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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Genesis 38

 

 

Verses 1-30

EXPOSITION

Genesis 38:1

And it came to pass. The present chapter appears to interrupt the continuity of the narrative of Joseph's history. Partly on this account, and partly because the name Jehovah occurs in it (Genesis 38:7, Genesis 38:10), it has been pronounced a later Jehovistic interpolation (Tuch, Bleek, Davidson, Coleuso). Its design has been explained as an attempt to glorify the line of David by representing it as sprung from Judah (Bohlen), or to disclose the origin of the Levitate law of marriage among the Jews (Knobel); but the incidents here recorded of Judah and his family are fitted to reflect dishonor instead of glory on the ancestry of David (Havernick); and the custom here mentioned of raising up seed to a dead brother by marrying his widow, though the idea may have originated with Judah (Lange), is more likely to have descended from earlier times (Delitzsch, Keil). Rightly understood, the object of the present portion of the record appears to have been not simply to prepare the way for the subsequent (Genesis 46:8-27) genealogical register (Gerlach), or to contrast the wickedness of Judah and his sons with the piety and chastity of Joseph in Egypt (Wordsworth), or to recite the private history of one of Christ's ancestors (Bush, Murphy, 'Speaker's Commentary'), or to show that the pre-eminence of Judah in the patriarchal family was due exclusively to grace (Candlish), but also and chiefly to justify the Divine procedure in the subsequent deportation of Jacob and his sons to Egypt (Keil). The special danger to which the theocratic family was exposed was that of intermarrying with the Canaanites (Genesis 24:3; Genesis 28:6). Accordingly, having carried forward his narrative to the point where, in consequence of Joseph's sale, a way begins to open up for the transference of the patriarchal house to the lend of the Pharaohs, the historian makes a pause to introduce a passage from the life of Judah, with the view of proving the necessity of such removal, by showing, as in the case of Judah, the almost certainty that, if left in Canaan, the descendants of Jacob would fall before the temptation of marrying with the daughters of the land, with the result, in the first instance, of a great and rapid moral deterioration in the holy seed, and with the ultimate effect of completely obliterating the line of demarcation between them and the surrounding heathen world. How the purity of the patriarchal family was guarded till it developed into a powerful nation, first by its providential withdrawment in infancy from the sphere of temptation (Genesis 46:5), then by its separate establishment in Goshen beside a people who regarded them with aversion (Genesis 46:34), and latterly by its cruel enslavement under Pharaoh (Exodus 1:10), is a subject which in due course engages the attention of the writer. At that time.

Genesis 38:2

And Judah saw there the daughter of a certain (literally, of a man, a) Canaanite,—not of a merchant (Onkelos), but of an inhabitant of the land of Canaan—whose name was Shuah;—"Wealth," "Riches," "Cry for Help" (Gesenius). This was not the name of Judah's wife (LXX.), but of her father—(vide Genesis 38:12)—and he took her,—i.e. married her (viz. Genesis 6:2; Genesis 24:67)—and went in unto her.

Genesis 38:3

And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er—"Watcher" (Gesanius). What is commonly regarded as an idiosyncrasy of the Elohist, viz; the naming of a child by its father, here occurs in a so-called Jehovistic section.

Genesis 38:4

And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan—"Strength" (Gesenius). The naming of a child by its mother a peculiarity of the so-called Jehovist; but vide Genesis 16:15.

Genesis 38:5

And she yet again conceived (lit; and she added again), and bare a son; and called his name Shelah:—"Prayer" (Gesenius), "Peace" (Furst)—and he (i.e. Judah) wassc; absent (Gerlach); or, translating impersonally, it was, i.e. the event happened (Murphy)—at Chezib,—probably the same as Achzib (Joshua 15:44; Micah 1:14, Micah 1:15) and Chezeba (1 Chronicles 4:22), which in the partitioning of the land fell to the sons of Shelah, and was here mentioned that Shelah's descendants might know the birthplace of their ancestor (Keil); or the fact of Judah's absence at the birth of his third son may be recorded as the reason of the name, "Peace," "Rest, "Prosperity, which the child received (Gerlach)—when she bare him—literally, in her bearing of him.

Genesis 38:6

And Judah took a wife (cf. Genesis 21:21; Genesis 24:4) for Er his firstborn,—"by the early marriage of his sons Judah seems to have intended to prevent in them a germinating corruption (Lange)—whose name as Tamar—"Palm tree" (Gesenius). Though the name was Shemitic, it does not follow that the person was. Cf. Melchisedeck and Abimelech. Yet she is not expressly called a Canaanite, though it is more than probable she was. Lange conjectures that she may have been of Philistine descent, and thinks the narrative intends to convey the impression that she was a woman of extraordinary character.

