GE ESIS 38 COMME TARY
EDITED BY GLE PEASE
Judah and Tamar
1 At that time, Judah left his brothers and went
down to stay with a man of Adullam named
BAR ES, "This strange narrative is an episode in the history of Joseph; but an
integral part of the “generations” of Jacob. It is loosely dated with the phrase “at that
time.” This does not indicate a sequel to the preceding record, the proper phrase for
which is “after these things” (האלה חדברים אחר 'achar hade
bārıym hâ'ēleh Gen_22:1). It
implies rather a train of events that commenced at least in the past, some time before the
closing incident of the previous narrative Gen_21:22. But the sale of Joseph, which alone
is recorded in the last chapter, only occupied some few weeks or months of a year.
Hence, the circumstances contained in this memoir of Judah’s family must have taken
their rise before that event. The date “at that time,” is rendered indefinite also by being
attached to the phrase, “And it came to pass,” which covers at least all the events in the
first eleven verses of the chapter.
All this is in accordance with the customary mode of arranging parallel lines of events
in Hebrew narrative. We shall see reason afterward for placing the birth of Er at as early
a date as possible in the life of Judah Gen_46:12. Now Judah, we conceive, was born
when his father was eighty-seven, and Joseph when he was ninety-one, and hence, there
is a difference about four years in their ages. We suppose Er to have been born in
Judah’s fourteenth year, when Joseph and Dinah were in their tenth, and therefore,
about three years before the rape of Dinah, and shortly after Jacob arrived at the town of
Shekem. The dishonor of Dinah, and the cruel treatment of Joseph, being of essential
moment in the process of things, had to be recorded in the main line of events. The
commencement of Judah’s family, having no particular influence on the current of the
history, is fitly reserved until the whole of the circumstances could be brought together
into a connected narrative. And the private history of Judah’s line is given, while that of
the others is omitted, simply because from him the promised seed is descended. As soon
as Jacob is settled in the promised land, the contact with Hebron and its neighborhood
seems to have commenced. A clear proof of this is the presence of Deborah, Rebekah’s
nurse, in Jacob’s family Gen_35:8. The great thoroughfare from Damascus to Egypt
runs through Shekem and Hebron, and we know that when Jacob was residing at
Hebron, his sons fed their flocks at Shekem and Dothan, and the youthful Joseph was
sent to inquire after their welfare.
Judah marries and has three sons. “Went down from brethren.” This seems to have
been an act of willful indiscretion in Judah. His separation from his brethren, however,
extends only to the matter of his new connection. In regard to property and employment
there seems to have been no long or entire separation until they went down into Egypt.
He went down from the high grounds about Shekem to the lowlands in which Adullam
was situated Jos_15:33-35. “A certain Adullamite.” He may have become acquainted
with this Hirah, when visiting his grandfather, or in some of the caravans which were
constantly passing Shekem, or even in the ordinary wanderings of the pastoral life.
Adullam was in the Shephelah or lowland of Judah bordering on Philistia proper. “A
certain Kenaanite.” This connection with Shua’s daughter was contrary to the will of God
and the example of his fathers. Onan was born, we conceive, in Judah’s fifteenth year,
and Shelah in his sixteenth.
At Kezib. - This appears the same as Akzib, which is associated with Keilah and
Mareshah Jos_15:44, and therefore, lay in the south of the lowland of Judah. This note
of place indicates a change of residence since her other children were born. In the year
after this birth the dishonor of Dinah takes place. “Took a wife for Er.” Judah chose a
wife for himself at an early age, and now he chooses for his first-born at the same age.
“Was evil in the eyes of the Lord.” The God of covenant is obliged to cut off Er for his
wickedness in the prime of life. We are not made acquainted with his crime; but it could
scarcely be more vile and unnatural than that for which his brother Onan is also visited
with death. “And be a husband to her.” The original word means to act as a husband to
the widow of a deceased brother who has left no issue. Onan seems to have been
prompted to commit his crime by the low motive of turning the whole inheritance to his
own house. At the time of Er’s death Judah must have been in his twenty-seventh year;
Joseph was consequently in his twenty-third, and Jacob had for ten years past had his
headquarters at Hebron. Hence, the contact with Timnah, Adullam, and Enaim was
CLARKE, "And it came to pass at that time - The facts mentioned here could
not have happened at the times mentioned in the preceding chapter, as those times are
all unquestionably too recent, for the very earliest of the transactions here recorded must
have occurred long before the selling of Joseph. Mr. Ainsworth remarks “that Judah and
his sons must have married when very young, else the chronology will not agree. For
Joseph was born six years before Jacob left Laban and came into Canaan; Gen_30:25,
and Gen_31:41. Joseph was seventeen years old when he was sold into Egypt, Gen_37:2,
Gen_37:25; he was thirty years old when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, Gen_41:46.
And nine years after, when there had been seven years of plenty and two years of famine,
did Jacob with his family go down into Egypt, Gen_41:53, Gen_41:54, and Gen_45:6,
Gen_45:11. And at their going down thither, Pharez, the son of Judah, whose birth is set
down at the end of this chapter, had two sons, Hezron and Hamul, Gen_46:8, Gen_
46:12. Seeing then from the selling of Joseph unto Israel’s going down into Egypt there
cannot be above twenty-three years, how is it possible that Judah should take a wife, and
have by her three sons successively, and Shelah the youngest of the three be
marriageable when Judah begat Pharez of Tamar, Gen_38:14, Gen_38:24, and Pharez
be grown up, married, and have two sons, all within so short a space? The time therefore
here spoken of seems to have been soon after Jacob’s coming to Shechem, Gen_33:18,
before the history of Dinah, Genesis 34, though Moses for special cause relates it in this
place.” I should rather suppose that this chapter originally stood after Genesis 33, and
that it got by accident into this place. Dr. Hales, observing that some of Jacob’s son must
have married remarkably young, says that “Judah was about forty-seven years old when
Jacob’s family settled in Egypt. He could not therefore have been above fifteen at the
birth of his eldest son Er; nor Er more than fifteen at his marriage with Tamar; nor could
it have been more than two years after Er’s death till the birth of Judah’s twin sons by
his daughter-in-law Tamar; nor could Pharez, one of them, be more than fifteen at the
birth of his twin sons Herron and Hamul, supposing they were twins, just born before
the departure from Canaan. For the aggregate of these numbers, 15, 15, 2, 15, or 47 years,
gives the age of Judah; compare Genesis 38 with Gen_46:12.” See the remarks of Dr.
Kennicott, at Gen_31:55 (note). Adullamite - An inhabitant of Adullam, a city of Canaan,
afterwards given for a possession to the sons of Judah, Jos_15:1, Jos_15:35. It appears
as if this Adullamite had kept a kind of lodging house, for Shuah the Canaanite and his
family lodged with him; and there Judah lodged also. As the woman was a Canaanitess,
Judah had the example of his fathers to prove at least the impropriety of such a
GILL, "And it came to pass at that time,.... This some refer to the time of Jacob's
coming from Padanaram into Canaan, soon after he came to Shechem, and before the
affair of Dinah; but to this may be objected the marriage of Judah at an age that may
seem too early for him, his separation from his brethren, and having a flock of his own to
keep, which seems not consistent with the above history: wherefore it is better to
connect this with the history of Joseph's being sold into Egypt; for though there were but
twenty three years from hence to Jacob's going down into Egypt, Joseph being now
seventeen, and was thirty years when he stood before Pharaoh, after which were seven
years of plenty, and two of famine, at which time Jacob went thither with two of Judah's
grandsons, Hezron and Hamul, Gen_46:12, which make the number mentioned; yet all
this may be accounted for; at seventeen, Er, Judah's firstborn, might marry, being the
eighteenth from the selling of Joseph, and the marriage of his father; and Onan at the
same age, which was the nineteenth; and allowing two or three years for Tamar's staying
for Shelah, there was time for her intrigue with Judah, and bearing him two sons at a
birth, before the descent of Jacob into Egypt; as for his two grandsons, they may be said
to go into Egypt; as Benjamin's sons did in their father's loins, being begotten there
during Jacob's abode in it:
that Judah went down from his brethren: not from Dothan to Adullam, as Ben
Melech observes, as if this separation was at the time and place of the selling of Joseph;
but rather from Hebron thither, after he and his brethren were come home to their
father, and had reported and condoled the death of Joseph; and Judah is said to go
down, because he went from the north to the south, as Aben Ezra notes; whether this
departure from his brethren was owing to a misunderstanding or quarrel between them
on account of the affair of Joseph, or on any account, is not certain:
and turned in to a certain Adullamite; an inhabitant of Adullam, a city which
afterwards fell to the tribe of Judah, and where was a famous cave, that had its name
from thence in David's time; it was ten miles from Eleutheropolis to the east (i), and
eight from Jerusalem to the southwest (k); hither he turned, or stretched out (l); that is,
his tent, with his flock, which he extended to Adullam, as Ben Melech interprets it, and
joined to this man:
whose name was Hirah; whom the Jews (m) fabulously report to be the same with
Hiram king of Tyre, in the days of David and Solomon, and that he was the husband of
Nebuchadnezzar's mother, and lived twelve hundred years.
HE RY 1-11, "Here is, 1. Judah's foolish friendship with a Canaanite-man. He went
down from his brethren, and withdrew for a time from their society and his father's
family, and got to be intimately acquainted with one Hirah, an Adullamite, Gen_38:1. It
is computed that he was now not much above fifteen or sixteen years of age, an easy prey
to the tempter. Note, When young people that have been well educated begin to change
their company, they will soon change their manners, and lose their good education.
