Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, June 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 38

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

Verses 1-30

Chapter 38

For the correlating audio message go to Chapter 37

Now it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down from his brothers, and he turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her ( Genesis 38:1-2 ). Now customarily, if you wanted to get a wife, you'd have your father go ahead and arrange a dowry. You have a big ceremony and everything else. Judah didn't bother to go through all of this. He just went down, saw this gal Shuah. She was probably a nice-looking girl and he just decided that let's just go ahead and you be my wife, we'll just live together. And so he took her and went in unto her. And she conceived, and bare a son; and called his name Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bare him ( Genesis 38:5 ). Now that's only about eight miles from Hebron. Judah took a wife. She conceived actually bare three sons; Er, Onan and finally, Shelah. Now the interesting thing is that Judah was to be the father or in the ancestry of Jesus Christ. But Shuah wasn't evidently God's choice for his wife, but was Judah's own willful choice. He just saw the gal, was attracted to her, they started living together and they had three sons. But it wasn't in the plan of God that Shuah should be the mother of those descendants that would bring forth the Christ child. And thus, Judah's action was no doubt out of the plan and the will of God. I would imagine that she was a Canaanite, she was attached to her Canaanite gods; Judah maybe thought that he could convert her to Jehovah. She evidently wasn't converted because the last two sons are named with Canaanite names. Judah no doubt named the first son Hebrew name, but the last two are Canaanite names which means that she began to have a stronger and stronger influence. Now Judah knew that from his seed there was to come one day the Messiah and thus he went out and he made arrangements for his son to marry this girl whose name was Tamar. So he took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. And Er [verse seven], Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him ( Genesis 38:6-7 ). Now it is interesting, it doesn't tell us what his wickedness is nor does it tell us how God killed him. But God did not want this son born of Shuah to be in the line of the Messiah. So before this son of Shuah could have a child, because of his own wickedness, God killed him. Now a part of the code in those days was that if your brother died before he had a son, then it was the obligation of the next oldest son to take that same woman as a wife and the first son would be named after the dead brother. And this later became incorporated as a part of the Jewish law but it was already the code in the earlier laws of Hammurabi and others. It is there as a part of the codes of the earlier laws that was already an accepted practice and was later incorporated into the Mosaic Law. And so Onan ( Genesis 38:8 ) The next brother in line was to take Tamar as a wife and bear a son. And he went in unto Tamar. And he went in unto Tamar; but instead he spilled his seed on the ground, and so God killed him ( Genesis 38:9-10 ). Now there are those that would seek to use this particular text as a text against masturbation but it is not at all for that reason that God slew Onan. It is interesting that the Bible really says nothing about that particular practice. Some use this for an argument against coitus interruptus but again, it isn't that at all for which God slew him. The reason that God slew him was his failure to be obedient to the law that God established of raising a seed for the dead brother. It was a rebellion against that established law of God for which God slew him. Now as far as these other two things, the Bible is completely silent. And where the Bible is silent on a subject, we must remain silent, and just take certain scriptures such as Romans the fourteenth chapter and let that be the criteria of judgment. "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" ( Romans 14:5 ). As far as birth control and the family's exercise of birth control, methods of birth control or something, that is something that each family must work out. The Bible doesn't actually cover or deal with these issues. Where the Bible doesn't deal specifically with the issues, then we just have to take where the Bible deals with the non-specified issues. And that is that each person has to be convinced in their own mind of what is right and what is wrong. And thus each couple must determine within themselves the method of birth control practices that they want to follow. I do think that God expects us to use wisdom, as far as the size of our family, and I do not believe that God has intended that intercourse be strictly for the perpetuation of the human race between husband and wife, but to be a very pleasurable experience between husband and wife, an experience that draws them together. In Hebrews we read that "marriage is honorable among all men, and the bed undefiled" ( Hebrews 13:4 ). And so Paul teaches in Corinthians that there should be a mutual understanding and arrangement between husband and wife as far as the frequency of their intimate relationships. But yet there should not be a prolonged withholding of one from the other lest Satan will move in and use that prolonged time as an opportunity to tempt. And so this scripture here where Onan spilled his seed upon the ground and God slew him must be taken in its context. It is not an argument against these practices, that men have used it as an argument against them, but it is actually because he failed and rebelled against the law of God in raising up a seed for his dead brother. That is why the Lord slew him. And that's why we don't have children in the Sunday evening services, because it's good to talk to you on an adult level. And these things are there, there are issues in the Bible and we shouldn't really skirt them and I don't know what they did on the radio but, And the thing which he did [verse ten] displeased the Lord: wherefore the Lord slew him also. Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at your father's house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brothers did. And Tamar went and dwelt at her father's house ( Genesis 38:10-11 ). Now Shelah was still a little young to get married. He was the youngest of the three brothers but Judah, more than that, was fearful. Man, if two sons have died in an abortive marriage with this gal, he didn't want to lose all three sons. And so he says, "You go home to your father's home and you dwell there" and he just sort of forgot her. Just sort of tried to put her out of sight, out of mind kind of thing and just let her go. And now in the process of time the daughter of Shuah Judah's wife died ( Genesis 38:12 ); So this gal that he married that really wasn't God's choice at all died and she must have been fairly young because Judah was only about forty years old at this time. And so she must have been fairly young when she died. and Judah was comforted, and went up to his sheepshearers ( Genesis 38:12 ) Now it doesn't seem like he spent too much time mourning over her. I would imagine that the marriage turned into a pretty sad affair. It was not really God's purpose that Shuah be in line with the Messiah. She was a Canaanite and no doubt never did