Genesis 38:7

And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord. The connection between Er's name ( עֵר) and Er's character ( רַע) is noticeable. The special form which his wickedness assumed is not stated; but the accompanying phrase suggests that, as in the case of the Sodomites (Genesis 13:13; Genesis 19:5), it was some unnatural abomination. And the Lord slew him—literally, caused him to die; not necessarily by direct visitation; perhaps simply by allowing him to reap the fruits of his youthful indulgence in premature and childless death, which yet was so rapid and so evidently entailed by his evil courses as immediately to suggest the punitive hand of God.

Genesis 38:8

And Judah said unto Onan (obviously after a sufficient interval), Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her,—literally, and perform the part of levir, or husband's brother, to her. The language seems to imply that what was afterwards in the code Mosaic known as the Lex Leviratus (Deuteronomy 25:5, Deuteronomy 25:6) was at this time a recognized custom. The existence of the practice has been traced in different frames among Indians, Persians, and other nations of Asia and Africa—and raise up seed to thy brother. As afterwards explained in the Hebrew legislation, the first. born son of such a Levirate marriage became in the eye of the law the child of the deceased husband, and was regarded as his heir.

Genesis 38:9, Genesis 38:10

And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when—literally, and it was if, i.e. whenever—he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground (literally, destroyed to the ground), lest that he should (or, so as not to) give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased (literally, was evil in the eyes of) the Lord:—the word Jehovah is employed not because the writer was a late interpolator, but because the sin of Onan was an offence against the sanctity and prosperity of the theocratic family (Hengstenberg)—wherefore he (i.e. Jehovah) slew him also (vide supra).

Genesis 38:11

Then said Judah to Tamer his daughter-in-law, Remain a widowalmanah, from alam, to be solitary, forsaken, signifies one bereft of a husband, hence a widow (cf. Exodus 22:21)—at thy father's house (cf. Le Genesis 22:13), till Shelah my son be grown. It is implied that this was merely a pretext on the part of Judah, and that he did not really intend to give his third son to Tamar, considering her an unlucky woman (Delitzsch, Keil, Kalisch), or, at least, not at present, under the impression that the deaths of Er and Onan had been occasioned by their too early marriages (Lange). The reason of his failure to release Tamar from her widowhood is added in the ensuing clause. For he said (sc. in his heart), Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamer went and dwelt in her father's house.

Genesis 38:12

And in process of timeliterally, and the days were multiplied (cf. Genesis 4:3), which is rendered by the same words in the A.V.—the daughter of Shuah Judah's wife died; and Judah was comforted (or, comforted himself, ceased to mourn), and went up unto his sheep-shearers (vide Genesis 31:19) to Timnath,—a border town between Ekron and Bethshemesh (Joshua 15:10) in the plain of Judah (Kalisch, Wordsworth, W. L. Alexander in Kitto's 'Cyclopedia'); but more probably here a town (Joshua 15:57) in the mountains of Judah (Robinson, 2.343, Keil, Alford, 'Speaker's Commentary')—he and his friend—ὁ ποιμὴν αὐτοῦ (LXX.)—Hirah the Adullamite.

Genesis 38:13

And it was told Tamer, saying, Behold thy father in-lawחָם, a father-in-law, from חָמָה, unused, to join together. Of. γαμβρός for γαμερός, a son-in-law, or generally one connected lay marriage, from γαμέω—goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep.

Genesis 38:14

And she put her widow's garments off from her (to prevent detection by Judah), and covered her with a veil,—to conceal her features, after the fashion of a courtesan (Genesis 38:15; cf. Job 24:15)—and wrapped herself,—possibly with some large mantle (Alford)—and sat in an open place,—literally, in the opening (i.e. gate) of Enaim (LXX; Gesenius, Keil, Kalisch, Lange, et alii); less happily, in the opening of the eyes, i.e. in a public and open place (Calvin), in the parting of the ways, in bivio itineris (Vulgate), in the opening (or breaking forth) of the two fountains (Aben Ezra, Rosenmüller)—which is by (or upon) the way to Timnath;—"close to the site of Thamna, now Tibneh, three miles to the east, on an ancient road coming from Adullam, the very road by which the patriarch Judah would have come from Adullam to Timnah, is a ruin called Allin, or Anita, or Ainim" ('Palestine Exploration,' quoted by Inglis)—for she saw that Shelah was grown (he was probably not much younger than either of his brothers who had died), and she was not given unto him to wife—literally, for a wife.

