Judah and Tamar

I. Judah moves to Adullam – Genesis 38:1-5 

A. Judah leaves his brethren – probably over Joseph.

1. “At that time” (38:1) ties the incident to the previous chapter.

2. “Went down from his brethren and turned in” is a significant clue.

a. The language implies “leaving” (as in breaking away).
b. The language implies “leaning on” his friend Hirah.

B. Hirah (Hebrew = “nobleman”) lives in Adullam.

1. Adullam is near Hebron (Jacob’s home) – about 8 miles.

2. Adullam is far enough away to insure independence.

3. Adullam provides separation from his brethren.

II. Judah marries the daughter of Shua, a Canaanite.

A. The marriage, apparently, is hasty and dysfunctional.

1. The selection was limited – Laban’s family is fully pagan.

2. The “daughter” is never named – and dies prematurely.

3. The last child is born in another city – indicating separation (38:5).

B. The marriage produces three children (Genesis 38:3-5)

1. Er, the firstborn, is named “the watcher” by Judah.

2. Onan, the middle son, is named “the strong one” by his mother.

3. Shelah, the last son, is also named by his mother.

C. The marriage gradually comes under control of the mother.

1. Judah’s wife is a Canaanite pagan.

a. There is no indication that she ever embraced YAHWEH.
b. There is growing influence with the children.

2. Judah tries to set the focus toward YAHWEH.

a. Er’s name, “the watcher”, would imply expecting the fulfillment of the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
b. Er’s wife, Tamar, was an apparent attempt to salvage Er.

3. Judah’s wife begins to dominate the marriage.

a. Er becomes “wicked in the sight of the LORD” (38:7).
b. Onan, refuses his duty and “displeased the LORD” (38:10).
c. Shelah is born in Chezib – another city away from Adullam.

III. Judah attempts to bring stability to his family (Genesis 38:6-10).

A. Tamar is selected by Judah for Er, the firstborn.

1. Er would have been the one to inherit the “blessings.”

2. Er, apparently, had no say in the selection of Tamar.

3. Er, apparently, refused to consummate the marriage.

4. Er’s wickedness (lifestyle, rebellion) resulted in his death.

B. Tamar is rejected and despised.

1. Er’s wickedness leaves Tamar widowed.

2. Onan’s flagrant rebellion humiliates and isolates Tamar.

a. Judah “orders” Onan to “raise up seed” for Er (38:8).
1) This custom was well established at that time (Code of Ur-Nammu, King of Ur, circa 2050 b.c.).
2) The younger brother was to produce an heir for the childless.
3) The Israelite law was later established under Moses (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).
b. Onan’s despicable act was “despised” by the Lord.
1) He “went in unto” Tamar – the act of marriage
2) He “spilled his seed” – conscious refusal to impregnate

3. Onan’s behavior results in his “execution” by the LORD.

a.   The judgment is not for sexual deviation.
b.   The judgment is for the willful disobedience to Judah and humiliation of Tamar – not for the “spilled seed”.

C. Onan’s behavior is used as a stereotype.

1. “Onanism” is the term used for masturbation.

2. Nocturnal emissions and coitus interruptus are loathed by many.

3. All are considered “sinful” by many.

4. The Bible is silent on these issues – except by implication when mental “lust” is involved (Matthew 5:28).

5. The Bible condemns sexual deviation (adultery, homosexuality, fornication, etc.) in the strongest terms.

IV. Judah’s involvement with Tamar (Genesis 38:11-19)

A. Tamar is sent to live with her father (Genesis 38:11).

1. Judah promises that Shelah (3rd son) will marry Tamar.

a. Shelah is still very young – probably a pre-teen
b. Judah is afraid that God will execute Shelah.