convert and began to exercise more and more influence upon the family. And the Lord has now removed her at an early age, and Jacob was comforted-or Judah was comforted and then he headed out for the party, sheep shearing, because sheep shearing was always accompanied by big celebration parties. It was just a fun time of the year and they would gather together and shear the sheep and then they'd have a big party. And so he went to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold your father in law is going up to Timnath to shear his sheep. And so [she put on her] she put off her widow's garments, and she covered herself 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 ( Genesis 38:12-14 ). Now her father-in-law has not been treating her right. Shelah's now a man and he's supposed to be her husband but they haven't been back to claim her. And so she's going to start to take things in her own hands. In putting on the veil and sitting in this place, actually she is taking on the guise of a temple prostitute. Among the Canaanite women, it was very common to be a temple prostitute. And even married women were required to give a certain amount of time during their life to serve their god in this way because the fertility processes were worshipped in their primitive worships of god, their worship ceremonies of god. And so the women were required during times of their life to become temple prostitutes. They were giving their life in a sense to their god and the goddesses of fertility. And so she put on the garbs, the veil of a prostitute and sat in the path on the way to Timnath. Now when Judah saw her ( Genesis 38:15 ), Maybe she was hoping Shelah would see her and would then he was the one supposed to marry her anyhow and she maybe was figuring to catch him, but instead the dad saw her and of course, his wife is now dead and so, he thought her to be a prostitute; because she had veiled her face. And he turned in unto her by the way, and said, I pray thee, let me come in to thee; (for he did not know that she was his daughter in law.) And she said, How much you give me? And he said, I'll send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Will you give me a pledge, till you send it? He said, What pledge do you want? She said, I'll take your signet, and your bracelets, and the staff that is in your hand. And so he gave it to her, and he came in unto her, and she conceived by him ( Genesis 38:15-18 ). Now this business, "What pledge shall I give thee?" Interesting the giving of a ring in a marriage actually comes back to this; the pledge to show sincerity. The pledge was always the purpose to show "I've made a promise to you and now to show you that my promise is sincere, I give you a pledge". And so the ring is a pledge to show the sincerity of the agreement or of the promise. It's a guarantee of the promise. And so that's the purpose of a ring in a wedding. It's a pledge by which you're guaranteeing the fact that you're going to keep that agreement, that covenant that has been verbally made. And so he went in to her. She conceived. And she arose, and went away, and she put the veil from her, and put back on her garments of widowhood. And so Judah embarrassed to come back himself sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to get his pledge back from the woman, but he could not find her. Then he asked the men of that place, saying, "Where is the prostitute that was sitting here by the side?" And they said, "There was no prostitute around this place". And so he returned to Judah, and he said, "I can't find her; and also the men of the place said that there wasn't any prostitute around there". And Judah said, "Well, let her keep it then", you know, let's not press it any further, I'm embarrassed about the whole scene and so I at least sent the kid, and you haven't found her. So we did what we could. Now it came to pass about three months after that, that someone told Judah, Tamar your daughter in law has played the harlot; and she's with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her out, and we'll burn her ( Genesis 38:24 ). The whole thing with Tamar have been sort of an uncomfortable thing and he probably thought, "Oh, I'll finally get rid of her and that that's it now". But he had a surprise coming. When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, who owns these, I am with child: and she said, Take a careful look, I pray thee, do you recognize this signet, and these bracelets, and this staff. And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She has been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. But he knew her not again. But it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb. And it came to pass, when she travailed, that one of them put his hand out: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first. And it came to pass, as he drew his hand back in, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called the Breach or Breaking Forth. And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and they called his name Zarah ( Genesis 38:25-30 ). So twins were born, and again it's interesting the one seem to be coming out of the womb and suddenly retracted his hand and the other was born first, because the other was to be the one through which the line of Christ was to come. So Shuah and her sons are out of the way, as far as the line and genealogy to lead to Jesus Christ. And now the genealogy of Christ is going to come through Pharez, the son of Tamar. So God finally has things worked around now the way He had wanted them. It was a long, roundabout process and yet God has very interesting ways of working out His plans and His purposes in our lives. So chapter thirty-eight of Genesis, why was it put in the record? I don't know. But I'm sure that God had a purpose for putting it in the record. And perhaps one of the purposes is to show that Christ came from just common, ordinary human passionate people who are not at all perfect, in order that we might be able to better identify with Jesus Christ ourselves because we are plain, ordinary, passionate people far from perfect. And perhaps God is wanting to show how that His purposes can overrule man's mistakes. Judah in his own flesh, going out and choosing Shuah as a wife, but God not wanting Shuah to have anything to do with the genealogy that will lead to His Son, Tamar being God's choice. And so by this roundabout process, brings Tamar into the picture so that her son will be the one that will come in the lineage of Christ. Now it is interesting in Matthew's gospel when Matthew traces the genealogy of Christ, there are four women that are mentioned, one of them being Tamar. Of all of the women that were in the ancestry because there was a woman for every man, naturally in the genealogy of Christ, four women were named; Tamar, Rahab. Now Tamar was there, she played the prostitute. Rahab was there; she was a professional prostitute. Ruth, who was a Moabitess and Bathsheba, who became David's wife through very seamy circumstances. And so the four women that are named by Matthew in the genealogy of Christ are four of what we would choose to be most unlikely candidates to be in that line that would bring forth the Savior to the world. And they are the four that are mentioned by Matthew.


Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Genesis 38". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/genesis-38.html. 2014.
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