Genesis 38


Judah marries the daughter of a Canaanite, 1, 2;

and begets of her Er, 3,

Onan, 4,

and Shelah, 5.

Er marries Tamar, 6;

is slain for his wickedness, 7.

Onan, required to raise up seed to his brother, refuses, 8, 9.

He also is slain, 10.

Judah promises his son Shelah to Tamar, when he should be of

age; but performs not his promise, 11.

Judah's wife dies, 12.

Tamar in disguise receives her father-in-law, he leaves his

signet, bracelets, and staff in her hand, and she conceives

by him, 13-23.

Judah is informed that his daughter-in-law is with child; and,

not knowing that himself was the father, condemns her to be

burnt, 24.

She produces the signet, bracelets, and staff, and convicts

Judah, 25, 26.

She is delivered of twins, who are called Pharez and Zarah, 27-30.


Verse 1. 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;

Ge 30:25, and Ge 31:41. Joseph was

seventeen years old when he was sold into Egypt, Ge 37:2,25; he

was thirty years old when he interpreted Pharaoh's dream,

Ge 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, Ge 41:53, 54, and Ge 45:6, 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, Ge 46:8, 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, Ge 38:14, 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, Ge 33:18, before the history of Dinah,

Ge 34:1-31, though Moses for special cause relates it in this

place." I should rather suppose that this chapter originally stood

after Ge 33:1-20, 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

Ge 38:1-30 with Ge 46:12." See the remarks of Dr. Kennicott,

at the end of Clarke's note at "Ge 31:55".

Adullamite] An inhabitant of Adullam, a city of Canaan,

afterwards given for a possession to the sons of Judah,

Jos 15:1,35. 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 connection.

Verse 5. 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."

Verse 7. 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

wicked, ra. As if the inspired writer had said, "Er was

altogether wicked, a completely abandoned character."

Verse 9. 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.

Verse 10. 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.

Verse 12. In process of time] This phrase, which is in general

use in the Bible, needs explanation; the original is

valyirbu haiyamim, and the days were multiplied. Though it

implies an indefinite time, yet it generally embraces a pretty

long period, and in this place may mean several years.

Verse 15. Thought her to be a harlot] See the original of this

term, Ge 34:31. The Hebrew is

zonah, and signifies generally a person who prostitutes herself to

the public for hire, or one who lives by the public; and hence

very likely applied to a publican, a tavern-keeper, or hostess,

Jos 2:1; translated by the Septuagint, and in the New Testament,

πορνη, from περναω, to sell, which certainly may as well apply to

her goods as to her person.

It appears that in very ancient times there were public persons

of this description; and they generally veiled themselves, sat in

public places by the highway side, and received certain hire.

Though adultery was reputed a very flagrant crime, yet this public

prostitution was not; for persons whose characters were on the

whole morally good had connections with them. But what could be

expected from an age in which there was no written Divine

revelation, and consequently the bounds of right and wrong were

not sufficiently ascertained? This defect was supplied in a

considerable measure by the law and the prophets, and now

completely by the Gospel of Christ.

Verse 17. Wilt thou give me a pledge till thou send it?] The

word erabon signifies an earnest of something promised, a

part of the price agreed for between a buyer and seller, by

giving and receiving of which the bargain was ratified; or a

deposit, which was to be restored when the thing promised should

be given. St. Paul uses the same word in Greek letters, αππαβων,

2Co 1:22; Eph 1:14. From the use of the term in this history we

may at once see what the apostle means by the Holy Spirit being

the EARNEST, αππαβων, of the promised inheritance; viz., a

security given in hand for the fulfilment of all God's promises

relative to grace and eternal life. We may learn from this that

eternal life will be given in the great day to all who can produce

this erabon or pledge. He who has the earnest of the Spirit

then in his heart shall not only be saved from death, but have

that eternal life of which it is the pledge and the evidence. What

the pledge given by Judah was, See Clarke on Ge 38:25.

Verse 21. Where is the harlot that was openly by the wayside?]

Our translators often render different Hebrew words by the same

term in English, and thus many important shades of meaning, which

involve traits of character, are lost. In Ge 38:15, Tamar is

called a harlot, zonah, which, as we have already seen,

signifies a person who prostitutes herself for money. In this

verse she is called a harlot in our version; but the original is

not but kedeshah, a holy or consecrated person,

from kadash, to make holy, or to consecrate to religious

purposes. And the word here must necessarily signify a person

consecrated by prostitution to the worship of some impure goddess.

The public prostitutes in the temple of Venus are called

ιεροδουλοιγυναικες, holy or consecrated female servants, by

Strabo; and it appears from the words zonah and kedeshah above,

that impure rites and public prostitution prevailed in the worship

of the Canaanites in the time of Judah. And among these people we

have much reason to believe that Astarte and Asteroth occupied the

same place in their theology as Venus did among the Greeks and

Romans, and were worshipped with the same impure rites.

Verse 23. Lest we be shamed] Not of the act, for this he does

not appear to have thought criminal; but lest he should fall under

the raillery of his companions and neighbours, for having been

tricked out of his signet, bracelets, and staff, by a prostitute.