Those that go down from their brethren, that despise and forsake the society of the seed
of Israel, and pick up Canaanites for their companions, are going down the hill apace. It
is of great consequence to young people to choose proper associates; for these they will
imitate, study to recommend themselves to, and, by their opinion of them, value
themselves: an error in this choice is often fatal. 2. His foolish marriage with a
Canaanite-woman, a match made, not by his father, who, it should seem, was not
consulted, but by his new friend Hirah, Gen_38:2. Many have been drawn into
marriages scandalous and pernicious to themselves and their families by keeping bad
company, and growing familiar with bad people: one wicked league entangles men in
another. Let young people be admonished by this to take their good parents for their
best friends, and to be advised by them, and not by flatterers, who wheedle them, to
make a prey of them. 3. His children by this Canaanite, and his disposal of them. Three
sons he had by her, Er, Onan, and Shelah. It is probable that she embraced the worship
of the God of Israel, at least in profession, but, for aught that appears, there was little of
the fear of God in the family. Judah married too young, and very rashly; he also married
his sons too young, when they had neither wit nor grace to govern themselves, and the
consequences were very bad. (1.) His first-born, Er, was notoriously wicked; he was so in
the sight of the Lord, that is, in defiance of God and his law; or, if perhaps he was not
wicked in the sight of God, to whom all men's wickedness is open; and what came of it?
Why, God cut him off presently (Gen_38:7): The Lord slew him. Note, Sometimes God
makes quick work with sinners, and takes them away in his wrath, when they are but just
setting out in a wicked course of life. (2.) The next son, Onan, was, according to the
ancient usage, married to the widow, to preserve the name of his deceased brother that
died childless. Though God had taken away his life for his wickedness, yet they were
solicitous to preserve his memory; and their disappointment therein, through Onan's
sin, was a further punishment of his wickedness. The custom of marrying the brother's
widow was afterwards made one of the laws of Moses, Deu_25:5. Onan, though he
consented to marry the widow, yet, to the great abuse of his own body, of the wife that he
had married, and of the memory of his brother that was gone, he refused to raise up seed
unto his brother, as he was in duty bound. This was so much the worse because the
Messiah was to descend from Judah, and, had he not been guilty of this wickedness, he
might have had the honour of being one of his ancestors. Note, Those sins that
dishonour the body and defile it are very displeasing to God and evidences of vile
affections. (3.) Shelah, the third son, was reserved for the widow (Gen_38:11), yet with a
design that he should not marry so young as his brothers had done, lest he die also.
Some think that Judah never intended to marry Shelah to Tamar, but unjustly suspected
her to have been the death of her two former husbands (whereas it was their own
wickedness that slew them), and then sent her to her father's house, with a charge to
remain a widow. If so, it was an inexcusable piece of prevarication that he was guilty of.
However, Tamar acquiesced for the present, and waited the issue.
JAMISO , "Gen_38:1-30. Judah and family.
at that time — a formula frequently used by the sacred writers, not to describe any
precise period, but an interval near about it.
K&D, "About this time, i.e., after the sale of Joseph, while still feeding the flocks of
Jacob along with his brethren (Gen_37:26),
(Note: As the expression “at that time” does not compel us to place Judah's
marriage after the sale of Joseph, many have followed Augustine (qusaet. 123), and
placed it some years earlier. But this assumption is rendered extremely improbable,
if not impossible, by the fact that Judah was not merely accidentally present when
Joseph was sold, but was evidently living with his brethren, and had not yet set up an
establishment of his own; whereas he had settled at Adullam previous to his
marriage, and seems to have lived there up to the time of the birth of the twins by
Thamar. Moreover, the 23 years which intervened between the taking of Joseph into
Egypt and the migration of Jacob thither, furnish space enough for all the events
recorded in this chapter. If we suppose that Judah, who was 20 years old when
Joseph was sold, went to Adullam soon afterwards and married there, is three sons
might have been born four or five years after Joseph's captivity. And if his eldest son
was born about a year and a half after the sale of Joseph, and he married him to
Thamar when he was 15 years old, and gave her to his second son a year after that,
Onan's death would occur at least five years before Jacob's removal to Egypt; time
enough, therefore, both for the generation and birth of the twin-sons of Judah by
Thamar, and for Judah's two journeys into Egypt with his brethren to buy corn. (See
Judah separated from them, and went down (from Hebron, Gen_37:14, or the
mountains) to Adullam, in the lowland (Jos_15:35), into the neighbourhood of a man
named Hirah. “He pitched (his tent, Gen_26:25) up to a man of Adullam,” i.e., in his
neighbourhood, so as to enter into friendly intercourse with him.
CALVI , "1.And it came to pass at that time, that Judah. Before Moses proceeds in
relating the history of Joseph, he inserts the genealogy of Judah, to which he devotes
more labor, because the Redeemer was thence to derive his origin; for the
continuous history of that tribe, from which salvation was to be bought, could not
remain unknown, without loss. And yet its glorious nobility is not here celebrated,
but the greatest disgrace of the family is exposed. What is here related, so far from
inflating the minds of the sons of Judah, ought rather to cover them with shame.
ow although, at first sight, the dignity of Christ seems to be somewhat tarnished
by such dishonor: yet since here also is seen that “emptying” of which St. Paul
speaks, (138) it rather redounds to his glory, than, in the least degree, detracts from
it. First, we wrong Christ, unless we deem him alone sufficient to blot out any
ignominy arising from the misconduct of his progenitors, which offer to unbelievers
occasion of offense. Secondly, we know that the riches of God’s grace shines chiefly
in this, that Christ clothed himself in our flesh, with the design of making himself of
no reputation. Lastly, it was fitting that the race from which he sprang should be
dishonored by reproaches, that we, being content with him alone, might seek
nothing besides him; yea, that we might not seek earthly splendor in him, seeing that
carnal ambition is always too much inclined to such a course. These two things,
then, we may notice; first, that peculiar honor was given to the tribe of Judah,
which had been divinely elected as the source whence the salvation of the world
should flow; and secondly, that the narration of Moses is by no means honorable to
the persons of whom he speaks; so that the Jews have no right to arrogate anything
to themselves or to their fathers. Meanwhile, let us remember that Christ derives no
glory from his ancestors; and even, that he himself has no glory in the flesh, but that
his chief and most illustrious triumph was on the cross. Moreover, that we may not
be offended at the stains with which his ancestry was defiled, let us know that, by
his infinite purity, they were all cleansed; just as the sun, by absorbing whatever
impurities are in the earth and air, purges the world.
BE SO , "Genesis 38:1. At that time — That is, about that time; this expression, as
also the words then, in those days, often referring in Scripture to a considerable
space of time. For though these words, as Le Clerc well observes, seem to connect
the following events with those spoken of in the former chapter, yet some of them,
particularly Judah’s marriage, which leads to the rest, must have happened long
before Joseph was sold into Egypt. This chapter must therefore be here placed out
of the order of time, and the events here recorded must have happened soon after
Jacob came from Mesopotamia into Canaan, though Moses, for some special
reasons, relates them in this place. Judah went down from his brethren —
Withdrew for a time from his father’s family, and got intimately acquainted with
one Hirah an Adullamite. When young people that have been well educated, begin
to change their company, they will soon change their manners, and lose their good
education. They that go down from their brethren, that forsake the society of the
seed of Israel, and pick up Canaanites for their companions, are going down the hill
COFFMA , "Introduction
The next event recorded in the [~toledowth] of Jacob is the continuity of the
Messianic line through Judah by Tamar his daughter-in-law. The weakness and
nobility, alike, of Judah appear in this somewhat sordid narrative. His immorality
while away from home was shameful, but his acknowledgement of his sin and his
acceptance of the consequences represented in him a type of honor absolutely
unknown to the tribal leaders of that era.
One cannot fail to be amazed that critical scholars generally denominate this
chapter as "a completely independent unit," and that, "It has no connection with
the story of Joseph." Of course, it is true that this chapter is unrelated to the
story of Joseph, for the section is the [~toledowth] of Jacob, not Joseph, and with
relationship to the subject of the whole section it is definitely not a completely
independent unit. It pertains very significantly to the story of Jacob in his capacity
as the head of the Chosen ation.
The immoral conduct of Judah, here related, shows why it was necessary for God to
remove Israel from the pagan environment where they lived. As Leupold accurately
" o matter how strongly Jacob's sons may have believed in the divine destiny of
their family, they were in grave danger of being submerged by the Canaanite
element, making matrimonial alliances with them, adopting Canaanite ideals of life,
and so being ultimately absorbed by the dominant element."
This danger was compounded and multiplied by the friendly nature of the pagan
Canaanites who sought alliances and matrimonial connections with Israel. Thus, we
can easily see why it was absolutely necessary for God to remove the whole people
from that environment, as was definitely accomplished by their transfer to Egypt.
"The Egyptians of old were noted for their aversion to strangers, especially
shepherds (Genesis 46:34)." If the Lord had left Israel in Canaan, they would
most certainly have fallen "before the temptation of marrying with the daughters of
the land, resulting in a great and rapid moral deterioration in the holy seed."
Furthermore, there would eventually have disappeared completely the line of
demarcation between God's people and the pagan world in which they lived. How
marvelous was the providence of God that removed His people from a situation in
which they would surely have failed, to another, in which their temptations were
offset by the aversion in which the Egyptians held them!
From these observations, it is clear enough that the episode of this chapter is a vital
link in the [~toledowth] of Jacob. We appreciate the wise words of Willis on this:
"Although Joseph is the chief character in these chapters (Genesis 37-50), these
chapters deal with the family of Jacob." Keil also affirmed that, "This chapter is
no interpolation, but an integral part of the history of Israel."
This chapter deals with matters that cannot be the subject of social conversation,
but they are honestly and plainly set forth. As Dummelow said, "The honesty and
truthfulness of the historian are shown in his not concealing the dark spots in the
history of Judah, whose descendants attained such greatness."
