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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 38

Kingcomments on the Whole BibleKingcomments

Verses 1-2

Judah Departs from His Brothers

Joseph’s history is interrupted by what happens to Judah. Besides many practical lessons, this history has a prophetic application. Joseph is a picture of the Lord Jesus. In the previous chapter he is rejected by his brothers and sold to Egypt. In the next chapter his history in Egypt continues.

This chapter prophetically represents the present time, the time since the Lord Jesus is rejected. The Lord Jesus was rejected by His brothers, the people of Israel, who were mainly Jews, Judeans, names derived from Judah. Judah is seen here separated from his brothers, the other tribes. Israel has rejected its Messiah and then committed fornication with the world. This we see in the connection of Judah with the daughter of the Canaanite Shua. In the history here we see in Judah a people who have strayed from God.

Judah’s history contrasts sharply with that of Joseph. Joseph refuses to sin and walks in purity (Psalms 119:9). Judah is a man who does not control his lusts, but is guided by them. The deep destruction of human nature is shown unabashedly by the Holy Spirit in this history. It is a chapter full of sins. It is as if here the background is made clear for the necessity of the death of the Lord Jesus, so that fortunately today, in the time of grace, every sin can be forgiven (Matthew 12:31).

When someone leaves the company to which God connects His presence and blessing, he can only follow a way full of misery. There is no longer looking at the Lord, but at what is in sight. Judah is led by his eyes. He “saw” (Genesis 38:2) and marries a Canaanite woman. That is what Abraham has forbidden his servant in the case of his son (Genesis 24:3).

Verses 3-11

Judah, His Sons and Tamar

From the corrupt connection Judah has entered into, only corruption can arise. Er, his firstborn son, is killed by the LORD. The reason given is that he is evil in the sight of the LORD. The exact action of his wickedness is not mentioned. In any case it is so evil that the LORD kills him. God rules and punishes all evil.

Onan is also killed by the LORD. He does not do this because of the alleged self-gratification of Onan – self-gratification is wrongly also called ‘onanism’, after Onan. [Read more in ‘Sexuality, a gift from God’ on www.oudesporen.nl, other articles, English flag.] With Onan it is not about self-gratification, but about refusing to conceive offspring for his brother, because this would not be accounted to him. This custom, that the brother marries the widow to raise up offspring for his deceased brother, is later made law (Deuteronomy 25:5).

Judah promises Tamar that she will be allowed to marry his youngest son – when he has arrived at a marriageable age – to have offspring. He does not fulfil this promise for selfish reasons (Genesis 38:11).

Verses 12-19

Judah Commits Fornication with Tamar

When Tamar sees that Judah is not keeping his promise, she resorts to a low trick: she will act as a harlot. She sees in the shearing of the sheep the opportunity to seduce Judah. Sheepshearing is always accompanied by celebration and frivolity.

Tamar’s sin cannot be justified. She demands her right and sees no other way to do so than the way of fornication. However reprehensible the way is that Tamar goes, Judah is the one who, as the Scriptures call it, is the stumbling block to her, bringing her to this fall into sin. Tamar knows Judah. She knows that he will not refuse a woman who offers herself. It marks the low moral status of Judah. We can ask ourselves a personal question: How am I known? Judah is deceived by his daughter-in-law, dressed as a harlot, just as he had deceived his father with a tunic, Joseph’s tunic (Genesis 37:31-Jonah :).

Judah’s sin begins with the eye, he sees her. He has a heart and eyes full of adultery (2 Peter 2:14). When Judah wants to go in to her, she asks what he wants to pay for her ‘service’. His answer is that he will send her a young goat. She then asks him for a pledge, so that she can be sure that he will keep his promise. When asked what she wants as a pledge, she says she wants his seal and his cord, and his staff.

These things represent symbolically what someone spiritually loses when he goes into sin. His seal is a picture of fidelity and property (printing your seal on something): he throws it away. His cord (or: line) stands for an inheritance (Psalms 16:6): he loses the enjoyment of his inheritance. His staff is a picture of what supports him: he also surrenders it to an unknown woman. Judah relinquishes everything: his fidelity, what is his own, his personality, his habitat, his world, and finally that which gives him strength to walk.

Tamar knows not only Judah’s infidelity, but also his insincerity. He cannot be trusted on his word. That’s why she asks for a pledge. Unfaithfulness in the home and unfaithfulness in other relationships (e.g. business) go hand in hand.

Verses 20-23

The ‘Payment’ of Judah

The kind of friendship Judah has with the Adullamite is that of sinners among themselves. This friendship consists of supporting and covering of sin. A true friend points out the wrong to his friend and will try to prevent evil or, if evil has already happened, help his friend to confess his sin.

When his friend returns without being successful, Judah no longer cares about the loss of his belongings. To continue to solve the matter means that he is ridiculing himself. He does not want to suffer this loss of face. He has done his best to keep his appointment. Thus he speaks to keep his conscience clean, but he does not take into account God Who in His time will confront him with his sin.

Verses 24-26

The Sin of Judah Discovered

When Judah hears of his daughter-in-law’s pregnancy, he passes a harsh judgement on her. That judgment also suits him, because then he certainly doesn’t have to give her to his son Shelah anymore. People who commit a serious sin with ease and without regret, are often very strict in judging the sins of others. By so doing, however, they condemn themselves (Romans 2:1).

All the sins that are done in secret will one day be revealed. One day everything will come to light. That is when the Lord Jesus will reign. Here Judah is confronted with his sin in a way that makes it impossible to deny it. He acknowledges his sin and states that Tamar is in her right. He also acknowledges that his sin came from another sin, namely withholding his son Shelah from Tamar. If sin persists, it paves the way for even more sins. That Judah’s confession is real, he shows by having no relations with Tamar again.

Verses 27-30

Perez and Zera Born

The grace of God triumphs and rises above the sin of Judah and also above Tamar, who is descended from the cursed race of the Canaanites and is also guilty of harlotry. Judah becomes the ancestor of the Messiah. Tamar and the sons Perez and Zerah, who were born from the fornication between her and Judah, are mentioned in the genealogy of the Lord Jesus, whereby Perez comes into the genealogy of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 1:3).

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Genesis 38". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/genesis-38.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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