Genesis Segment 25 (38:1-30)

Genesis 38:1 “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.”

At what time did this happen? It cannot be the time of the selling of Joseph into Egypt. In Genesis 46:12, When Jacob went down into Egypt, Judah’s son Pharez had two sons. The birth of Pharez is recorded in this chapter (v. 29). When Jacob went down into Egypt, it was about 23 years after Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites. Joseph was 17 at that time, and was nearing 40 when Jacob went into Egypt. Joseph was thirty years old when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41:46). Nine years passed from that time until Jacob came, so Joseph was 39 or 40 when that event occurred.

Pharez was born to Tamar. Tamar had been married to Judah’s eldest son, Er. Er had died and Onan, the second son, should have taken Tamar as a wife so she could continue to bear children in Er’s name (under the kinsman-redeemer law). But Onan sinned and died (more on this later in the chapter). Judah then promised his youngest son, Shelah to Tamar as her kinsman-redeemer. But the promise would not take effect until Shelah was old enough to marry. Shelah was a child at this time. When Shelah grew up, his father Judah forgot the promise. Then Tamar, by trickery, got Judah to marry her. Tamar gave birth to the twins Pharez and Zarah. It is difficult to imagine that this whole story took place and then Pharez grew up and had sons of his own in the twenty-three years between Joseph’s sale into slavery and the going forth of Jacob into Egypt.

We are unsure of the exact time, but at some point in time, Judah left home and went in search of a wife. He visited (turned in to) his friend Hirah. Hirah means pale or perhaps glory or splendor. Adullam was a city in the territory of Dan on the Judahite border. Its (supposed) ruin is about 24 miles west of Jerusalem and thirteen miles west of Bethlehem. The Cave of Adullam, where David encountered Saul, is at this spot. But as with many ancient sites, the actual spot is disputed.

This chapter, showing a part of Judah’s life, has many parallels with chapter 37. There is not time of space her to list them all. Here is an example. There was deception in both accounts. In the first, Jacob was deceived into believing that Joseph was killed by a wild animal. He based this on the blood on Joseph’s coat. Jacob was misled by his sons into believing that Joseph had died of a wild animal attack. Similarly an article of clothing was used by Tamar to deceive Judah. That was the veil she used to hide her identity from Judah. There are other parallels between the two stories. Entire books have been written on this subject. One such book is Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38) in Ancient Jewish Exegesis: Studies in Literary Form and Hermeneutics, written by Esther Marie Menn.

The point to be made here is that Genesis 38 may seem to be a book out of place chronologically, and it may seem to be totally unrelated to the story of Joseph. However, when we look at the parallels, we find that the chapter is actually correctly placed regardless of the chronology problem.

The story of Judah and Tamar is an important story for Jesus Christ is a descendant of Judah and Tamar through their son Pharez (Mat 1:3; Luk 3:33). What better way to emphasize that fact than to place this story next to the story of the sale of Joseph into slavery. Judah and Tamar were progenitors of Christ and Joseph is a type of Christ. The parallels are interesting. For further reading on the subject, you may read Esther Marie Menn’s book online at Google Books.

Genesis 38:2 “And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her.”

Shuah was a son of Abraham and Keturah, but this Shuah of Canaan is otherwise unknown. That Judah “took her” indicates that he married her with her consent. The marriage contract was legally made when a man took his espoused into his abode and had marital relations with her. Judah married this woman. For whatever reason, we are never told this woman’s name, perhaps because she was a Canaanite.

Genesis 38:3-5 “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.”

Er means watchful or protector. Onan means strong. Perhaps that is why the small engine manufacturer uses that name. Shelah (shay’-lah) means please or request. Chezib (or Achzib), means lying or falsehood. The reason Chezib is mentioned here may be because this town is mentioned in Micah 1:14 as the abode of liars to the kings of Israel. Or it is possible that it is mentioned because Judah spoke falsely to Tamar about Shelah, who was born here.

Genesis 38:6 “And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar.”

Judah provided this wife for his son. In other words, he located this woman and negotiated with her family for her espousal to Er. That was the common practice of the time. Jacob did not find a wife for Judah because Judah was a grown man on his own before marrying. Therefore he found his own wife.

Genesis 38:7 “And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him.”

There is an interesting play on words here. In the Hebrew, Er is the reverse spelling of ra, which means wicked in Hebrew. The Hebrew is ער בכור יהודה רע (er bekor yehudah ra). We don’t know what this sin was but it was grievous enough in God’s eyes to kill Er.

Genesis 38:8 “And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.”

