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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 38

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



Judah begetteth Er, Onan, and Shelah. Tamar deceiveth Judah, and brings forth Pharez and Zarah.

Before Christ about 1734.

Verse 1

Genesis 38:1. And it came, &c.— Moses relates this transaction because it concerned the principal end which his history had in view; namely, to transmit the genealogy of Christ, who descended from Abraham by Judah; see Matthew 1:3. Le Clerc observes: "Though these words seem to connect the following events with the former chapter, yet some of them, particularly Judah's marriage, which leads to the rest, must have happened long before Joseph was sold into AEgypt; and both Judah and his children too must have married young, else the chronology will not agree; for Joseph was born six years before Jacob came into Canaan," ch. Genesis 30:25.Genesis 31:41; Genesis 31:41. When he was sold into AEgypt, he was seventeen years old, ch. Genesis 37:2; Genesis 37:28. He was thirty, when he interpreted Pharaoh's dream, ch. Genesis 41:46. And nine years after, when there had been seven years plenty, and two years famine, did Jacob, with his family, go down into AEgypt, ch. Genesis 41:53-54.Genesis 45:6; Genesis 45:6; Genesis 45:11. And at their going down thither, Pharez, the son of Judah, (whose birth is set down in the end of this chapter,) had two sons, Hezron and Hamul, ch. Genesis 46:8-12. Seeing then, that from the selling of Joseph, until Israel's going down into AEgypt, there cannot be above three-and-twenty years, how is it possible that Judah should take a wife, have by her three sons, one after another, that Shelah, the youngest of the three, should be marriageable when Judah begat Pharez of Tamar, Genesis 38:14; Genesis 38:24. and Pharez be grown up, married, and have two sons, all within so short a space as three-and-twenty years? This chapter must therefore be placed out of the order of time; and the events here recorded must have happened soon after Jacob came from Mesopotamia into Canaan, though Moses, for some special reasons, relates them in this place. We may add, that the words then, in those days, at that time, often refer in Scripture to a considerable space of time, Deu 10:8. 2 Kings 20:1.Matthew 3:13; Matthew 3:13; Matthew 25:1. See ch. Genesis 46:12.

A certain Adullamite An inhabitant of the city Adullam, which lay to the west of Hebron, and will be found frequently spoken of in the history of David. Shuah (whose daughter Judah met with at the house of the Adullamite) was a Canaanite; consequently this connection was highly blameable in Judah.

Verse 5

Genesis 38:5. He was at Chezib The name of a place not far distant from Adullam and Mamre, thought to be the same with Achzib, Joshua 15:44. Moses mentions Judah's absence when this child was born, probably as the reason why his wife gave names to the third as well as the second son; whereas he himself named the first, Joshua 15:3. See Patrick. The Vulgate, Grotius, and others, make Chezib an appellative, and render it, She gave over bearing when she had borne him. The word signifies lying; and to this signification the prophet alludes, Micah 1:14. The houses of Achzib shall be (Achzab) a lie. See Ainsworth.

Verse 6

Genesis 38:6, &c. Name was Tamar It is not said who or of what family Tamar was, though it is most probable she was a Canaanitess; nor does it appear what was the crime of Er; enormous enough, no doubt, to draw down so exemplary a punishment from God. It is plain, from this transaction, that the practice which Moses afterwards enacted into a law, Deu 25:5 was of ancient standing: the same custom prevailed among the AEgyptians. The crime of Onan shews a peculiarly malignant disposition, Deuteronomy 25:9.; and it is probable, that bad as it was in itself, yet his sin was aggravated with a worse circumstance, viz. his having an eye to the suppressing of the MESSIAH's birth, since he should not have the honour to be numbered among his ancestors, which might provoke GOD to cut him off. See Univ. Hist. Acts of self-pollution were always held peculiarly criminal, even by heathen moralists. The Hebrew doctors looked upon them as a degree of murder.

