Genesis 38

Judah and Tamar

At that time Judah left
Heb “went down from.”
his brothers and stayed
Heb “and he turned aside unto.”
with an Adullamite man
Heb “a man, an Adullamite.”
named Hirah.

There Judah saw the daughter of a Canaanite man
Heb “a man, a Canaanite.”
named Shua.
Heb “and his name was Shua.”
Judah acquired her as a wife
Heb “and he took her.”
and had marital relations with her.
Heb “and he went to her.” This expression is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.
She became pregnant
Or “she conceived” (also in the following verse).
and had a son. Judah named
Some mss read this verb as feminine, “she called,” to match the pattern of the next two verses. But the MT, “he called,” should probably be retained as the more difficult reading.
Heb “and he called his name.” The referent (Judah) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
him Er.
She became pregnant again and had another son, whom she named Onan. Then she had
Heb “and she added again and she gave birth.” The first verb and the adverb emphasize that she gave birth once more.
yet another son, whom she named Shelah. She gave birth to him in Kezib.
Or “and he [i.e., Judah] was in Kezib when she gave birth to him.”

Judah acquired
Heb “and Judah took.”
a wife for Er his firstborn; her name was Tamar.
But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord killed him.

Then Judah said to Onan, “Have sexual relations with
Heb “go to.” The expression is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.
your brother’s wife and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her so that you may raise
The imperative with the prefixed conjunction here indicates purpose.
up a descendant for your brother.”
Raise up a descendant for your brother. The purpose of this custom, called the levirate system, was to ensure that no line of the family would become extinct. The name of the deceased was to be maintained through this custom of having a child by the nearest relative. See M. Burrows, “Levirate Marriage in Israel,” JBL 59 (1940): 23-33.
But Onan knew that the child
Heb “offspring.”
would not be considered his.
Heb “would not be his,” that is, legally speaking. Under the levirate system the child would be legally considered the child of his deceased brother.
So whenever
The construction shows that this was a repeated practice and not merely one action.
The text makes it clear that the purpose of the custom was to produce an heir for the deceased brother. Onan had no intention of doing that. But he would have sex with the girl as much as he wished. He was willing to use the law to gratify his desires, but was not willing to do the responsible thing.
he had sexual relations with
Heb “he went to.” This expression is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.
his brother’s wife, he withdrew prematurely
Heb “he spoiled [his semen] to the ground.” Onan withdrew prematurely and ejaculated on the ground to prevent his brother’s widow from becoming pregnant.
so as not to give his brother a descendant.
10 What he did was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord
Heb “he”; the referent (the Lord) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
killed him too.

11  Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s house until Shelah my son grows up.” For he thought,
Heb “said.”
“I don’t want him to die like his brothers.”
Heb “Otherwise he will die, also he, like his brothers.”
I don’t want him to die like his brothers. This clause explains that Judah had no intention of giving Shelah to Tamar for the purpose of the levirate marriage. Judah apparently knew the nature of his sons, and feared that God would be angry with the third son and kill him as well.
So Tamar went and lived in her father’s house.

12  After some time
After some time. There is not enough information in the narrative to know how long this was. The text says “the days increased.” It was long enough for Shelah to mature and for Tamar to realize she would not have him.
Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. After Judah was consoled, he left for Timnah to visit his sheepshearers, along with
Heb “and he went up to the shearers of his sheep, he and.”
his friend Hirah the Adullamite.
13 Tamar was told,
Heb “And it was told to Tamar, saying.”
“Look, your father-in-law is going up
The active participle indicates the action was in progress or about to begin.
to Timnah to shear his sheep.”
14 So she removed her widow’s clothes and covered herself with a veil. She wrapped herself and sat at the entrance to Enaim which is on the way to Timnah. (She did this because
The Hebrew text simply has “because,” connecting this sentence to what precedes. For stylistic reasons the words “she did this” are supplied in the translation and a new sentence begun.
she saw that she had not been given to Shelah as a wife, even though he had now grown up.)
Heb “she saw that Shelah had grown up, but she was not given to him as a wife.”

15  When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute
Heb “he reckoned her for a prostitute,” which was what Tamar had intended for him to do. She obviously had some idea of his inclinations, or she would not have tried this risky plan.
because she had covered her face.
16 He turned aside to her along the road and said, “Come on! I want to have sex with you.”
Heb “I will go to you.” The imperfect verbal form probably indicates his desire here. The expression “go to” is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.
(He did not realize
Heb “for he did not know that.”
it was his daughter-in-law.) She asked, “What will you give me in exchange for having sex with you?”
Heb “when you come to me.” This expression is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.
17 He replied, “I’ll send you a young goat from the flock.” She asked, “Will you give me a pledge until you send it?”
Heb “until you send.”
18 He said, “What pledge should I give you?” She replied, “Your seal, your cord, and the staff that’s in your hand.” So he gave them to her and had sex with her.
Heb “and he went to her.” This expression is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.
She became pregnant by him.
19 She left immediately,
Heb “and she arose and left,” the first verb in the pair emphasizing that she wasted no time.
removed her veil, and put on her widow’s clothes.

