Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary
At that time Juda, twenty years old, marries the daughter of Sue, and has three sons by her during the three following years. The first takes Thamar to wife, when he was seventeen. Onan marries her the next year; after which she remains a widow about three years, when she bears twins to Juda. Phares goes down with him into Egypt, and has children there during Jacob's life. On this account, they are numbered among those who went down with Jacob, (chap. xlvi. 12,) as the children of Benjamin seem to be likewise. Thus all these events might happen during the twenty-three years that Jacob dwelt in Chanaan, and the seventeen that he sojourned in Egypt. Some have thought the time too short, and have concluded that Juda had been married long before Joseph's slavery. He was, however, only four years older. (Calmet)
Sela. Juda gave the name of Her to his first-born, as the Hebrew shews. His wife gave names to the two latter. --- Ceased; Hebrew casbi: "she died in bearing him," as Aquila has it. Most commentators take the word for the name of a place mentioned, Josue xv. 44. "He (Juda) was at Casbi when she bare him."
Wicked; without shame or remorse, sinning against nature, in order, if we may believe the Jews, that the beauty of his wife might not be impaired by having children. Onan was actuated by envy. (Menochius)
Wife. This was then customary among the Chanaanites, as Philo insinuates. It also continued to be practiced in Egypt, till the year of Christ 491 at least, when the marriage had not been consummated. Moses established it as a law, when no issue had sprung from the deceased brother. (Calmet) (Deuteronomy xxv. 5.) The eldest son bore his name; the rest were called after their own father. This law is now abrogated; and the prohibition, which has been issued by the Church, can be dispensed with only by herself, (Worthington) as was the case in the marriage of Henry VIII, with Catherine, the virgin relict of his brother Arthur. (Haydock)
Slew him, perhaps by the hand of evil angels, Psalm lxxvii. 49. Asmodeus, &c., who slew the libidinous husbands of Sara. (Tobias iii. 7.) (Menochius) --- If an exemplary vengeance were oftener taken of the perpetrators of such a detestable thing, this abominable and unnatural vice would sooner perhaps be eradicated. (Haydock)
Till. Juda had no design to give her to Sela, as the custom of that age required. (Calmet) --- She waited patiently for a time; when, perceiving that she was neglected, she devised a wicked scheme to punish Juda, even at the hazard of her own life. (Haydock)
Veil; (theristrum) a long robe, covering the whole body, except the eyes. Thus she was disguised; or, as it were, masked, as Aquila translates. Harlots herein imitated modest women, chap. xxiv. 65. --- Cross way. Hebrew Henayim, which the Septuagint and Syriac take for a proper name. Others translate "at the gate of the eyes," which means two roads, where a person must open his eyes to judge which is the right one---or "at the gate of the two fountains leading to Thamnas," Judges xiv. 1. Prostitutes formerly infested the high roads. (Jeremias iii. 2; Ezechiel xvi. 25.) Chrysippus says, "at first harlots remained out of the city, and covered their faces; but afterwards growing more hardened, they laid aside the mask," &c.
Staff. These were all marks of dignity. "Kings made use of spears, or sceptres, before they wore a diadem." (Trogus. 43.) (Calmet) --- Juda might blame himself for exposing these valuable things, and divesting himself of all his dignity, to gratify his unjustifiable passion. If some have excused both the parties concerned, the Scripture at least sufficiently shews in what light we ought to consider their conduct. Juda himself thought her worthy of death; though in some sense, she was juster than himself, ver. 24, 26. (Haydock) --- She was guilty of a sort of adultery, being engaged to Sela; and also of incest, &c.; whereas the fault of Juda, through ignorance of her person, was simply fornication; which is, however, always contrary to the law of nature, as the pagans themselves confessed. (Grotius in Matthew v.) (Calmet) --- From Christ's choosing to be born of such progenitors, we may learn to adore his humility and tender regard for sinners. (Haydock)
Harlot. Hebrew Kedesha a person consecrated to good or evil. Many nations esteemed prostitution, in honour of Venus, as a laudable action, 2 Kings xvii. 30. (Calmet)
Gen 38:23 lie. Hebrew, "lest we be exposed to shame," by making any farther search. (Menochius)
Execution. The Rabbin say she was to be marked with a hot iron. If she was to die, before she was delivered, God prevented the cruel sentence from taking effect. (Haydock) --- Many nations have punished adultery with fire. Macrinus, the Roman emperor, ordered the culprits to be tied together and thrown into the flames. (Capitolin.) --- Moses commanded the daughters of priests, who should be detected in this crime, to be given to the flames, (Leviticus xxi. 9,) and others to be stoned; (Leviticus xx. 10,) whence the Rabbin have concluded, that Thamar was a priest's daughter. (Calmet)
Juster. For Juda had been guilty of injustice; and had thus exposed her to the danger of following a life of lewdness. (Haydock) --- She remained a widow afterwards, as she was now rendered unfit to be married either to Juda or Sela. The latter married another woman, Numbers xxvi. 19. (Calmet) --- While Juda was engaged in this unlawful commerce, and yielded to the temptation, Joseph was triumphing over a much greater temptation, in rejecting the solicitations of his master's wife. (Haydock)
Partition; the secundinæ. The midwife was apprehensive of danger. (Menochius) --- Phares. That is, a breach or division. (Challoner)
Zara. "Orient, or rising;" in whose hand the red ribband denoted, that the blood of Christ is the source of all our merits and happiness. These two brothers were a type of the vocation of the Gentiles, and of the reprobation of the Jews, who lost the privileges to which they thought themselves entitled. (St. Irenæus iv. 42; St. Chrysostom; &c.) (Calmet) --- Phares was the ancestor of Jesus Christ, St. Matthew i. 3.