Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, June 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
We are taking food to Ukrainians still living near the front lines. You can help by getting your church involved.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
Genesis 38

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-7

Genesis 38:1-7


The character of Judah -



1. In his separation from his brethren (Genesis 38:1).

2. In his marriage with an idolater (Genesis 38:2).

A STRONG SENSUAL NATURE (Genesis 38:12-18).



The lessons of Judah’s history



THIS HISTORY HAS AN IMPORTANT BEARING UPON GOD’S PURPOSE OF SALVATION. Considered in regard to God’s redeeming purpose, this history shows--

1. That God’s election is by grace. Otherwise Judah would not have been chosen as the ancestor of Christ. It shows--

2. The native glory of Christ, He derives all His glory from Himself, and not from His ancestry. It shows--

3. The amazing condescension of Christ. The greatest and most shameful sinners are found in His birth-register. (T. H. Leale.)


1. Arbitrary is the Spirit of God in recording times of events; therefore careful should we be to search them.

2. Wanton forward youths are apt to leave their station, brethren, and fathers, where they should be ruled.

3. Such averseness from duty inclines foolish hearts to lose acquaintance. So it was here.

4. Wanton youths choose to be familiar with worldly companions in lust rather than to be with a good father.

5. Names of men and places of miscarriage by the sons of the Church are noted for instruction (Genesis 38:1).

6. In bad company, and out of men’s places usually, are offered baits of temptation.

7. Wanton hearts have wanton eyes by which they are carried out to evil.

8. Daughters of the Canaanites may please the eyes of the sons of Jacob to misguide them.

9. Violence of lust drives men to take their delights, never desiring leave of God or man.

10. Lust desires no better marriage than a carnal enjoyment of its pleasure.

11. Lust fears no law of God that forbids Jacob’s seed to marry with Canaanites (Genesis 38:2). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. Such as have been disobedient to parents are not willing their children should be such to them.

2. It is the father’s right to provide and give wives to their sons.

3. It is natural for fathers to care mainly for the first-born son.

4. Providence orders wives from strangers to be registered in His Church for His own ends.

5. The first-born of men’s hopes may prove most wicked, and greatest crosses.

6. It is height of wickedness to dare the Lord to His face.

7. God Himself turneth executioner to avenge Himself upon daring sinners.

8. Premature death is determined sometimes and executed upon obstinate wicked sinners. (G. Hughes, B. D.)


Judah had taken to wife the daughter of a Canaanite, no doubt to the grief and regret of his father (Genesis 26:35); he had done what hitherto every member of the chosen branches of Abraham’s house had scrupulously avoided; for even the sanguinary deed of Simeon and Levi had been dictated by the desire of preserving the purity of their family. He left his brothers and went to Adullam. This is a town in the plain of Judah, south-west of Jerusalem, mentioned together with Jarmuth and Sochoh, or with Libnah and Makkedah; it is one of the most ancient cities, and enjoyed an existence of unusual duration; for in the time of the Hebrew conquest it was the seat of a Canaanitish king; a cave in its neighbourhood was the refuge of David from the persecutions of Saul; here his relatives joined him; here he assembled around his person a large number of distressed but resolute men; and here he met a part of the Philistine army. Adullam was fortified by Rehoboam; it was later counted among the important cities of Judah; it was still inhabited after the exile; and existed even in the time of the Maccabees. (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)

Verses 8-10

Genesis 38:8-10


The sin of Onan


IT WAS PROMPTED BY A LOW MOTIVE. It was as selfish as it was vile. Onan’s design was to preserve the whole inheritance for his own house.

IT WAS AN ACT OF WILFUL DISOBEDIENCE TO GOD’S ORDINANCE. Ill deservings of others can be no excuse for our injustice, for our uncharitableness. That which Tamar required, Moses afterward, as from God, commanded--the succession of brothers into the barren bed. Some laws God spake to His Church long ere He wrote them: while the author is certainly known, the voice and the finger of God are worthy of equal respect.

