Genesis 38-40 She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah

From Genesis 38-40

01 Genesis EarthJudah does not have any descendants. His daughter in law resolves to fix his neglect by posing as a prostitute. Judah sleeps with her unknowingly. What will happen when he finds out she is pregnant?

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

Genesis has already hinted that Jacob’s older sons Reuben, Simeon and Levi have forfeited their right to receive the rights of firstborn. Judah is next in line.

Hubbard, S. et al. with Logos Bible Software and KarBel Media, 2012. Faithlife Study Bible Infographics, Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Judah has marrieed the daughter of a Canaanite named Shua. They have three sons. Er, Onan and Shelah. Judah gives Er a wife named Tamar. But Er is wicked so he is put to death.

According to custom, it was compulsory for a childless widow to marry the next male in the family so their male child can continue the line of the deceased son. This custom was known among many peoples (cf. Dt 25:5–10).

Onan should have fulfill this role, but he sabotaged their attempts to reproduce. The LORD put him to death also. Only young Shelah remained.

Who will continue Judah’s line?

12 In the course of time the wife of Judah, Shua’s daughter, died.

When Judah was comforted, he went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite.

13 And when Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,” 14 she took off her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, wrapping herself up, and sat at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she had not been given to him in marriage. (Gen 38.12-14)

‘Shelah not given in marriage’. Judah neglected his duty to continue the family line.

‘Covered with a veil’. Tamar wanting to continue the line is forced into action. She dressed up as a prostitute and waited for Judah.

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

16 He turned to her at the roadside and said, “Come, let me come in to you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law.

She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?”

17 He answered, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.”

And she said, “If you give me a pledge, until you send it—”

18 He said, “What pledge shall I give you?”

She replied, “Your signet and your cord and your staff that is in your hand.”

So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. 19 Then she arose and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood. (Gen 38:15–19)

‘Prostitute’. Judah doesn’t seem to blink an eyelid with sleeping with a prostitute.

‘Pledge’. Tamar makes sure she is in possession of items which identify Judah as the father. He gives her the pledge, they do the deed and part. Judah is none the wiser.

20 When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite to take back the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her. 21 And he asked the men of the place, “Where is the cult prostitute who was at Enaim at the roadside?” And they said, “No cult prostitute has been here.”

22 So he returned to Judah and said, “I have not found her. Also, the men of the place said, ‘No cult prostitute has been here.’ ” 23 And Judah replied, “Let her keep the things as her own, or we shall be laughed at. You see, I sent this young goat, and you did not find her.” (Gen 38:20-23)

‘Adullamite’. Judah sends his friend with the payment. He doesn’t give the impression he had done anything wrong by having sex with the cult prostitute.

24 About three months later Judah was told, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has been immoral. Moreover, she is pregnant by immorality.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.”

25 As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” And she said, “Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.”

26 Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again. (Gen 38:24-26)

‘Burned’. Judah’s initial response is excessively harsh. Fortunately Tamar produces the evidence that identifies Judah as the father.

‘She is more righteous’. Judah humbly recognises she has acted to continue the family line where he has not. She showed amazing bravery in doing so.

Hubbard, S. et al. with Logos Bible Software and KarBel Media, 2012. Faithlife Study Bible Infographics, Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

27 When the time of her labor came, there were twins in her womb.

28 And when she was in labor, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.”

29 But as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out. And she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” Therefore his name was called Perez.

30 Afterward his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah. (Gen 38:27–30)

‘Perez and Zerah’. Judah’s line continues.

Story of Israel

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

The author of Genesis knew the significance of Judah’s line. He shows God is being faithful to his covenant promises. Judah’s line will lead to King David, and then from David to King Jesus.

Story of Jesus

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:18–21)

The brave actions of Tamar preserved the line of Judah and played its part in the birth of our saviour Jesus Christ.

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