book of Genesis that places the events of the narratives into the broad picture of the entire Bible, demonstrating the progressiveness of theology and the sufficiency of every Word of Scripture. It is my prayer that these articles are helpful to those seeking a better understanding of the book of Genesis and of the Bible as a whole. The sermon series and other resources can be found at

1 And it came about at that time, that Judah departed from his brothers and visited a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. 2 Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; and he took her and went in to her. 3 So she conceived and bore a son and he named him Er. 4 Then she conceived again and bore a son and named him Onan. 5 She bore still another son and named him Shelah; and it was at Chezib that she bore him.

Judah left the family dwelling place to go out on his own into the land of Canaan. While there, he married a Canaanite woman. She bore him three sons, and they lived in Chezib, which was about half a day’s journey from Hebron.

Many years passed, and the children grew.

6 Now Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD took his life. 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.”

This is what came of Judah living among the Canaanites. The LORD killed Er because he was so wicked. Er had no male heirs, so Judah ordered Onan, his second-born, to have children with Er’s wife, Tamar. This was done among the ancient people in order to propagate the family line after a man died without children. One of his brothers would produce offspring with his brother’s wife on his brother’s behalf. That child would then inherit the father’s wealth and household. That includes, as here, a share in the grandfather’s inheritance in place of his father. Since Er was the firstborn, he would have received the double portion of the inheritance when Judah died. If Onan and Tamar had a son in Er’s name, that child would receive the double portion of Judah’s inheritance. Thus,

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

Thus Judah lost two sons because of their wickedness. The family of Israel seemed to be spiraling into great sin, perpetuated by their closeness to the residents of Canaan. It would seem that Joseph—not Judah—would be the logical choice for the covenant blessing and kingly line. But there was still time for refinement. And God did just that.

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 thought that Tamar was cursed, for he had lost two sons that had lain with her. His third son, Shelah was apparently too young to lay with Tamar and produce offspring on behalf of Er.

Many more years passed.

12 Now after a considerable time Shua’s daughter, the wife of Judah, died; and when the time of mourning was ended, Judah went up to his sheepshearers at Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13 It was told to Tamar, “Behold, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 14 So she removed her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the gateway of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah had grown up, and she had not been given to him as a wife. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, for she had covered her face. 16 So he turned aside to her by the road, and said, “Here now, let me come in to you”; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. And she said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” 17 He said, therefore, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” She said, moreover, “Will you give a pledge until you send it?” 18 He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” And she said, “Your seal and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. 19 Then she arose and departed, and removed her veil and put on her widow’s garments.

Judah, now a widower, sought the company of a prostitute by the roadside. He had no idea that the prostitute was Tamar, who had grown weary of waiting for Judah to allow her to wed Shelah in order to raise up offspring for Er. She knew that if she became pregnant, she would need Judah’s things in order to prove that that baby was his.

20 When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite, to receive the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her. 21 He asked the men of her place, saying, “Where is the temple prostitute who was by the road at Enaim?” But they said, “There has been no temple prostitute here.” 22 So he returned to Judah, and said, “I did not find her; and furthermore, the men of the place said, ‘There has been no temple prostitute here.’” 23 Then Judah said, “Let her keep them, otherwise we will become a laughingstock. After all, I sent this young goat, but you did not find her.”

If word of this got around, Judah’s family could have been embarrassed. So they kept quiet about it for three months.

24 Now it was about three months later that Judah was informed, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the harlot, and behold, she is also with child by harlotry.” Then Judah said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!” 25 It was while she was being brought out that she sent to her father-in-law, saying, “I am with child by the man to whom these things belong.” And she said, “Please examine and see, whose signet ring and cords and staff are these?” 26 Judah recognized them, and said, “She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not have relations with her again.

Since Judah was not willing to give Tamar to his third son, it would have been his duty to wed Tamar and produce an heir. But he had been unwilling to do so. Tamar’s deceit brought about what was just, though that does not excuse the deceit. Having produced the desired heir to Er, Judah did not have sexual relations with Tamar again.

27 It came about at the time she was giving birth, that behold, there were twins in her womb. 28 Moreover, it took place while she was giving birth, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 29 But it came about as he drew back his hand, that behold, his brother came out. Then she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” So he was named Perez. 30 Afterward his brother came out who had the scarlet thread on his hand; and he was named Zerah.

Like Rebekah, Tamar gave birth to twins. It was important to know which twin came out first, because of the inheritance. The twin that put his arm out first ended up being the second born. Thus, he was named Perez. The Messiah would come from the line of Perez.

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