Genesis 38:24
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.
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(24) Let her be burnt.—As being by law the wife of Shelah, Tamar was condemned by Judah in right of his position, as head of the family, to the punishment usual for adultery. In subsequent times, this penalty was limited to one who had married mother and daughter (Leviticus 20:14); or to the daughter of a priest guilty of unchastity (Leviticus 21:9). On this account, the Jewish expositors argue that Tamar belonged to a priestly family, and some even think that she was descended from Melchisedek.

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.

38:1-30 The profligate conduct of Judah and his family. - This chapter gives an account of Judah and his family, and such an account it is, that it seems a wonder that of all Jacob's sons, our Lord should spring out of Judah, Heb 7:14. But God will show that his choice is of grace and not of merit, and that Christ came into the world to save sinners, even the chief. Also, that the worthiness of Christ is of himself, and not from his ancestors. How little reason had the Jews, who were so called from this Judah, to boast as they did, Joh 8:41. What awful examples the Lord proclaims in his punishments, of his utter displeasure at sin! Let us seek grace from God to avoid every appearance of sin. And let that state of humbleness to which Jesus submitted, when he came to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, in appointing such characters as those here recorded, to be his ancestors, endear the Redeemer to our hearts.Tamar bears Perez and Zerah to Judah. After three months her pregnancy was manifest. "Let her be burnt." It is manifest Judah had the power to execute this punishment. The life of the widow of his son was in his hands. Stoning was the mode of punishment by the law of Moses Deuteronomy 22:20-24; burning, only in aggravated cases Leviticus 20:14; Leviticus 21:9. He is a severe judge in a case where he is equally criminal. "She hath been more righteous than I. Tamar was less culpable in this matter than Judah. For he was moved by lust to commit fornication, and was the indirect occasion of Tamar's conduct by withholding Selah. But Tamar, though wronged, was not free from blame in her mode of righting herself. The youthful indiscretion of Judah in forming an intermarriage with a Canaanitish family, without the concurrence of his brothers or his father, has been fruitful of crime. If this immorality goes on, the chosen family will be speedily absorbed in the surrounding paganism. Hence, we begin to see the necessity of an immediate removal to another land, where they may be kept more distinct from the native superstition. By the disclosure of Tamar Judah is brought to acknowledgment of his fault, and, we may infer, to repentance. His abstaining from all further sexual intercourse with her may be accepted as a proof of this. "A scarlet thread." The right of primogeniture here manifests its importance. "Perez" - a breach. Slight incidents become the foundation of names, and are often the hinges on which great events turn. The minutest circumstances connected with the progenitors of the promised seed have a lasting interest.

Judah was at the close of his twenty-ninth year when Perez and Zerah were born. The dates in his family history may be arranged as underneath, on the supposition that the first child was born when the father was in his fourteenth year. This hypothesis is fairly allowable when we take into consideration not only other cases, but the early willfulness of Judah, and the example he gave to his children. The command also to be fruitful and multiply Genesis 35:11, which was given especially to Jacob, may have had a tendency to encourage early marriages. It is certain that the Jewish rabbis considered a man to have transgressed a divine precept who passed the age of twenty without being married. They also fixed the marriageable age for males at thirteen years and a day. King Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah when he was not more than twelve 2 Kings 16:2; 2 Kings 18:2; and King Josiah the father of Jehoiakim, when fourteen years of age 2 Kings 22:1; 2 Kings 23:36.

Judah 13 years 6 months when Er was born.

Judah 14 years 4 12 months when Onan was born.

Judah 15 years 3 months when Shelah was born.

Judah 28 years 9 months when Perez was born.

Judah 42 years 3 months when Hezron was born to Perez.

Judah 43 years 2 months when Hamul was born.

- Joseph in Potiphar's House

According to our reckoning, Perez and Zerah were born when Judah was in his twenty-eighth year, and therefore, Joseph in his twenty-fourth. Here, then, we go back seven years to resume the story of Joseph.