TAMAR CO TI UES THE MESSIA IC LI E
"And it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down from his brethren, and
turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah."
"At that time..." From this, some have concluded that all of the following incidents
occurred shortly after the sale of Joseph into Egypt, just related. Keil reached this
conclusion, as did also Willis; but we have concluded that such a conclusion is not
necessary. As Speiser said, "The Hebrew phrase here is formulaic." and thus
used merely as an introductory remark. We agree with Skinner (without accepting
his reasons) that, "We cannot tell when or where the separation took place."
Whitelaw has fully discussed the chronological problems involved in any effort to
nail down any firm placement, as to time, when these events happened.
COKE, "Genesis 38:1. And it came, &c.— Moses relates this transaction because it
concerned the principal end which his history had in view; namely, to transmit the
genealogy of Christ, who descended from Abraham by Judah; see Matthew 1:3. Le
Clerc observes: "Though these words seem to connect the following events with the
former chapter, yet some of them, particularly Judah's marriage, which leads to the
rest, must have happened long before Joseph was sold into AEgypt; and both Judah
and his children too must have married young, else the chronology will not agree;
for Joseph was born six years before Jacob came into Canaan," ch. Genesis 30:25.
Genesis 31:41. When he was sold into AEgypt, he was seventeen years old, ch.
Genesis 37:2; Genesis 37:28. He was thirty, when he interpreted Pharaoh's dream,
ch. Genesis 41:46. And nine years after, when there had been seven years plenty,
and two years famine, did Jacob, with his family, go down into AEgypt, ch. Genesis
41:53-54. Genesis 45:6; Genesis 45:11. And at their going down thither, Pharez, the
son of Judah, (whose birth is set down in the end of this chapter,) had two sons,
Hezron and Hamul, ch. Genesis 46:8-12. Seeing then, that from the selling of Joseph,
until Israel's going down into AEgypt, there cannot be above three-and-twenty
years, how is it possible that Judah should take a wife, have by her three sons, one
after another, that Shelah, the youngest of the three, should be marriageable when
Judah begat Pharez of Tamar, Genesis 38:14; Genesis 38:24. and Pharez be grown
up, married, and have two sons, all within so short a space as three-and-twenty
years? This chapter must therefore be placed out of the order of time; and the
events here recorded must have happened soon after Jacob came from Mesopotamia
into Canaan, though Moses, for some special reasons, relates them in this place. We
may add, that the words then, in those days, at that time, often refer in Scripture to
a considerable space of time, Deuteronomy 10:8. 2 Kings 20:1. Matthew 3:13;
Matthew 25:1. See ch. Genesis 46:12.
A certain Adullamite— An inhabitant of the city Adullam, which lay to the west of
Hebron, and will be found frequently spoken of in the history of David. Shuah
(whose daughter Judah met with at the house of the Adullamite) was a Canaanite;
consequently this connection was highly blameable in Judah.
LA GE, "GE ERAL PRELIMI ARY REMARKS
The story here narrated is not, as Knobel supposes, an insertion in Joseph’s history,
but a parallel to it, considered from the one common point of view as the story of the
sons of Israel. According to the previous chapter, Joseph (that Isaiah, Ephraim)
appeared to be lost; here Judah, afterwards the head tribe, appears also to be lost.
But as in the history of the apparently lost Joseph there lay concealed the marks of a
future greatness, so must we look for similar signs in the history of Judah’s
apparent ruin. Parallel to Joseph’s spiritual ingenuousness, patience, hopeful trust
in the future, appears Judah’s strong and daring self-dependence, fulness of life,
sensuality combined with strong abstinence, besides the sense of justice which leads
him to acknowledge his guilt. Examine it more closely, and we cannot fail to trace a
strong feature of theocratic faith. It is a groundless conjecture of Knobel, that the
object of this narrative was to show the origin of the levirate law among the Jews,
that required the brother of a husband who died without issue to take the widow to
wife, and that the firstborn of this connection should stand in the toledoth, or
genealogical lists, in the name of the deceased, Deuteronomy 25:5; Matthew 22:23;
Ruth 4. See Winer on “Levirate Marriage.” The law in question is of a later date,
and needed no such illustration. The custom here mentioned, however, might have
existed before this time (see Delitzsch, p534). But why could not the idea have
originated even in Judah’s mind? Besides this, Knobel presents chronological
difficulties. They consist in this, namely, that in the period from Joseph’s abduction
to Jacob’s migration into Egypt—about twenty-three years—Judah had become not
only a father, but a grandfather by his son Pharez (according to Genesis 46:16).
ow Judah was about three years older than Joseph, and, consequently, not much
above twenty at his marriage, provided he had intended it at the time when Joseph
was carried off. On account of this difficulty, and of one that follows, Augustine
supposes that Judah’s removal from the parental home occurred several years
previous. But this is contradicted by the fact of his presence at the sale of Joseph
(see Keil, p246); whilst the remark of Delitzsch, that “such early marriages were not
customary in the patriarchal family,” is of no importance at all, besides its leaving
us in doubt whether it was made in respect to Judah’s own marriage, or the early
marriage of his nephews. “Jacob,” he says, “had already attained to the age of
seventy-seven years,” etc. In reply to this, it may be said, that early marriages are
evidently ascribed to other sons of Jacob ( Genesis 46), though these children, it is
probable, were for the most part born in Egypt. Between the patriarchs and the sons
of Israel there comes a decisive turning-point: earlier marriages—earlier deaths (see
Genesis 50:20). evertheless, the twenty-three years here are not sufficient to allow
of Pharez having two sons already at their close. Even the possibility that Pharez
and Zarah were born before the migration to Egypt, is obtained only from the
supposition that Judah must have married his sons very early. Supposing that they
were seventeen or eighteen years old, the reason for so early a marriage may have
been Judah’s knowledge of Er’s disposition. He may have intended to prevent evil
by his marriage, but he did not attain his object. The marriage of Onan that
resulted from this was but a consequence of the first; and, in fact, Onan’s sin seems
to indicate a youthful baseness. Judah, however, might have made both journeys to
Egypt whilst his own family was still existing. With respect to Judah’s
grandchildren, it is an assumption of Hengstenberg (Authentic, p354), that they
were born in Egypt, and that they are considered to have come to Egypt, as in their
fathers, together with Jacob (Delitzsch, p538). According to Keil, the aim of our
narrative is to show the three principal tribes of the future dynasties in Israel, and
the danger there was that the sons of Jacob, through Canaanitish marriages, might
forget the historic call of their nation as the medium of redemption, and so perish in
the sins of Canaan, had not God kept them from it by leading them into Egypt. It
must be remarked, however, that, in this period, it was with difficulty that such
marriages with Canaanitish women could be avoided, since the connection with
their relations in Mesopotamia had ceased. Undoubtedly the beginning of
corruption in Judah’s family, was caused by a Canaanitish mode of life, and thereby
the race was threatened with death in its first development; but we see, also, how a
vigorous life struggles with, and struggles out of, a deadly peril.
EXEGETICAL A D CRITICAL
1. Judah’s separation, his marriage, and his sons ( Genesis 38:1-5).—And Judah
went down.—He parted from his brethren at the time they sold Joseph. It was not,
as in the case of Esau, the unbridled impulse of a rude and robust nature that
prompted him prematurely to leave his paternal home, though he showed thereby
his strong self-reliance. On account of his frank disposition, Judah could not long
participate in offering, as his brethren did, false consolations to his aged father (
Genesis 37:35). It weighs upon him that he cannot tell the true nature of the case
without betraying his brethren; and it is this that drives him off, just as his grudge
against those who had involved him in their guilt separates him from their company.
Besides, a bitter sadness may have come upon him on account of his own purpose,
though meant for good. Thus he tries to find peace in solitude, just as a noble-
minded eremite or separatist, leaves a church that has fallen into corruption. Like
his antitype, the ew-Testament Judas, but in a nobler spirit, does he try to find
peace, as he did, after having sold his Lord. In a similar manner did the tribe of
Judah afterwards keep its ground against the ten tribes in their decline and ruin.
The question now arises, whether Judah went down from the Hebron heights in a
westerly direction towards the Mediterranean Sea, to the plain of Sarepta, as
Delitzsch and Knobel suppose, or eastward toward the Dead Sea, where, according
to tradition, the cave of Adullam lay ( 1 Samuel 22:1), in which David concealed
himself from Saul. Chezib ( Genesis 38:5) was situated east from Hebron, if it be
identical with Ziph of the desert of Ziph. Timnath, according to Josephus15:57, was
situated upon the heights of Judah, and could be visited as well from the low
country in the east, as from that of the north. If, according to Eusebius and
Hieronymus, Adullam lay ten Roman miles, or four leagues, east of Eleutheropolis
(Beitdschibrin), this statement again takes us to the mountains of Judea. It Isaiah,
therefore, doubtful. Still it is worthy of note that David, like his ancestor, once
sought refuge in the solitude of Adullam.—And turned in to, etc.—“ֵטיַּו and he
pitched, namely, ,אהלו his tent, Genesis 26:25, close by (ַדע) a Prayer of Manasseh,
belonging to the small kingdom of Adullam ( Joshua 12:15) in the plain of Judah (
Joshua 15:35).” Delitzsch. This settlement indicates friendly relations with Hirah.
o wonder that Hirah gradually yields himself, as a servant, to the wiser Judah.
Here Judah marries a Canaanite woman. This should be noted in respect to Judah,
who became afterwards the principal tribe, as also in respect to Simeon ( Genesis
46:10), because it would be least expected of him, zealous as he was for the
Israelitish purity in the murder of the Shechemites. Without taking into view the
unrestrained position of Jacob’s sons, this step in Judah might be explained from a
transient fit of despair respecting Israel’s future. In the names of his three sons,
however, there is an intimation of return to a more hopeful state of mind.—Er,
Onan, Shelah (see 1 Chronicles 2:3).—The place of Shelah’s birth is mentioned,
because there remained of him descendants who would have an interest in knowing
their native district.