20  Then Judah had his friend Hirah
Heb “sent by the hand of his friend.” Here the name of the friend (“Hirah”) has been included in the translation for clarity.
the Adullamite take a young goat to get back from the woman the items he had given in pledge,
Heb “to receive the pledge from the woman’s hand.”
but Hirah
Heb “he”; the referent (Judah’s friend Hirah the Adullamite) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
could not find her.
21 He asked the men who were there,
Heb “the men of her place,” that is, who lived at the place where she had been.
“Where is the cult prostitute
The Hebrew noun translated “cult prostitute” is derived from a verb meaning “to be set apart; to be distinct.” Thus the term refers to a woman who did not marry, but was dedicated to temple service as a cult prostitute. The masculine form of this noun is used for male cult prostitutes. Judah thought he had gone to an ordinary prostitute (v. 15); but Hirah went looking for a cult prostitute, perhaps because it had been a sheep-shearing festival. For further discussion see E. M. Yamauchi, “Cultic Prostitution,” Orient and Occident (AOAT), 213–23.
who was at Enaim by the road?” But they replied, “There has been no cult prostitute here.”
22 So he returned to Judah and said, “I couldn’t find her. Moreover, the men of the place said, ‘There has been no cult prostitute here.’” 23 Judah said, “Let her keep the things
The words “the things” have been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.
for herself. Otherwise we will appear to be dishonest.
Heb “we will become contemptible.” The Hebrew word בּוּז (buz) describes the contempt that a respectable person would have for someone who is worthless, foolish, or disreputable.
I did indeed send this young goat, but you couldn’t find her.”

24  After three months Judah was told,
Heb “it was told to Judah, saying.”
“Your daughter-in-law Tamar has turned to prostitution,
Or “has been sexually promiscuous.” The verb may refer here to loose or promiscuous activity, not necessarily prostitution.
and as a result she has become pregnant.”
Heb “and also look, she is with child by prostitution.”
Judah said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!”
25 While they were bringing her out, she sent word
Heb “she was being brought out and she sent.” The juxtaposition of two clauses, both of which place the subject before the predicate, indicates synchronic action.
to her father-in-law: “I am pregnant by the man to whom these belong.”
Heb “who these to him.”
Then she said, “Identify
Or “ recognize; note.” This same Hebrew verb (נָכַר, nakhar) is used at the beginning of v. 26, where it is translated “recognized.”
the one to whom the seal, cord, and staff belong.”
26 Judah recognized them and said, “She is more upright
Traditionally “more righteous”; cf. NCV, NRSV, NLT “more in the right.”
She is more upright than I. Judah had been irresponsible and unfaithful to his duty to see that the family line continued through the levirate marriage of his son Shelah. Tamar fought for her right to be the mother of Judah’s line. When she was not given Shelah and Judah’s wife died, she took action on her own to ensure that the line did not die out. Though deceptive, it was a desperate and courageous act. For Tamar it was within her rights; she did nothing that the law did not entitle her to do. But for Judah it was wrong because he thought he was going to a prostitute. See also Susan Niditch, “The Wronged Woman Righted: An Analysis of Genesis 38, ” HTR 72 (1979): 143-48.
than I am, because I wouldn’t give her to Shelah my son.” He did not have sexual relations with her
Heb “and he did not add again to know her.” Here “know” is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.

27  When it was time for her to give birth, there were twins in her womb. 28 While she was giving birth, one child
The word “child” has been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.
put out his hand, and the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.”
29 But then he drew back his hand, and his brother came out before him.
Heb “Look, his brother came out.” By the use of the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh, “look”), the narrator invites the reader to view the scene through the midwife’s eyes. The words “before him” are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.
She said, “How you have broken out of the womb!”
Heb “How you have made a breach for yourself!” The Hebrew verb translated “make a breach” frequently occurs, as here, with a cognate accusative. The event provided the meaningful name Perez, “he who breaks through.”
So he was named Perez.
The name Perez means “he who breaks through,” referring to Perez reaching out his hand at birth before his brother was born. The naming signified the completion of Tamar’s struggle and also depicted the destiny of the tribe of Perez who later became dominant (Gen 46:12 and Num 26:20). Judah and his brothers had sold Joseph into slavery, thinking they could thwart God’s plan that the elder brothers should serve the younger. God demonstrated that principle through these births in Judah’s own family, affirming that the elder will serve the younger, and that Joseph’s leadership could not so easily be set aside. See J. Goldin, “The Youngest Son; or, Where Does Genesis 38 Belong?” JBL 96 (1977): 27-44.
30 Afterward his brother came out – the one who had the scarlet thread on his hand – and he was named Zerah.
Perhaps the child was named Zerah because of the scarlet thread. Though the Hebrew word used for “scarlet thread” in v. 28 is not related to the name Zerah, there is a related root in Babylonian and western Aramaic that means “scarlet” or “scarlet thread.” In Hebrew the name appears to be derived from a root meaning “to shine.” The name could have originally meant something like “shining one” or “God has shined.” Zerah became the head of a tribe (Num 26:20) from whom Achan descended (Josh 7:1).

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