Judah and Tamar
38 It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and turned aside to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua. He took her and went in to her, and she conceived and bore a son, and he called his name Er. She conceived again and bore a son, and she called his name Onan. Yet again she bore a son, and she called his name Shelah. Judah was in Chezib when she bore him.
And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. And what he did was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and he put him to death also. Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow in your father’s house, till Shelah my son grows up”—for he feared that he would die, like his brothers. So Tamar went and remained in her father’s house.
In the course of time the wife of Judah, Shua’s daughter, died. When Judah was comforted, he went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. And when Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,” she took off her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, wrapping herself up, and sat at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she had not been given to him in marriage. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. He turned to her at the roadside and said, “Come, let me come in to you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” He answered, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” And she said, “If you give me a pledge, until you send it—” He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” She replied, “Your signet and your cord and your staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. Then she arose and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood.
When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite to take back the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her. And he asked the men of the place, “Where is the cult prostitute who was at Enaim at the roadside?” And they said, “No cult prostitute has been here.” So he returned to Judah and said, “I have not found her. Also, the men of the place said, ‘No cult prostitute has been here.’” And Judah replied, “Let her keep the things as her own, or we shall be laughed at. You see, I sent this young goat, and you did not find her.”
About three months later Judah was told, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has been immoral. Moreover, she is pregnant by immorality.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” And she said, “Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.
When the time of her labor came, there were twins in her womb. And when she was in labor, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” But as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out. And she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” Therefore his name was called Perez. Afterward his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah.
Genesis 38 Commentary
by Hank Workman
The story of Judah and Tamar peel back the cultural life in ancient times. By no means is it a good story on the moral front but shows how the life in Canaan and influence of the Canaanites was deeply rooted in the 12 sons of Jacob. After Tamar’s husband died, she was still childless. It was Judah’s duty to give one of his sons to her so she could have children. As the story reads, it didn’t happen and what feeble attempt to make it take place was hijacked. Desperate for a child, frustrated with Judah’s lack of concern as the patriarch of his own clan, she dressed as a prostitute in another town, lay with her unsuspecting father in law, became pregnant and had some of his personal items to prove who the father was. When word reached Judah that his daughter in law is pregnant, knowing that his own sons did not make this happen, he called for her to be brought out and killed. It was then she revealed who the father was – Judah himself.
The story is a bit unhinged. Yet, it reveals how before the beginning of the Israelites, they were mixing with their pagan culture and becoming part of their thinking and behavior. This was something God would call them out of again and again. But interestingly, this also shows God working ahead. Remember, by this time Joseph is in Egypt having been sold off as a slave. This strange story reveals how the spiritual state of what would be the 12 tribes needed an intervention. God working in Joseph’s placement would remove the entire clan from the influence of Canaan. Judah and Tamar are simply an example of where they were heading.
But there is something far more powerful than this. Tamar would give birth to twin boys, Perez and Zerah. And… are you ready? Perez is listed in the lineage of Jesus Christ found in Matthew 1.
God took this crazy story, wrapped up in cultural sin and put the outcome right in the family line of the Messiah Himself. What a picture of grace! What an encouragement that God chose to use these despite their mistake to have a role in His plan for redemption! He is doing the very same today with each of us. Praise God!
Genesis 38 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
Social media has become a giant in today’s culture. It’s a place you can project the best version of you. It’s a space where you can share your best pictures and your best life stories. It’s a world where you can be “friends” with someone even if you haven’t met them personally. Every view into a person’s life over social media is fairly one-sided. Let’s be honest… it’s a mirage.
Our God is an honest God. He isn’t like us. He presents the whole picture in vivid colors – the good, the bad and the ugly. Genesis 38 falls into the latter category.
The law of primogeniture states that inheritance is given by law, custom, or usage to the eldest son. It was an extremely important concept in Judaism as well as other surrounding nations. In fact, it was part of God’s instruction given to Moses. But truth be told, what we find is that God would continually work against the grain of the firstborn law.
He went against the grain when He chose Abel instead of Cain. He did it again when Jacob received the blessing instead of Esau. Here in Genesis 38, the younger twin (Perez) would continue the Messianic line. Later in Genesis, Joseph would reign over his family and become his older brothers’ only hope. Later in Scripture, David would be chosen as king over all of his older siblings. In the grand scheme of redemption, Israel (the firstborn) would reject the Messiah which would pave the way for the Gentiles (metaphorically younger) to be adopted into God’s family. Pretty amazing, right?
In less than ideal circumstances, God used flawed human choices to produce the glory of Jesus Christ. Oh, and yes, Jesus was a firstborn of all creation…
Colossians 1:15-16 HCSB He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For everything was created by Him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him.
He came to show humanity what a true firstborn Son should accomplish under His Father’s guidance. After witnessing a family history riddled with failed firstborn examples, the perfect firstborn Son stepped out of His Father’s throneroom to set all things in order. The “firstborn way” would have been to conquer all His enemies and reign victoriously for eternity. Once again, God chose the younger, humble, unlikely path. His firstborn Son would be slaughtered to save the world.