PETT, "Verses 1-10
Judah Falls Further Into Sin (Genesis 38:1-30).
The compiler’s purpose in the insertion of this separate account of Judah’s private
life here is to demonstrate that Judah, having betrayed Joseph (and Jacob) by
instigating the selling of him to the Midianites, now as a consequence continues on a
downward path. Thus the one who suggested selling Joseph to the Midianites
demonstrates even more clearly his unworthiness by his subsequent behaviour
which the compiler possibly sees as the fruit of his primary sin against Joseph.
It is interesting that all the oldest sons of Leah have now been discredited in Jacob’s
eyes. Reuben because of his taking of his father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22), Simeon
and Levi because they slew the men of Shechem (Genesis 34:30), and now Judah for
marrying a Canaanite woman and breaking his oath to Tamar.
But why should the account have been written in the first place? It is not a covenant
narrative and it is not part of the story of Joseph. The answer may well be that it is
a kind of covenant narrative in the sense that it is a record of Tamar’s vindication
after trial, a record necessary to maintain her position in the tribe. She would want
it in writing for it is her vindication before all.
‘And it happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and turned
in to a certain Adullamite whose name was Hirah. And Judah saw there a daughter
of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua, and he took her and went in unto her.
And she conceived and bore a son and he called his name Er. And she conceived
again and bore a son and called his name Onan. And she yet again bore a son and
called his name Shelah, and he was at Chezib when she bore him.’
“Went down from his brothers.” He goes to see a friend, Hirah an Adullamite.
Adullam was a Canaanite city, later in the territory of Judah (Joshua 12:15). This
emphasises his Canaanite associations. Then he compounds his position by
marrying a Canaanite woman. This could only add to Jacob’s grief of heart, for he
would undoubtedly have looked on this as going against the covenant. The lesson is
that if we follow sin it will lead us and our children deeper and deeper into trouble.
It is not necessary to see this as signifying separation from the family tribe. There is
no suggestion that he takes flocks and herds with him. It is a private friendship. And
his visits to Shua to meet his daughter, under the guise of visiting his friend Hirah,
may well have been in secret.
or does he necessarily lead a separate life from his brothers when he is married.
While the marriage would be a shock to Jacob (compare Genesis 26:34-35) it was
not a reason for his son leaving the family tribe. There is nothing to suggest that
Judah did not bring his wife into the tribe. The point is rather stressed that he
begets three sons, for this explains the following narrative. It is only when it comes
to the third birth that we are told where he was. Chezeb is probably the same as
Achzib, later a town of Judah, in the lowland hills. And there is nothing in this to
cast doubt on the fact that he continued to work alongside his brothers. If they took
the herds and flocks to Shechem they could also take them to Chezeb.
Later, however, we do read of ‘his sheep shearers’ (Genesis 38:12) which may
suggest a level of independence. But we might expect the sons as they grow older to
exert their authority independently, even establishing sub-groups within the tribe.
(But not necessarily. These sheep shearers may simply represent the group he was in
charge of at the time. The flocks were very extensive). Yet if this is so it is many
years later when his wife has died after two of his children have grown up.
But what is significant is that the name of his wife is never mentioned, she is only
‘Shua’s daughter’ (Genesis 38:12). It is as though what follows puts her beyond the
pale in the eyes of the writer. This may have been because she was seen as such an
evil influence on her sons (see following).
GUZIK, "A. Tamars widowhood and Judahs unfairness.
1. (1-5) Judah and his three sons.
It came to pass at that time that Judah departed from his brothers, and visited a
certain Adullamite whose name was Hirah. And Judah saw there a daughter of a
certain Canaanite whose name was Shua, and he married her and went in to her. So
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. And she conceived yet again and bore a
son, and called his name Shelah. He was at Chezib when she bore him.
a. Judah departed from his brothersAnd Judah saw there a daughter of a certain
Canaanite whose name was Shua, and he married her: Through an ungodly and
unwise marriage to a Canaanite woman Judah fathered three sons: Er, Onan, and
i. The Canaanite neighbors were rapidly corrupting the family of Israel. Their
future looked like a combination of corruption and assimilation. God had a plan to
bring them out of Canaan.
b. Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite: Judah, the fourth-born son of
Jacob through Leah (Reuben, Simeon, and Levi were before him) had not yet
distinguished himself as someone great among his brothers. He was the one who
suggested they sell Joseph into slavery (Genesis 37:26).
PULPIT, "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.
BI 1-7, "Judah
The character of Judah -
I. FAITHLESSNESS TOWARDS GOD.
1. In his separation from his brethren (Gen_38:1).
2. In his marriage with an idolater (Gen_38:2).
II. A STRONG SENSUAL NATURE (Gen_38:12-18).
III. AN UNDERLYING SENSE OF JUSTICE.
IV. SELF-DEPENDENCE. (T. H. Leale.)
The lessons of Judah’s history
I. GOD’S CAUSE HAS IN IT THE SEEDS OF TRIUMPH EVEN WHEN IT SEEMS TO
II. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ON THE SIN OF UNCHASTITY.
III. THIS HISTORY HAS AN IMPORTANT BEARING UPON GOD’S PURPOSE OF
SALVATION. Considered in regard to God’s redeeming purpose, this history shows—
1. That God’s election is by grace. Otherwise Judah would not have been chosen as
the ancestor of Christ. It shows—
2. The native glory of Christ, He derives all His glory from Himself, and not from His
ancestry. It shows—
3. The amazing condescension of Christ. The greatest and most shameful sinners are
found in His birth-register. (T. H. Leale.)
1. Arbitrary is the Spirit of God in recording times of events; therefore careful should
we be to search them.
2. Wanton forward youths are apt to leave their station, brethren, and fathers, where
they should be ruled.
3. Such averseness from duty inclines foolish hearts to lose acquaintance. So it was
4. Wanton youths choose to be familiar with worldly companions in lust rather than
to be with a good father.
5. Names of men and places of miscarriage by the sons of the Church are noted for
6. In bad company, and out of men’s places usually, are offered baits of temptation.
7. Wanton hearts have wanton eyes by which they are carried out to evil.
8. Daughters of the Canaanites may please the eyes of the sons of Jacob to misguide
9. Violence of lust drives men to take their delights, never desiring leave of God or
10. Lust desires no better marriage than a carnal enjoyment of its pleasure.
11. Lust fears no law of God that forbids Jacob’s seed to marry with Canaanites
(Gen_38:2). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. Such as have been disobedient to parents are not willing their children should be
such to them.
2. It is the father’s right to provide and give wives to their sons.
3. It is natural for fathers to care mainly for the first-born son.
4. Providence orders wives from strangers to be registered in His Church for His
5. The first-born of men’s hopes may prove most wicked, and greatest crosses.
6. It is height of wickedness to dare the Lord to His face.
7. God Himself turneth executioner to avenge Himself upon daring sinners.
8. Premature death is determined sometimes and executed upon obstinate wicked
sinners. (G. Hughes, B. D.)
Judah had taken to wife the daughter of a Canaanite, no doubt to the grief and regret of
his father (Gen_26:35); he had done what hitherto every member of the chosen
branches of Abraham’s house had scrupulously avoided; for even the sanguinary deed of
Simeon and Levi had been dictated by the desire of preserving the purity of their family.
He left his brothers and went to Adullam. This is a town in the plain of Judah, south-
west of Jerusalem, mentioned together with Jarmuth and Sochoh, or with Libnah and
Makkedah; it is one of the most ancient cities, and enjoyed an existence of unusual
duration; for in the time of the Hebrew conquest it was the seat of a Canaanitish king; a
cave in its neighbourhood was the refuge of David from the persecutions of Saul; here
his relatives joined him; here he assembled around his person a large number of
distressed but resolute men; and here he met a part of the Philistine army. Adullam was
fortified by Rehoboam; it was later counted among the important cities of Judah; it was
still inhabited after the exile; and existed even in the time of the Maccabees. (M. M.
Kalisch, Ph. D.)
2 There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite
man named Shua. He married her and made love
GILL, "And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite,.... Onkelos and
Jonathan, and so Jarchi and Ben Gersom, interpret it a "merchant", to take off the
disgrace of his falling in love with, and marrying a Canaanitish woman, which was
forbidden by his ancestors Abraham and Isaac, and which his father avoided:
whose name was Shuah; not the name of the woman he married, but the name of
her father, as appears from Gen_38:12; and who very probably was a man of note in the
and he took her; to be his wife, with her and her father's consent, not by force:
and went in unto her; cohabited with her as his wife.
JAMISO , "And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite — Like
Esau [Gen_26:34], this son of Jacob, casting off the restraints of religion, married into a
Canaanite family; and it is not surprising that the family which sprang from such an
unsuitable connection should be infamous for bold and unblushing wickedness.
There Judah married the daughter of Shuah, a Canaanite, and had three sons by her:
Ger (ר ֵ,)ע Onan, and Shelah. The name of the place is mentioned when the last is born,
viz., Chezib or Achzib (Jos_15:44; Mic_1:14), in the southern portion of the lowland of
Judah, that the descendants of Shelah might know the birth-place of their ancestor. This
was unnecessary in the case of the others, who died childless.
