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Chapter 38

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Judah And Tamar  (ch. 38:1 - 31)


Many scholars have wondered and debated over just why this chapter is found in the middle of Joseph's story.  The chapter is about Judah and a certain event.  I think the chapter is place here because it was through the line of Judah that Jesus was eventually born, and we learn lots about Judah in this one chapter that is significant to Jesus. 


Verse 1 tells us that Judah moved away from his brothers to live on his own.  Why he moved, the text does not say. 


Verse 2 tells us that Judah married a Canaanite woman.  Again we see a descendent of Abraham marrying a Canaanite woman, something God had told Abraham that should not be.   The descendents of Abraham could not seem to obey God on this matter.   


Judah marrying a Canaanite woman is significant in the since that Jesus was born through the lineage of Judah.  Jesus' ancestor, like most of them, married someone they shouldn't have, but in this case, it did not effect the lineage of Judah, which we will see the reason for in this chapter.    


From verses 3 to 5 we see the woman Judah married, was the daughter of one named Shua. She ended up having four sons.  We don't know the name of this woman, and this might be planned.  She eventually is not important to the story, or to the lineage of Judah.    


Verse 7 states that Judah found a wife for his first born son named Er.  The wife's name was Tamar.   Tamar turns out to be a very important character in the story of this chapter, and in the story of the lineage of Jesus.


Verse 7 tells us that Er was very wicked.  He was so wicked that God "put him to death".   We don't know the extent of Er's wickedness, but it must have been very bad.  We don't see God putting individual people to death all that often, but he did here.  Again, the Bible does not conceal the wickedness of God's chosen people.  In many respects, they are no different than any other people of the world.


We are uncertain just what wickedness Er was involved in.  My guess, and it is a pure guess, is that it might have something to do with Er not providing children, and especially a son from his wife Tamar.  We will see later that his brother Onan was killed by God for this reason.  That is why I am guessing as I am.  


Onan was the second oldest son born from Shua, but since Er died, he was now the oldest son.  Judah asked Onan to go and sleep with Tamar so she could have a son to carry on the family name for his brother Er. 


We need to remember that his was long before the Law of Moses came into existence, but in Deut. 25:5 through 7 the Law of Moses addressed this issue.  If a man died without having a son born to his wife, his oldest brother should go and sleep with the widow so she could have a son to carry on the family name.  If she had a girl, the brother would have to keep trying until a son was born.  The son would not be considered his son, but the son of the dead brother.  This was so that the dead brother's name would "not be blotted out of Israel", as the Law of Moses put it. 


It is my thinking that much of the Law of Moses was already in existence before it was dictated to Moses.  This is just one of a number of examples of something that was stipulated in the Law of Moses but had already been in existence.  This tells us that the Law of Moses merely codified things that were already known to Israel. 


In verses 9 and 10 we see that Onan wasn't interested in producing a wife for his brother.  He didn't seem to mind going into his brother's wife and enjoying her sexually, but when it came time for him to ejaculate "he spilled his seed on the ground" as the text says.  This was not a one time event.  The text says, "whenever he lay with his brother's wife…"  The word "whenever" shows that he had sexual contact with her more than once, and probably many times.  Because of this wickedness, God killed him, like He killed his brother.


This is a verse that has had much debate over the years, and at the same time, it's a verse that many people just ignore because of its content.  The question needs to be asked, "what exactly was the wicked thing that Onan did?"  Was the spilling of the seed on the ground the wicked thing.  I don't think so.  Some have suggested that it was.


The sin that Onan was judged for could have been deception.  All along Judah would have thought that Onan was doing as he was told when in fact he wasn't.  But that doesn't seem a bad enough sin to kill him.  Jacob was deceptive and he wasn't killed.


Could the sin be the breaking of God's Law?  I'm not sure this is the sin either.  The Law of Moses was not yet in effect.  Some might say that the Law of Moses was not yet codified, but the Law still remained.  Still, I'm not convinced. 


The important reason for Tamar to have a boy baby concerns the lineage of Er.  Through his line of descendents Jesus would be born.  I think that this had something to do with Onan being killed.  I think the failure to not want to produce this important son was what made God so angry.  I think this might have been the wickedness for which Onan was judged for, and might also have something to do with the wickedness that Er was judged for.  If this is so, then again, we see the struggle between humanity and divinity.  We see the struggle between God's will and man's will.  There's a constant fight between God and man.


In verse 11 we see that Judah is now afraid that his next son might die too.  He's not sure why his first two sons died, but it had something to do with Tamar.  He tells Tamar to go back to her father's house until his third son Shelah grows up.  This verse doesn't say it, but it seems to imply that Shelah would try to help Tamar  conceive. 


Verse 12 tells us that Judah's wife died.  We still don't know her name, but as I said earlier, she is not important to the significance of this story, and to the lineage of Judah.  She did have four sons, but it appears that none of them had any sons, and we know the first two died without sons.


In verses 12 through 15 we see that it took a while for Judah to stop grieving over the death of his wife, but once he was over the grieving, he went back to work.  He left his home to go and sheer his sheep.  Tamar heard that Judah's wife had died.  She also knew that Shelah was now of age and that Judah did not give him to her to conceive a baby boy.   It might have been possible that Judah did not want to give Shelah to Tamar because of the death of his two older sons.  He did seem to suggest to Tamar earlier though when he sent her back to her father that when Shelah came of age she could return so Shelah could sleep with her.   Whether he had really planned this, we don't really know. 


The fact is that Tamar waited for Shelah.  He never came to her, an now she would take things into her own hands.  She took off her widows clothes and put on a veil which would make her look like a prostitute.  It's not always the case, but veils in those cultures had some kind of association with Ishtar, the goddess of sex and fertility, that's why the prostitutes wore them. I wonder if the veil many women use at weddings today finds their significance in Babylonian culture of the gods.


