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Genesis 38

38
Judah and Tamar
1About that time, Judah left his brothers and went to stay with a man named Hirah from the town of Adullam. 2Judah met a Canaanite girl there and married her. The girl’s father was named Shua. 3The Canaanite girl gave birth to a son and named him Er. 4Later, she gave birth to another son and named him Onan. 5Then she had another son named Shelah. Judah lived in Kezib when his third son was born.
6Judah chose a woman named Tamar to be the wife of his first son Er. 7But Er did many bad things. The Lord was not happy with him, so the Lord killed him. 8Then Judah said to Er’s brother Onan, “Go and sleep with your dead brother’s wife.#38:8 Go and sleep … wife In Israel if a man died without children, one of his brothers would take the widow. If a child was born, it would be considered the dead man’s child. Become like a husband to her. If children are born, they will belong to your brother Er.”
9Onan knew that the children from this union would not belong to him. He had sexual relations with Tamar, but he did not allow himself to stay inside her. 10This made the Lord angry. So he killed Onan also. 11Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Go back to your father’s house. Stay there and don’t marry until my young son Shelah grows up.” Judah was afraid that Shelah would also be killed like his brothers. So Tamar went back to her father’s home.
12Later, Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. After Judah’s time of sadness, he went to Timnah with his friend Hirah from Adullam. Judah went to Timnah to have the wool cut from his sheep. 13Tamar learned that Judah, her father-in-law, was going to Timnah to cut the wool from his sheep. 14Tamar always wore clothes that showed that she was a widow. So she put on some different clothes and covered her face with a veil. Then she sat down near the road going to Enaim, a town near Timnah. Tamar knew that Judah’s younger son Shelah was now grown up, but Judah would not make plans for her to marry him.
15Judah traveled on that road and saw her, but he thought that she was a prostitute. (Her face was covered with a veil like a prostitute.) 16So he went to her and said, “Let me have sex with you.” (Judah did not know that she was Tamar, his daughter-in-law.)
She said, “How much will you give me?”
17Judah answered, “I will send you a young goat from my flock.”
She answered, “I agree to that. But first you must give me something to keep until you send me the goat.”
18Judah asked, “What do you want me to give you as proof that I will send you the goat?”
Tamar answered, “Give me your seal and its string#38:18 seal … string People wrote a contract, folded it, tied it with string, put wax or clay on the string, and pressed the seal onto it to seal it. This was like signing the agreement. Also in verse 25. and your walking stick.” Judah gave these things to her. Then Judah and Tamar had sexual relations, and she became pregnant. 19Then Tamar went home, took off her veil that covered her face, and again put on the special clothes that showed she was a widow.
20Later, Judah sent his friend Hirah to Enaim to give the prostitute the goat he promised. Judah also told Hirah to get the special seal and the walking stick from her, but Hirah could not find her. 21He asked some of the men at the town of Enaim, “Where is the prostitute who was here by the road?”
The men answered, “There has never been a prostitute here.”
22So Judah’s friend went back to Judah and said, “I could not find the woman. The men who live in that place said that there was never a prostitute there.”
23So Judah said, “Let her keep the things. I don’t want people to laugh at us. I tried to give her the goat, but we could not find her. That is enough.”
Tamar Is Pregnant
24About three months later, someone told Judah, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar sinned like a prostitute, and now she is pregnant.”
Then Judah said, “Take her out and burn her.”
25The men went to Tamar to kill her, but she sent a message to her father-in-law that said, “The man who made me pregnant is the man who owns these things. Look at them. Whose are they? Whose special seal and string is this? Whose walking stick is this?”
26Judah recognized these things and said, “She is right. I was wrong. I did not give her my son Shelah like I promised.” And Judah did not sleep with her again.
27The time came for Tamar to give birth. She was going to have twins. 28While she was giving birth, one baby put his hand out. The nurse tied a red string on the hand and said, “This baby was born first.” 29But that baby pulled his hand back in, so the other baby was born first. So the nurse said, “You were able to break out first!” So they named him Perez.#38:29 Perez This name is like the word meaning “to break out.” 30After this, the other baby was born. This was the baby with the red string on his hand. They named him Zerah.#38:30 Zerah This name is like the word meaning “bright.”
38
Judah and Tamar
1 At that time Judah left#tn Heb “went down from.” his brothers and stayed#tn Heb “and he turned aside unto.” with an Adullamite man#tn Heb “a man, an Adullamite.” named Hirah.