Verse 24. Bring her forth, and let her be burnt.] As he had

ordered Tamar to live as a widow in her own father's house till

his son Shelah should be marriageable, he considers her therefore

as the wife of his son; and as Shelah was not yet given to her,

and she is found with child, she is reputed by him as an

adulteress, and burning, it seems, was anciently the punishment

of this crime. Judah, being a patriarch or head of a family, had,

according to the custom of those times, the supreme magisterial

authority over all the branches of his own family; therefore he

only acts here in his juridical capacity. How strange that in the

very place where adultery was punished by the most violent death,

prostitution for money and for religious purposes should be

considered as no crime!

Verse 25. The signet] chothemeth, properly a seal,

or instrument with which impressions were made to ascertain

property, &c. These exist in all countries.

Bracelets] pethilim, from pathal, to

twist, wreathe, twine, may signify a girdle or a collar by which

precedency, &c., might be indicated; not the muslin, silk, or

linen wreath of his turban, as Mr. Harmer has conjectured.

Staff.] matteh, either what we would call a common

walking stick, or the staff which was the ensign of his tribe.

Verse 26. She hath been more righteous than I] It is probable

that Tamar was influenced by no other motive than that which was

common to all the Israelitish women, the desire to have children

who might be heirs of the promise made to Abraham, &c. And as

Judah had obliged her to continue in her widowhood under the

promise of giving her his son Shelah when he should be of age,

consequently his refusing or delaying to accomplish this promise

was a breach of truth, and an injury done to Tamar.

Verse 28. The midwife-bound upon his hand a scarlet thread] The

binding of the scarlet thread about the wrist of the child whose

arm appeared first in the birth, serves to show us how

solicitously the privileges of the birthright were preserved.

Had not this caution been taken by the midwife, Pharez would have

had the right of primogeniture to the prejudice of his elder

brother Zarah. And yet Pharez is usually reckoned in the

genealogical tables before Zarah; and from him, not Zarah, does

the line of our Lord proceed. See Mt 1:3. Probably the two

brothers, as being twins, were conjoined in the privileges

belonging to the birthright.

Verse 29. How hast thou broken forth?] mah paratsta,

this breach be upon thee, aleycka parets; thou shalt

bear the name of the breach thou hast made, i. e., in coming first

into the world. Therefore his name was called Parets, i. e.,

the person who made the breach. The breach here mentioned refers

to a certain circumstance in parturition which it is unnecessary

to explain.

Verse 30. His name was called Zarah.] Zarach, risen or

sprung up, applied to the sun, rising and diffusing his light. "He

had this name," says Ainsworth, "because he should have risen, i.

e., have been born first, but for the breach which his brother


THERE are several subjects in this chapter on which it may not

be unprofitable to spend a few additional moments.

1. The insertion of this chapter is a farther proof of the

impartiality of the sacred writer. The facts detailed,

considered in themselves, can reflect no credit on the patriarchal

history; but Judah, Tamar, Zarah, and Pharez, were progenitors of

the Messiah, and therefore their birth must be recorded; and as

the birth, so also the circumstances of that birth, which, even

had they not a higher end in view, would be valuable as casting

light upon some very ancient customs, which it is interesting to

understand. These are not forgotten in the preceding notes.

2. On what is generally reputed to be the sin of Onan, something

very pointed should be spoken. But who dares and will do it, and

in such language that it may neither pollute the ear by describing

the evil as it is, nor fail of its effect by a language so refined

and so laboriously delicate as to cover the sin which it professes

to disclose? Elaborate treatises on the subject will never be read

by those who need them most, and anonymous pamphlets are not

likely to be regarded.

The sin of self-pollution, which is generally considered to be

that of Onan, is one of the most destructive evils ever practised

by fallen man. In many respects it is several degrees worse than

common whoredom, and has in its train more awful consequences,

though practised by numbers who would shudder at the thought of

criminal connections with a prostitute. It excites the powers of

nature to undue action, and produces violent secretions, which

necessarily and speedily exhaust the vital principle and energy;

hence the muscles become flaccid and feeble, the tone and natural

action of the nerves relaxed and impeded, the understanding

confused, the memory oblivious, the judgment perverted, the will

indeterminate and wholly without energy to resist; the eyes appear

languishing and without expression, and the countenance vacant;

the appetite ceases, for the stomach is incapable of performing

its proper office; nutrition fails, tremors, fears, and terrors

are generated; and thus the wretched victim drags out a most

miserable existence, till, superannuated even before he had time

to arrive at man's estate, with a mind often debilitated even to a

state of idiotism, his worthless body tumbles into the grave, and

his guilty soul (guilty of self-murder) is hurried into the awful

presence of its Judge! Reader, this is no caricature, nor are the

colourings overcharged in this shocking picture. Worse woes than

my pen can relate I have witnessed in those addicted to this

fascinating, unnatural, and most destructive of crimes. If thou

hast entered into this snare, flee from the destruction both of

body and soul that awaits thee! God alone can save thee. Advice,

warnings, threatenings, increasing debility of body, mental decay,

checks of conscience, expostulations of judgment and medical

assistance, will all be lost on thee: God, and God alone, can save

them from an evil which has in its issue the destruction of thy

body, and the final perdition of thy soul! Whether this may have

been the sin of Onan or not, is a matter at present of small

moment; it may be thy sin; therefore take heed lest God slay thee

for it. The intelligent reader will see that prudence forbids me

to enter any farther into this business. See the remarks at the

end of Clarke's note at "Ge 39:21".

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