24. Bring her forth, and let her be burnt—In patriarchal times fathers seem to have possessed the power of life and death over the members of their families. The crime of adultery was anciently punished in many places by burning (Le 21:9; Jud 15:6; Jer 29:22). This chapter contains details, which probably would never have obtained a place in the inspired record, had it not been to exhibit the full links of the chain that connects the genealogy of the Saviour with Abraham; and in the disreputable character of the ancestry who figure in this passage, we have a remarkable proof that "He made himself of no reputation" [Php 2:7]. Bring her forth to the magistrate, from whom she may receive her sentence and deserved punishment. Judah had not the power of life and death, at least not over her, who was a Canaanite, and who was not in his, but in her own father’s house. But he being a person of great estate and authority, and, as it seems, of obliging conversation, could do very much to persuade those who then had the power of the sword, either to draw it forth, at least in a just cause, on his behalf, or to sheath it upon his desire and satisfaction.

Let her be burnt, as guilty of adultery, which was punished with death by the laws of God, Deu 22:23,24, and of nations too, Jeremiah 29:22,23. He chargeth her with adultery, because she was betrothed to Shelah. See Deu 22:23. This eagerness of Judah proceeded not from zeal of justice, for then he would not have endeavoured to destroy the innocent child with the guilty mother, against God’s law, Deu 24:16 Ezekiel 18:20, but from worldly policy, that he might take her out of the way, which he esteemed a burden and a blot to his family.

And it came to pass about three months after,.... The above affair happened, and when the pregnancy of Tamar began to be somewhat visible, as it does in women with child about that time:

that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot: her being with child being observed by some of the family, or her neighbours, and knowing that she did not cohabit with Shelah, who, according to custom, ought to have been her husband, concluded that she had had a criminal conversation with some other person, which they were officious enough to report to Judah:

and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom; which was judged to be a plain proof and evidence that she had played the harlot:

and Judah said, bring her forth, and let her be burnt: not that Judah can be thought to be a civil magistrate in a Canaanitish and Heathen city where he sojourned, and as such pronounced this sentence on her at once, or even had the power of life and death in his own family; and besides Tamar was not in his, but in her own father's house: but the sense seems to be, that as he was a man of credit and esteem in the neighbourhood, and had an influence and interest in it; he moved that she might be brought out of her father's house, and take her trial before the civil magistrates, and be committed to prison until she was delivered, for it would have been barbarous, and contrary to the law and light of nature, to have burnt her when quick with child, and then indeed to be burnt to death, according to the usage of this country; and as we find adultery in later times was punished with this kind of death, even among Heathens, Jeremiah 29:22; as it was in Egypt in the times of Sesostris the second (f); so Salaethus, prince of Croton in Italy, made a law that adulterers should be burnt alive, as Lucian (g) relates; as did also Macrinus the emperor, that those that were guilty of adultery should be burnt alive together, their bodies joined to each other (h): and this criminal action of Tamar was judged adultery, because she was, of right, and according to a custom or law then in use, the wife of Shelah: the Targum of Jonathan intimates, she was judged deserving of this death, because the daughter of a priest; the same law obtaining among the patriarchs as did in the times of Moses, Leviticus 21:9; and some, as Jarchi relates, say she was the daughter of Shem (i), the same with Melchizedek, priest of the most high God: one reason why Judah was in haste to have the sentence pronounced on her, and as soon as could be executed, was not only the disgrace she brought upon his family, but that she might be dispatched, and so his son Shelah freed from being obliged to marry her, which he did not care he should, and was glad of this opportunity to prevent it.

(f) Diodor. Sicul. l. 1. p. 54. (g) "Pro mercede conductis". (h) Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 4. c. 1.((i) Shalshalet Hakabala, fol. 4. 1.

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 {h} burnt.

(h) We see that the Law, which was written in man's heart, taught them that adultery should be punished with death, even though no law had been given yet.

24. let her be burnt] Judah, as the head of the family, acts as judge having power of life and death, cf. Genesis 31:32. It is remarkable that the matter is not referred to Jacob; but, presumably, this story constitutes a separate tribal tradition, in which Judah stands as the chief authority.

