The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Genesis 38

Gen 38:1

Gen 38: The birth of Phares, ancestor of Jesus. Judah becomes the 4th of Jacob's sons to sin grievously.

There is an intended, and striking parallel, and contrast, between this chapter and the next. Where the elder brother, Judah, free and at ease, had sinned (Gen 38), the younger Joseph, in bondage, remained sinless (Gen 39). In this Joseph typifies Jesus, tempted in all points like his less righteous brethren, yet without sin (Heb 4:15).

JUDAH LEFT HIS BROTHERS: Sig departure from the way of truth, followed (v 2) by marriage with the alien.

Gen 38:3

Judah's sons demonstrate qualities of their Canaanite mother.

Gen 38:8

A pre-Mosaic ref to the Law of Levirate marriage. The tribe of Judah was to provide ancestors of Jesus.

Gen 38:10

Although the Law of Moses was not yet in effect at this time, certain of God's laws that were later stated overtly in the Law were even then known to be binding: If a man who was childless dies, his brother was to marry his widow and raise up seed to his brother (Deu 25:5-10; Rth 4:1-5). Onan knew the law, knew also that the seed would not be his, and therefore selfishly violated the law. Other sins treated very severely by God (eg, the gathering of sticks on the sabbath: Num 15:32-36; the eating of blood: Lev 17:10; etc.). Some would argue: who was hurt by Onan's behavior? And one answer is: Tamar, for it was considered a disgrace in Israel to be married and have no children. But this question, even then, misses the point: no matter how minor or inconsequential a command of God's may seem, each is important and worth following (even those where no one is physically hurt if the command is violated). Man's reasoning as to what is and what is not important should never take precedence over what God says.

Gen 38:14

"A prostitute sat at the entry to the city to ensnare a certain passer by. The certain passer by was Judah and the prostitute wasn't just any prostitute, she was Judah's daughter-in-law, Tamar. Tamar was successful and when Judah saw her, thinking she was a prostitute, 'he went over to her by the roadside and said, "Come now, let me sleep with you." '

"If we read between the lines we could quite easily get the impression that this was something that Judah was known to do. Tamar knew that she could trap him that way and Judah did not seem to have any hesitation in sleeping with a prostitute. It may not have seemed like a life-changing event to him at the time. It was to be one night of pleasure and then he could go away and forget about it. But not this time. His quick decision changed the whole course of history. That one moment of pleasure left him with results that he would not have chosen.

"The lesson for us is a simple one. Let us always consider the long-term repercussions of any action we take. Would we want to be caught in a compromising situation as Judah was? What could happen if we go through with our action? Will we regret our action or will we be proud of it later on? Let us not take our actions lightly but consider them and make godly decisions" (RP).

Gen 38:21

THE SHRINE PROSTITUTE: Tamar played the part of a "zanah" (common prostitute) (vv 15,24), but Judah uses the word for a "shrine prostitute" ("qedesha" = the clean, or holy, one -- a Heb euphemism!), thus retrospectively cleaning up his act!

Gen 38:24

In Judah's pronouncement of judgment against Tamar, he effectively pronounces judgment against himself (cp Rom 2:1; Luk 19:22; 2Sa 1:16; 12:5-7).

Gen 38:26

She had sinned, but Judah's sin was far greater.

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