GENESIS CHAPTER 38
Judah marries a Canaanitish woman, who bears him three sons, Genesis 38:1-5. He marries his eldest son to Tamar, Genesis 38:6. He being wicked is slain by God, Genesis 38:7. The second son is commanded to marry her, Genesis 38:8. His wickedness, Genesis 38:9; and death, Genesis 38:10. He promises her his third son, but performs not, Genesis 38:11. She by a subtle practice commits incest with him, Genesis 38:13. He gives her a pledge, Genesis 38:18. She is found with child; Judah commands her to be burnt, Genesis 38:24. She brings to her father the pledge, Genesis 38:25. He acknowledges it; acquits her, and condemns himself, Genesis 38:26. She brings forth two sons, Genesis 38:27-30.
This story is not without difficulty, if we consider how little time is allowed for all the events of this chapter, there being not above twenty-three years between Judah’s marriage and the birth of Pharez, yea, and the birth of his sons too, Hezron and Hamul, who are said to go into Egypt with Jacob, Genesis 46:12. But there are two ways proposed for the resolution of it, as the phrase, at that time, may be understood two ways; either,
1. More largely, for the time since Jacob’s return from Padan to Canaan, and so the history may be conceived thus, Judah was married some years before the selling of Joseph, though it be here mentioned after it, and so out of its place, as being the foundation of all the following events, which are here placed together, because they followed the selling of Joseph. Judah, and Er, and Onan, and afterwards Pharez, are supposed each to marry and have a child at fourteen years old, which, though unusual, wants not examples both in sacred and profane writers. And they that will quarrel with the Scripture, and question its authority for some such uncustomary occurrences which it relates, show more of impiety than wisdom in it, and shall do well to consider, that God might so order things by his providence, and record such things in his word, upon the same account on which he hath put several other difficult passages in Scripture, partly to try and exercise men’s faith, humility, and modesty; and partly to punish the evil minds of ungodly men, and for their sins to lay an occasion of stumbling and cavilling at the Scriptures before them that greedily seek and gladly catch at all such occasions. Or,
2. More strictly, for the time following the sale of Joseph, which seems the more probable way, and so the story lies thus, Judah was now about twenty years old when he married, and the three first years he hath three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. The two first marry each when they were about seventeen years old. Three years after both their deaths, and when Shelah had been marriageable a year or two, and was not given to Tamar, Judah lies with Tamar and begets upon her Pharez. But as for Hezron and Hamul, they are said to go into Egypt with Jacob, as also Benjamin’s ten sons are said to go with him thither, to wit, in their father’s loins, because they were begotten by their father in Egypt, whilst Jacob lived there, of which more in its proper place.
Judah went down from his brethren; probably in discontent, upon occasion of quarrels arisen among them about the selling of Joseph, whereof Judah was a great promoter, if not the first mover.
A certain Adullamite, of the city of Adullam; of which see Joshua 12:15 15:35.
He married her against the counsel and example of his parents. But when Judah had committed so great a crime as the selling of his brother, and God had forsaken him, no wonder he adds one sin to another.
Shuah was the name, not of the daughter, but of her father, Genesis 38:12.
Chezib; a place near Adullam, called also Achzib, Joshua 19:29 Micah 1:14.
Wicked in the sight of the Lord, i.e. notoriously wicked. Compare Genesis 10:9 13:13.
The Lord slew him, in some extraordinary and remarkable manner, as Genesis 38:10.
This, as also divers other things, was now instituted and observed amongst God’s people, and afterwards was expressed in a written law, Deuteronomy 25:5,6. See also Numbers 36:6,7 Rth 1:11 Matthew 22:24.
Raise up seed to thy brother; beget a child which may have thy brother’s name and inheritance, and may be reputed as his child. So it was with the first child, but the rest were reputed his own.
Two things are here noted:
1. The sin itself, which is here particularly described by the Holy Ghost, that men might be instructed concerning the nature and the great evil of this sin of self-pollution, which is such that it brought upon the actor of it the extraordinary vengeance of God, and which is condemned not only by Scripture, but even by the light of nature, and the judgment of heathens, who have expressly censured it as a great sin, and as a kind of murder. Of which see my Latin Synopsis. Whereby we may sufficiently understand how wicked and abominable a practice this is amongst Christians, and in the light of the gospel, which lays greater and stricter obligations upon us to purity, and severely forbids all pollution both of flesh and spirit.