Prostitution in many of these old cultures often had a religious association.  Even in early New Testament times in the Roman Empire you could find temple prostitutes. One such temple in Corinth was said to have a thousand prostitutes at any given time. 


In verse 15 Judah sees Tamar by the side of the road, ready to sell her services.  He asked her to come with him so he could have sex with her.  You might wonder how Tamar would even think that Judah would stop to ask her for sex.  Maybe Judah had a history of such things and that's why she thought he would stop when he saw her.  That's only speculation. 


In verses 15 through 19 we see the negotiations between Tamar and Judah for the service she would render.  Judah promised her a goat, but she wanted something immediately as a down-payment for the goat.  She asked for his seal and staff.  The implication here is that when he delivered the goat at a later date, she would give the seal and staff back. 


Concerning this goat, some scholars say that in these cases, when a goat was offered as payment for sex, it too was associated with Ishtar, the goddess of sex and fertility.  Concerning the seal, this was Babylonian culture.   This was a special carved out stone that was tied around the neck of a man that he used for identification purposes.  They would dip it in some kind of coloured liquid and place it as an imprint, like we would sign our name on paper.  Japanese people to this day use something similar.  They have a signet that is made that they would press into an ink pad and then imprint the seal onto paper.  They do this instead of signing their names.  Concerning the staff, it was personalized as well.  The top would be specially made for the man to whom it would belong. 


Judah was leaving some very valuable things with this woman he knew was a prostitute.  He must have wanted sex pretty bad to leave these things.  It would be like us leaving our credit card and bank card with a prostitute, and I'm not sure you can trust a prostitute.


I'm sure that when Tamar asked for payment for services, she had this seal and staff in mind as part of her plan, which we will see later.


In verses 20 and 21 Judah sends the goat with a friend to what the NIV calls the "shrine prostitute".  The KJV uses the term "harlot".  There are two different Hebrew words that the KJV translates into the word "harlot".   Both are seen in this chapter.   The KJV word "harlot", and the NIV words "shrine prostitute", comes from a Hebrew word that associates prostitution to god worship, Venus, being one such god, among others.  We'll see the other Hebrew word for harlot used in verse 24, and that is a more general term for a prostitute, not necessarily associated with god worship. 


So, you can see in Judah's mind, that the woman he slept with was a prostitute representing a god, and it wasn't the God of Abraham and his father.  That might tell you something about Judah.  Was he a real worshiper of the true God of his father and forefathers?  It appears to me that he might well been polytheistic, that is, believing in more than one god.  If this isn't the case, then he had one big slip-up here.  He wasn't just having sex with a ordinary prostitute, but with a prostitute associated with polytheistic worship.


Once again, we see the frailty of Israel.  Judah is not acting righteously here.  He is not only having sex with a woman who is not his wife, but he is involving himself in polytheistic worship as well.


Judah 's friend could not find the woman that Judah slept with, and the men in the area knew no such woman.  They said that there was no "shrine prostitute" living here. 


In verse 23 we see that Judah gave up looking for the woman.  She just said, "let her keep" what I've given her.


In verse 24 Judah learns that Tamar had prostituted herself and that she was now pregnant.  Judah was upset.  He had her brought to him so she could be burned to death.  According to Judah, it was alright for him to have sex with a prostitute, but it wasn't okay for Tamar to be a prostitute.  Clearly, he had a double standard.


Judah 's world collapses around him in verse 25.  As Tamar sees Judah, she pulls out his seal and staff, and says that the man who made her pregnant is the man who owns this seal and staff.  To make the point even clearer, she asked Judah if he recognized whose the seal and staff were.  Of course, he could not deny that they belonged to him.  All who stood by would know that they belonged to him.  How embarrassing for Judah. 


In verse 26 Judah says that Tamar is more righteous than he.  She certainly was, but look at the reason why Judah said this.  Yes, he did admit that he was not righteous, but his not being righteous was due to the fact that he did not give her son Shelah to Tamar as he said he would.  I'm not convinced that Judah saw having sex with a prostitute was not all that bad.  The reason for Tamar being righteous, and he not, was because he didn't give his son to her, not because he slept with her.


The verse then states that he didn't sleep with her ever again. 


Verse 27 states that Tamar had twins.  So here we see twins again in the Genesis story.  Liberal theologian say that this is just the same story as Isaac and Rebekah told in a different way.  Liberal theologians don't see Genesis as an historical account, but the mere telling of stories with a moral.  This is also how many Evangelicals today are beginning to see the book of Genesis. The liberalization of the Bible in Evangelical circles is very disturbing.


In verses 28 and 29 we see the birthing process.  One baby was ready to come out, and so the midwife tied a red thread around his wrist, but the wrist slid back into Tamar and the other baby came out first.  This baby was name Perez.


In verse 31 the second baby was born and he was named, Zerah.


Since Perez came out first, he was the oldest.  The lineage of Judah would flow through him.  He would receive the blessing of the birthright that made him the head of the family. 


Now in the Law of Moses, that was not yet instituted or codified, but in many ways in effect, there were provision stated concerning babies born from illegitimacy.  It stated that the child born in such a way, or his descendents could not receive any inheritance until the tenth generation.  This is interesting because the lineage in which Jesus was born in came through Judah and then Perez.  The tenth generation from Perez was King David, and he was very special in the lineage that produced the Messiah Jesus.


So what we see in this chapter is that Judah 's lineage goes through Tamar, not through his wife and one of his four sons.  Concerning these four sons, we know the two oldest died.  We know nothing about what happened to the other two sons.  We also don't know why they could not have had sons to carry on Judah's lineage.  It only makes since that for some reason they did not have any sons and that's why Judah 's line had to go through Tamar.       

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