Genesis 38:8
And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(8) Go in unto thy brother’s wife.—We learn from this that the law of the Levirate, by which the brother of the dead husband was required to marry the widow, was of far more ancient date than the law of Moses. Its object, first of all, was to prevent the extinction of any line of descent, a matter of great importance in those genealogical days; and, secondly, it was an obstacle to the accumulation of landed property in few hands, as the son first born after the Levirate marriage inherited the property of his deceased uncle, while the second son was the representative of the real father. A similar custom existed in parts of India, Persia, &c, and prevails now among the Mongols. The Mosaic Law did not institute, but regulated the custom, confining such marriages to cases where the deceased brother had died without children, and permitting the brother to refuse to marry the widow, under a penalty, nevertheless, of disgrace. Onan, by refusing to take Tamar, may have been actuated by the selfish motive of obtaining for himself the rights of primogeniture, which would otherwise have gone to his eldest son, as the heir of his uncle ‘Er.

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.Judah marries and has three sons. "Went down from brethren." This seems to have been an act of willful indiscretion in Judah. His separation from his brethren, however, extends only to the matter of his new connection. In regard to property and employment there seems to have been no long or entire separation until they went down into Egypt. He went down from the high grounds about Shekem to the lowlands in which Adullam was situated Joshua 15:33-35. "A certain Adullamite." He may have become acquainted with this Hirah, when visiting his grandfather, or in some of the caravans which were constantly passing Shekem, or even in the ordinary wanderings of the pastoral life. Adullam was in the Shephelah or lowland of Judah bordering on Philistia proper. "A certain Kenaanite." This connection with Shua's daughter was contrary to the will of God and the example of his fathers. Onan was born, we conceive, in Judah's fifteenth year, and Shelah in his sixteenth.

At Kezib. - This appears the same as Akzib, which is associated with Keilah and Mareshah Joshua 15:44, and therefore, lay in the south of the lowland of Judah. This note of place indicates a change of residence since her other children were born. In the year after this birth the dishonor of Dinah takes place. "Took a wife for Er." Judah chose a wife for himself at an early age, and now he chooses for his first-born at the same age. "Was evil in the eyes of the Lord." The God of covenant is obliged to cut off Er for his wickedness in the prime of life. We are not made acquainted with his crime; but it could scarcely be more vile and unnatural than that for which his brother Onan is also visited with death. "And be a husband to her." The original word means to act as a husband to the widow of a deceased brother who has left no issue. Onan seems to have been prompted to commit his crime by the low motive of turning the whole inheritance to his own house. At the time of Er's death Judah must have been in his twenty-seventh year; Joseph was consequently in his twenty-third, and Jacob had for ten years past had his headquarters at Hebron. Hence, the contact with Timnah, Adullam, and Enaim was easy.

8. Judah said unto Onan … marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother—The first instance of a custom, which was afterwards incorporated among the laws of Moses, that when a husband died leaving a widow, his brother next of age was to marry her, and the issue, if any, was to be served heir to the deceased (compare De 25:5). This, as also divers other things, was now instituted and observed amongst God’s people, and afterwards was expressed in a written law, Deu 25:5,6. See also Numbers 36:6,7 Rth 1:11 Matthew 22:24.

Raise up seed to thy brother; beget a child which may have thy brother’s name and inheritance, and may be reputed as his child. So it was with the first child, but the rest were reputed his own.

And Judah said unto Onan,.... Some time after his brother's death:

go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her; Moses here uses a word not common for marriage, but which was peculiar to the marrying of a brother's wife according to a law given in his time: it appears to have been a custom before, and which the patriarch might be directed to by the Lord, in such a case when a brother died, and left no issue, for the sake of multiplication of seed, according to the divine promise, and which in the time of Moses passed into a law, see Deuteronomy 25:5,

and raise up seed unto thy brother; that might bear his name, and enjoy his inheritance. For this law or custom was partly political, to continue the paternal inheritance in the family, and partly typical, to direct to Christ the firstborn among many brethren, Romans 8:29, who in all things was to have the preeminence, Colossians 1:18; and this was not taken from the Canaanites, among whom Judah now was, but from the ancient patriarchs, which they had no doubt from divine revelation, and was taught in the school of Shem, and handed down from father to son; for as to this being a law among the Egyptians in later times, and which continued to the days of Zeno Augustus (q), it is most likely they took it from the Jews.

(q) Justinian. Cod l. 5. Titus 6. leg. 8.

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

(c) This order was for the preservation of the stock, since the child begotten by the second brother would have the name and inheritance of the first: a practice which is abolished in the New Testament.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
8. perform] The first instance of the “levirate” (Lat. lêvir, “brother-in-law”) law which made it obligatory for a surviving brother to marry the widow of his brother, if the latter should die childless. See Deuteronomy 25:5; Matthew 22:24. The eldest son of a levirate marriage succeeded to the deceased’s name and inheritance.

Verse 8. - And Judah said unto Onan (obviously after a sufficient interval), Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, - literally, and perform the part of levir, or husband's brother, to her. The language seems to imply that what was afterwards in the code Mosaic known as the Lex Leviratus (Deuteronomy 25:5, 6) was at this time a recognized custom. The existence of the practice has been traced in different frames among Indians, Persians, and other nations of Asia and Africa - and raise up seed to thy brother. As afterwards explained in the Hebrew legislation, the first. born son of such a Levirate marriage became in the eye of the law the child of the deceased husband, and was regarded as his heir. Genesis 38:8When Ger was grown up, according to ancient custom (cf. Genesis 21:21; Genesis 34:4) his father gave him a wife, named Thamar, probably a Canaanite, of unknown parentage. But Ger was soon put to death by Jehovah on account of his wickedness. Judah then wished Onan, as the brother-in-law, to marry the childless widow of his deceased brother, and raise up seed, i.e., a family, for him. But as he knew that the first-born son would not be the founder of his own family, but would perpetuate the family of the deceased and receive his inheritance, he prevented conception when consummating the marriage by spilling the semen. ארצה שׁחת, "destroyed to the ground (i.e., let it fall upon the ground), so as not to give seed to his brother" (נתן for תּת only here and Numbers 20:21). This act not only betrayed a want of affection to his brother, combined with a despicable covetousness for his possession and inheritance, but was also a sin against the divine institution of marriage and its object, and was therefore punished by Jehovah with sudden death. The custom of levirate marriage, which is first mentioned here, and is found in different forms among Indians, Persians, and other nations of Asia and Africa, was not founded upon a divine command, but upon an ancient tradition, originating probably in Chaldea. It was not abolished, however, by the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 25:5.), but only so far restricted as not to allow it to interfere with the sanctity of marriage; and with this limitation it was enjoined as a duty of affection to build up the brother's house, and to preserve his family and name (see my Bibl. Archologie, 108).
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