2. The cause of this wickedness; which seems to have been either hatred of his brother, or envy at his brother’s name and honour, springing from the pride of his own heart.
Displeased the Lord; an expression noting a more than ordinary offence against God, as 2 Samuel 11:27. This just but dreadful severity of God is noted both for the terror of such-like transgressors, and to provoke love and thankfulness to God in those whom he useth more indulgently.
At thy father’s house, whither he sent her from his house, that Shelah might not be insnared by her presence and conversation. So he dismissed her with a pretence of kindness, and a tacit promise of marriage to her, which he never intended to keep, as the following words imply; for he said; or rather, but he said; for the Hebrew chi oft signifies but, as Genesis 45:8 Psalms 37:20 Ecclesiastes 2:10 6:2. So here is an opposition between what he said to Tamar, and what he said to himself, or in his own heart, as that word said is oft used: he intimated to her that he would give Shelah to her, but he meant otherwise, and said in himself, I will not do it,
lest peradventure he die also as his brethren did; imputing the death of his two sons either to her fault, or to her unluckiness, rather than to his own or his son’s miscarriages.
In process of time, when many days had passed, and Shelah, though grown, was not given to Tamar,
Judah went up unto his sheep-shearers, to feast and rejoice with them at that time, as the manner was then and afterwards. See 1 Samuel 25:36.
Timnath; a place not far from Adullam; of which see Joshua 15:57.
Covered her with a vail, as harlots used to do in those modester ages of the world, when they had not learnt to outface the sun, nor to glory in their villanies.
In an open place, where she night be soonest discovered by passengers. This is noted as the practice of harlots, Proverbs 7:12 9:14 Jeremiah 3:2 Ezekiel 16:24,25.
And was doubtless careful not to discover herself by her voice.
Thy bracelets, or handkerchief, or girdle, or any other ornament made of twisted thread, which the Hebrew word signifies. God so ordering things by his providence, that his sin might be discovered. And this and other such horrid crimes committed sometimes by the patriarchs, and other eminent persons, it hath pleased God for divers wise and holy reasons to leave upon record, partly, to discover how great and deep the corruption of man’s nature is, and that even in the best; partly, to oblige all men to a humble sense of their own infirmity, and to a diligent application of themselves to God for his gracious succours, and to a greater circumspection and watchfulness to prevent those evils in themselves; partly, to encourage even the greatest sinners to repentance and the hope of pardon; and partly, for the just punishment and obduration of incorrigible sinners, who make such sad examples matter of their delight and imitation.
Note, that fornication was esteemed sinful and shameful amongst the heathens.
Bring her forth to the magistrate, from whom she may receive her sentence and deserved punishment. Judah had not the power of life and death, at least not over her, who was a Canaanite, and who was not in his, but in her own father’s house. But he being a person of great estate and authority, and, as it seems, of obliging conversation, could do very much to persuade those who then had the power of the sword, either to draw it forth, at least in a just cause, on his behalf, or to sheath it upon his desire and satisfaction.
Let her be burnt, as guilty of adultery, which was punished with death by the laws of God, Deuteronomy 22:23,24, and of nations too, Jeremiah 29:22,23. He chargeth her with adultery, because she was betrothed to Shelah. See Deuteronomy 22:23. This eagerness of Judah proceeded not from zeal of justice, for then he would not have endeavoured to destroy the innocent child with the guilty mother, against God’s law, Deuteronomy 24:16 Ezekiel 18:20, but from worldly policy, that he might take her out of the way, which he esteemed a burden and a blot to his family.
His guilty conscience, and the horror of so foul a fact, together with his sudden surprisal, forced him to an ingenuous confession, whereas he might have used many pretences and evasions, which would easily have prevailed with such partial judges.
She hath been more righteous than I. She was more unchaste, because she knowingly committed adultery and incest, when he designed neither; but he was more unjust, because he was the cause of her sin, both by withholding Shelah from her, who was hers both by right and by Judah’s promise, and by whom her chastity should have been preserved; and by his solicitation and encouragement of her to the sin.
He knew her again no more; showing the sincerity of his confession by his forsaking of the sin confessed. See Job 34:32. And it may be probably concluded, that he neither knew her nor any other woman afterward, because there is no mention of any child which he had after this time.
The midwife bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, in token of his being the first-born, which she confidently expected he would be.
This breach be upon thee, be imputed to thee, as the same phrase is taken Genesis 16:5.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Genesis 38". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany