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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 38

Hampton's Commentary on Selected BooksHampton's Commentary

Verses 1-30

Judah's Adultery With Tamar

Perhaps out of disgust for his brothers' thoughts of killing Joseph and deceiving Jacob, Judah went to a city about twelve miles outside Bethlehem. He married a Canaanite woman who bore him three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah. Judah arranged a marriage contract for Er with a woman named Tamar. Before they could bear any children, God slew Er for wickedness. By the law of levirate marriage (see Deu_25:5-10 ), Onan was compelled to marry Tamar. The first son born to them would then be named for the deceased brother, Er, to keep his name alive. Onan apparently did not want to bear a child to carry on the memory of his brother, so he spilled his semen on the ground. God killed him for his act ( Gen_38:1-10 ).

Judah instructed Tamar to remain a widow in her father's house until Shelah reached an age for marriage. Actually, he feared for Shelah's life. Over the course of time, Judah's wife died. Tamar was told he was going up to Timnah to shear his sheep. She took off her widow's clothes, covered herself with a harlot's veil and waited by the road for Judah to pass. When he did, she made an agreement to have relations with him for a kid. He left his signet ring on a cord and shepherd's staff as collateral until he could send a kid back in payment.

When Tamar was found with child, Judah planned to burn her. However, she produced his signet ring on a cord and staff. Judah said she had been more righteous than he, however, both sinned in this matter. She bore twins, Perez and Zerah. It seems likely this story is included in the text because Judah was to receive the birthright. The Lord came out of the tribe of Judah. Also, Judah's sin is in stark contrast to Joseph's actions in the house of Potiphar ( Gen_38:1-30 ).

Bibliographical Information
Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on Genesis 38". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghc/genesis-38.html. 2014.
 
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