Genesis 38 - Outline of Genesis (MENU page)
This account of Judah's manner of life stands in stark contrast to Joseph's righteousness.
It may be considered as a sample of the sinful character of the other sons of Israel.
This account demonstrates the greatness of God's Grace, which is greater than all our sin.
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.
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.
38:3 And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er.
38:4 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan.
38:5 And she yet again conceived, and bare a son; and called his name Shelah:
and he was at Chezib, when she bare him.
38:6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name [was] Tamar.
38:7 And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him.
38:8 And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her,
and raise up seed to thy brother.
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.
38:10 And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.
{'displeased the LORD' is literally: 'was evil in the eyes of the LORD.'}
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.
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.
38:13 And it was told Tamar, saying,
Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep.
38:14 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.
38:15 When Judah saw her, he thought her [to be] an harlot; because she had covered her face.
38:16 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?
38:17 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]?
38:18 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.
38:19 And she arose, and went away,
and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood.
38:20 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.
38:21 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].
38:22 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].
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.
Judah was a sinful man. (No doubt, his life is typical of his other brothers.)
  • Judah sinned in marrying a Canaanite woman. v.1,2; cp. 24:3; 26:34,35; 27:46; 28:1
  • Judah was comfortable with Canaanite culture.
    Whereas Jacob had entered into commercial dealings with the Canaanites, to his hurt (33:18,19, and the subsequent rape of Dinah, and the vengeful violence of his sons), Judah entered into business partnership & friendship with a Canaanite. v.12; cp. 2Cor 6:14
    It is evident from this chapter, that the sons of Israel were acting like the Canaanites.
    God would soon remove them from the influence of Canaan to relative isolation of Goshen in Egypt, until the iniquity of the Canaanites was full (cp. Gen 15:13-16).
  • Judah's sons, Er and Onan, were so wicked that the Lord slew them.
    It was not a sin for a man to take the wife of a deceased brother. This was actually required by the custom of the day, which was later incorporated into the Mosaic Law (cp. Deu 25:5,6; Mat 22:23-33). Er was slain because of unnamed wickedness. Onan was slain because he took selfish pleasure in refusing to fulfill his responsibility to his brother's wife.
  • Judah sinned by refusing his responsibility to his daughter-in-law, through his remaining son.
  • Judah was sexually promiscuous, thinking nothing of propositioning a harlot.
    He had surrendered symbols of his honor to the harlot. (v.18; cp. 41:42)
    Judah was not ashamed to make his gentile friend aware of, and a facilitator of, his sin. v.20
    Having made an honest attempt to pay his bill, he considered himself honorable. v.23
  • Judah would have exercised justice by a double standard.
    Sin held no consequence for him, but was punishable by death for his daughter-in-law. v.24
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.
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.
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.
38:27 And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins [were] in her womb.
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.
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
{ie., a breach, a breaking forth}.
38:30 And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand:
and his name was called Zarah.
God's grace stands out here, against the dark background of Judah's sinful condition.
Judah and his sons were under the judgment of God (eg., v.7,10), and in desperate need of salvation from their sin.
God would provide the Savior, through this line, though they were totally undeserving.
cp. Heb 7:14; Mat 1:1-3 (Judah and Pharez are also listed in Luk 3:33,34. The genealogy, in Matthew, is through Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus. The one, in Luke, is through Mary, His mother.)
Zarah was Tamar's firstborn (according to the scarlet thread).
But God chose the second son, Pharez {'a breaking forth'}. cp. 1Cor 15:46
The Savior, who would come through him, would be the 'way of escape' from man's bondage to sin and death. cp. 1Cor 15:46-57

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