Genesis 38
Benson Commentary
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.
Genesis 38:1. At that time — That is, about that time; this expression, as also the words then, in those days, often referring in Scripture to a considerable space of time. For though these words, as Le Clerc well observes, seem to connect the following events with those spoken of in the former chapter, yet some of them, particularly Judah’s marriage, which leads to the rest, must have happened long before Joseph was sold into Egypt. This chapter must therefore be here placed out of the order of time, and the events here recorded must have happened soon after Jacob came from Mesopotamia into Canaan, though Moses, for some special reasons, relates them in this place. Judah went down from his brethren — Withdrew for a time from his father’s family, and got intimately acquainted with one Hirah an Adullamite. When young people that have been well educated, begin to change their company, they will soon change their manners, and lose their good education. They that go down from their brethren, that forsake the society of the seed of Israel, and pick up Canaanites for their companions, are going down the hill apace.

And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her.
Genesis 38:2. He took her — To wife. His father, it should seem, was not consulted, but he acted by the advice of his new friend Hirah.

And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er.
And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan.
And she yet again conceived, and bare a son; and called his name Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bare him.
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.
Genesis 38:7-8. Er was wicked in the sight of the Lord — That is, in defiance of God, and his law. And the Lord slew him — Cut him off by an untimely death, before he had any children by Tamar. As long life among the Jews was generally reckoned a blessing from God; so an untimely death was accounted a punishment. The next brother, Onan, was, according to the ancient usage, married to the widow, to preserve the name of his deceased brother that died childless. This custom of marrying the brother’s widow was afterward made one of the laws of Moses, Deuteronomy 25:5. Onan, though he consented to marry the widow, yet, to the great abuse of his own body, and of the wife he had married, and to the dishonour of the memory of his brother that was gone, refused to raise up seed unto his brother. And this story seems to be recorded by the Holy Ghost purposely to condemn, not only his malignant and envious disposition with respect to his deceased brother, but also and especially that vile pollution of his body of which he was guilty. For, observe, The thing which he did displeased the Lord, and brought upon him the Lord’s vengeance. And it is to be feared that thousands, especially of single persons, still displease the Lord in a similar way, and destroy their own bodies and souls. All such sins, at the same time that they dishonour the body, evidence the power of vile affections, and are not only condemned in the Scriptures, but by the light of nature, and were held even by the heathen moralists to be peculiarly criminal, and by the Jewish doctors to be a degree of murder. See Universal History.

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.
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, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house.
Genesis 38:11. Remain a widow till Shelah my son be grown — The contract of marriage, it seems, was so understood, even before any positive law was made on the subject, that, if the husband died without any issue, his next brother was to marry his wife, and as long as any of his brethren remained they were bound to marry her, if left a widow. Accordingly Shelah, the third son, was reserved for Tamar, yet with design that he should not marry so young as his brothers had done. For it would seem from Judah’s expression, Lest peradventure he die also, that he thought marrying too young was the cause of their death; though some consider his conduct as an evidence that he never intended to give his son to her.

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 vail, 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.
Genesis 38:14. She put her widow’s garments off, &c. — Some excuse her conduct in this by suggesting that she believed the promise made to Abraham and his seed, particularly that of the Messiah, and that she was therefore desirous to have a child by one of that family, that she might have the honour, or at least stand fair for being the mother of the Messiah. She covered her with a veil — It was the custom of harlots in those times to cover their faces, that though they were not ashamed, yet they might seem to be so: the sin of uncleanness did not go so bare-faced as it now doth.

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?
Genesis 38:17-21. A kid from the flock — A goodly price at which her chastity and honour were valued! Had the consideration been a thousand rams, and ten thousands of rivers of oil, it had not been a valuable consideration. The favour of God, the purity of the soul, the peace of the conscience, and the hope of heaven, are too precious to be exposed to sale at any such rates. It is a good account, if it be but true, of any place, that which they here gave, that there is no harlot in this place, for such sinners are the scandals and plagues of any place. Judah sits down content to lose his signet and his bracelets, and forbids his friend to make any further inquiry.

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 vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood.
And Judah sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman's hand: but he found her not.
Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot, that was openly by the way side? And they said, There was no harlot in this place.
And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said, that there was no harlot in this place.
And Judah said, Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her.
Genesis 38:23. Lest we be ashamed — Either, 1st, Lest his sin should come to be known publicly; or, 2d, Lest he should be laughed at as a fool for trusting a whore with his signet and his bracelets. He expresses no concern about the sin, only about the shame. There are many who are more solicitous to preserve their reputation with men, than to secure the favour of God; lest we be ashamed, goes further with them than lest we be damned.

And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt.
Genesis 38:24. Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt — Some have inferred from this that fathers then had the power of life and death over their children. But if so, it is probable that some instance would have occurred and have appeared on record in which such a power was actually exercised. It seems very unlikely that Judah should have such a power, at least over her, who was a Canaanite, and who was not in his, but in her own father’s house. He probably only meant, Bring her forth to the magistrate, from whom she may receive her sentence and deserved punishment, as a person guilty of adultery, (having been betrothed to Shelah,) a crime formerly punished with death by the laws of God, and of divers nations. See Deuteronomy 22:23-24; Jeremiah 29:22-23. This eagerness of Judah, however, proceeded not from zeal for justice, for then he would not have endeavoured to destroy the innocent child with the guilty mother, but from worldly policy, that he might take her out of the way whom he viewed as a disgrace and burden to his family. But perhaps, though he uttered this severe sentence in the heat of his passion, he would not have urged the putting of it in execution; or, as some think, by burning her he might mean no more than branding her in the forehead to denote her being a harlot.

When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff.
And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more.
Genesis 38:26. And Judah acknowledged them — His guilty conscience and the horror of so foul a fact, together with the sudden surprise, forced him to make an immediate and ingenuous confession. She hath been more righteous than I — This he says because he had broken his word with her in withholding Shelah from her, whom he had promised; whereas she had kept her faith with him, and had lived as a widow honestly; besides, she had committed the fact out of desire to have a child, he to satisfy his lust. She was, however, more guilty than he in another respect, as having knowingly committed both adultery and incest, when he designed neither. And he knew her again no more — Thus showing the sincerity of his confession, by forsaking the sin confessed, the only sure way of showing it.

And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb.
And it came to pass, when she travailed, that the one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first.
Genesis 38:28-29. When she travailed — It should seem the birth was hard to the mother, by which she was corrected for her sin: the children also, like Jacob and Esau, struggled for the birthright, and Pharez, who got it, is ever named first, and from him Christ descended. He had his name from his breaking forth before his brother: this breach be upon thee — The Jews, as Zarah, bid fair for the birthright, and were marked, as it were, with a scarlet thread, as those that came first; but the Gentiles, like Pharez, or a son of violence, got the start of them, by that violence which the kingdom of heaven suffers, and attained to the righteousness which the Jews came short of: yet when the fulness of time is come, all Israel shall be saved. Both these sons are named in the genealogy of our Saviour, Matthew 1:3, to perpetuate the story, as an instance of the humiliation of our Lord Jesus.

And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez.
And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah.
Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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Genesis 37
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