2 There Judah saw the daughter of a Canaanite man#tn Heb “a man, a Canaanite.” named Shua.#tn Heb “and his name was Shua.” Judah acquired her as a wife#tn Heb “and he took her.” and had marital relations with her.#tn Heb “and he went to her.” This expression is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. 3 She became pregnant#tn Or “she conceived” (also in the following verse). and had a son. Judah named#tc Some mss read this verb as feminine, “she called,” to match the pattern of the next two verses. But the MT, “he called,” should probably be retained as the more difficult reading.tn Heb “and he called his name.” The referent (Judah) has been specified in the translation for clarity. him Er. 4 She became pregnant again and had another son, whom she named Onan. 5 Then she had#tn Heb “and she added again and she gave birth.” The first verb and the adverb emphasize that she gave birth once more. yet another son, whom she named Shelah. She gave birth to him in Kezib.#tn Or “and he [i.e., Judah] was in Kezib when she gave birth to him.”
6 Judah acquired#tn Heb “and Judah took.” a wife for Er his firstborn; her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord killed him.
8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Have sexual relations with#tn Heb “go to.” The expression is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. your brother’s wife and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her so that you may raise#tn The imperative with the prefixed conjunction here indicates purpose. up a descendant for your brother.”#sn Raise up a descendant for your brother. The purpose of this custom, called the levirate system, was to ensure that no line of the family would become extinct. The name of the deceased was to be maintained through this custom of having a child by the nearest relative. See M. Burrows, “Levirate Marriage in Israel,” JBL 59 (1940): 23-33. 9 But Onan knew that the child#tn Heb “offspring.” would not be considered his.#tn Heb “would not be his,” that is, legally speaking. Under the levirate system the child would be legally considered the child of his deceased brother. So whenever#tn The construction shows that this was a repeated practice and not merely one action.sn The text makes it clear that the purpose of the custom was to produce an heir for the deceased brother. Onan had no intention of doing that. But he would have sex with the girl as much as he wished. He was willing to use the law to gratify his desires, but was not willing to do the responsible thing. he had sexual relations with#tn Heb “he went to.” This expression is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. his brother’s wife, he withdrew prematurely#tn Heb “he spoiled [his semen] to the ground.” Onan withdrew prematurely and ejaculated on the ground to prevent his brother’s widow from becoming pregnant. so as not to give his brother a descendant. 10 What he did was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord#tn Heb “he”; the referent (the Lord) has been specified in the translation for clarity. killed him too.
11 Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s house until Shelah my son grows up.” For he thought,#tn Heb “said.” “I don’t want him to die like his brothers.”#tn Heb “Otherwise he will die, also he, like his brothers.”sn I don’t want him to die like his brothers. This clause explains that Judah had no intention of giving Shelah to Tamar for the purpose of the levirate marriage. Judah apparently knew the nature of his sons, and feared that God would be angry with the third son and kill him as well. So Tamar went and lived in her father’s house.
12 After some time#sn After some time. There is not enough information in the narrative to know how long this was. The text says “the days increased.” It was long enough for Shelah to mature and for Tamar to realize she would not have him. Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. After Judah was consoled, he left for Timnah to visit his sheepshearers, along with#tn Heb “and he went up to the shearers of his sheep, he and.” his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13 Tamar was told,#tn Heb “And it was told to Tamar, saying.” “Look, your father-in-law is going up#tn The active participle indicates the action was in progress or about to begin. to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 14 So she removed her widow’s clothes and covered herself with a veil. She wrapped herself and sat at the entrance to Enaim which is on the way to Timnah. (She did this because#tn The Hebrew text simply has “because,” connecting this sentence to what precedes. For stylistic reasons the words “she did this” are supplied in the translation and a new sentence begun. she saw that she had not been given to Shelah as a wife, even though he had now grown up.)#tn Heb “she saw that Shelah had grown up, but she was not given to him as a wife.”
15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute#tn Heb “he reckoned her for a prostitute,” which was what Tamar had intended for him to do. She obviously had some idea of his inclinations, or she would not have tried this risky plan. because she had covered her face. 16 He turned aside to her along the road and said, “Come on! I want to have sex with you.”#tn Heb “I will go to you.” The imperfect verbal form probably indicates his desire here. The expression “go to” is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. (He did not realize#tn Heb “for he did not know that.” it was his daughter-in-law.) She asked, “What will you give me in exchange for having sex with you?”#tn Heb “when you come to me.” This expression is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. 17 He replied, “I’ll send you a young goat from the flock.” She asked, “Will you give me a pledge until you send it?”#tn Heb “until you send.” 18 He said, “What pledge should I give you?” She replied, “Your seal, your cord, and the staff that’s in your hand.” So he gave them to her and had sex with her.#tn Heb “and he went to her.” This expression is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. She became pregnant by him. 19 She left immediately,#tn Heb “and she arose and left,” the first verb in the pair emphasizing that she wasted no time. removed her veil, and put on her widow’s clothes.
