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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 38

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


THE FAMILY OF JUDAH, Genesis 38:1-30.

This chapter forms an essential part of the history of “the generations of Jacob.” Genesis 37:2. In that history “the two chief persons were Josephand Judah: Joseph, from his high character, his personal importance, his influence on the future destinies of the race, and his typical foreshadowing of the Messiah; Judah, from his obtaining the virtual right of leadership, and from his being the ancestor of David and of the Son of David. Hence at a natural pause in the history of Joseph, namely, when he had been now sold into Egypt and settled in Potiphar’s house, the historian recurs to the events in the family of Judah, which he carries down to the birth of Pharez, the next link in the ancestry of the Saviour. Thus he clears away all that was necessary to be told of the history of the twelve patriarchs, with the exception of that which was involved in the history of Joseph. There is also a remarkable contrast brought vividly out by this juxtaposition of the impure line of Judah and his children with the chastity and moral integrity of Joseph as seen in the succeeding chapter.” Speaker’s Commentary.

Verse 1

1. At that time During the time that Jacob dwelt in the land of his father’s sojournings . Genesis 37:1. It does not say after these things, as in Genesis 22:1; so that the exact point of time is altogether indefinite.

Judah went down from his brethren Went southward from Shechem, perhaps on some errand to his grandfather Isaac, and before Jacob had removed from Shechem.

Adullamite A native of Adullam, a city in the plain some distance north-west of Hebron, which is mentioned in Joshua 15:35, among the cities of Judah, and situated between Jarmuth and Socoh. Its site has not been ascertained, but Eusebius and Jerome mention it as lying to the east of Eleutheropolis. On the cave of Adullam, famous in David’s history, see 1 Samuel 20:1. Turned in to Not “pitched his tent up to,” or in the neighbourhood of, ( Keil,) but, as the word is used in Genesis 38:16, and often elsewhere, in the sense of turning aside unto. What inclined him thus to turn in we are not told. It appears that once upon a time Judah, in passing down to Hebron, for some reason, accepted the hospitality of this Adullamite, and saw there a woman who so excited his love for her that he at once took her in marriage.

Verse 2

2. A certain Canaanite This marriage with a Canaanitish woman was a source of many evils, and, to save his chosen people front complete affiliation with the heathen, and ruin from that cause, Jehovah brought them into Egypt, where years of bondage would prevent further contamination from them .

Shuah The father of Judah’s wife . See Genesis 38:12.

Verse 5

5. At Chezib Probably the same as Achzib, mentioned in Joshua 15:44, and Micah 1:14. This was probably at the modern Kusaba, fifteen miles southwest of Beit-jibrin . This mention of her bearing Shelah at Chezib intimates that Er and Onan were born elsewhere . Judah at this time probably led a wandering life, and his being with his brethren at Dothan (Genesis 37:26) does not involve, as Keil argues, that he was unmarried at that time .

Verse 7

7. Er… was wicked In what particular forms he showed his wickedness we are not told; but being the son of a Canaanitish woman, he probably imbibed, in his earliest years, the spirit of Canaanitish idolatry and vice, which was ever an abomination to Jehovah .

The Lord slew him Some sudden or fearful death that was recognised as a judgment stroke.

Verse 8

8. Seed to thy brother Here is the first mention of levirate marriage . See our notes on Ruth, at the beginning of chapter 3 . “The custom,” says Keil, “is found in different forms among Indians, Persians, and other nations of Asia and Africa, and was not founded upon a divine command, but upon an ancient tradition, originating probably in Chaldea . It was not abolished, however, by the Mosaic law, (Deuteronomy 25:5,) but only so far restricted as not to allow it to interfere with the sanctity of marriage; and with this limitation it was enjoined as a duty of affection to build up the brother’s house, and to preserve his family and name . ”

Verse 11

11. Lest… he die also Judah probably entertained some superstitious fear of Tamar, as if she were the cause of the death of his sons . Compare the story of Tobit . Genesis 3:7. But it was their wickedness, not hers, which caused their sudden death .

Verse 12

12. Went up… to Timnath Probably the Timnath of the Philistine valley, so famous in the history of Samson . Judges 14:1. If so, it was at the modern Tibeh, and must have been some eight or ten miles north of Adullam . There was also another Timnath in the mountains of Judah . See Joshua 15:57.

His friend Hirah Comp . Genesis 38:1. Note how intimate Judah had become with the Canaanites.

Verse 14

14. In an open place Rather, at the entrance of Enajim . This Enajim was probably the same as the Enam of Joshua 15:35, which is mentioned in connexion with Jarmuth and Adullam . This act of Tamar reveals the shameful state of morals among the Canaanites, and furnishes also the occasion of showing the strength of Judah’s sensuality, and his low life as compared with what we see in Joseph .

Verse 15

15. A harlot The word here used is זונה , the common Hebrew word for harlot . But Judah’s friend Hirah uses (Genesis 38:21) a different word, though our translators have rendered it just the same . There the Hebrew word is קדשׁה , a consecrated woman, that is, a woman consecrated to Astarte, the Canaanitish Venus; one who prostituted herself in the name of religion. Thus it appears that this abominable worship was at that time prevalent in Canaan, and Judah had become acquainted with its ways, though he did not call the woman thus devoted by the word that designated her as one sacred to Astarte. He regarded her as a prostitute, because she had covered her face, and he had come to know that this was the practice of women thus consecrated to lust. But to him she was only a harlot, while to his friend she was supposed to be a kedeshah.

Verse 18

18. Signet… bracelets These were probably a signet ring, suspended on a cord or band, ( פתיל ,) not bracelet, and worn upon the neck . So say Gesenius and Keil .

Verse 21

21. Openly by the wayside Rather, at Enajim on the way . See on Genesis 38:14.

Verse 23

23. Let her take it to her That is, let her keep what she has obtained . He feared the shame, contempt, and ridicule, which he would incur by further attempts to recover his signet and cord, and preferred to lose them .

Verse 24

24. Let her be burnt How ready, like David, (2 Samuel 12:5,) to condemn before he knows his own share of the guilt and shame! His words evidence the existence of a law of severest punishment for one guilty of such sins long before the law of Moses on the subject . Comp . Leviticus 21:9; Deuteronomy 20:21-24 .

Verse 26

26. More righteous than I “Judah not only saw his guilt, but he confessed it also, and showed, both by this confession and also by the fact that he had no further conjugal intercourse with Tamar, an earnest endeavour to conquer the lusts of the flesh, and to guard against the sin into which he had fallen . And because he thus humbled himself, God gave him grace, and not only exalted him to be the chief of the house of Israel, but blessed the children that were begotten in sin . ” Keil .

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 38". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-38.html. 1874-1909.
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