This was in fulfillment of the requirement of the kinsman-redeemer law. This law was in effect before the Law of Moses was given, but it was still a law and enforceable. This was so in God’s eyes too. Part of the kinsman-redeemer plan was that the nearest kin of a husband would marry his widow in the event of the husband’s death. They the kinsman would redeem the widow from privation by marrying her and would also provide her with sons. In other words, he would redeem the dead husband’s estate and his spouse in order to provide for the widow and protect the estate and keep it in the family.

Genesis 38:9 “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.”

Onan did not want to raise a son that would not be his own so he went in to Tamar as though he was going to have marital relations with her but as we can see from the verse, he began the task but did not complete it. This is known today as Onanism or coitus interruptus or the Withdrawal Method of contraception.

Genesis 38:10 “And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.”

Withdrawal during marital relations is not a sin. The sin here was failure to comply with the law. By refusing Tamar his seed, Onan was not giving his brother Er any children. This was precisely why he had taken Tamar to wife. He deceptively took her as his wife and then would not provide her with any children per the law. Because he began coitus and then withdrew, the marriage was consummated. Tamar, now legally married to Onan, would never have children by Onan because his only union with her was purposely not completed and because Onan refused to unite with her again. Alternatively, some translations say that he had coitus with Tamar or more that the one occasion but each time he withdrew and did not impregnate her. She was married she would never have the opportunity to have any children by another man for only a man could obtain a divorce. A woman could not and Onan apparently had no intention of divorcing her. Not only was this unlawful, it was unconscionable. A woman without children was considered to be a disgrace. So Onan not only broke the law, he also disgraced Tamar. In order to get Tamar out of this hopeless situation, God took Onan’s life thus ending the marriage by death. Now Tamar was free to marry again and have children.

Some would disagree with my assessment. They would say I am letting my modern thought processes cloud my interpretation of the sin of Onan. Those folks say that the sin was the spilling of the seed upon the ground and the reason it is a sin is that it is having sexual pleasure only without the encumbrance of a possible pregnancy. There is nothing inherently wrong with sexual pleasure for God gave that pleasure to married couples. I disagree with that judgment in this case because of the context. Onan was not doing this for sexual pleasure, but to deceive others into thinking this marriage was consummated and that he, Onan, had tried to give Tamar a child. His sin was depriving her of a child through a thoroughly deceitful means. You may choose what you believe about contraception, but I do not think this story of Onan and Tamar has any bearing on it. This is plainly the sin of not providing Tamar with chidren because he did not want to provide children for his dead brother.

Genesis 38:11 “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.”

The only brother left was Shelah who was still a child. Since Tamar was a widow, and as we discussed earlier, she had no means of support. Judah could have supported her, but he was afraid to have her in the same house as Shelah lest he should die like his brethren, so she had to go home to her father for support.

In case you did not notice, this statement formed a contract. Judah obligated himself to provide Shelah as Tamar’s husband when he became an adult. Shelah was legally espoused to Tamar. If the marriage did not happen, it was actionable.

Genesis 38:12 “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.”

It is implied that during this same process of time, that Shelah became an adult. Now whether it was Judah’s grief over the death of his wife that he forgot his contract with Tamar, or he simply decided not to honor it, we are not told. But from Judah’s reaction to Tamar’s statement in verse 26, it seems like he forgot.

Genesis 38:13 “And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep.”

Reading between the lines again, we can see that Tamar expected to marry Shelah and went looking for Judah. When she found he had flown the coop so to speak, it seems, according to the next verse, that she assumed Judah was not going to honor the contract. So she invented a trick to get Judah to do what was right by her.

Genesis 38:14 “And she put her widow’s garments off from her, and covered her with a veil, 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.”

She dressed herself like a prostitute and sat by the road as such. Of course she was not really a prostitute—she would only allow one man, Judah, to have her. If the son was not going to marry her as his father had promised, then the father would have to be the kinsman that married her. Thus she played this trick on Judah.

When a prostitute practiced her art, she sat veiled in the open. The veil could be removed in the bedchamber, but it was dark in there and that could then obscure the face. Timnath, or Timnah was across the tribal boundary in Dan.

Genesis 38:15 “When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face.”

The fact that her face was covered kept Judah from recognizing her. As a prostitute will, Tamar probably solicited him. That and her manner of dress are why he thought she was a prostitute. She was dressed like one. It is obvious from this passage, that prostitution was acceptable during this period. Otherwise moral men could not lie with a prostitute with no social consequence.

Genesis 38:16-18 “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.”

