Genesis Chapter 38


The profligate conduct of Judah and his family.

This chapter is a very important chapter to read and understand which has too due with the lineage of the Messiah, of whom, Joseph is a type of.

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.

[1st Chron 2:3]

3 And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er.

[Num 26:19]

4 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan.

[Gen 46:12]

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.

[Deut 25:5, Matt 22:24, Mark 12:19, Luke 20:28]

under the OT law, when a husband died childless, it was the responsibility of that man’s brother to raise up children for his dead brother by impregnating his sister-in-law – the widow in question; the resulting child would not be his, but would belong to his dead brother and would carry on the family name, inheritance, etc.  Read Deut. 25:5-10.  Though this chapter took place some 500 years before the law was given, the principle was apparently still in place and in verse 9, Onan fails to be obedient and is killed by God.

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.

Judah did the right thing in giving Tamar unto Onan to raise up seed unto his brother’s name, but Onan did not wish to have a son that would not be his own and so he spilled his seed on the ground in disobedience to God and his father and God judged him for it.

This act was no doubt made public by Tamar as we are reading about it today which meant Moses had heard about it as the story was passed down from generation to generation. Onan was playing God in his practice of birth control here.

We do not raise up seed unto our brothers today because we are not Israel who is God’s chosen nation to rule one day in Christ’s kingdom.

The land is their eternal inheritance and if a person is killed with no child that lineage will stop and not be able to inherit the land intended for him, so the brother must raise up seed for his brother if he dies.

The lineage was especially important in the tribe of Judah, whom we are reading about, because, that is the Kingly tribe and they were almost left without and heir through which the Messiah would be born, the King of Israel.

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.

[Ruth 1:13]

Judah intended to do the right thing concerning Tamar, but good intentions are not obedience. Notice that early on Judah feared that God would also kill Shelah if he refused to raise up a seed for his older brother Er.

God could also kill Judah for not giving his son to Tamar as well. The reason that this practice was so important in Israel and especially with the tribe of Judah we shall see in a few more verses.

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.

[Josh 15:10, Judg 14:1]

The reason why I singled out this portion of scripture for commentary is because If you will remember in verse two of this chapter that when Judah married the daughter of Shuah, he took for himself a gentile bride, a Canaanite.

Joseph will also marry a gentile bride that comes out of Egypt (a type of the gentile world). It is interesting to note that there are a lot of Gentile brides up this Jewish tree.

I know you want to say it is a type of the Church (the Gentile Bride of Christ) but you would be wrong. The Church which is Christ’s body in not Jew or Gentile. It is ONE. Neither Jew nor Gentile

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.

[Prov 7:12]

The responsibility to raise up children for Er’s wife, Tamar, now rests on Judah’s third son, Shelah who is underage.  It appears that Judah had no intention of giving Shelah to his daughter-in-law, so Tamar takes matters into her own hands and plays the part of a prostitute.

Here is where Tamar hatches her plan to have a child, the story of Abraham’s descendants has more twists and turns than any Soap Opera ever dreamed of.

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?

[Ezek 16:33]

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.

Judah had recently lost his wife and was lonely but that is no excuse for visiting a supposed harlot. Tamar cared not for the kid (goat) that Judah promised her, she wanted a son more than anything in the world, sadly today people put off having children for selfish reasons and when they do eventually have a child they send them off to a stranger to raise them.

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.

“lest we be shamed” – Judah was afraid his sin would be found out by this prostitute displaying his signet ring, bracelets and staff.

Judah said just drop it, he didn’t want to keep pursuing the matter and to let everyone know that he had visited a harlot. Everyone eventually did find out however because we are reading about it even today. “Be sure your sin will find you out!”

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.

[Judg 19:2, Lev 21:9]

Note the gross hypocrisy!  Compare Matt. 7:1-2.  How often are we guilty of pointing out sins in the lives of other people while ignoring the sins in our lives.

How hypocritical Judah was towards Tamar in wanting her to be killed for committing the same sin he had committed. If we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged the Bible tells us.

Notice while the deliverer (Joseph) is away dealing with the Gentiles that Judah goes a whoring after a prostitute. Judah is typical of the Nation of Israel which goes a whoring after other gods and must repent before it can enter its promised kingdom.

It is after this story that the little family of Israel is introduced to its deliverer, one of its own, but they do not recognize him as such.

Study Question

What should the Christian do who sins after he or she has been saved according to I John 1:9?

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.

[1st Sam 24:17]

when Judah does get caught, at least he admits his wrong and abides by the truth; he surely could have lied his way out of the situation, but his heart is one that responds to the truth.  The purpose of this chapter, placed right in the middle of the account of Joseph’s life, is to show us that Judah was a man who had the right heart attitude to be placed by God above his brothers.  In the upcoming chapters, it will be seen that Judah takes the position of leadership among the eleven brothers – a position that God later confirms by making Judah the chief of the tribes of Israel.

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.

[Matt 1:3]

the child of Judah and Tamar is named Pharez; this man figures into the human genealogy of Jesus Christ – note Matthew 1:3

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

Now why is this chapter in the Bible at all? Was it to shame Judah or his sons? No! God intentionally left these stories for many reasons.

One is that they serve as examples to us who read them not to repeat their sins, the second and most important reason is that Tamar’s son Pharez who pulled his older brother back in the womb is in the lineage of Jesus Christ.

Notice also that Tamar knew she was having twins because her maid was ready with a thread to mark the first born just in case there would be any confusion later.

The world has been blessed because Judah did not kill Tamar for playing the Harlot. Now maybe you may understand the saying at the end of the book of Ruth concerning Tamar and her two sons.

Commentary by Matthew Henry, 1710.

This chapter gives an account of Judah and his family, and such an account it is, that it seems a wonder that of all Jacob’s sons, our Lord should spring out of Judah, Hebrews 7:14. But God will show that his choice is of grace and not of merit, and that Christ came into the world to save sinners, even the chief. Also, that the worthiness of Christ is of himself, and not from his ancestors. How little reason had the Jews, who were so called from this Judah, to boast as they did, John 8:41. What awful examples the Lord proclaims in his punishments, of his utter displeasure at sin! Let us seek grace from God to avoid every appearance of sin. And let that state of humbleness to which Jesus submitted, when he came to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, in appointing such characters as those here recorded, to be his ancestors, endear the Redeemer to our hearts.