Judah and Tamar – Genesis 38

Judah and Tamar1 It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.  2 There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; he married her and went in to her,  3 and she conceived and bore a son, and he called his name Er.  4 Again she conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Onan.  5 Yet again she bore a son, and she called his name Shelah. She was in Chezib when she bore him.  6 And Judah took a wife for Er his first-born, and her name was Tamar.  7 But Er, Judah’s first-born, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him.  8 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.”  9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife he spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother.  10 And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD, and he slew him also.  11 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 dwelt in her father’s house. 

12  In course of time the wife of Judah, Shua’s daughter, died; and when Judah was comforted, he went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite.  13 And when Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,”  14 she put off her widow’s garments, and put on 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.  15 When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot, for she had covered her face.  16 He went over to her at the road side, 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?”  17 He answered, “I will send you a kid from the flock.” And she said, “Will you give me a pledge, till you send it?”  18 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.  19 Then she arose and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood. 

20 When Judah sent the kid by his friend the Adullamite, to receive the pledge from the woman’s hand, he could not find her.  21 And he asked the men of the place, “Where is the harlot who was at Enaim by the wayside?” And they said, “No harlot has been here.”  22 So he returned to Judah, and said, “I have not found her; and also the men of the place said, ‘No harlot has been here.’”  23 And Judah replied, “Let her keep the things as her own, lest we be laughed at; you see, I sent this kid, and you could not find her.” 

24 About three months later Judah was told, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has played the harlot; and moreover she is with child by harlotry.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.”  25 As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am with child.” And she said, “Mark, I pray you, whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.”  26 Then Judah acknowledged them and said, “She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not lie with her again. 

27 When the time of her delivery came, there were twins in her womb.  28 And when she was in labor, one put out a hand; and the midwife took and bound on his hand a scarlet thread, saying, “This came out first.”  29 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.  30 Afterward his brother came out with the scarlet thread upon his hand; and his name was called Zerah. Gen. 38:1-30

Judah was the forth son of Jacob, yet he was the progenitor of the line of the kings. The three sons before him had proved themselves unworthy of this honor. Rueben the first born slept with Jacob’s Concubine Bilhah [Gen. 35:22 ]. Simeon and Levi were skipped over because of the massacre at Shechem [Gen. 34]. So the scepter fell to Judah [Gen. 49:10], from David to Messiah.

In this little taught passage, everything seem backwards to the ways of God. No one mentioned is living by the laws of God. Judah has had children by a Canaanite wife. She is the daughter of Shua however she is never named. Which is odd, because most of the mothers of the kings of Judah names are given, whether they were just and good rulers or whether they did what was evil in the eyes of the LORD. But then none of the children from this marriage are in the line of the kings. Judah seems to have married this woman on the advice of his friend Hirah the Adullamite and not with the knowledge or approval of Jacob his father. Up till this generation the family had made of habit of going back to Armenia for brides.  Maybe Jacob feels this is now unwise because of the strained relations between him and Laban his uncle/father-in-law. His sons all seem to take women from the surrounding tribes. This mixed marriage of the chosen of God, to the cursed of God [Gen. 9:25-27], produces children of dubious character. From the Nephilim to Paul’s writing on “marriage to non believers” always this is forbidden. [2Cor. 6:14]

Judah’s first born is so wicked, God strikes him dead. He second son is selfish, so God strikes him dead as well. Interesting to note that Judah did not blame his sons deaths on their own sin, but rather on some superstitious notion that in someway Tamar was at fault. Parents are often blind to their children’s faults, in this way.

Now after all this, Tamar was a widow and as such was to be provided for. This is why the next brother is to raise up children for the dead brother. This is one of those passages that let us know that the law was in existence before Moses wrote it down.

5  “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside the family to a stranger; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.  6 And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his brother who is dead, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. Deut. 25:5 -6 

One of the reason for this is that the sons of the widow would then be able to provide for her in her old age. But Judah had not kept her with his family. He had sent her out of the house and back to her father. It is as if he were divorcing her from the family. [Deut 24] Tamar knew the law and what was due her. She does not make a fuss of the injustice, but quietly submits. Then plots. For all the deception and trickery by Tamar she is one of 3 women mention in the genealogy of Messiah [Matt 1]. The others are Rahab and Ruth. Tamar pretended to be a prostitute, Rahab was a prostitute, and Ruth was a Moabite. The Moabites were a people who’s form of worship was cult prostitution. In fact these three women who are mentioned, don’t get mentioned on this list for nothing. They were all from pagan backgrounds. None of them were from good families, of deep faith. These woman had boldly walked away from their pagan families and friends and openly attached themselves to a people who’s God was the LORD. These women had great faith. God does not care where we came from, or what we are, or what we may have done, for that matter. If you are His, you are His.

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.  9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Is. 55:8-9

After Judah’s wife dies. He goes on with his life and is off at the shearing. When Tamar hears of where he is, she lays a trap for him. She knew Judah the man. He must have been known for this kind of behavior, or at least since his wife’s death.  Why else did she dress as a prostitute? How else did she know that this subterfuge would work?

When Judah met her he thought she was a prostitute, but when Hirah the Adullamite went to  pay her, he was looking for a cult prostitute [Deut 23:18; Hos 4:14] .  This maybe because Judah has arranged to pay for the services, with “a kid from the flock”, which was sacred to the goddess of love [Tacitus. Hist. 2]

When Judah finds that Tamar is with child, he wants her burnt. A common form of punishment. [Lev. 21:9, Judg. 15:6, Jer. 29:22] Regrettably it is typical for men of stature to condemn most vociferously the sins that they are most attracted to themselves. It is the drunkard that condemns drink, it is the whore monger that condemns prostitution, it is the Gambler that condemns gambling etc. The men who are not beguiled by such things, never give these things a thought. If a spiritual leader gives one sermon after another denouncing the same sin, you can be sure that this is what they personally struggle with. If a politician wants a law controlling this activity or that activity, you can be sure he struggles with it himself.

For all Judah’s righteous indignation, it is his own sin that he is denouncing. It his own possessions that testify against him. He is the man [2 Sam. 12:7]. Let it be pointed out that Judah was with his brothers when they presented to their father false evidence of Joseph’s demise.

. . . and they sent the long robe with sleeves and brought it to their father, and said,  “This we have found; see now whether it is your son’s robe or not.” Gen. 37:32

Where Tamar’s evidence is not false.

As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am with child.” And she said, “Mark, I pray you, whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” Gen. 38:25

As He said, “She is more righteous than I.”

If she had not acted, Judah might not have received the kingship, and like his older brothers Rueben and Simeon may have been skipped over for the next in line,  which would have been Zebulun. In a way Tamar tricked him into receiving this blessing. Tamar’s actions were probably not born of getting even, they were born of deep faith that this was God’s people  She did not want to be left out of this blessing. Her only real sin was not trusting God to work out the details. Like Jacob she wanted the blessing. She was willing to do whatever it took to be in that line of faith.

Yes, the image of God and His bride was marred, However God worked out the details, to bring us a Messiah. A man not unlike us, with crazy relatives, and ancestors in His background, and yet the most perfect man that ever lived.


4 thoughts on “Judah and Tamar – Genesis 38

  1. Pingback: The Rape of Tamar, 2 Samuel 13 | The Song of Songs

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