20 Then Judah had his friend Hirah#tn Heb “sent by the hand of his friend.” Here the name of the friend (“Hirah”) has been included in the translation for clarity. the Adullamite take a young goat to get back from the woman the items he had given in pledge,#tn Heb “to receive the pledge from the woman’s hand.” but Hirah#tn Heb “he”; the referent (Judah’s friend Hirah the Adullamite) has been specified in the translation for clarity. could not find her. 21 He asked the men who were there,#tn Heb “the men of her place,” that is, who lived at the place where she had been. “Where is the cult prostitute#sn The Hebrew noun translated “cult prostitute” is derived from a verb meaning “to be set apart; to be distinct.” Thus the term refers to a woman who did not marry, but was dedicated to temple service as a cult prostitute. The masculine form of this noun is used for male cult prostitutes. Judah thought he had gone to an ordinary prostitute (v. 15); but Hirah went looking for a cult prostitute, perhaps because it had been a sheep-shearing festival. For further discussion see E. M. Yamauchi, “Cultic Prostitution,” Orient and Occident (AOAT), 213-23. who was at Enaim by the road?” But they replied, “There has been no cult prostitute here.” 22 So he returned to Judah and said, “I couldn’t find her. Moreover, the men of the place said, ‘There has been no cult prostitute here.’” 23 Judah said, “Let her keep the things#tn The words “the things” have been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. for herself. Otherwise we will appear to be dishonest.#tn Heb “we will become contemptible.” The Hebrew word בּוּז (buz) describes the contempt that a respectable person would have for someone who is worthless, foolish, or disreputable. I did indeed send this young goat, but you couldn’t find her.”
24 After three months Judah was told,#tn Heb “it was told to Judah, saying.” “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has turned to prostitution,#tn Or “has been sexually promiscuous.” The verb may refer here to loose or promiscuous activity, not necessarily prostitution. and as a result she has become pregnant.”#tn Heb “and also look, she is with child by prostitution.” Judah said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!” 25 While they were bringing her out, she sent word#tn Heb “she was being brought out and she sent.” The juxtaposition of two clauses, both of which place the subject before the predicate, indicates synchronic action. to her father-in-law: “I am pregnant by the man to whom these belong.”#tn Heb “who these to him.” Then she said, “Identify#tn Or “ recognize; note.” This same Hebrew verb (נָכַר, nakhar) is used at the beginning of v. 26, where it is translated “recognized.” the one to whom the seal, cord, and staff belong.” 26 Judah recognized them and said, “She is more upright#tn Traditionally “more righteous”; cf. NCV, NRSV, NLT “more in the right.”sn She is more upright than I. Judah had been irresponsible and unfaithful to his duty to see that the family line continued through the levirate marriage of his son Shelah. Tamar fought for her right to be the mother of Judah’s line. When she was not given Shelah and Judah’s wife died, she took action on her own to ensure that the line did not die out. Though deceptive, it was a desperate and courageous act. For Tamar it was within her rights; she did nothing that the law did not entitle her to do. But for Judah it was wrong because he thought he was going to a prostitute. See also Susan Niditch, “The Wronged Woman Righted: An Analysis of Genesis 38,” HTR 72 (1979): 143-48. than I am, because I wouldn’t give her to Shelah my son.” He did not have sexual relations with her#tn Heb “and he did not add again to know her.” Here “know” is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. again.
27 When it was time for her to give birth, there were twins in her womb. 28 While she was giving birth, one child#tn The word “child” has been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. put out his hand, and the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 29 But then he drew back his hand, and his brother came out before him.#tn Heb “Look, his brother came out.” By the use of the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh, “look”), the narrator invites the reader to view the scene through the midwife’s eyes. The words “before him” are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. She said, “How you have broken out of the womb!”#tn Heb “How you have made a breach for yourself!” The Hebrew verb translated “make a breach” frequently occurs, as here, with a cognate accusative. The event provided the meaningful name Perez, “he who breaks through.” So he was named Perez.#sn The name Perez means “he who breaks through,” referring to Perez reaching out his hand at birth before his brother was born. The naming signified the completion of Tamar’s struggle and also depicted the destiny of the tribe of Perez who later became dominant (Gen 46:12 and Num 26:20). Judah and his brothers had sold Joseph into slavery, thinking they could thwart God’s plan that the elder brothers should serve the younger. God demonstrated that principle through these births in Judah’s own family, affirming that the elder will serve the younger, and that Joseph’s leadership could not so easily be set aside. See J. Goldin, “The Youngest Son; or, Where Does Genesis 38 Belong?” JBL 96 (1977): 27-44. 30 Afterward his brother came out – the one who had the scarlet thread on his hand – and he was named Zerah.#sn Perhaps the child was named Zerah because of the scarlet thread. Though the Hebrew word used for “scarlet thread” in v. 28 is not related to the name Zerah, there is a related root in Babylonian and western Aramaic that means “scarlet” or “scarlet thread.” In Hebrew the name appears to be derived from a root meaning “to shine.” The name could have originally meant something like “shining one” or “God has shined.” Zerah became the head of a tribe (Num 26:20) from whom Achan descended (Josh 7:1).