The story of Judah, Shuah, and Tamar. — V.1. And it came to pass at that time that Judah went down from his brethren, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. After the episode with Joseph, Judah separated himself from his brothers and moved down from Hebron, which is in a mountainous region, toward the southeastern plains, pitching his tent near the town of Adullam and entering into friendly relations with a man by the name of Hirah. V.2. And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her. He married a Canaanite woman and entered into the most intimate relations with the heathen. V.3. And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er. V.4. And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan. It was the father, then, who named his first-born son, while the mother selected the name for the second. V.5. And she yet again conceived, and bare a son; and called his name Shelah; and he was at Chezib, when she bare him. The older sons may thus have been born at Adullam, a city of some importance in later times, Josh. 12, 15; 15, 35; 2 Chron. 11, 7; Micah 1, 15. Chezib, where Judah was tenting at the time of Shelah’s birth, Josh. 15, 44; Micah 1, 14, was in the southern part of what was afterward the Plain of Judah. Apparently there was not much difference in the age of the three sons, for the entire story, as here related, took place between the incident at Dothan and the removal of Jacob to Egypt, a period of about twenty-three years. V.6. And Judah took a wife for Er, his first-born, whose name was Tamar, apparently also a Canaanite. V.7. And Er, Judah’s first-born, was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him. If Judah had intended to curb the wickedness of his oldest son by an early marriage, he was disappointed; Jehovah punished Er with an early death. V.8. And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. This custom of marriage between a man and the widow of his brother, known as the levirate, was afterward definitely fixed by the Lord, Deut. 25, 5. It was understood that the family of the older son should thereby be established. V.9. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his, that a possible first-born son would not perpetuate his name and family, but that of his brother Er; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. Rather than yield to the custom and be obedient to his father, Onan committed this crime against the divine institution of marriage and its purpose according to the will of God. Such works of the flesh, all too prevalent in our day, when children are no longer desired, are an abomination before the Lord. Where the fear of God still rules, such vices will not be tolerated. V.10. And the thing which he did displeased the Lord, was evil in His eyes; wherefore He slew him also. V.11. Then said Judah to Tamar, his daughter-in-law, Remain a widow at thy father’s house, where widows returned in case there were no adult children to take care of them, till Shelah, my son, be grown. Evidently he did not want the third son to be married so early; for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. Whether this was due to a superstition which regarded Tamar as an unlucky wife or simply to fatherly anxiety in behalf of his only remaining son, cannot be determined. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father’s house. She was perfectlywilling to do as Judah had suggested; she gave him the deference which the Fourth Commandment requires also from adult children.
Judah becomes guilty of incest. — V.12. And in process of time, after many days had elapsed, after some years, the daughter of Shuah, Judah’s wife, died; and Judah was comforted, after the usual period of mourning, and went up unto his sheep-shearers to Timnath, not the town in the Philistine plain, but that in the mountains of Judah, he and his friend Hirah, the Adullamite. The occasion of the shearing of the sheep was always a great festival for the shepherds, and Judah, after the days of mourning for his wife, was able to attend. V.13. And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold, thy father-in-law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep. She received the information simply in the manner in which a piece of news is passed on. V.14. And she put her widow’s garments off from her, and covered her with a veil, and wrapped herself, completely muffled and disguised both her face and her form, after the manner of the public harlots, or prostitutes, and sat in an open place, in the gate of Enajim or Enam, a town in the plain of Judah, Josh. 15, 34, which is by the way of Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife. Although her plan and object seems revolting, it was not mere lust which drove her to this step, but a feeling of unjust treatment and the fear of lasting barrenness and mourning widowhood. V.15. When Judah saw her, upon his return from the festivities at Timnath, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face, after the custom of such women. V.16. And he turned unto her by the way, turned aside from the road, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee (for he knew not that she was his daughter-in-law). And she said, What wilt thou give me that thou mayest come in unto me? V.17. And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge till thou send it? V.18. And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. Tamar had thus made her plans with full attention to detail; she had a special reason for demanding Judah’s seal-ring with its cord and the staff which he carried with him wherever he went, as badges of his dignity, by which he could definitely be identified. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him, through the sin of incest. V.19. And she arose, and went away, and laid by her veil from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood. Her object being accomplished, she immediately returned to her father’s house. V.20. And Judah sent the kid which he had promised to the supposed harlot by the hand of his friend, the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman’s hand; but he found her not. V.21. Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot that was openly by the wayside? Judah had told him that the harlot had sat in the gate of Enayim, and Hirah, accommodating himself to the custom of the country, asked for the devotee of the goddess Astarte, the goddess of love, for to her certain Canaanite women sacrificed their bodies by a life of shame. And they said, There was no harlot in this place. Tamar had arranged it so that her presence in the gate of the town had not been noticed by the inhabitants. V.22. And he returned to Judah and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said that there was no harlot in this place. This report caused Judah some chagrin. V.23. And Judah said, Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed; behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her. Judah feared that any further search for the woman would bring him, not moral condemnation, but mocking ridicule. It was characteristic of the times that he did not feel guilty, but expressed his satisfaction over the fact that she had his pledges, which were worth more than the kid. It is only by keeping the revolting aspect of sins and vices before the eyes all the time that we escape becoming callous with regard to them.
The children of Tamar — V.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. Tamar was not only the widow of two of Judah’s sons, but the promised wife of the third. “In his patriarchal authority he commanded her to be brought forth to be burned. Tamar was regarded as betrothed, and was, therefore, to be punished as a bride convicted of unchastity. But in this case the Mosaic Law imposes only the penalty of being stoned to death, Deut. 22, 20, whilst burning to death was inflicted only upon the daughter of a priest, and upon carnal intercourse both with mother and daughter, Lev. 21, 19; 20, 14. Judah’s sentence, therefore, is more severe than that of the future Law.” (Keil.) V.25. When she was brought forth for execution, she sent to her father-in-law, saying, By the man whose these are am I with child; and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff, the signet-ring with its cord and the staff with its peculiar carved work. V.26. And Judah acknowledged them, he could not help but recognize them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I, because that I gave her not to Shelah, my son. That was the result of his not having kept his word to Tamar: deceit, harlotry, incest. By managing to obtain children from Judah himself, Tamar had become guilty of a great sin, but her guilt was smaller than that of Judah. And he knew her again no more; it was a lesson for him to conquer the desires of his flesh and to struggle against sin in every form with greater earnestness. V.27. And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb. V.28. And it came to pass, when she travailed, that the one put out his hand, due to an abnormal position; and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first. She thought this would be the first-born V.29. And it came to pass as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out; and she said, How hast thou broken forth? This breach be upon thee; therefore his name was called Pharez (breach). The midwife’s cry of vexation: Why didst thou make a breach in thy interest; upon thee be the breach! was thus retained in the name of the son. V.30. And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand; and his name was called Zarah (rising), because he wanted to appear first. The entire story of Tamar, with all the attendant sins, is here told because Pharez, the son of harlotry, became one of the ancestors of Christ, whose suffering and death atoned also for these sins of His forefathers, whose perfect righteousness covers the sin and shame of all men. Cp. Matt. 1, 3.