CALVI , "2.And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite. I am not
satisfied with the interpretation which some give of “merchant” to the word
Canaanite. For Moses charges Judah with perverse lust, because he took a wife out
of that nation with which the children of Abraham were divinely commanded to be
at perpetual strife. For neither he nor his other brethren were ignorant that they
sojourned in the land of Canaan, under the stipulation, that afterwards their
enemies were to be cut off and destroyed, in order that they might possess the
promised dominion over it. Moses, therefore, justly regards it as a fault, that Judah
should entangle himself in a forbidden alliance; and the Lord, at length, cursed the
offspring thus accruing to Judah, that the prince and head of the tribe of Judah
might not be born, nor Christ himself descend, from this connection. This also ought
to be numbered among the exercises of Jacob’s patience, that a wicked grandson
was born to him through Judah, of whose sin he was not ignorant. Moses says, that
the youth was cut off by the vengeance of God. The same thing is not said of others
whom a sudden death has swept away in the flower of their age. I doubt not,
therefore, that the wickedness, of which death was the immediate punishment, was
extraordinary, and known to all men. And although this trial was in itself severe to
the holy patriarch; yet nothing tormented his mind more than the thought, that he
could scarcely hope for the promise of God to be so ratified that the inheritance of
grace should remain in the possession of wicked and abandoned men. It is true that
a large family of children is regarded as a source of human happiness. But this was
the peculiar condition of the holy patriarch, that, though God had promised him an
elect and blessed seed, he now sees an accursed progeny increase and shoot forth
together with his offspring, which might destroy the expected grace. It is said, that
Er was wicked in the sight of the Lord, (Genesis 38:7.) otwithstanding, his iniquity
was not hidden from men. Moses, however, means that he was not merely infected
with common vices, but rather was so addicted to crimes, that he was intolerable in
the sight of God.
COFFMA , "Verse 2
"And Judah saw there the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua;
and he took her, and went in unto her."
Without consulting his father, and with total disregard of the Canaanite nature of
Shua's daughter, Judah simply took her. That he actually married her appears in
Genesis 38:12. God could not have been pleased with this union of the prince of
Israel, destined to receive the birthright of Jacob, with one of the women of Canaan.
It is stated in the previous verse that Judah "went down"; and it is clear that he not
only descended to a lower level, geographically, but that he also descended to a
lower level spiritually.
LA GE, "2. The marriage of the sons with Thamar. It may, at least, be said of
Thamar, that she is not expressly called Canaanitish. If we could suppose a westerly
Adullam, she might have been of Philistine descent. By the early marriage of his
sons, Judah seems to have intended to prevent in them a germinating corruption.
That he finds Thamar qualified for such a state, that beside her Er appears as a
criminal, whose sudden death is regarded as a divine judgment (then Onan
likewise), and all this, taken in connection with the fact that, after the death of both
sons, she hoped for the growing-up of the third, Shelah, seems to point her out as a
woman of extraordinary character.—Till Shelah my son be grown.—According to
Knobel (Delitzsch and Keil), Judah regarded Thamar as an unlucky wife (comp.
Tobit 3:7), and was, therefore, unwilling to give to her the third Song of Solomon,
but kept putting her off by promises, thus causing her to remain a widow. This,
however, is inconsistent with Judah’s character, and is not sustained by the text. It
is plainly stated that Judah postponed Shelah’s marriage to Thamar becaused he
feared that he might die also. It was not superstition, then, according to the analogy
of later times, but an anxiety founded on the belief that the misfortune of both his
sons might have been connected with the fact of their too early marriage, that made
the reason for the postponement of his promise.—In her father’s house.—Thither
widows withdrew ( Leviticus 22:13).
3 she became pregnant and gave birth to a son,
who was named Er.
BAR ES, "
HE RY, "
JAMISO , "
COFFMA , "Verses 3-5
"And she conceived and bare a son; and he called his name Er. And she conceived
again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan. And she yet again bare a son,
and called his name Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bare him."
It is of interest that Judah named Er, but that his wife named the other sons. Morris
gave the names this meaning: "Er means watcher; Onan means strong; and the
meaning of Shelah is not known." one of these first three sons of Judah was
destined to receive the birthright, in all probability, because of the pagan persuasion
of their mother. There might have been a strong aversion on the part of the mother
to Judah's choice of Tamar, evidently a believer in God, as the bride for her sons.
Certainly, there was some reason why neither Er nor Onan consented to have a
child by Tamar.
4 She conceived again and gave birth to a son and
named him Onan.
GILL, "And she conceived again, and bare a son,.... As soon as she well could:
and she called his name Onan; the first son Judah gave the name to, but his wife
named this, so called from grief or sorrow; the reason of it, according to the above
Targum, was,"because his father would mourn for him;''he was a Benoni, see Gen_
35:18, whose sin and immature death caused sorrow.
HAWKER, "Chezib means a lie, deceit. It was a little village. Jos_15:44; Mic_1:14-15.
HE RY, "
JAMISO , "
CALVI , "
5 She gave birth to still another son and named
him Shelah. It was at Kezib that she gave birth to
CLARKE, "And he was at Chezib when she bare him - This town is supposed
to be the same with Achzib, which fell to the tribe of Judah, Jos_15:44. “The name,” says
Ainsworth, “has in Hebrew the signification of lying; and to it the prophet alludes, saying
the houses of Achzib shall be (Achzab) a lie to the kings of Israel, Mic_1:14.”
GILL, "And she conceived, and bare a son,.... A third son:
and called his name Shelah; which signifies tranquil, quiet, peaceable and
prosperous, and is a word that comes from the same root as Shiloh, that famous son of
Judah that should spring from him, Gen_49:10 the reason of the name, as given by the
Targum, is,"because her husband forgot her:"
and she was at Chezib when she bare him; Chezib is the name of a place, by some
taken to be the same with Achzib or Ecdippe, now Zib, see Mic_1:14; it seems to be a city
in the tribe of Judah; and Jerom (n) says, in his time there was a desert place of this
name near Adullam, on the borders of Eleutheropolis; the reason of her being here at the
time of her delivery, and of this circumstance being related, is not certain.
COKE, "Genesis 38:5. He was at Chezib— The name of a place not far distant from
Adullam and Mamre, thought to be the same with Achzib, Joshua 15:44. Moses
mentions Judah's absence when this child was born, probably as the reason why his
wife gave names to the third as well as the second son; whereas he himself named
the first, Joshua 15:3. See Patrick. The Vulgate, Grotius, and others, make Chezib
an appellative, and render it, She gave over bearing when she had borne him. The
word signifies lying; and to this signification the prophet alludes, Micah 1:14. The
houses of Achzib shall be (Achzab) a lie. See Ainsworth.
PULPIT, "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)
was—sc; 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.
6 Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her
name was Tamar.
GILL, "And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn,.... Chose one for him, and
presented her to him for his liking, whom he approving of married:
whose name was Tamar; which signifies a "palm tree": the Targum of Jonathan says,
she was the daughter of Shem; but it is altogether improbable that a daughter of his
should be living at this time, and young enough to bear children: it is much more
probable that she was daughter of Levi, Judah's brother, as an Arabic writer (o) asserts;
but it is more likely still that she was the daughter of a Canaanite, who was living in the
same place, though his name is not mentioned, Gen_38:11.
When Ger was grown up, according to ancient custom (cf. Gen_21:21; Gen_34:4) his
father gave him a wife, named Thamar, probably a Canaanite, of unknown parentage.
But Ger was soon put to death by Jehovah on account of his wickedness. Judah then
wished Onan, as the brother-in-law, to marry the childless widow of his deceased
brother, and raise up seed, i.e., a family, for him. But as he knew that the first-born son
would not be the founder of his own family, but would perpetuate the family of the
deceased and receive his inheritance, he prevented conception when consummating the
marriage by spilling the semen. ה ָצ ְרፍ ת ֵח ִ,שׁ “destroyed to the ground (i.e., let it fall upon
the ground), so as not to give seed to his brother” (ּןתְנ for ת ֵ only here and Num_20:21).
This act not only betrayed a want of affection to his brother, combined with a despicable
covetousness for his possession and inheritance, but was also a sin against the divine
institution of marriage and its object, and was therefore punished by Jehovah with
sudden death. The custom of levirate marriage, which is first mentioned here, and is
found in different forms among Indians, Persians, and other nations of Asia and Africa,
was not founded upon a divine command, but upon an ancient tradition, originating
probably in Chaldea. It was not abolished, however, by the Mosaic law (Deu_25:5.), but
only so far restricted as not to allow it to interfere with the sanctity of marriage; and with
this limitation it was enjoined as a duty of affection to build up the brother's house, and
to preserve his family and name (see my Bibl. Archäologie, §108).
COFFMA , "Verse 6
"And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar."
Whereas, Judah had married without parental consent, he nevertheless chose a wife
for Er, no doubt having seen what a mistake he had made in his own marriage. The
childless state of that union with Er can only be explained on the basis of Er's
objection to the union, which we have supposed was due to the pagan convictions of
his mother. Although it is assumed by most scholars that Tamar was also a
Canaanite. evertheless, it appears that Judah had won her over to an acceptance
of God. The blessings that she later received, in fact, would be proof of this. It is
apparent that our narrative here conveys the impression that Tamar was a woman
of remarkably fine character, despite her deceiving Judah.
COKE, "Genesis 38:6, &c. ame was Tamar— It is not said who or of what family
Tamar was, though it is most probable she was a Canaanitess; nor does it appear
what was the crime of Er; enormous enough, no doubt, to draw down so exemplary
a punishment from God. It is plain, from this transaction, that the practice which
Moses afterwards enacted into a law, Deuteronomy 25:5 was of ancient standing:
the same custom prevailed among the AEgyptians. The crime of Onan shews a
peculiarly malignant disposition, Deuteronomy 25:9.; and it is probable, that bad as
it was in itself, yet his sin was aggravated with a worse circumstance, viz. his having
an eye to the suppressing of the MESSIAH's birth, since he should not have the
honour to be numbered among his ancestors, which might provoke GOD to cut him
off. See Univ. Hist. Acts of self-pollution were always held peculiarly criminal, even
by heathen moralists. The Hebrew doctors looked upon them as a degree of murder.
