Read Genesis 38
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It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and turned aside to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. 2 There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua. He took her and went in to her, 3 and she conceived and bore a son, and he called his name Er. 4 She conceived again and bore a son, and she called his name Onan. 5 Yet again she bore a son, and she called his name Shelah. Judah was in Chezib when she bore him.
6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. 10 And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also. 11 Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow in your father’s house, till Shelah my son grows up”—for he feared that he would die, like his brothers. So Tamar went and remained in her father’s house.
12 In the course of time the wife of Judah, Shua’s daughter, died. When Judah was comforted, he went up to Timnah to his sheep shearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13 And when Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,” 14 she took off her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, wrapping herself up, and sat at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she had not been given to him in marriage. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16 He turned to her at the roadside and said, “Come, let me come in to you”, for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” 17 He answered, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” And she said, “If you give me a pledge, until you send it—” 18 He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” She replied, “Your signet 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 went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood.
20 When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite to take back the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her. 21 And he asked the men of the place, “Where is the cult prostitute who was at Enaim at the roadside?” And they said, “No cult prostitute has been here.” 22 So he returned to Judah and said, “I have not found her. Also, the men of the place said, ‘No cult prostitute has been here.’” 23 And Judah replied, “Let her keep the things as her own, or we shall be laughed at. You see, I sent this young goat, and you did not find her.”
24 About three months later Judah was told, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has been immoral. Moreover, she is pregnant by immorality.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” 25 As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” And she said, “Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” 26 Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.
27 When the time of her labour came, there were twins in her womb. 28 And when she was in labour, 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 as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out. And she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” Therefore his name was called Perez. 30 Afterwards his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah.
Thoughts to consider
With the story of Joseph just getting under way in Genesis 37, the account of Judah and Tamar at first glance appears to be an unnecessary interruption to the thickening plot line. But, the focus of Moses at the end of Genesis is primarily on Jacob and his son Joseph secondarily. Therefore, this section fits within the framework of the books conclusion as Judah is, like Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons. This scene helps us to see the sinfulness of Judah as he is in many ways a young man much like his father was at that same age. And, over time God will transform Judah as He did his father Jacob from a godless to a godly man fit to be a patriarch carrying the covenant promises onto the next generations. Abraham and Isaac both dreaded the thought of their sons intermarrying with Canaanite women as it would cause them to wander from God (Genesis 24:3, 28:1). But, Judah did just that and had three sons named Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er then married a woman named Tamar and without fanfare or details we are told that Er was a wicked man that God simply killed. It was customary in that time for a widow to then be married by her husbands brother who would care for her, protect her, and give her sons to ensure she had a stake in the family’s inheritance and to look after her in her old age (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). Therefore, the duty to care for Tamar fell on the next son, Onan. Onan was happy to have sex with Tamar, but refused to meet his obligation of impregnating and caring for her. Many have tried to say this is the sin of masturbation but it clearly isn’t. This is about a man being selfish and not fulfilling his duty to care for and protect this woman, he dishonoured her and disobeyed God and so God killed him too. Poor Tamar who had now lost in essence two husbands that were godless men was then taken into the home of her father in law Judah who sought to take care of her. He asked her to wait for his youngest son, Shelah, to grow up and promised to give her in marriage to him. Some years later Shelah had grown up but Judah failed in his promise to give Tamar to him as a wife. So Tamar took matters into her own hands! Judah was now experiencing why he should not have got involved with the Caananites, but even though he was wrong to start he should have still looked after her. When Jacob discovers she has become pregnant he became hypocritically self righteous demanding that she be burned to death. In this Judah demonstrated the same callous heart that compelled him to sell his brother into slavery, lie to his father, and not mourn at the death of his two oldest sons. Tamar then produced the items Judah had left with the prostitute he laid with, revealing to him that she was impregnated by him. Caught in his own sin Judah rightly declared that she was more righteous than he. God still had a lot to do with Judah before he became a covenant patriarch whose descendents would include King David and ultimately Jesus.
- What sins does Judah commit in Genesis 38?
- Tamar’s son Perez became the head of the leading clan in Judah and the ancestor of David (Ruth 4:18-22), and ultimately of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1-6). What does this reveal about God’s sovereign ability to bring good out of human evil by His power?
- Think about mistakes you have made in the past that you think may disqualify you. Now think about how gracious, kind, loving and forgiving your heavenly father is!
Father you are indeed; gracious, kind loving and forgiving. I thank you that you have not treated me as my sins deserve but have rescued me and dealt kindly with me. All the anger you had about my sin was all directed towards Jesus who took my punishment upon himself. Thank you for his sacrifice, I will be eternally grateful, in His wonderful name I pray, amen.