Genesis 38:15

When (literally, and) Judah saw her, he (literally, and he) thought her to be an harlot;—literally, thought her (i.e. took her for) an harlot, like λογίζεσθαι τινα de r& (cf. 1 Samuel 1:13; Job 13:24), or to זוֹנָה (fem. part. of זָנַה, commit fornication); vide Genesis 34:31because she had covered her face—more meretricis.

Genesis 38:16

And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter-in-law). Though willing to commit adultery or fornication, Judah would have shrank from the sin of incest. And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me? The conduct of Tamer, though in every way reprehensible, is not to be attributed to mere lust, or inordinate desire for offspring, if not from the son Shelah, then from the father Judah, but was probably traceable to a secret wish on the one hand to be avenged on Judah, and on the other hand to assert her right to a place amongst the ancestresses of the patriarchal family. Yet Tamar was really guilty of both adultery and incest, though Lange thinks the wickedness of Er and Onan renders this open to question.

Genesis 38:17

And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock—literally, a kid of the goats (Genesis 38:20; cf. 15:1). And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it?—literally, if thou wilt give me a pledge until thy sending (sc. then I consent to thy proposal).

Genesis 38:18

.—And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet,—the chotham, or signet, was either worn on the finger, δακτυλίον (LXX.) or suspended round the neck by a pithil, or silk string. Its impression was a sign of property and a means of security (cf. Matthew 27:66; John 3:33; Ephesians 1:13, &c.). Among the ancient Babylonians it was customary for every one to wear such a ring (Herod; 1.195); and modern Arabians in towns wear a seal-ring on the finger, or fastened by a cord round the neck, the impression of which serves as a signature (Robinson, 1:52). The seals and signets that have been brought to light by the excavations in Assyria and Babylon are of various forms and materials. They show the art of engraving to have been of great antiquity; but whether Judah's signet was marked with alphabetical characters cannot be determined, though it may have been, since alphabetical writing was as old at least as the time of Abraham (vide Keil, 'Introd.,' Part I. sect. 1. ch. 1. § 4)—and thy bracelets (rather, thy chain, pithil, ut supra), and thy staff (the mateh, or rod, was so called from the idea of stretching out, the root being natah, to stretch out or extend) that is in thine hand. This too every Baby-Ionian carried (Herod; 1.195). "It was necessarily adorned with some device carved upon it, and consisting in a flower or a fruit, a bird, or some other animal" (Kalisch). And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him.

Genesis 38:19

And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood.

Genesis 38:20

And Judah sent the kid—literally, the kid of the goats, which he had promised (Genesis 38:17)—by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman's hand: but (literally, and) he (i.e. Hirah) found her not.

Genesis 38:21

Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot,—literally, the consecrated, the prostitute being regarded as "one devoted to the worship of Astarte, a goddess of the Canaanites, the deification of the generative and productive principle of nature," corresponding to the Babylonian Ashtarte, whose worship was of a grossly libidinous character (Herod; 1.199). Cf. Deuteronomy 23:19; Numbers 25:1; Hosed Numbers 4:14; and vide Keil on Deuteronomy 23:19 that was openly by the way side?—or, that was in Enajim on the way, ut supra, Deuteronomy 23:14). And they said, There was no harlot (or kedeshah) in this place.

Genesis 38:22

And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said, that there was no harlot (or kedeshah) in this place.

Genesis 38:23

And Judah said, Let her take it to her,—literally, let her take to herself (sc. the pledge)—lest we be shamed (literally, become a contempt, i.e. by inquiring after her. Though not afraid to sin against God, Judah was pained at the idea of losing his reputation before men): behold, I sent this kid (i.e. I take you to witness that I have fulfilled my premise), and thou hast not found her.

Genesis 38:24

And it same to pass about three months after (the usual time at which pregnancy is certainly determined), that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter-in-law hath played the harlot (or, acted as a zonah); and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said (altogether unmindful of his own iniquity three months previous), Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. Under the law stoning was the punishment allotted to the crime of Tamar (Deuteronomy 22:20-24), burning being added only in cases of excessive criminality (Le Genesis 20:14; Genesis 21:9). It is obvious that the power of life and death lay in the hand of Judah, as the head of his family.

Genesis 38:25

When she was brought forth (literally, she was brought forth, and), she sent to her father-in-law (who apparently had not the heart to witness the execution of his own sentence), saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets (or chain), and staff.

Genesis 38:26

And Judah acknowledged (or discerned, ut supra, i.e. recognized) them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I;—though Tamer was far from innocent (vide vex. 16), she was by no means as culpable as Judah—because that ( כִּי־עַל־כֵּן, for, for this cause, i.e. that so it might hap, pen to me: vide Genesis 18:5) I gave her not to Shelah my son. And (in token of his penitence) he knew her again no more.