PETT, "Genesis 38:6-10
‘And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. And Er,
Judah’s firstborn was wicked in the sight of Yahweh, and Yahweh slew him. And
Judah said to Onan, “Go into your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a
husband’s brother to her, and raise up seed to your brother.” And Onan knew that
the seed would not be his. And it came about that when he went in to his brother’s
wife he spilled it on the ground lest he should give seed to his brother. And the thing
which he did was evil in the sight of Yahweh and he slew him also.’
We find here the fruit of the difference between the culture of the family tribe and
the culture of the Canaanites. It is clear that the family tribe practised the custom of
Levirate marriage. According to this custom, which is described later in
Deuteronomy 25:5-10 and illustrated in the Book of Ruth, a brother of a man who
dies childless has a duty to marry his brother’s wife and go in to her to produce
children on his brother’s behalf, and those children are seen as his brother’s. It was
a law known and practised elsewhere. But Onan refused to accept the custom,
possibly because his mother has brought him up in the Canaanite religion, and he
took steps to ensure it did not work. o faithful member of the family tribe would
have dared to refuse in that way. (Outwardly Onan would have to conform to the
traditions of the tribe. But his mother’s influence may well have had a counter-
“Er was wicked in the eyes of Yahweh.” Er may also have been brought up by his
mother in the Canaanite religion, and even been taken secretly to some of their
festivals, thus his experience of the Canaanite religion may have meant that he
indulged in sexual practises that could only be seen as an abomination by the family
tribe. So when he dies it is put down to his moral and sacrilegious behaviour. ote
the reintroduction of the name of Yahweh. It is clear that Er’s crime is seen as going
against the covenant.
“Yahweh slew him.” His early death, possibly through venereal disease exacerbated
by some other disease, is seen as the judgment of Yahweh.
“And Judah said to Onan.” Onan dared not disobey the head of his sub-tribe. He
carried out the motions of what he was required to do. But when he was about to
ejaculate he withdrew and let the seed fall on the ground. This has nothing to do
with birth control. His sin is that he refused to ‘give seed to his brother’ and it was a
kind of fratricide. He has disobeyed the laws of the tribe which are seen as part of
the covenant (Genesis 26:5). Thus he too comes under Yahweh’s disapproval and his
subsequent early death is seen as the judgment of Yahweh.
But why should someone behave in this way? It may well be that he too had been
brought up in the Canaanite religion and despised the tribal customs. Thus he may
have seen the demand made on him as repugnant. Alternately it may have been just
stubbornness and unwillingness to do his dead brother a good turn. Indeed
inheritance was also involved. Er’s inheritance would go to the child. It may have
been mainly the idea of this that Onan did not like. And indeed it may have been a
combination of all three. Whatever it was it made him refuse to comply.
(Some have cast doubt on the chronology. We know from Genesis 37:2 that Joseph
was probably about eighteen when he was sold as a slave, making Judah possibly
about twenty two, and say twenty three when he married and bore Er. Then in
Genesis 41:46 Joseph is thirty, although we may see this as a round number
indicating that he has completed his period of preparation (three for completeness
times ten for intensity), and this is followed by nine years (seven good years and two
bad years) at which point Joseph seeks to persuade the family to come to Egypt.
Thus at this point Joseph may be roughly forty and Judah roughly forty four. Then
not too long afterwards they do make for Egypt and at this point Judah seemingly
has grandchildren by Perez whom he begets after his third son has grown up
(Genesis 46:12), when he must be at the earliest say forty (which assumes Er
married when still quite young. But this could well be so. It may be that Canaanites
with their ‘advanced’ sexual attitudes did marry much younger than those in the
family tribe - as Judah’s wife presumably did ). This say some is impossible.
But this is to ignore the artificial nature of Genesis 46 (which see), for there the
writer is seeking to bring the number of Jacob and his direct descendants to seventy
by any means possible in order to indicate the divine perfection of the number who
went up to Egypt - intensified seven (he also includes the two sons of Joseph who
were born in Egypt). He is not counting them but expressing an idea. Thus it may
well be that he includes the grandchildren, even though they have not yet been born,
as being as it were ‘in Perez’s loins’).
GUZIK, '(6-7) Ers marriage to Tamar and his death.
Then Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er,
Judahs firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord killed him.
a. Her name was Tamar: It is not surprising that Judah chose a Canaanite wife for
his son Er, since he himself was married to a Canaanite.
b. Er, Judahs firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord killed
him: We are never told what Ers wickedness was, but obviously it was bad enough
that God brought immediate judgment upon him. Growing up with a father from
such a dysfunctional family and with a mother who was a Canaanite did not help Er
to lead a godly life.
PULPIT, "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.
7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the
Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.
CLARKE, "Er - was wicked in the sight of the Lord - What this wickedness
consisted in we are not told; but the phrase sight of the Lord being added, proves that it
was some very great evil. It is worthy of remark that the Hebrew word used to express
Er’s wickedness is his own name, the letters reversed. Er ער wicked, רע ra. As if the
inspired writer had said, “Er was altogether wicked, a completely abandoned character.”
GILL, "And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord,.... That
is, exceedingly wicked, as this phrase signifies, Gen_13:13, was guilty of some very
heinous sin, but what is not mentioned; according to the Targum of Jonathan and
Jarchi, it was the same with his brother Onan's, Gen_38:9, which it is suggested he
committed, lest his wife should prove with child, and lose her beauty; but if it had been
the same with his, it would have been expressed as well as his. An Arabic writer (p) says,
that he cohabited with his wife not according to the course of nature, but in the
and the Lord slew him; by his immediate hand, striking him dead at once, as Ananias
and Sapphira were stricken, Act_5:5; or by sending some distemper, which quickly
carried him off, as a token of his displeasure at his sin.
CALVI , "7.And the Lord slew him. We know that long life is reckoned among the
gifts of God; and justly: for since it is by no means a despicable honor that we are
created after the image of God, the longer any one lives in the world, and daily
experiences God’s care over him, it is certain that he is the more bountifully dealt
with by the Lord. Even amidst the many miseries with which life is filled, this divine
goodness still shines forth, that God invites us to himself, and exercises us in the
knowledge of himself; while at the same time he adorns us with such dignity, that he
subjects to our authority whatever is in the world. Wherefore it is no wonder that
God, as an act of kindness, prolongs the life of man. Whence it follows, that when
the wicked are taken away by a premature death, a punishment for their wickedness
is inflicted upon them: for it is as if the Lord should pronounce judgment from
heaven, that they are unworthy to be sustained by the earth, unworthy to enjoy the
common light of heaven. Let us therefore learn, as long as God keeps us in the
world, to meditate on his benefits, to the end that every one may the more cheerfully
endeavor to give praise to God for the life received from him. And although, at the
present day also, sudden death is to be reckoned among the scourges of God; since
that doctrine is always true,
“Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days,”
yet God executed this judgment more fully under the law, when the knowledge of a
future life was comparatively obscure; for now, since the resurrection is clearly
manifested to us in Christ, it is not right that death should be so greatly dreaded.
And this difference between us and the ancient people of God is elsewhere noted.
evertheless, it can never be laid down as a general rule, that they who had a long
life were thereby proved to be pleasing and acceptable to the Lord, whereas God has
sometimes lengthened the life of reprobates, in aggravation of their punishment. We
know that Cain survived his brother Abel many centuries. But as God does not
always, and to all persons, cause his temporal benefits manifestly to flow in a
perpetual and equable course; so neither, on the other hand, does he always execute
temporal punishments by the same rule. It is enough that, as far as the present life is
concerned, certain examples of punishments and rewards are set before us.
Moreover, as the miseries of the present life, which spring from the corruption of
nature, do not extinguish the first and special grace of God; so, on the other hand,
death, which is in itself the curse of God, is so far from doing any injury, that it
tends, by a supernatural remedy, to the salvation of the elect. Especially now, from
the time that the first-fruits of the resurrection in Christ have been offered, the
condition of those who are quickly taken out of life is in no way deteriorated;
because Christ himself is gain both for life and death. But the vengeance of God was
so clear and remarkable in the death of Er, that the earth might plainly appear to
have been purged as from its filthiness.
BE SO , "Verse 7-8
Genesis 38:7-8. Er was wicked in the sight of the Lord — That is, in defiance of
God, and his law. And the Lord slew him — Cut him off by an untimely death,
before he had any children by Tamar. As long life among the Jews was generally
reckoned a blessing from God; so an untimely death was accounted a punishment.
The next brother, Onan, was, according to the ancient usage, married to the widow,
to preserve the name of his deceased brother that died childless. This custom of
marrying the brother’s widow was afterward made one of the laws of Moses,
Deuteronomy 25:5. Onan, though he consented to marry the widow, yet, to the great
abuse of his own body, and of the wife he had married, and to the dishonour of the
memory of his brother that was gone, refused to raise up seed unto his brother. And
this story seems to be recorded by the Holy Ghost purposely to condemn, not only
his malignant and envious disposition with respect to his deceased brother, but also
and especially that vile pollution of his body of which he was guilty. For, observe,
The thing which he did displeased the Lord, and brought upon him the Lord’s
vengeance. And it is to be feared that thousands, especially of single persons, still
displease the Lord in a similar way, and destroy their own bodies and souls. All such
sins, at the same time that they dishonour the body, evidence the power of vile
affections, and are not only condemned in the Scriptures, but by the light of nature,
and were held even by the heathen moralists to be peculiarly criminal, and by the
Jewish doctors to be a degree of murder. See Universal History.
