The Life of Joseph - Lesson 10, The profligate conduct of Judah and his family.


Genesis 38:1,  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.


We said last time that the 38th chapter of Genesis deals with a case of family law, a case of childlessness of the young widow, Tamar (taw-mawr').

We learn that Tamar is the hero of the story while Judah is the villain for Tamar fought for her right to be the mother in the family of Judah and to protect the family while Judah hindered her from that right.

The theme of deception is again apparent wherein we see Judah deceived and forced to recognize a piece of evidence that will force Judah to do right by Tamar.

The events of this passage span a time of 20 or so years.

That means that in this time period Judah married the daughter of Shuah, had three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah, the first two being slain by the Lord, then had twin sons Pharez and Zarah by Tamar, the wife of his first son Er and second son Onan.

Judah left home and went down to Adullam in the low country.

Genesis 38:2-5,  And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her. And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er (Watchful). And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan (o-nawn')(strong). And she yet again conceived, and bare a son; and called his name Shelah (shay-law')(he that breaks): and he was at Chezib (kez-eeb'), when she bare him.

Genesis 38:6-10,  And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him. And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should 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 that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.

Er, the oldest of the three boys, had grown to manhood and Judah carried out his responsibility by finding a wife for Er.

The woman he chose for him was named Tamar, which means Palm Tree, suggesting beauty, slenderness, grace and usefulness.

From the rest of the story and from the position that God gave her in the Messianic line, most likely she was a woman of high character and nobility in spite of her pagan birth and background.

It is obvious when we see to what lengths she went to insure that she bare children to carry on her deceased husband's name.

For Er was not given life long enough to give Tamar child for:

... Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him.

And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.

In pre-messianic days it was very important that families continue, for from one family the Messiah would come.

This was very important to families of the faith of Abraham however it does not appear to be a custom that was welcome to the natural man.

Every son of Abraham, a true person of faith, hoped that he might be the ancestor of the promised Messiah, the seed of the woman who was to bruise the head of the serpent.

To die childless was then to die without hope of this connection to the Messiah.

Therefore to continue this hope it was expected of a brother, as an act of brotherly love to raise up seed in the brother's widow so that his name and standing among the fathers of the families of Israel would continue

This custom of faith was later given in the law through Moses and recorded in the book of Deuteronomy.

It requires the brother to perform the duty of the husband's brother so that the firstborn which she bears succeeds in the name of his brother which is dead so that his name is not put out of Israel.

Legally then the first born is to be the son of the deceased brother and he is to bare his name.

And according to the law those who refused to do this duty were put to shame in the presence of the elders of his city.

It was not a practice to be taken lightly for refusal to do it was to possibly cut off the line of the Messiah.

But it was a practice that to the natural man could be abhorred and rejected.

This was the case of Judah's son Onan, for it is obvious that his sons who were sons of a heathen woman were heathens themselves and had no heart for spiritual things. They were Esaus!

Onan had no appetite for his father's law in the matter and wished not to give seed to his brother and thereby continue his name.

He had no love for his brother and no love for his father and did not care to preserve his brother's family.

He refused to carry out his duty that may very well have resulted in the Messiah.

So every time Onan took Tamar he refused to make the birth of a child by her possible.

For this was not necessarily just a one time thing with Onan but most likely a regular occurrence:

He was simply interested in gratification without responsibility.

But God would have none of Onan's birth control for the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.

Er was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him.

Onan displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.

Two sons down and one to go!

Genesis 38:11,  Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father's house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said (better as thought), Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house.

This passage indicates to us a common conclusion on the part of a father.

Judah's two sons had died by the hand of the Lord.

We do not depend upon Judah to tell us this but we depend upon the word of God to tell us this.

We are boldly told that Er was taken because of his wickedness and Onan was slain because he displeased the Lord.

But Judah does not see this as the reason they both died.

He thinks of his sons more highly than he ought!

Here it is inferred that Judah sees Tamar as a woman who brought bad luck and he was not about to give his third son to such a woman.

So he directly says to Tamar:

Remain a widow at thy father's house, till Shelah my son be grown: inferring that when this happens Tamar will marry Shelah (shay-law)

But under his breath or in his mind he says: Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did.

So Judah, even though Tamar thinks she has been promised Shelah, has no intention of giving his last son to this Black Widow, or so he thinks!

Instead of seeing the error of his ways he blames Tamar, but in reality Judah is the one who brought his son's death upon himself.

Didn't he marry a pagan woman?

Didn't he leave the training of his sons to her?

Had he exhibited a testimony of godliness?

Had he neglected to teach his sons and his wife the truth about the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob?

In blaming Tamar Judah's perverted sense of values is revealed.

He is not a man to keep his word!

So Tamar returns to her father's house to await the time when Shelah is old enough to raise up seed for his dead brother Er.

But when that time comes, her waiting is not rewarded, and she realizes that Judah is not about to keep his promise to her.

But Tamar is not a woman to be stopped by a deceiver named Judah.

She is not about to let the name of her family die with Er so she is about to take matters into her own hands.

Genesis 38:12-14,  And in process of time the daughter of Shuah Judah's wife died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep. And she put her widow's garments off from her, and covered her with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife.

Tamar knew that the time was past when she should have been given Shelah.

Judah's wife had died and Judah, now a widower, was going through the grieving process.

In order to comfort himself he decided to go visit his friend Hirah, the Adullamite.

Tamar heard of this venture by her father in law which allowed her to construct a plan to have her right in spite of Judah's neglect.

We can conjecture that Tamar knew that Judah was a man subject to escapades with women.

For her to plan this deceit of Judah she must have known the habits of Judah and she took advantage of sheep shearing time to accomplish her purpose.

Sheep shearing is a time of celebration and was known as a time when festivities and generous drinking of wine would take place.

So Tamar places herself in the way of Judah disguised as a temple prostitute.

The Canaanite religion ministered directly to the flesh and consummated worship in an act of immorality with temple prostitutes.

These prostitutes connected with their religion were acceptable in this culture and it was not only a normal thing to do, it was considered an act of worship.

She well knew the habits of Judah and was in the place where she could practice her deceit sucessfully.

Judah the deceiver was about to be deceived.

Genesis 38:15-19,  When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face. And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.) And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me?

And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it? And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him. And she arose, and went away, and laid by her veil from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood.

This passage reveals Tamar as a very determined and clever woman.

She had a well thought out plan in which she was to see to it that Judah's responsibity was carried out in spite of his neglect.

She wore a veil, the costume of the temple harlot.

She was in the way of passage of Judah.

She knew he was want to engage the services of such a woman.

She knew that he would not have the price of such services because his flock was at Timnah.

She knew what pledge to ask for so as to prove the paternity of the child.

She fully expected to have to prove this in order to save her life later when she was accused by Judah of harlotry.

What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand.

The signet was Judah's ring used for impressing his signature on clay tablets.

The bracelets were probably chains of gold.

The staff marked him as a shepherd.

One writer has said that the ring represents his person, the bracelet represents his possessions, and the staff represents his position.

So Judah forfeited his person, his possessions and his position for the sake of a moment of lust.

Didn't I just read this in the newspaper?