IT WAS A DISHONOUR DONE TO HIS OWE BODY. Unchastity in general is a homicidal waste of the generative powers, a demoniac bestiality, an outrage to ancestors, to posterity, and to one’s own life. It is a crime against the image of God, and a degradation below the animal. Onan’s offence, moreover, as committed in marriage, was a most unnatural wickedness, a grievous wrong, and a desecration of the body as the temple of God. It was a proof of the most defective development of what may be called the consciousness of personality, and of personal dignity.

IT WAS AGGRAVATED BY HIS POSITION IN THE COVENANT FAMILY. The Messiah was to descend from the stock of Judah, and for aught he knew from himself. This very Tamar is counted in the genealogy of Christ Matthew 1:3). Herein he did despite to the covenant promise. He rejected an honourable destiny. (T. H. Leale.)


Vain parents take little knowledge of God’s judgments in the death of one child when they have others.

2. Special law for the marriage of the deceased brother’s wife by the brother was given of God for special ends.

3. Seed was much desirable and is so in the Church of God; for which such laws were made (Genesis 38:8).

4. Wicked creatures are selfish in duty, therefore unwilling to seek any good but their own.

5. Self-pollution, destruction of the seed of man, envy to brethren, are Onan’s horrid crimes (Genesis 38:9).

6. Onans may be in the visible Church.

7. Such uncleanness is very grievous in God’s sight.

8. Exemplary death may be expected from God by such transgressors (Genesis 38:10). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Onan’s sin

It must be borne in mind that the propagation of the family name formed one of the most sacred wishes of the Israelites; that “excision” was looked upon as the most awful indication of Divine wrath; and that polygamy itself was so long maintained, because it offers a greater guarantee of offspring. The Hebrews were not a strictly practical people; sentiment and indefinite aspirations had a large share in their religious views and social institutions: at an early period embracing and fostering the hope of a Messianic time, when all the nations of the earth would be united in love and the knowledge of God, they are eminently capable of prizing the permanent existence of their families. The agrarian character of the Mosaic constitution added power to this idea. Landed property was the foundation of the political edifice, and equality its main pillar. Each family was identified with a certain portion of the sacred soil; its extinction was, therefore, more strongly apprehended by the individual, and was injurious to the prosperity of the state, as the accumulation of wealth in the hands of individuals threatened to disturb the equality of the citizens. It is, therefore, impossible to misunderstand the spirit and tendency of the law concerning the marriage with the brother’s widow; it was neither dictated by the desire of preventing the abandoned condition of the widow, or of counteracting some other fancied abuse; its purport is distinctly expressed to have been to procure a descendant to the brother (Genesis 38:8); “that the name of the deceased be preserved upon his inheritance, and that his name be not erased from among his brethren and from the gate of his town” (Ruth 4:10). It may suffice to add, in this place, that similar customs prevailed among the Indians, Persians, and some Italian tribes, and that they are still practised by the Tsherkessians and Tartars, the Gallas in Abyssinia, the Afghans, and other nations. It was in conformity with this law that Judah commanded his second son, Onan, to marry the childless widow of his elder brother. But Onan was not more virtuous than the family to which he belonged: unwilling to maintain his brother’s name, he knew how to frustrate the hopes of Judah. God took away his life for that reckless wickedness. (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)

Verses 11-30

Genesis 38:11-30




Sinful hearts when they suffer from God’s hand are apt to vent it upon creatures.

2. Carnal relations grow quickly weary of showing kindness when their aims are crossed by God.

3. Hard fathers-in-law, for their own ends, spare not to lay the hardest terms upon allies.

4. Such oppressors deal subtilly, though cruelly; they pretend fair at least.

5. Wicked hearts are apt to be jealous, and transfer faults and ill successes to others that are innocent.

6. Sinful fathers are willing to save children from death, but take bad ways to do it.

7. Widowhood is a solitary condition that binds souls to sit at home.

8. God overruling, natural hearts may be content to submit to hard injunctions from others when they cannot help it. So it was with Tamar when Judah layeth hard injunctions on her (Genesis 38:11). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. Injuries to daughters-in-law God may repay upon men’s wives.