COFFMA , "Verse 7
"And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of Jehovah; and Jehovah slew
Here, and in the following verses, where it is stated that God also slew Onan, some
profess to find a difficulty, but no difficulty exists. "There could have been many
ways in which he died, but, whatever the manner of death, the wrath of God lay
behind it." Willis also noted that, "The fact that the Lord kills people because of
their wickedness is taught in both the O.T. and .T." .T. examples of this are
in Acts 5:1-11; Acts 12:23; and in Revelation 2:22. Such summary judgments of God
never fell upon anyone capriciously, or without due cause. And in all the recorded
instances of it, some very grave danger to the covenant people was thus averted.
Certainly that was the case in the instances of it here given.
PULPIT, "Genesis 38:7
And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord. The connection
between Er's name ( ֵרע ) and Er's character ( ע ַ)ר 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.
8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your
brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a
brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your
GILL, "And Judah said unto Onan,.... Some time after his brother's death:
go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her; Moses here uses a word not
common for marriage, but which was peculiar to the marrying of a brother's wife
according to a law given in his time: it appears to have been a custom before, and which
the patriarch might be directed to by the Lord, in such a case when a brother died, and
left no issue, for the sake of multiplication of seed, according to the divine promise, and
which in the time of Moses passed into a law, see Deu_25:5,
and raise up seed unto thy brother; that might bear his name, and enjoy his
inheritance. For this law or custom was partly political, to continue the paternal
inheritance in the family, and partly typical, to direct to Christ the firstborn among many
brethren, Rom_8:29, who in all things was to have the preeminence, Col_1:18; and this
was not taken from the Canaanites, among whom Judah now was, but from the ancient
patriarchs, which they had no doubt from divine revelation, and was taught in the school
of Shem, and handed down from father to son; for as to this being a law among the
Egyptians in later times, and which continued to the days of Zeno Augustus (q), it is
most likely they took it from the Jews.
JAMISO , "Judah said unto Onan ... marry her, and raise up seed to thy
brother — The first instance of a custom, which was afterwards incorporated among
the laws of Moses, that when a husband died leaving a widow, his brother next of age
was to marry her, and the issue, if any, was to be served heir to the deceased (compare
CALVI , "8.Go in unto thy brother’s wife. Although no law had hitherto been
prescribed concerning brother’s marriages, that the surviving brother should raise
up seed to one who was dead; it is, nevertheless, not wonderful that, by the mere
instinct of nature, men should have been inclined to this course. For since each man
is born for the preservation of the whole race, if any one dies without children, there
seems to be here some defect of nature. It was deemed therefore an act of humanity
to acquire some name for the dead, from which it might appear that they had lived.
ow, the only reason why the children born to the surviving brother, should be
reckoned to him who had died, was, that there might be no dry branch in the
family; and in this manner they took away the reproach of barrenness. Besides,
since the woman is given as a help to the man, when any woman married into a
family, she was, in a certain sense, given up to the name of that family. According to
this reasoning, Tamar was not altogether free, but was held under an obligation to
the house of Judah, to procreate some seed. ow, though this does not proceed from
any rule of piety, yet the Lord had impressed it upon the hearts of man as a duty of
humanity; as he afterwards commanded it to the Jews in their polity. Hence we
infer the malignity of Onan, who envied his brother this honor, and would not allow
him, when dead, to obtain the title of father; and this redounds to the dishonor of
the whole family. We see that many grant their own sons to their friends for
adoption: it was, therefore, an outrageous act of barbarity to deny to his own
brother what is given even to strangers. (139) Moreover he has not only shortened
his brother concerning the right due to him, but he rather spilled seed on the ground
than to raise a son in his brother’s name.
COFFMA , "Verses 8-10
"And Judah said unto Onan, Go unto thy brother's wife, and perform the duty of a
husband's brother unto her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that
the seed would not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's
wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest he should give seed to his brother. And the
thing which he did was evil in the sight of Jehovah: and he slew him also."
There are a number of extremely interesting questions that hinge upon what is
revealed in this passage.
From this it appears that the social custom of brothers raising up children to a
deceased brother's name through marriage to his widow is much older than the
Mosaic Law, which elevated this custom to the status of a divine command about
four hundred years afterwards (Deuteronomy 25:5). This does not indicate a late
date for Genesis; for, "The existence of the practice has been traced in different
forms in Indians, Persians, and other nations of Asia and Africa." As a matter
of fact, "The custom of levirate marriage prevailed widely in primitive times."
The family or tribal ownership of land required this arrangement in order to assure
a more equitable distribution of real estate. Without such an arrangement, the death
of a childless man would have transferred his estate to another branch of the family.
In this example of it, if Onan had been willing to give Tamar a child, the child would
have inherited an estate which would have reverted to Onan in the absence of any
heir to his brother Er. This would have substantially reduced the wealth which
Onan would have received, since his brother Er was the firstborn and would have
received the double portion.
It should be particularly noted that the word "seed" is used with two different
meanings here. It is used for offspring in Genesis 38:9a, and a physical emission in
Genesis 38:9b. A similar diversity is seen in God's promise to give Abraham
innumerable "seed," (offspring) and that in his "seed" (singular) all the families of
the earth shall be blessed. Although our version uses "it" for "seed" in Genesis
38:9b, the true meaning is "seed." "The same Hebrew noun [~zera`] in this
verse is used both in its literal sense and in the secondary sense."
Onanism is allegedly founded here. "Catholic theologians, lacking any authority for
their extreme position on birth control, have taken this ancient story of Onan,
distorted its meaning by declaring that Jehovah slew Onan for his "coitus
interruptus", and inflated this interpretation (!) into a whole system of social
hygiene for the 20th Century." If this event has any moral at all, it is that every
man who refuses to marry his brother's widow and have a child by her should be
killed. That, of course, is what happened to Onan. His willful disobedience to his
father, his shameful disregard of the rights of his deceased older brother, his
heartless fraud perpetrated against Tamar who desperately desired a child, and his
selfish greed in hoping to have a bigger estate himself by cheating Tamar ... that was
his sin. As Hobbs stated it: "He was condemned, not just for spilling his seed, but
for doing it in order to avoid his marital responsibility." "This has nothing to do
with masturbation (`onanism'). It was selfish greed." Why is it that such sins are
not punished by death today? This sin of Onan required the fatal judgment of God
because it could have thwarted the proper foundation of the Messianic family, and
was therefore a threat to God's purpose of redeeming mankind. There can be no
doubt, that if a similar threat existed today, the judgment of God would be executed
in such a manner as to remove it.
"The thing which he did..." This should not be construed as reference to a single
act. "The verbs in the second and third clauses of Genesis 38:9 are frequentative
and should be translated, `whenever he went,'" thus indicating, not a single act,
but a long sustained purpose. Payne read it properly as a declaration that Onan,
"persistently and maliciously cheated Tamar of her legal rights."
GUZIK, " (8-10) Onans refusal to raise up offspring for Tamar.
And Judah said to Onan, Go in to your brothers wife and marry her, and raise up
an heir to your brother. But Onan knew that the heir would not be his; and it came
to pass, when he went in to his brothers wife, that he emitted on the ground, lest he
should give an heir to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the Lord;
therefore He killed him also.
a. Go in to your brothers wife and marry her, and raise up an heir to your brother:
According to the custom of levirate marriage (later codified into law in
Deuteronomy 25:5-10), if a man died before providing sons to his wife, it was the
duty of his brothers to marry her and to give her sons. The child was considered the
son of the brother who died (Onan knew that the heir would not be his) because the
living brother only acted in his place.
i. This was done so the dead brothers name would be carried on. But also it was so
the widow would have children to support her. Apart from this, she would likely live
the rest of her life as a destitute widow.
b. When he went in to his brothers wife, that he emitted on the ground, lest he
should give an heir to his brother: Onan refused to take the responsibility to father
descendants for his dead brother seriously. He was more than happy to use Tamar
for his sexual gratification, but he did not want to give Tamar a son he had to
support but would be considered to be the son of Er.
i. Onan pursued sex as only a pleasurable experience. If he really didnt want to
father a child by Tamar, he should never have had sex with her at all. He refused to
fulfill his obligation to his dead brother and Tamar.
ii. Many Christians have used this passage as a proof-text against masturbation.
Indeed, masturbation has been called onanism. However, this does not seem to be
the case here. Whatever Onan did, he was not masturbating. This was not a sin of
masturbation, but a sin of refusing to care for his brothers widow by giving her
offspring, and the sin of a selfish use of sex.
PULPIT, "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.
The sin of Onan
I. IT WAS PROMPTED BY A LOW MOTIVE. It was as selfish as it was vile. Onan’s
design was to preserve the whole inheritance for his own house.
II. IT WAS AN ACT OF WILFUL DISOBEDIENCE TO GOD’S ORDINANCE. Ill
deservings of others can be no excuse for our injustice, for our uncharitableness. That
which Tamar required, Moses afterward, as from God, commanded—the succession of
brothers into the barren bed. Some laws God spake to His Church long ere He wrote
them: while the author is certainly known, the voice and the finger of God are worthy of
III. IT WAS A DISHONOUR DONE TO HIS OWE BODY. Unchastity in general is a
homicidal waste of the generative powers, a demoniac bestiality, an outrage to ancestors,
to posterity, and to one’s own life. It is a crime against the image of God, and a
degradation below the animal. Onan’s offence, moreover, as committed in marriage, was
a most unnatural wickedness, a grievous wrong, and a desecration of the body as the
temple of God. It was a proof of the most defective development of what may be called
the consciousness of personality, and of personal dignity.
IV. IT WAS AGGRAVATED BY HIS POSITION IN THE COVENANT FAMILY. The
Messiah was to descend from the stock of Judah, and for aught he knew from himself.