Verse 11

Genesis 38:11. Remain a widow, &c.— Hence it appears that the contract of marriage was so understood in those days, that if the husband died without issue, the woman must marry his next brother; and as long as any of his brethren remained, they were bound to marry his wife. It is difficult to determine with what intention Judah persuaded Tamar to retire to her father's house, till his son Shelah was grown up. Some think that it was only a pretence, and that he never intended to give her to his son.

REFLECTIONS.—Jacob is still more unhappy in his children. We have here, Judah's ill conduct. He leaves his brethren, and gets a Canaanite friend, one Hirah: bad connections for young people are very dangerous; evil communications corrupt good manners. There he meets a Canaanitish woman, and marries her. How many a youth has been thus trepanned by idle companions into a scandalous marriage, not only to the wounding of their consciences, but to the ruin of their future peace! How much wiser they who consult their parents, and make them their friends!

Verse 12

Genesis 38:12. In process of time i.e.. After some years. Timnath was a town within the lot of the tribe of Judah, Joshua 15:57.

Verse 18

Genesis 38:18. Thy signet, and thy bracelets, &c.— By the signet is meant the ring wherewith he sealed. The word rendered bracelets signifies wreaths for the arm or neck, twisted collars, or bracelets. So the Latin torques, from torqueo, to twist. Aquila and Symmachus, who render it by στρεπτον from στρεφω, to turn or twist, preserve the idea. See Parkhurst's Lexicon.

REFLECTIONS.—They who have not the gift of continence should marry. We have here a shocking instance of the danger of fleshly lusts.

1. Tamar's wicked policy to ensnare either the father or the son. She had been kept in expectation of Shelah, but he was not given to her; therefore, on a day of festivity, when Judah's heart was open with wine and feasting on his shearing-day, she exposed herself as a harlot in an open place, and too grievously succeeded. Strange to think! From such a woman Jesus descends! Surely it was to shew that the vilest need not despair.
2. Judah's infamous lewdness: though ignorant of the incest, yet vile enough to turn in thus to one whom he supposed to be a common strumpet; such lessons he had learnt from his bad friend Hirah. He makes a scandalous purchase of these stolen pleasures, and with equal folly pledges his jewels for the payment. Note; (1.) They who buy a momentary enjoyment of their lusts, by everlasting torments in hell will be found to have made a foolish bargain indeed. (2.) When men are violently set on the gratification of their passions, they act as if infatuated, and expose themselves to every reproach.

3. His disappointment on sending the promised kid. The harlot is gone and his jewels lost. However, he desists from farther inquiry, lest his own shame should come out. Note; (1.) Most men are more concerned about their shame than their sin; lest we be ashamed, weighs more with them than lest we be damned: (2.) The day will come, however, when their folly shall be manifest unto all men, and everlasting shame shall cover the face of the lascivious.

Verse 28

Genesis 38:28, &c. And it came, &c.— This account is given to shew how the right of primogeniture was settled between these twin brothers. This breach against thee, (as it is in the margin of our Bibles,) Houbigant contends should be, that breach against US; he would read, עלינו aleinu, after the Samaritan, instead of עליךֶ aleca. See his note and Bishop Patrick's. Many are the mysteries which the fathers and other writers have drawn from this chapter. However, the sacred historian may well be justified for inserting this history; as, 1st, It affords a strong proof of his impartiality, which suffered him not to dissemble the faults of the great founders of his nation. 2nd, It is a plain proof that the covenant wherewith God honoured the patriarchs was not in reward of their merit. 3rdly, It is a monument very proper to beat down the haughtiness of a nation too proud of having Abraham for their father. And, lastly, To take away all boasting from a carnal birth, Christ descended lineally, as to the flesh, from Judah and Tamar. It is not without good reason, says Calmet, that the Holy Spirit permitted the names of Tamar, Rachah, and Bath-sheba, to be found in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 38". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/genesis-38.html. 1801-1803.
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