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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 38

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 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 that time. This form of speech, which is of frequent occurrence in Scripture, is used not to mark an exact date, nor to give any note of time, but only to indicate in a loose and general way a connection with the period in which the events in the course of being narrated took place. [In fact, baa`eet (H6256) hahiy' (H1931) is not to be interpreted in a literal sense, but taken as describing an approximate chronology.] Thus, in one instance (Deuteronomy 10:8), it is prefixed to the narrative of an occurrence which transpired over 38 years (Numbers 3:6) before the transactions with which the historian has associated it; and the analogous phrase, "in those days," is used by the evangelists in the same indefinite manner, sometimes to introduce the relation of a fact, between which and the stream of the current history a long series of other events intervened (Matthew 11:25; Matthew 12:1).

In like manner, the words "at that time," which stand at the beginning of this chapter, are not meant to fix an exact date for Judah's marriage, and the unhappy incidents which occurred in his family, but to show that they belonged to the memorable period of Joseph's captivity. The episode occupies a proper place; because it belongs to the Tholedoth of Jacob; and of all the matrimonial connections formed by his numerous sons, and their family registers, this alone has been put on record, from its indispensable importance in relating the origin of the three great branches of the royal tribe in Israel, and consequently in tracing the genealogical line of the Messiah. It is parenthetically inserted here, before the historian takes up the continuous thread of Joseph's life and experience in Egypt.

Judah went down from his brethren - i:e., from the mountain-pastures of Hebron, whither the brothers had returned (Gen. 38:32-35 ), to Adullam, a city in the lowlands of Judah (Joshua 15:35; Micah 1:15). But its site is unknown.

And turned in to a certain Adullamite, [ wayeeT (H5186) `ad (H5704) 'iysh (H376)] - and pitched his tent near to a man of Adullam.

Verse 2

And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her.

And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite. Like Esau, this son of Jacob, casting off the restraints of religion, married into a Canaanite family; and it is not surprising that the family which sprang from such an unsuitable connection should be infamous for bold and unblushing wickedness.

The date of Judah's marriage has been a subject of much discussion. Augustine, and many writers since, have maintained that it took place previous to Joseph's captivity. But that could not be; because since Joseph was six years of age at his father's return from Mesopotamia (see the note at Genesis 33:14), and seventeen when he was sold as a slave, Judah, who was only two, or at most three years older, could not have had such a family experience, and returned from Adullam, to re-join his brothers at Shechem, within the brief space of eleven years. But assuming his settlement in Adullam and subsequent marriage to have taken place shortly after Joseph's removal to Egypt, his eldest son might have been born a couple of years, his second the following year, so that, as the custom in the East is for young men to marry at an early age-namely, from 15 to 17 years of age-there would have been time for all the incidents recorded in this chapter to transpire before the emigration to Egypt, which was 23 years after Joseph's abduction.

Verses 3-4

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

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 5

And she yet again conceived, and bare a son; and called his name Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bare him.

He was at Chezib when she bare him. Er and Onan having died without offspring, no further notice is taken of them. But Shelah lived to have a family, and therefore his birthplace is recorded as at Chezib, or Achzib, in the southern lowlands of Judah (Joshua 15:44; Micah 1:14).

Verse 6

And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. Judah took a wife for Er (waking, watchful) ... whose name was Tamar - i:e., palm tree, meaning probably that she was tall and erect. Er shortened his days by his flagitious practices, being in all likelihood addicted to the abominable vices of Canaan.

Verse 7

And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 8

And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.

Marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. The first instance of a custom which was afterward incorporated among the laws of Moses, that when a hushand died leaving a widow, his brother next of age was to marry her, and the issue, if any, was to be served heir to the deceased (cf. Deuteronomy 25:5). The time and circumstances in which this practice originated are not known. It seems to have been early introduced, and arose out of the great importance attached to the primogeniture.

Verses 9-10

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.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 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.

For he said, Lest peradventure he die also. Shelah, his third son being yet a mere boy, Judah recommended Tamar to seclude herself as a widow for a time, until that youth should have attained a marriageable age, when, as the next representative of his oldest brother, he would espouse her. But this counsel was a mere pretext to gain time. Judah was not sincere in his intentions to fulfill the promise; for, entertaining some suspicion, or cherishing a superstitious notion that marriage with Tamar was an ill-omened connection, he was secretly desirous of preventing Shelah from marrying her, and thereby saving that son from the dreaded fate of his two brothers.