This very Tamar is counted in the genealogy of Christ Mat_1:3). Herein he did despite to
the covenant promise. He rejected an honourable destiny. (T. H. Leale.)
Vain parents take little knowledge of God’s judgments in the death of one child when
they have others.
2. Special law for the marriage of the deceased brother’s wife by the brother was
given of God for special ends.
3. Seed was much desirable and is so in the Church of God; for which such laws were
4. Wicked creatures are selfish in duty, therefore unwilling to seek any good but their
5. Self-pollution, destruction of the seed of man, envy to brethren, are Onan’s horrid
6. Onans may be in the visible Church.
7. Such uncleanness is very grievous in God’s sight.
8. Exemplary death may be expected from God by such transgressors (Gen_38:10).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)
It must be borne in mind that the propagation of the family name formed one of the
most sacred wishes of the Israelites; that “excision” was looked upon as the most awful
indication of Divine wrath; and that polygamy itself was so long maintained, because it
offers a greater guarantee of offspring. The Hebrews were not a strictly practical people;
sentiment and indefinite aspirations had a large share in their religious views and social
institutions: at an early period embracing and fostering the hope of a Messianic time,
when all the nations of the earth would be united in love and the knowledge of God, they
are eminently capable of prizing the permanent existence of their families. The agrarian
character of the Mosaic constitution added power to this idea. Landed property was the
foundation of the political edifice, and equality its main pillar. Each family was identified
with a certain portion of the sacred soil; its extinction was, therefore, more strongly
apprehended by the individual, and was injurious to the prosperity of the state, as the
accumulation of wealth in the hands of individuals threatened to disturb the equality of
the citizens. It is, therefore, impossible to misunderstand the spirit and tendency of the
law concerning the marriage with the brother’s widow; it was neither dictated by the
desire of preventing the abandoned condition of the widow, or of counteracting some
other fancied abuse; its purport is distinctly expressed to have been to procure a
descendant to the brother (Gen_38:8); “that the name of the deceased be preserved
upon his inheritance, and that his name be not erased from among his brethren and
from the gate of his town” (Rth_4:10). It may suffice to add, in this place, that similar
customs prevailed among the Indians, Persians, and some Italian tribes, and that they
are still practised by the Tsherkessians and Tartars, the Gallas in Abyssinia, the Afghans,
and other nations. It was in conformity with this law that Judah commanded his second
son, Onan, to marry the childless widow of his elder brother. But Onan was not more
virtuous than the family to which he belonged: unwilling to maintain his brother’s name,
he knew how to frustrate the hopes of Judah. God took away his life for that reckless
wickedness. (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)
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.
CLARKE, "Onan knew that the seed should not be his - That is, that the child
begotten of his brother’s widow should be reckoned as the child of his deceased brother,
and his name, though the real father of it, should not appear in the genealogical tables.
GILL, "And Onan knew that the seed should not be his,.... Should not be called a
son of his, but a son of his brother Er; this is to be understood only of the firstborn; all
the rest of the children born afterwards were reckoned the children of the real parent of
them; this shows this was a custom in use in those times, and well known, and was not a
and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife; to cohabit with
her, as man and wife, he having married her according to his father's direction:
that he spilled it on the ground, lest he should give his seed to his brother:
lest his brother's wife he had married should conceive by him, and bear a son that
should be called his brother's, and inherit his estate; and this is the sin, which from him
is called Onania, a sin condemned by the light of nature, as well as by the word of God,
and very prejudicial to mankind, as well as displeasing to God, as follows:
HAWKER, "Reader! pause over this history. Who shall take upon him to say, to what
extent this unnatural sin hath been prevalent in all ages! Though hidden from human
observation, with what malignity must the vast mass of such works of darkness come up
before GOD! Oh! how precious, increasingly precious, is JESUS, in every renewed
consideration to the mind conscious of sin, whose blood alone cleanseth from all sin.
10 What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so
the Lord put him to death also.
CLARKE, "Wherefore he slew him also - The sin of Onan has generally been
supposed to be self-pollution; but this is certainly a mistake; his crime was his refusal to
raise up seed to his brother, and rather than do it, by the act mentioned above, he
rendered himself incapable of it. We find from this history that long be fore the Mosaic
law it was an established custom, probably founded on a Divine precept, that if a man
died childless his brother was to take his wife, and the children produced by this second
marriage were considered as the children of the first husband, and in consequence
inherited his possessions.
GILL, "And the thing which he did displeased the Lord,.... Being done out of
envy to his brother, and through want of affection to the memory of his name; and it
may be out of covetousness to get his estate into his own hands, and especially as it
frustrated the end of such an usage of marrying a brother's wife; which appears to be
according to the will of God, since it afterwards became a known law of his; and it was
the more displeasing, as it was not only a check upon the multiplication of Abraham's
seed as promised, but since the Messiah was to come from Judah. This was doing all to
hinder it that lay in his power:
wherefore he slew him also; in like manner as he had slain his brother, Gen_38:7.
HE RY, "
JAMISO , "
CALVI , "10.And the thing which he did displeased the LORD. Less neatly the
Jews speak about this matter. I will contend myself with briefly mentioning this, as
far as the sense of shame allows to discuss it. It is a horrible thing to pour out seed
besides the intercourse of man and woman. Deliberately avoiding the intercourse, so
that the seed drops on the ground, is double horrible. For this means that one
quenches the hope of his family, and kills the son, which could be expected, before
he is born. This wickedness is now as severely as is possible condemned by the
Spirit, through Moses, that Onan, as it were, through a violent and untimely birth,
tore away the seed of his brother out the womb, and as cruel as shamefully has
thrown on the earth. Moreover he thus has, as much as was in his power, tried to
destroy a part of the human race. When a woman in some way drives away the seed
out the womb, through aids, then this is rightly seen as an unforgivable crime. Onan
was guilty of a similar crime, by defiling the earth with his seed, so that Tamar
would not receive a future inheritor.
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.
GILL, "Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law,.... After the death of his
two sons, who had successively married her:
remain a widow at thy father's house till Shelah my son be grown: who was
his third and youngest son, though perhaps not more than a year younger than Onan;
but he might not choose he should marry so soon as his brethren had done, for a reason
following: according to the custom and law of marrying a brother's wife, who died
without issue, she in course was to be the wife of Shelah; since if there were ever so
many brothers, they all married such an one in turn, until there was issue by one of
them, see Mat_22:25; as Judah knew this, he pretended at least to give her to his son for
wife, only would have it put off till he was at age of maturity, or was more grown; and
therefore desires her to keep herself unmarried to any other person until that time; and
advises her to go to her father's house, and continue there, which he did to prevent any
intrigues between them, lest his son should be tempted to marry her sooner than it was
his will, and she should solicit him to it:
for he said; not to Tamar, but within himself:
lest peradventure he die also as his brethren did; by which it seems, that he was
ignorant of the true cause of their death, but thought it was either owing to their
marrying too young, or to something in the woman unfortunate and unhappy; and he
might not really intend he should marry her at all, only made use of an excuse for the
and Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house; she had dwelt in Judah's house
in the time of her two husbands, but now by his advice she removed to her own father's
house; which very probably was in the same place, and her father yet living, who
received her, and with whom she continued, see Lev_22:13.
The sudden death of his two sons so soon after their marriage with Thamar made
Judah hesitate to give her the third as a husband also, thinking, very likely, according to
a superstition which we find in Tobit 3:7ff., that either she herself, or marriage with her,
had been the cause of her husbands' deaths. He therefore sent her away to her father's
house, with the promise that he would give her his youngest son as soon as he had grown
up; though he never intended it seriously, “for he thought lest (ן ֶ ר ַמፎ, i.e., he was afraid
that) he also might die like his brethren.”
CALVI , "11.Then said Judah to Tamar. Moses intimates that Tamar was not at
liberty to marry into another family, so long as Judah wished to retain her under his
own authority. It is possible that she voluntarily submitted herself to the will of her
father-in-law, when she might have refused: but the language seems to mean, that it
was according to a received practice, that Tamar should not pass over to another
family, except at the will of her father-in-law, as long as there was a successor who
might raise up seed by her. However this may be, Judah acted very unjustly in
keeping one bound, whom he intended to defraud. For truly there was no cause why
he should be unwilling to allow her to depart free from his house, unless he dreaded
the charge of inconstancy. But he should not have allowed this ambitious sense of
shame to render him perfidious and cruel to his daughter-in-law. Besides, this
injury sprung from a wrong judgment: because, without considering the causes of
the death of his sons, he falsely and unjustly transfers the blame to an innocent
woman. He believes the marriage with Tamar to have been an unhappy one; why
therefore does he not, for his own sake, permit her to seek a husband elsewhere?
But in this also he does wrong, that whereas the cause of his sons’ destruction was
their own wickedness, he judges unfavorably of Tamar herself, to whom no evil
could be imputed. Let us then learn from this example, whenever anything adverse
happens to us, not to transfer the blame to another, nor to gather from all quarters
doubtful suspicions, but to shake off our own sins. We must also beware lest a
foolish shame should so prevail over us, that while we endeavor to preserve our
reputation uninjured among men, we should not be equally careful to maintain a
good conscience before God.
BE SO , "Verse 11
Genesis 38:11. Remain a widow till Shelah my son be grown — The contract of
marriage, it seems, was so understood, even before any positive law was made on the
subject, that, if the husband died without any issue, his next brother was to marry
his wife, and as long as any of his brethren remained they were bound to marry her,
if left a widow. Accordingly Shelah, the third son, was reserved for Tamar, yet with
design that he should not marry so young as his brothers had done. For it would
seem from Judah’s expression, Lest peradventure he die also, that he thought
marrying too young was the cause of their death; though some consider his conduct
as an evidence that he never intended to give his son to her.