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Genesis 38

38
Judah and Tamar.#This chapter has subtle connections to the main Joseph story. It tells of the eponymous founder of the other great tribe of later times, Judah. Having already been introduced as one of the two good brothers in 37:26–27, he appears here as the father-in-law of the twice-widowed Tamar; he has reneged on his promise to provide his son Shelah to her in a levirate marriage. Unjustly treated, Tamar takes matters into her own hands and tricks Judah into becoming the father of her children, Perez and Zerah. Judah ultimately acknowledges that his daughter-in-law was right (“She is in the right rather than I,” v. 26). In contrast to Judah’s expectations, the family line does not continue through his son Shelah, but through the children of Tamar. Similarities relate this little story to the main narrative: the deception involving an article of clothing (the widow’s garments of Tamar, Judah’s seal, cord, and staff) point back to the bloody tunic that deceives Jacob in 37:31–33; a woman attempts the seduction of a man separated from his family, for righteous purposes in chap. 38, for unrighteous purposes in chap. 39. 1About that time Judah went down, away from his brothers, and pitched his tent near a certain Adullamite named Hirah. 2There Judah saw the daughter of a Canaanite named Shua; he married her, and had intercourse with her.#1 Chr 2:3. 3She conceived and bore a son, whom she named Er. 4Again she conceived and bore a son, whom she named Onan. 5Then she bore still another son, whom she named Shelah. She was in Chezib#Chezib: a variant form of Achzib (Jos 15:44; Mi 1:14), a town in the Judean Shephelah. when she bore him.#1 Chr 4:21.
6Judah got a wife named Tamar for his firstborn, Er. 7But Er, Judah’s firstborn, greatly offended the Lord; so the Lord took his life.#1 Chr 2:3. 8#Dt 25:5; Mt 22:24; Mk 12:19; Lk 20:28. Then Judah said to Onan, “Have intercourse with your brother’s wife, in fulfillment of your duty as brother-in-law, and thus preserve your brother’s line.”#Preserve your brother’s line: lit., “raise up seed for your brother”: an allusion to the law of levirate, or “brother-in-law,” marriage; see notes on Dt 25:5; Ru 2:20. Onan’s violation of this law brought on him God’s punishment (vv. 9–10). 9Onan, however, knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he had intercourse with his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground, to avoid giving offspring to his brother. 10What he did greatly offended the Lord, and the Lord took his life too. 11Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up”—for he feared that Shelah also might die like his brothers. So Tamar went to live in her father’s house.
12Time passed, and the daughter of Shua, Judah’s wife, died. After Judah completed the period of mourning, he went up to Timnah, to those who were shearing his sheep, in company with his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13Then Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is on his way up to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 14So she took off her widow’s garments, covered herself with a shawl, and having wrapped herself sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the way to Timnah; for she was aware that, although Shelah was now grown up, she had not been given to him in marriage.#Prv 7:10. 15When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, since she had covered her face. 16So he went over to her at the roadside and said, “Come, let me have intercourse with you,” for he did not realize that she was his daughter-in-law. She replied, “What will you pay me for letting you have intercourse with me?” 17He answered, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” “Very well,” she said, “provided you leave me a pledge until you send it.” 18Judah asked, “What pledge should I leave you?” She answered, “Your seal and cord,#Seal and cord: the cylinder seal, through which a hole was bored lengthwise so that it could be worn from the neck by a cord, was a distinctive means of identification. Apparently one’s staff could also be marked with some sign of identification (cf. Nm 17:17–18). and the staff in your hand.” So he gave them to her and had intercourse with her, and she conceived by him. 19After she got up and went away, she took off her shawl and put on her widow’s garments again.
20Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite to recover the pledge from the woman; but he did not find her. 21So he asked the men of that place, “Where is the prostitute,#Prostitute: the Hebrew term qedesha, lit., “consecrated woman,” designates a woman associated with a sanctuary whose activities could include prostitution; cf. Dt 23:18; Hos 4:14, where the same Hebrew word is used. In 38:15 and 24 the common word for prostitute, zona, is used. the one by the roadside in Enaim?” But they answered, “No prostitute has been here.” 22He went back to Judah and told him, “I did not find her; and besides, the men of the place said, ‘No prostitute has been here.’” 23“Let her keep the things,” Judah replied; “otherwise we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you did not find her.”
24About three months later, Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has acted like a harlot and now she is pregnant from her harlotry.” Judah said, “Bring her out; let her be burned.” 25But as she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “It is by the man to whom these things belong that I am pregnant.” Then she said, “See whose seal and cord and staff these are.” 26Judah recognized them and said, “She is in the right rather than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” He had no further sexual relations with her.
27When the time of her delivery came, there were twins in her womb.#1 Chr 2:4. 28While she was giving birth, one put out his hand; and the midwife took and tied a crimson thread on his hand, noting, “This one came out first.” 29#Ru 4:12; Mt 1:3; Lk 3:33. But as he withdrew his hand, his brother came out; and she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” So he was called Perez.#He was called Perez: the Hebrew word means “breach.” 30Afterward his brother, who had the crimson thread on his hand, came out; he was called Zerah.#He was called Zerah: a name connected here by popular etymology with a Hebrew word for the red light of dawn, alluding apparently to the crimson thread. #Nm 26:20; 1 Chr 2:4; Mt 1:3.
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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.”