Judah sentences her to death as an adulteress. He treats her as the betrothed of Shelah, and the childless widow of Er. The penalty for adultery in the Levitical law was death by stoning (cf. Leviticus 20:10 with Deuteronomy 22:22; Ezekiel 16:40; John 8:5). Death by burning, the penalty of a priest’s daughter, Leviticus 21:9, was the more ancient usage. The penalty of burning is recorded in the Code of Hammurabi; and occurs in ancient Egyptian sentences for adultery.

Verse 24. - And it same to pass about three months after (the usual time at which pregnancy is certainly determined), that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter-in-law hath played the harlot (or, acted as a zonah); and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said (altogether unmindful of his own iniquity three months previous), Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. Under the law stoning was the punishment allotted to the crime of Tamar (Deuteronomy 22:20-24), burning being added only in cases of excessive criminality (Leviticus 20:14; Leviticus 21:9). It is obvious that the power of life and death lay in the hand of Judah, as the head of his family. Genesis 38:24About three months afterwards (משׁלשׁ prob. for משּׁלשׁ with the prefix )מ Judah was informed that Thamar had played the harlot and was certainly (הנּה) with child. He immediately ordered, by virtue of his authority as head of the tribe, that she should be brought out and burned. Thamar was regarded as the affianced bride of Shelah, and was to be punished as a bride convicted of a breach of chastity. But the Mosaic law enjoined stoning in the case of those who were affianced and broke their promise, or of newly married women who were found to have been dishonoured (Deuteronomy 22:20-21, Deuteronomy 22:23-24); and it was only in the case of the whoredom of a priest's daughter, or of carnal intercourse with a mother or a daughter, that the punishment of burning was enjoined (Leviticus 21:9 and Leviticus 20:14). Judah's sentence, therefore, was more harsh than the subsequent law; whether according to patriarchal custom, or on other grounds, cannot be determined. When Thamar was brought out, she sent to Judah the things which she had kept as a pledge, with this message: "By a man to whom these belong am I with child: look carefully therefore to whom this signet-ring, and band, and stick belong." Judah recognised the things as his own, and was obliged to confess, "She is more in the right than I; for therefore (sc., that this might happen to me, or that it might turn out so; on כּי־על־כּן see Genesis 18:5) have I not given her to my son Shelah." In passing sentence upon Thamar, Judah had condemned himself. His son, however, did not consist merely in his having given way to his lusts so afar as to lie with a supposed public prostitute of Canaan, but still more in the fact, that by breaking his promise to give her his son Shelah as her husband, he had caused his daughter-in-law to practise this deception upon him, just because in his heart he blamed her for the early and sudden deaths of his elder sons, whereas the real cause of the deaths which had so grieved his paternal heart was the wickedness of the sons themselves, the mainspring of which was to be found in his own marriage with a Canaanite in violation of the patriarchal call. And even if the sons of Jacob were not unconditionally prohibited from marrying the daughters of Canaanites, Judah's marriage at any rate had borne such fruit in his sons Ger and Onan, as Jehovah the covenant God was compelled to reject. But if Judah, instead of recognising the hand of the Lord in the sudden death of his sons, traced the cause to Thamar, and determined to keep her as a childless widow all her life long, not only in opposition to the traditional custom, but also in opposition to the will of God as expressed in His promises of a numerous increase of the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Thamar had by no means acted rightly in the stratagem by which she frustrated his plan, and sought to procure from Judah himself the seed of which he was unjustly depriving her, though her act might be less criminal than Judah's. For it is evident from the whole account, that she was not driven to her sin by lust, but by the innate desire for children (ὅτι δὲ παιδοποΐ́ιας χάριν, καὶ οὐ φιληδονίας τοῦτο ὁ Θάμαρ ἐμηχανήσατο, - Theodoret); and for that reason she was more in the right than Judah. Judah himself, however, not only saw his guilt, but he confessed it also; and showed both by this confession, and also by the fact that he had no further conjugal intercourse with Thamar, an earnest endeavour to conquer the lusts of the flesh, and to guard against the sin into which he had fallen. And because he thus humbled himself, God gave him grace, and not only exalted him to be the chief of the house of Israel, but blessed the children that were begotten in sin.
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