(Gen 38:1 NASB) And it came about at that time, that Judah departed from his brothers, and visited a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.
Gen 38:1: The time frame of this chapter is not easily ascertained. Many commentators say this is an interlude between the selling of Joseph to Potiphar to the time of his rise in power. If that were the case, then all the events in this chapter had to occur within about 23 years, which is difficult, but not impossible. There had to be time for Judah to marry, have three sons, one somewhat younger than the other two, and for them all to be of the age of marriage themselves.
It is also possible that this chapter parallels some of the events in the preceding and proceeding chapters. The time of this chapter could start at the time of Jacob arriving in Shechem in chapter 33. The focus of this chapter is on Judah, his sons, and his daughter-in-law.
(Gen 38:2 NASB) And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; and he took her and went in to her.
Gen 38:2: This was a marriage that probably should not have happened. If he had followed his fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers example, he would have taken a wife from among his own people. This was against the Torah of Elohim (Deut. 7:1-4). This disobedience to Torah cost Judah greatly.
(Gen 38:3 NASB) So she conceived and bore a son and he named him Er.
(Gen 38:4 NASB) Then she conceived again and bore a son and named him Onan.
(Gen 38:5 NASB) And she bore still another son and named him Shelah; and it was at Chezib that she bore him.
Gen 38:5: It is possible that these three sons were born on consecutive years. The text leaves that possibility.
There are several names of places mentioned in this chapter concerning Judah. Earlier Adullam was mentioned, and now Chezib is mentioned. Timnah and Enam are later called out. All these areas are a part of the future land of the tribe of Judah.
(Gen 38:6 NASB) Now Judah took a wife for Er his first-born, and her name was Tamar.
Gen 38:6: Obviously several years have passed. The firstborn son grows up to the age of marriageability. We are not told of the meaning of her name. Nor are we told the meanings of the names of the sons of Judah, for that matter.
(Gen 38:7 NASB) But Er, Judah’s first-born, was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD took his life.
Gen 38:7: We are not told what Er did that was so wicked. But the fact that Judah married a Canaanite woman gives us enough of a hint to know that it possibly had to do with idolatry or pagan worship of some kind.
It is interesting that it does not say he “did evil in the sight of Yahweh.” It says he “was evil in the sight of Yahweh.” The implication is that Er’s life was a wicked and lawless one. This can be attributed, at least partially, to Judah taking a pagan wife.
(Gen 38:8 NASB) 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 38:8: Judah is speaking of the practice of what has been called “the Levirite marriage.” Levirite is Latin for “husbands brother.” Judah is following the law as it was undoubtedly given to him and others long before Sinai (Deut. 25:5-6).
It is the duty of the younger brother to see that his brother’s name is carried on. To not do this is shameful and the offending brother is publicly disgraced (Deut. 25:7-10).
(Gen 38:9 NASB) And Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so it came about that 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 38:9: Onan knew his son would not perpetuate his name according to the law (Deu 25:5-6). He was not only failing to provide offspring for his deceased brother, but he in doing so, he would steal his brothers inheritance.
Onan was evil also, much like his brother Er. He brought the wrath of Elohim down upon himself.
(Gen 38:10 NASB) But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD; so He took his life also.
Gen 38:10: Most commentaries claim that the law was not in existence, but that the customs of the day were identical to the later given Mosaic Law. If that is the case, why would Elohim care if His people obeyed the customs of the day?
The obvious answer to this question is that this law and all of Torah was in effect. The fact is, Judah knew it and his sons knew it. Their disobedience was punished accordingly.
On a side note, many Christians and Messianics use this passage to call certain sexual practices a sin. They are wrong. The sin committed in this passage is Onan trying to prevent an offspring that would inherit his brothers portion according to the Torah.
(Gen 38:11 NASB) 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.
Gen 38:11: Judah was not freeing her to marry someone else. He simply told her to go live in her father’s house. But it would appear that he did not intend to give her to Shelah as a wife. That is evident in his thoughts of “that he also may die like his brothers.”
Judah was intent on disobedience also.
(Gen 38:12 NASB) 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.
Gen 38:12: Several more years had passed by this time. The Canaanite wife of Judah had died and he was in mourning. He decided to bury himself in his work.
(Gen 38:13 NASB) And it was told to Tamar, “Behold, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.”
(Gen 38:14 NASB) 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.
