Genesis 38 (ESV)

It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and turned aside to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. 2 There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua. He took her and went in to her, 3 and she conceived and bore a son, and he called his name Er. 4 She conceived again and bore a son, and she called his name Onan. 5 Yet again she bore a son, and she called his name Shelah. Judah was in Chezib when she bore him.

6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. 10 And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also. 11 Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow in your father’s house, till Shelah my son grows up”—for he feared that he would die, like his brothers. So Tamar went and remained in her father’s house . . . Continue Reading


Although Judah was chosen to be the son through whom the “seed” would come (the physical line through whom Messiah would come to the Gentiles – Genesis 49:8-10) he was certainly not a person of integrity or character. Not only was he responsible for going behind his eldest brother Reuben’s back and convincing his other brothers to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites instead of killing him at no profit to them (Genesis 37:26), he takes a Canaanite named Shua for a wife (Genesis 38:2). He also took what appears to be a Canaanite wife (Tamar) for his son Er (Genesis 38:6).

Back in Genesis 26:34-35, when Esau took wives from the Canaanites, it “made life bitter” for his parents Isaac and Rebekah. When Abraham was old, he told his servant who had charge of all that he had to not allow Isaac to take a wife from the daughters of the Canaanaites (Genesis 24:3). When Isaac called Jacob and blessed him (Genesis 28:1) he told him to “not take a wife from the Canaanite women.” It’s clear Judah did not have much concern for corrupting the messianic line.

Genesis 38:7 and Genesis 38:10 reveal that Er, Judah’s firstborn and second son Onan were wicked in the sight of the Lord and God put them to death.

As was custom, when a brother died, the next brother in line would “perform the duty of a brother-in-law” and raise up offspring for their brother. When God put to death both Er and Onan, this left only Shelah to perform these duties but was too young at the time of Onan’s death.

Because Tamar was 0 for 2 with the sons of Judah, Judah did not want to risk Shelah’s life so he told her to “Remain a widow in your father’s house, till Shelah my son grows up” with no intention of allowing them to be married (Genesis 38:11).

When Shua’s (and Judah’s) daughter died, Judah comforted himself by going to Timnah, reuniting with Hiram the Adullamite and finding who he thought was a prostitute for “comforting.” Little did he know that Tamar was about to set him up because he did not give Shelah to be her husband as he promised.

With her face covered and hanging out at the entrance to Enaim, Tamar presents herself as a prostitute and Judah takes the bait – hook, line and sinker. She takes Judah’s signet, cord and staff as a pledge and after laying together, she conceived. Judah had no idea it was Tamar and not a prostitute that he had just laid with.

While manipulation and deception by Tamar is clear, at least part of her motivation was to ensure her offspring would be descendants of Judah’s bloodline. But it’s also clear from the text this was payback for not giving Shelah to her for a husband.

A few months later, word got back to Judah that his daughter-in-law Tamar was pregnant. His reaction to her immorality is harsh and severe – “Bring her out, and let her be burned” (Genesis 38:24). Under the law, stoning was the punishment allowed for Tamar’s sin while burning was only used in extreme criminality. How interesting it is that when Tamar was being “brought out” to be executed, she executed her own plan and sent word to Judah, her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant” and “Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff” (Genesis 38:25).

Now busted, Judah identifies them and says, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.”

Thank you for reading my daily online journal today. Far from commentaries these are just my initial thoughts after reflecting on what I’ve read from a chapter in God’s Word each morning. This not only helps me apply what I’ve read because I’m reflecting and sharing instead of only reading but it also allows me to encourage others to prayerfully consider doing the same.

In His Care,

~Scott Quillin