2. Days may seem many before God’s visit, but visitation will come for sin.

3. God may make death to be a just recompense of men’s hard dealings.

4. Vain and sinful hearts are soon comforted after the death of wives.

5. Comforts carnal hearts do seek by fleshly feasting and employments.

6. Bad companions and opportune places bad hearts delight in to enjoy their lusts (Genesis 38:12). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. A lustful eye will quickly turn the foot out of the way to sin. Connection (Genesis 38:15).

2. Men of lustful hearts turn of their own accord to evil with others without invitation.

3. Digression from men’s lawful way tends to transgression against God and man.

4. Lust is a hard solicitor for its unclean enjoyments.

5. Lust runs blindfold even to defile near relations, and enquireth not.

6. Sometimes lust is put to it to pay a price for its pleasure. The whorish custom (Genesis 38:16).

7. Unclean persons stick not to lessen their flock for increase of lust, so of estates.

8. Adulterous spirits are not credible with their own paramours; a price or pledge must be given (Genesis 38:17).

9. Wicked hearts stick not at pledge or price unto whorish women for enjoying lust.

10. Unclean creatures are subtle to have a great pledge for a small price.

11. Be it ever so great, lust will give it to the whorish woman for its pleasure.

12. Blind lust doth not only solicit but violate nearest relations when it can.

13. Providence denieth not conception sometimes to the most incestuous mixtures of men and women.

14. It is the order of providence that conception should be for Judah as well as by him (Genesis 38:18). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. Sinful lust, when its turn is served, makes out of sight speedily.

2. Guile and deceit are usual adjuncts to lust of uncleanness.

3. Guileful harlots stay not long in common places, where they may be discovered.

4. Lust teacheth souls to put off, and to put on, any signals which might either discover or conceal them (Genesis 38:19). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. Pawns may make naughty hearts careful to pay their debts for sin.

2. Wicked affairs are best trusted to hands of wicked friends.

3. Payment of debts by sinners is accounted just to take up pawns.

4. It is no rare thing for partners in sin to deceive each other; to get out of the way when they should be found.

5. Under Providence the debt of lust is not always paid, nor the pawn of iniquity restored (Genesis 38:20).

6. Sinners are diligent to inquire about their sinful affairs.

7. Sinners are impudent to ask openly after harlots in the high way; to bewray the worst matter.

8. Under wife providence, such inquisitors have an answer of frustration (Genesis 38:21).

9. The trustiest messengers of sinners may return bootless to such as send them.

10. Objects of uncleanness maybe found to ensnare persons to sin, but not to satisfy demands.

11. God sometimes ordereth the frustration, of sinners with a witness (Genesis 38:22).

12. By patience perforce, unclean sinners may be content to sit down with loss.

13. Fear of shame and reproach make sinners willing to be losers.

14. Uncleanness is a reproachful thing in the account of the worst adulterers.

15. A self-conceit of having done their duties make wicked ones sometimes content to sit down losers (Genesis 38:23). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. There is a season of bearing ordered by Providence and to be observed Ecclesiastes 3:2).

2. Providence may order abundant fruitfulness unto incestuous mixtures. Twins to incest (verse 27).

3. God sometimes returneth unto unclean conceptions bitter travails.

4. Cross coming of children to birth is God’s ordering to mind of sin sometimes.

5. Creatures may be deceived in marking that for first which cometh last (verse 28).

6. It is God’s prerogative to make first and last in births, and other conditions.

7. Even in the fruit of the womb God makes one child retreat that the other may come forth.

8. The breaking out of the fruit of the womb is sometimes wonderful to creatures.

9. The wonders of God are reasonably prepetuated in the very names of children (verse 29).

10. The first in man’s thoughts is many times last in God’s.

11. Safe births are great mercies, whether first or last; all come forth under providence.

12. Such mercies should be made known in the very names and beings of creatures (verse 30). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 38". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/genesis-38.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Ads FreeProfile