But it was Judah's duty, if he did not contemplate marrying her to his son to release her from her obligation to wait for Shelah, by giving her in marriage to some other person. Judah's wife having died, the intervention of the usual mourning season of course excluded thoughts of a new family connection for a time. But that period had terminated, and the mention of it seems expressly designed to show that Judah was in circumstances to perform a father-in-law's duty to Tamar, and yet had neglected to do it.

Verse 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.

In process of time, [ wayirbuw (H7235) hayaamiym (H3117)] - and the days were multiplied; i:e., after a long time had elapsed, and Tamar felt the sickness of hope deferred.

Judah ... went up unto his sheep-shearers. This season, which occurs in Palestine toward the end of March, was spent in more than usual hilarity, and the wealthier masters invited their friends, as well as treated their servants, to sumptuous entertainments. Accordingly, it is said, Judah was accompanied by his friend Hirah.

Timnath. This place was situated in the mountain district of Judah; and it should be carefully distinguished from two other places of the same name elsewhere (Robinson's 'Biblical Researches,' 2:, p. 343).

Hirah - friend [ ree`eehuw (H7453); but the Septuagint has ho poimeen autou, his shepherd, as if their Hebrew text were ro`eh (H7462)].

Verses 13-14

And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep. Tamar ... covered her with a veil, [Septuagint, to theristron] - the summer garment, a veil or covering, of probably a light colour, to attract notice, and at the same time to conceal her features from the notice of Judah.

And sat in an open place, [ bªpetach (H6607) `eeynayim (H5869)]. This is variously rendered. Since `ayin (H5869), the eye, is frequently used, in the figurative style of the East, for a fountain, Rosenmuller, after Onkelos, renders this phrase, at the bursting of two fountains. The Vulgate, following the Syriac, has, in bivio itineris-at a place where two roads meet. Our English version has here, and Genesis 38:21, openly. Zunz has, at the entrance to the double well or fountain. [The Septuagint, taking the word `eeynayim (H5869) as a proper name, Enayim or Enam, translates the phrase by pros tais pulais Ainan, at the gate of Enam; and modern scholars for the most part adopt this translation.] Enam was in the Shephelah or lowland of Judah (Joshua 15:34), where Timnath also lay.

Verse 15

When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face.

When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot. Such a character as that which Tamar impersonated was to be found only in women without the gate of a well-ordered town (Revelation 22:15).

Because she had covered her face. His impression was founded not on the special form or style of the veil as betokening a prostitute [for tsa`iyp is applied to the veil of Rebekah (Genesis 24:65)], but to the concealment of her features, and the place where she lingered. The Septuagint adds the following clause, kai ouk epegnoo auteen, and he did not recognize her. But this reading has no authority.

Verse 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?

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 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?

I will send thee a kid from the flock. A kid-a roasted kid-was considered a very great delicacy in the East. And this fact may show in what light we are to regard the recompense offered to Tamar (cf. Judges 15:1; Luke 15:29). Tuch considers that it was given because the kid was sacred to Ashtoreth (the Canaanite Venus).

Verse 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.

Thy signet ..., [ chotaamkaa (H2368)] - a seal or signet bearing some legend, the name of the owner and his father, or some religious sentiment (cf. 2 Timothy 2:19). The Hebrews, like the modern Persians and Arabians, commonly wore their signet-ring suspended from the neck (cf. Song of Solomon 8:6).

And thy bracelets. Bracelets, including armlets, were worn by men as well as women among the Hebrews. But the Hebrew word [ paatiyl (H6616)] here rendered "bracelets," signifies the twisted cord or ribbon by which the signet-ring was suspended. Since the signet alone was probably more than an equivalent for the kid, it is not easy to conjecture why the other things were given in addition, except by supposing the perforated seal was attached by a string or chain to the staff. 'Everyone carries a seal, generally about an inch long, and about one-third of their length in diameter, consisting of various materials: a composition in which black manganese is the principal ingredient, or of amethyst, rock-crystal, cornelian, agate, chalcedony, onyx, jasper, pyrites, etc. They are generally hollow, either for the purpose of being worn strung upon a cord, or of admitting a metal axis. The walking-sticks are carved at the top into the form of an apple, a rose, a lily, an eagle, or something similar. In the ancient sculptures persons of dignity are always represented with staves' (Rawlinson's 'Herodotus,' b. 1:, ch. 195).

