Genesis Chapter 38

Judah is the son of Jacob (Israel) and Leah, his first wife. Judah was the one who had suggested to his brothers, that they sell their brother Joseph into slavery. This chapter focuses on Judah and it begins as follows:

1 And it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down from his brethren, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.
2 And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her.
3 And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er.
4 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan.
5 And she yet again conceived, and bare a son; and called his name Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bare him.
6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar.
7 And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him.
8 And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.
9 And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.
10 And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also.
11 Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father’s house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father’s house.

Judah left his family and had three sons with a Canaanite, the daughter of a man named Shuah. I believe that they were married, because she is called his wife later in this chapter and the footnote references interfaith marriage. (Judah did not marry in the covenant.) The sons were named Er, Onan and Shelah. Years later, Judah gave his son Er a wife named Tamar. Er was slain by the Lord because of his wickedness. So, Judah told his next son Onan, to marry Tamar. Onan did not want to have children for his brother, so he did not go along with things as was expected. Instead, he displeased the Lord and he was slain by the Lord as well. Judah wanted his daughter-in-law to remain a widow until his third son was old enough to marry her, so she went to live with her father as a widow. With this decision, Judah believed that Shelah would not die as well.

12 And in process of time the daughter of Shuah Judah’s wife died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite.
13 And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep.
14 And she put her widow’s garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife.
15 When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face.
16 And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.) And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me?
17 And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it?
18 And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him.
19 And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood.
20 And Judah sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman’s hand: but he found her not.
21 Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot, that was openly by the way side? And they said, There was no harlot in this place.
22 And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said, that there was no harlot in this place.
23 And Judah said, Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her.

Shuah’s daughter, the wife of Judah, died. He decided to go to Timnath where his sheep shearers were. Tamar was told that he was leaving and even though he was of age, she had not been given to Judah’s third son as she had been told. So, she dressed herself as a harlot and put herself in the path of Judah as he traveled. Judah was interested in being with her, because he did not recognize her as his daughter-in-law. She asked him for a gift for being with her, and he offered her one of his flock. Until it would be received he would give her his signet (usually in a ring), bracelets and staff. So she accepted his offer and was with him. She conceived, left him and returned to wearing the clothes of a widow. When Judah sent the gift from his flock with his friend, expecting to get his signet, bracelets and staff in return. He did not find her. He went back to Judah to say that he could not find her, and Judah was worried that he would be shamed by her.

24 And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt.
25 When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff.
26 And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more.

After three months, Judah learned that Tamar had pretended to be a harlot. He learned that she was with child and he asked for her, in order to punish her by burning her. This was a standard tradition for women who had committed whoredoms, such as this. She showed the gifts that had been given to her by Judah and said that he was the father of her unborn child. Judah recognized his things and also that even though she had deceived him, he was at more fault for not giving her to his youngest son to marry and being with her outside of marriage. He did not cause her to be burned because of this.

27 And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb.
28 And it came to pass, when she travailed, that the one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first.
29 And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez.
30 And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah.

Tamar had twins who were named Pharez and Zarah. I would guess that even though these were the sons of Judah, tradition would have made these sons unto Er and possibly Judah’s grandson’s by the law. However, later in the book of Genesis, they are both listed as the sons of Judah. Through the line of Pharez, eventually the Savior would be born and raised.

This is a chapter that teaches us of some of the traditions of the families in these biblical times. It was standard then, that once a woman married into a family, she remained with that family even after her husband would die. I don’t quite understand why it is that we read the stories of so much deceit when it comes to intimacy and how women conceived children. I am sure this wasn’t typical in the lives of the people of that time, but I wonder what it is we should learn from them. In this case, I feel that we should recognize just how a woman’s life was not considered valuable without children. Here, the woman was a widow, who had no children from her first husband and who would not be given children by her second before he died. Then she waits for the opportunity to bear children with the third and is not given to him in marriage as she was expecting. So, in order to fufill her responsibility to have children, she turns to deceit. She must have known that this could have brought death upon her, which is why she insisted on a gift from Judah to have some kind of leverage when he learned what she had done. She has two sons and in this I am sure felt that she had done what she needed to do in life. In doing this thing, she brought about some of the fulfillment of prophecies that the Savior would be the son of David. This shows me even more, that the Bible is a book about families and how they are connected. It shows me that we are who we are because of the choices of our mortal ancestors and we really should do what we can to find out about them and learn how it is we came to be in this life.


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