This was the negotiation over the price of the act. Judah agreed to give her a goat, but he did not have a goat with him. So she asked for a pledge as a token of future payment. She would keep the pledge until it was redeemed with the payment of a kid. He gave her things that would identify him as the debtor. His ring, which is the same as a signature on a contract today, his bracelets, and his staff were the pledge tokens. So he went in to her. In a regular agreement between a prostitute and client, this would not be considered consummation of a marriage. But in this particular case, because of the circumstances, they became married though Judah did not know it. It is obvious that God was involved in this exchange because she became pregnant. The kinsman-redeemer law was finally fulfilled.

Genesis 38:19 “And she arose, and went away, and laid by her veil from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood.”

She quickly left, got out of her prostitute outfit, and returned to widowhood. It was her secret and no one mentioned here was privy to it. She certainly may have had help. But we are not told so.

Genesis 38:20-22 “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.

Judah attempted to fulfill his part of the bargain and make payment, but Tamar was gone and no one knew of her.

Genesis 38:23 “And Judah said, Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her.”

In other words, Judah said, “Let her keep the pledges otherwise people may laugh at us and shame us for our incompetence. He had allowed a prostitute to swindle him out of his property.

Genesis 38:24 “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.”

This sounds suspiciously like a planned leak. How else would the prostitution be known about if Tamar or an accomplice did not leak this information for Judah to hear. No one else knew about it.

The Law of Moses (Leviticus 20:10) said that a woman caught in this situation was to be put to death. The law of the land at this time required that she be burnt. There were laws at the time that stated an adulterer or adulteress should be burned to death. Since Judah did not know the man involved and thought it was the client of a prostitute, he only ordered that Tamar be burnt.

Genesis 38:25 “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.”

She came prepared and showed Judah his pledges. Right then he knew what she had done.

Genesis 38:26 “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.”

Not only did he acknowledge his property and his part of the act, he also acknowledged he had done wrong by not providing Tamar with Shelah as her husband. He was legally married to her but he never had marital relations with her again. But she had twin sons and was vindicated. Additionally all these things happened so that there would be no Canaanite in the line of Christ. Judah’s sons by his Canaanite wife were all unfit to be in the line of Christ for there was Canaanite blood in them, thus Judah became the father of Tamar’s sons.

Genesis 38:27 “And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb.”

Nine months had passed and Tamar was in labor. The midwife discovered there were twins in the womb and told her so.

Genesis 38:28 “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.”

Obviously an infant has no control over his hands and has no knowledge base upon which to make a decision to put his hand out of the womb. This was simply a natural occurrence. But it was not an occurrence of chance. God was involved. God allowed or caused the hand to come out first and then be withdrawn. This is a variation on the theme of the second born receiving the blessing.

That theme occurs regularly in the book of Genesis. Cain was the firstborn of Adam. Abel his brother, died. Seth then became the second born of Adam because he survived. Seth was the heir of Adam. Ishmael was the firstborn of Abraham. Isaac, the second born, received the blessing. Esau was the first born of Isaac. Jacob, the second born, received the blessing. Manasseh was the firstborn of Joseph. Ephraim, the second born, received the blessing.

I believe that this seeming mix up of values occurs to demonstrate the relationship between the two sons of God, Adam, and then Christ. Adam was figuratively the firstborn of God. Christ the Man was the second born of God yet He is the heir of the Almighty. See 1 Corinthians 15:45. Adam sinned and lost his inheritance, leaving it for Jesus. Adam still received a blessing for God allowed him to live, raise his family, and die at a ripe old age. He was blessed as the progenitor of mankind.

Here with Judah, the scepter bearer of God, we see a similar circumstance. Zarah stuck his hand out from the womb. The midwife tied a scarlet thread to it. Pharez was then born. But since Zarah had the scarlet thread upon his wrist, he was considered the firstborn. This theme continues with the fact that Pharez, the second born, was the heir of Judah. The kings, starting with David, were in the line of Pharez and Christ was in the line of Pharez (Ruth 4:12 & 18; 1 Chronicles 2:5-6; Matthew 1:3; Luk 3.33).

Genesis 38:29 “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.”

See the note on the last verse. Pharez (perets, Strong’s 6556 & 6557) means breach. The second English definition of breach, according to Webster (Copyright 2002, Merram-Webster Corp.), is “a broken, ruptured, or torn condition or area”. To breach an object, such as a wall, is to break through it. Pharez broke through the vulva, passing by Zarah in the womb. He breached the womb, thus his name Pharez.

Genesis 38:30 “And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah.”

Zarah (zerach, Strong’s 2225 & 2226) means light rising. Or it can mean rising, sprung up, or even sunrise. He was named Zarah (or Zerah or Zara, all three being Biblical spellings of this name) because he should have sprung forth as the firstborn but was breached by Pharez.

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