Judah and the other members of Jacob's family would import the practice of carrying a signet and a staff with them into Canaan, and they would have them constantly with them, as Herodotus testifies the Babylonians had; and a modern Oriental always has his seal with him. 'Since a writer's signature is of no value, except in particular cases, in the East, and as all documents, to be valid, must be sealed with seals bearing the names of the parties to them, the engraved signet is of great importance' (Layard's 'Nineveh and Babylon,' p. 608, note).

Landseer ('Sabaean Researches') says, 'the signet was generally attached to the walking-staffs of persons of authority and rank, in ancient times, among the people of Mesopotamia and Assyria.

Verse 19

And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood. And she arose, and went away. Some pious writers have alleged, in extenuation of Tamar's shameful conduct, that, though a Canaanite, she had become connected with the chosen race, and had imbibed the eager desire of Hebrew women to have offspring, in the hope of being the ancestress of the promised Messiah. But there is not a particle of evidence to support such an hypothesis. It is more probable that she was unhappy, as Oriental wives have in all ages been, under the reproach of being childless; and that, knowing her father-in-law was the cause of her lying under that reproach, she planned an artful scheme of revenge, from executing which, though it involved the crime of incest, her Canaanite education made her in no degree averse.

Verse 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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 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.

Where is the harlot?, [ haqªdeeshaah (H6948)] - a female consecrated to the service of Ashtoreth (Venus) (cf. Deuteronomy 23:18). It is a different word from that used (Genesis 38:15.)

Verse 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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 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 said, Let her take it to her - i:e., Let her keep the pledges to herself, and thus the matter will be hushed up.

Verse 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.

Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. In patriarchal times fathers seem to have possessed the power of life and death over the members of their families. Tamar, being regarded as a wife, through her betrothal to Shelah, was an adulteress, and the crime of adultery was anciently punished in many places by burning (Leviticus 21:9; Judges 15:6; Jeremiah 29:22).

Verse 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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 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. She hath been more righteous than I - i:e., Tamar's cause is more just than mine; or her conduct is more justifiable than my own in depriving her of the husband to whom she had a legitimate claim.

Verse 27

And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 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.

The one put out his hand, [ wayiten (H5414) yaad (H3027)] - there appeared a hand (the verb being used impersonally), 'a circumstance which occasionally happens when the children lie in an abnormal position, and always impedes the delivery, and which was regarded in this instance as so significant, that the names of the children were founded upon the fact' (Delitzsch; see further Geddes' 'Critical Remarks').

The midwife ... bound upon his hand a scarlet thread - to mark the first-born of the twins, to whom the rights and honours of primogeniture would belong.

Verse 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.

How hast thou broken forth? (this) breach (be) upon thee. The demonstrative pronoun, which our translators have inserted before "breach," has no equivalent in the original: the word is without the definite article. There is an ambiguity in the exclamation of the midwife, whose words have been variously interpreted. Rosenmuller, Maurer, and others, render the second clause, 'on thee the blame of this breach lies.' Knobel considers it an imprecation-`a breach be upon thee.' But the historian does not hint at the existence of such a feeling, and simply relates the incident of the birth as a remarkable ocurrence. Delitzsch unites the two clauses by translating, 'How hast thou broken through a rent (forced a passage) for thyself?' and the Septuagint has: Ti diekopee dia se phragmos, 'How has the fence been broken through by you?' 'as if,' says Calvin ('Comment. in Genesin'), 'the body of the brother who had appeared first lay like an opposing wall in his way, which he burst through.'

Therefore his name was called Pharez, [ Paarets (H6556)] - a breach, a rip [Septuagint, Fares].

Zarah, [ Zaarach (H2226)] - a rising [Septuagint, Sara].

The right of primogeniture seems to have been conferred on Pharez, as his name always precedes that of his brother in the genealogical lists. This chapter contains details which probably would never have obtained a place in the inspired record had it not been to exhibit the full links of the chain that connects the genealogy of the Saviour with Abraham; and in the disreputable character of the ancestry who figure in this passage, we have a remarkable proof that 'He made Himself of no reputation.'

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 38". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/genesis-38.html. 1871-8.
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