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Series Theme: FRAMEWORKS: Genesis

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FRAMEWORKS: Genesis 38 Judah and Tamar


v.1-5 Judah's Family

v.6-10 Tamar becomes wife of one then the other son

v.11 Judah consigns Tamar to widowhood

v.12-14 Judah becomes a widower & Tamar takes advantage of this

v.15-19 Judah has sex with Tamar, she takes a ‘pledge'

v.20-23 Judah looks for the ‘prostitute' but she had gone

v.24-26 The truth comes to light when Tamar is pregnant

v.27-30 Tamar has twin boys



v.1-5 Judah's Family


v.1 At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah.

v.2,3 There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and made love to her; she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was named Er.

v.4 She conceived again and gave birth to a son and named him Onan.

v.5 She gave birth to still another son and named him Shelah. It was at Kezib that she gave birth to him.


[Notes: We now find an aside to Joseph's story which sheds some light on the way the family lived. Judah moves away from the rest of the family and marries a Canaanite woman [that would no doubt have been against Jacob's wishes if he followed the family understanding of God's calling] and has three sons by her.



v.6-10 Tamar becomes wife of one then the other son


v.6 Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar.

v.7 But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the Lord 's sight; so the Lord put him to death.

v.8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother's wife and fulfil your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.”

v.9 But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother.

v.10 What he did was wicked in the Lord 's sight; so the Lord put him to death also.


[Notes: As they grow up, Judah get a wife for the oldest of the three, Er, a girl named Tamar. The first son dies and Judah, following cultural practice (and later adopted in the Law of Moses – see Deut 25:5-11 and applied in the case of Ruth & Boaz – see Ruth 2:20, 4:1-10) required the second son to step up and take responsibility for Tamar but this he failed to do, failing to continue the family line. He too dies.]



v.11 Judah consigns Tamar to widowhood


v.11 Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father's household until my son Shelah grows up.” For he thought, “He may die too, just like his brothers.” So Tamar went to live in her father's household.


[Notes: The third son is obviously still too young to marry and so Judah put her off with an excuse.]



v.12-14 Judah becomes a widower & Tamar takes advantage of this


v.12 After a long time Judah's wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Judah had recovered from his grief, he went up to Timnah, to the men who were shearing his sheep, and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went with him.

v.13,14 When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,” she took off her widow's clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife.


[Notes: Some while later Judah's own wife dies and as Tamar clearly believes he is not living up to his responsibilities in respect of her, she dresses, disguised as a prostitute.]



v.15-19 Judah has sex with Tamar, she takes a ‘pledge'


v.15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face.

v.16 Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.” “And what will you give me to sleep with you?” she asked.

v.17 “I'll send you a young goat from my flock,” he said. “Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?” she asked.

v.18 He said, “What pledge should I give you?” “Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,” she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him.

v.19 After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow's clothes again.


[Notes: Judah lays with her and she makes him give her some ‘tokens' of identity to ensure he eventually pays her his debt to her. She then returns to normal life without him realising what has happened.]



v.20-23 Judah looks for the ‘prostitute' but she had gone


v.20 Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back from the woman, but he did not find her.

v.21 He asked the men who lived there, “Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?” “There hasn't been any shrine prostitute here,” they said.

v.22 So he went back to Judah and said, “I didn't find her. Besides, the men who lived there said, ‘There hasn't been any shrine prostitute here.'”

v.23 Then Judah said, “Let her keep what she has, or we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you didn't find her.”


[Notes: Judah searches for her but can't find who he thinks he is looking for.]



v.24-26 The truth comes to light when Tamar is pregnant


v.24 About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.” Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”

v.25 As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”

v.26 Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again.


[Notes: When it becomes obvious that Tamar is expecting a baby, Judah acts self-righteously saying she should be punished for lying with another man. She reveals what has happened and he is shamed as he realizes he had not fulfilled his duty towards her.]



v.27-30 Tamar has twin boys


v.27 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb.

v.28 As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.”

v.29 But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, “So this is how you have broken out!” And he was named Perez. [Perez means breaking out.]

v.30   Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out. And he was named Zerah. [Zerah can mean scarlet or brightness]


[Notes : Thus Perez and Zerah are born, Perez is considered the older by what happened and becomes part of the family tree leading from Abraham to David – see Ruth 4:18-22. Tamar also gets a place in the Messianic family line – see Mt 1:3]



Lessons or Challenges to Ponder from Genesis Chapter 38


This chapter is an aside that we suggest is never told in children's Sunday School! Behind the story is the law of the kinsman-redeemer established in Deut 25:5-10 and also seen in the story of Ruth & Boaz (Ruth 2 & 4), a law that sought not only to preserve the family name but also protect and provide for widows. The mass abandonment of wives and mothers by unrighteous partners in the twenty-first century is a guilty stain before God on twenty-first century life. In ways that might seem strange to us today, Tamar is eventually the one who is described as righteous and gets her name in the family tree of the Messiah (Mt 1:3). It is a chapter that challenges us to think about righteous behaviour and care for those within our family groupings.



Continue to Chapter 39