Genesis 38:27

And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb. Cf. the case of Rebekah (Genesis 25:24).

Genesis 38:28

And it came to pass, when she travailed,—literally, in her bringing forth (cf. Genesis 35:17)—that the one put out his hand:—literally, and it (sc. the child) gave a hand, i.e. it was an abnormal and dangerous presentation—and the midwife (vide Genesis 35:17) took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first.

Genesis 38:29

And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she (i.e. the midwife) said, How hast thou broken forth! this breach be upon thee:—literally, What a breach hast thou made! upon thee, a breach, or, Why hast thou broken forth for thyself a breach (Delitzsch)? or, How hast thou made for thee a breach? (Murphy)—therefore his name was called Pharez—or Breach (cf. Genesis 46:12; Numbers 26:20; 1 Chronicles 2:4; Matthew 1:3).

Genesis 38:30

And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and hi, name was called Zarah—Splendor.

HOMILETICS

Genesis 38:1-30

The house of Judah: a family record of sin and shame.

I. THE WICKEDNESS OF ER AND ONAN.

1. Early. On any hypothesis Er and Onan can have been little more than boys when they were married, and yet they appear to have arrived at a remarkable precocity in sin. Nor was it simply that they had shed the innocence and purity of youth, but they had also acquired a shameful proficiency in vice. Young scholars are mostly apt learners, especially in the devil's school.

2. Unnatural. Though not described, the wickedness of Judah's first son had relation to some perversion of the ordinance of marriage; that of his second is plainly stated to have been uncleanness and self-pollution. Neither against nature nor contrary to grace are the endearments of the married state, but every act outside of the Divine permissions concerning woman is both.

3. Heinous. The act of Er is characterized as "wicked in the sight of the Lord," while that of Onan is said to have displeased the Lord. Hence it may be reasonably inferred that the essential criminality in both cases was the same. They were both perversions of a natural ordinance. They both militated against the purity and development of the theocratic family. Both indicated a contemptuous unbelief in the promise of the covenant, and a sacrilegious disregard for the calling of Israel as the progenitor of the promised seed. Hence both were deserving of Divine reprobation.

4. Disastrous. The tendency of all sin is ruinous, both for body, soul, and spirit. Whether as a natural result of indulgence in vice, or as a direct punitive visitation from God, Er and Onan were consigned to premature graves; and this, it should be noted by young persons of both sexes, is the almost inevitable consequence of indulgence in secret vice, and in particular of the practice of which Onan was guilty. Yielded to, it debilitates the physical constitution by a wasting of the vital powers, it impairs the mental faculties, it corrupts the moral nature, it sears and petrifies the conscience, and finally, what might have been a fair specimen of noble and virtuous manhood or womanhood it covers up, a poor, wasted, shivering skeleton, beneath the clods of the valley, causing it to lie down among the sins of its youth.

II. THE SIN OF TAMAR. The conduct of Judah's daughter-in-law, the young widow of Er and Onan, though not without its extenuations, in having been partly provoked by Judah's reluctance to marry her to Shelah, and partly inspired by a desire to take her place among the ancestresses of the promised seed, was yet in many respects reprehensible.

1. She discovered impatience. Although Judah did manifest a temporary unwillingness to give her Shelah for a husband, she might have reasoned that, after losing two sons, it was not unnatural that he should hesitate about exposing a third to the same risk of destruction.

2. She manifested unbelief. If Tamar did regard herself as wronged, as most undoubtedly she was, instead of taking measures to right herself, she should have left her cause to God, who had already vindicated her against the wickedness of her youthful husbands, and who in his own time and way would doubtless have interposed to assert her prerogative as a widow belonging to the family of Israel.

3. She practiced deception. Laying aside her widow's garments, and assuming the attire of a harlot, she took her station at the gate of Enajim, on the way to Timnath, and pretended to be a prostitute. Tamar manifestly was not a woman of refined and delicate sensibilities; but then she was a Canaanite, and had been the wife of Er and Onan, who were not calculated to improve her modesty.

4. She was guilty of temptation. It is true the narrative does not represent her as having been guilty of solicitation, like the "foolish woman" described by Solomon (Proverbs 7:6-23; Proverbs 9:14-18). Perhaps she knew that Judah would not require solicitation; but if so she was all the more guilty in placing temptation in Judah's way.

5. She committed incest. The guilt of an incestuous connection which rested on Judah unconsciously she had knowingly and willingly taken on herself.