2. Tamar is told to “remain a widow” until later.

B. Judah’s wife dies prematurely (Genesis 38:12).

1. He is “comforted” – apparently rather quickly.

2. He journeys to Timnath for the sheep shearing festivities.

3. He is accompanied by his friend, Hirah.

C. Tamar learns of Judah’s situation and prepares to confront him.

1. She disguises herself with a veil and a cloak (38:14).

2. She “sat in an open place” – unusual phrase

a. Some translate: “gateway to Enaim”
b. Some commentaries: “open to the eyes”
c. Literally:  she “inhabited” (dwelled) in or at a “spring” (of water) by the “road side.”
d. It is possible that Tamar erected a tent in which to “dwell.”
e. Such “dwellings” were common of religious prostitutes.
f. Those practices continue across the world today.

D. Judah thinks that she is a “harlot” available for hire (38:15-19).

1. The play on words is significant.

a. Judah uses the common word for “whore” (ZANAH).
b. Hirah (the Canaanite friend) uses the word (CEDESHA).
1) Genesis 38:21-22 – there is no “one set apart” here.
2) Deuteronomy 23:17 and Hosea 4:14 are examples.

2. The clear implication is that Tamar has assumed that role.

E. Judah negotiates with Tamar for sexual pleasure.

1. The price is established as one “kid from the flock.”

2. The pledge of the price is worth much more than the price.

a. The “signet” is equivalent to a corporate seal or identity ring.
b. The “bracelets” (cords) that held the seal to Judah’s person
c. The “staff” (tribal staff) that identified his family

3. The act is consummated, Judah leaves, Tamar is impregnated

F. Judah sends Hirah to pay the “kid” for Tamar’s services (38:20-23).

1. He cannot find her anywhere.

2. He is told by the townspeople that there has never been a temple prostitute in that place.

3. He returns with the news, and Judah passes the incident away from his mind.

G. Judah later hears that Tamar is pregnant (38:24).

1. Tamar is “brought forth” and is three months along.

2. Tamar is to be “burnt.”

a. This is an unusually harsh death sentence.
b. This is later the sentence of a Priest’s daughter who becomes a temple prostitute of a Canaanite deity (Leviticus 21:9).
c. This implies that Judah understood something of the plans for Israel and the promise of a Messiah.

H. Judah is exposed as the father and the guilty party (Genesis 38:25-26).

1. Tamar produces the “pledge” and demands “discernment.”

2. Tamar is declared “more righteous” than Judah.

3. Tamar becomes a “single mother” under Judah’s protection.

V. Judah’s messianic line is established through Tamar.

A. Tamar is delivered of twin boys (Genesis 38:27-30).

1. Jacob and Esau have a similar birth.

2. Esau is first – Jacob is the chosen child

3. Zerah (firstborn) is “breached” by Perez.

4. Perez is the ancestor of King David.

B. Tamar is the first of four pagan women to be in the Messianic line.

1. Tamar, a Canaanite, is “more righteous” than Judah, and God uses her to fill the Judaic line for the Messiah.

a. Tamar, although cast off, sought inclusion with Israel.
b. Tamar, although sinful via our insights, was acting within the mores of that day.
c. Tamar was not condemned by Judah or by our Lord.

2. Rahab, a practicing Canaanite prostitute, was chosen to be included in the Messianic line.

a. Rahab sought protection under Israel and Israel’s God.
b. Rahab married Salmon, (Matthew 1:5) great-great grandfather of David.
c. Rahab is included in the heroes of faith (Hebrews 11:31).

3. Ruth, a cursed Moabitess, married Boaz after a dubious seduction.

a. Ruth gave birth to Obed, the grandfather of David.
b. Ruth is often cited as a faithful follower of Israel’s God.

4. Bathsheba, probably a Hittite (married to Uriah the Hittite), was the mother of Solomon.

a. Bathsheba allowed herself to be seduced by David (she was not an innocent victim).
b. Bathsheba was instrumental in saving the kingdom for Solomon.

5. It is worthy of note that God exercises His grace in all of our lives.  The inclusion of these women – in spite of their questionable behavior – demonstrates the total sovereignty of our Creator and His absolute forgiveness.

Ephesians 2:4-10

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:  That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

The Patriarchs
ch. 38


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