Gen 38:14: Tamar was past the point of waiting patiently for her father-in-law to give her to his son. She probably knew of the death of his wife. Since she did not hear from him for years, she knew that he has no plans on fulfilling his obligation to her by giving her to his remaining son.
Tamar was wearing her widow’s garb even though it was far past the time of customary mourning. She probably wore it as a constant reminder to others that she is not just “single.” Then she dressed up like a prostitute. She apparently spent the last few years scheming and had this planned all along. Prostitutes often stationed themselves on an open road and Judah thought she was one.
(Gen 38:15 NASB) When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, for she had covered her face.
Gen 38:15: Harlots in that day would stand by the open road by themselves. Kind of like they do now. Judah mistook her for a prostitute because he could not see her identity. Had he known who it was, he certainly would not have done this to her. That is evident later in the text.
Had he known it was her, he obviously would have found a real prostitute somewhere else.
(Gen 38:16 NASB) 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?”
(Gen 38:17 NASB) He said, therefore, “I will send you a kid from the flock.” She said, moreover, “Will you give a pledge until you send it?”
Gen 38:17: Apparently the going rate for a quickie in that day was a young goat.
(Gen 38:18 NASB) And 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.
Gen 38:18: Tamar knew what she was doing. Tamar said she wants his signet ring as a pledge for the assurance that she would get her young goat as payment for her services. His signet ring was a ring-seal with which impressions were made to ascertain property.
She also wanted his chord which was probably a necklace that he wore. She also wanted his staff which he probably personally carved and was very distinct. These were very unique and distinct items of Judah and may have even had his name on them.
They had sex and she conceived.
(Gen 38:19 NASB) Then she arose and departed, and removed her veil and put on her widow’s garments.
(Gen 38:20 NASB) When Judah sent the kid by his friend the Adullamite, to receive the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her.
(Gen 38:21 NASB) And 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.”
Gen 38:21: This is a rather humorous picture of Judah’s friend walking around with a young goat asking, “Where exactly is the temple prostitute that y’all have in this town?” The men said, “we don’t have a temple prostitute around here.”
Apparently Judah didn’t want to go asking around himself for some reason.
(Gen 38:22 NASB) 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.'”
(Gen 38:23 NASB) Then Judah said, “Let her keep them, lest we become a laughingstock. After all, I sent this kid, but you did not find her.”
Gen 38:23: Judah said, “This is embarrassing! Let’s just forget about her and move on. She can have my credit card and personal items.”
(Gen 38:24 NASB) 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!”
Gen 38:24: This is another blatant example that the law of Elohim was known and followed by His people (and others) in that day. Why did Judah call for Tamar to be burned” This was in accordance with Torah (Lev. 21:9).
Why would Judah have been considered a priest? According to Torah, the firstborn was considered a priest in service to Elohim (Exodus 13:1-2). This would have been Reuben, but he had sex with his father’s wife and would have been considered dead in his father’s eyes (Gen. 35:22). That would have made Levite the eldest son, but he and Simeon murdered many men at Shechem and possibly other cities. That would make Judah the eldest and the priest of the family. Therefore, Tamar was to be burned to death for the disgrace she brought upon the family. Regardless, all of Israel is intended to be priests (Ex. 19:5-6).
(Gen 38:25 NASB) 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?”
(Gen 38:26 NASB) And 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.
Gen 38:26: Judah acknowledged his sin and acknowledged that she was more righteous than he. He was guilty of multiple grievous sins, while she was merely trying to make him live up to his obligations.
(Gen 38:27 NASB) And it came about at the time she was giving birth, that behold, there were twins in her womb.
(Gen 38:28 NASB) 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.”
Gen 38:28: Zerah’s hand appeared first, but Perez was actually born first. Perez means “breach” or :”forging through.” Perez is listed in the genealogy of Messiah.
(Gen 38:29 NASB) 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.
(Gen 38:30 NASB) And afterward his brother came out who had the scarlet thread on his hand; and he was named Zerah.
Gen 38:30: No meaning is given for the twin named Zerah. This is the end of this account given of Judah. It contrasts the righteous account of Joseph in the next chapter.
This account with Judah gives us insight into an account in the life of Samson.
Patrick McGuireCopyright 2014 Patrick McGuire and Beit Yeshua Torah Assembly All rights reserved, no portion of this Lesson may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations in articles and reviews. Beit Yeshua Torah Assembly Fort Smith, Arkansas