III. THE TRANSGRESSIONS OF JUDAH. More numerous, if not more heinous, than those of either his sons or his daughter-in-law were the offences of Judah. Jacob's fourth son sinned—

1. In marrying a Canaanitish wife. Though Judah's marriage with Shuah's daughter was blessed by God, who made it fruitful, it does not follow that it was approved by God.

2. In withholding Shelah from Tamar. Although it does not appear as yet to have been commanded that in default of issue a widow should be married by her deceased husband's brother, it is obvious that Judah recognized that it should be so, both by his own act in giving Onan to Tamar after Er's death, and by his own subsequent confession with regard to Shelah (Genesis 38:26).

3. In deceiving Tamar. Instead of frankly telling her that he did not intend his third son to become her husband, he bound her to remain a widow, and sent her home to her father's house (instead of keeping her in his own) under the impression that Shelah was only withheld from her on the score of youth.

4. In committing sin with Tamar. Though in reality Judah committed incest, yet so far as his intention went it was only adultery, or fornication. Yet all forms of unchastity are forbidden in the law of God. And it gives a very low conception of the morality of Judah that he, a member of the consecrated family of Israel, who had himself been married, should have so openly, and deliberately, and coolly turned aside to seek the company of a common strumpet, as he imagined Tamar to be. Judah should have acted on the principle afterwards stated by Paul (1 Corinthians 7:9).

5. In condemning Tamar. "Bring her forth, and let her be burnt," said the indignant patriarch. It is obvious the sentence was excessive in its severity. It was not imperative, else it could not have been remitted; and a recollection of his visit to Timnath three months previously should have inclined him to lean to mercy's side. But the virtuous Angelos of society always procure indulgence for themselves by damning their fellow-sinners (Measure for Measure, Act II.). Scripture counsels differently (Matthew 7:3; Romans 2:22; Galatians 6:1).

Genesis 38:12-26

Judah's sin with Tamar.

I. COMMITTED.

1. Suddenly. It was occasioned by the sight of a supposed courtesan. Much evil enters by the eye (cf. 2 Samuel 11:2). Great need for the prayer of David (Psalms 119:37).

2. Openly. Judah was in the company of Hirah, his friend, when he beheld Tamar sitting in the gate of Enajim, and, without attempting to hide it from his friend, went to seek her society. Shamelessness in sin betokens great depravity.

3. Willfully. Though in a manner surprised by the temptation, Judah was not inadvertently betrayed into commission of his sin with Tamar, but, on the contrary, went about it in a remarkably deliberate manner.

4. Inexcusably. There was no reason why Judah should not have sought a second wife to succeed Shuah's daughter, rather than consort with prostitutes.

II. DETECTED.

1. Quickly. No doubt Judah thought he had heard the last of his indiscretion on the way to Timnath; but lo I in three short months his guilt is discovered. Not every offender is so speedily arrested; but sooner or later detection is inevitable for all. "Be sure thy sin will find thee out."

2. Unexpectedly. Judah never imagined that his own signet, and chain, and staff would be produced as witnesses against him; and criminals never can be sure from what quarter testimony shall arise to condemn them.

3. Completely. There was no possibility of Judah's evading the charge of Tamar. By no sort of ingenuity could he repudiate the articles of dress with which probably his household were familiar.

4. Publicly. At the very moment when Tamar was produced for execution Judah was obliged to confess his guilt in presence of his assembled household; and in like manner will the wicked yet be openly convicted in the sight of an assembled world.

III. CONFESSED.

1. Candidly. Found out, Judah did not attempt either to deny or to palliate his guilt, but frankly acknowledged that Tamar's condition was due to him.

2. Promptly. Nor did he hesitate to own his guilt, but immediately confessed what he had done.

3. Penitently. This we may infer from the statement of the historian that the offence was not again repeated.

IV. FORGIVEN. It does not fall within the scope of the historian's design to indicate whether Judah obtained mercy; but this may be reasonably concluded from—

1. The promptness of his confession.

2. The sincerity of his penitence.

3. The reality of his faith

as evinced by the fact that he was reckoned among the ancestors of our Lord.

Genesis 38:27-30

Tamar's twins.

I. POINTS OF RESEMBLANCE.

II. POINTS OF DISTINCTION.

HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD

Genesis 38:1-30

The goodness and severity of God.

These occurrences in the family of Judah would seem

Judah is a wanderer from his brethren; a sensual, self-willed, degenerate man; yet it is in the line of this same wanderer that the promised seed shall appear. The whole is a lesson on the evil of separation from the people of God. Luther asks why such things were placed in Scripture, and answers,

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Genesis 38:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/genesis-38.html. 1897.

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