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Judah and Tamar

INTRODUCTION: Judah was probably about twenty years old when Joseph was sold to Mideanites and taken down into Egypt. Another twenty-two years passed before Jacob and all of his family went into Egypt, after the LORD had prepared generous blessings for them through Joseph. Throughout the remaining time the eleven brothers spent in Canaan, they all had their own families. For Judah there were three sons born to him, but his Canaanite wife later died. The wife of his oldest son became a widow twice, and then she became a key character in the family of Jacob. Very little is recorded about the other ten brothers until the years of widespread famine affected Canaan.

NOTE: All passages are from the World English Bible.


Genesis 38 "1 It happened at that time, that Judah went down from his brothers, and visited a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. 2 Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua. He took her, and went in to her. 3 She conceived, and bore a son; and he named him Er. 4 She conceived again, and bore a son; and she named him Onan. 5 She yet again bore a son, and named him Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bore him."

COMMENTS: Abram left Ur of the Chaldees with his wife Sarai and his father Terah, and later the LORD called him into Canaan and changed his name to Abraham. Abraham sent his elder servant to bring back a wife for Isaac from the land of his birth; and later Jacob was sent by Isaac and Rebekah to Laban. Jacob returned to Canaan twenty years later with his wives and many male and female servants from there. Because of these facts, the wives of the three patriarchs of the nation Israel all came from the same branch of families. But, in the case of Judah, We know from the above passage that he took a wife while visiting his friend Hirah the Adullamite. His wife was the daughter of Shua a Canaanite, and they had three sons together.


Genesis 38 "6 Judah took a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of Yahweh. Yahweh killed him. 8 Judah said to Onan, "Go in to your brother's wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her, and raise up seed to your brother." 9 Onan knew that the seed wouldn't be his; and it happened, when he went in to his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest he should give seed to his brother. 10 The thing which he did was evil in the sight of Yahweh, and he killed him also. 11 Then Judah said to Tamar, his daughter-in-law, "Remain a widow in your father's house, until Shelah, my son, is grown up;" for he said, "Lest he also die, like his brothers." Tamar went and lived in her father's house."

COMMENTS: Judah arranged the marriage of his oldest son to a Canaanite woman named Tamar, and we have no further information about her other then the name of her father. We don't know the offense committed before the LORD by the oldest brother, but the LORD took his life. The second son was considered old enough to fulfill the accepted custom to marry his deceased brother's wife, but he did not honor that purpose, so the LORD took his life as well. There is no indication that Judah sought guidance from the LORD, but he sent his daughter-in-law as a widow back to her father, to wait until his youngest son was old enough to marry. This was a ploy on his part, because he did not intend to give her his only remaining son. He feared that son would also die if he married Tamar.


Genesis 38 "12 After many days, Shua's daughter, the wife of Judah, died. Judah was comforted, and went up to his sheepshearers to Timnah, he and his friend Hirah, the Adullamite. 13 It was told Tamar, saying, "Behold, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep." 14 She took off of her the garments of her widowhood, and covered herself with her veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the gate of Enaim, which is by the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she wasn't given to him as a wife. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought that she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16 He turned to her by the way, and said, "Please come, let me come in to you," for he didn't know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, "What will you give me, that you may come in to me?" 17 He said, "I will send you a young goat from the flock." She said, "Will you give me a pledge, until you send it?" 18 He said, "What pledge will I give you?" She said, "Your signet and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand." He gave them to her, and came in to her, and she conceived by him. 19 She arose, and went away, and put off her veil from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood. 20 Judah sent the young goat by the hand of his friend, the Adullamite, to receive the pledge from the woman's hand, but he didn't find her. 21 Then he asked the men of her place, saying, "Where is the prostitute, that was at Enaim by the road?" They said, "There has been no prostitute here." 22 He returned to Judah, and said, "I haven't found her; and also the men of the place said, 'There has been no prostitute here.'" 23 Judah said, "Let her keep it, lest we be shamed. Behold, I sent this young goat, and you haven't found her."

COMMENTS: We don't know the name of Judah's wife, and can only surmise from the above verses that the marriage had lasted until her first two sons had died. Her death brought Judah to the point of being susceptible to using the services of a prostitute. He had lost his two older sons, and now his wife; but he believed his younger son was still alive because he kept Shelah from honoring the marriage custom with Tamar. Judah was going up to his sheepshearer servants at Timnah, he and his friend Hirah, the Adullamite. When Tamar heard about this , she changed from her widow's clothing, wore a veil, and dressed like a prostitute. She knew Shelah was grown up and she wasn't given to him as a wife; so she took a place in the gate of Enaim, which is on the way to Timnah, where she could offer herself.

When Judah saw her, he thought that she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face, which was characteristic of that profession. He did not realize she was Tamar, and he decided to stop there to make a proposition to have sex with her. She asked what he would pay, and he offered a young goat from the flock. Then they agreed on a pledge of his signet, cord, and staff until the payment could be sent. Throughout this conversation, he still did not recognize her, so they had sex together. Tamar left there and return to her father's home and her previous social status in widow's clothing. Neither of them would have known at that time that she had become pregnant, but the text makes that fact unmistakable to the reader. When Judah sent his friend the Adullamite with the young goat, to retrieve the pledge from the woman, she could not be found. The men of the area told him there was no prostitute in that area. Judah's response was to let it go, he had tried to deliver the agreed price, and if they went any further they would be shamed.


Genesis 38 "24 It happened about three months later, that it was told Judah, saying, "Tamar, your daughter-in-law, has played the prostitute; and moreover, behold, she is with child by prostitution." Judah said, "Bring her out, and let her be burnt." 25 When she was brought out, she sent to her father-in-law, saying, "By the man, whose these are, I am with child." She also said, "Please discern whose are these - the signet, and the cords, and the staff." 26 Judah acknowledged them, and said, "She is more righteous than I, because I didn't give her to Shelah, my son." He knew her again no more. 27 It happened in the time of her travail, that behold, twins were in her womb. 28 When she travailed, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, "This came out first." 29 It happened, as he drew back his hand, that behold, his brother came out, and she said, "Why have you made a breach for yourself?" Therefore his name was called Perez. 30 Afterward his brother came out, that had the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah."

COMMENTS: Tamar didn't try to make a direct appeal to Judah about purposely keeping Shelah from taking her as a wife when he had become of age. We don't know why her plan to disguise as a prostitute seemed to her to be a good opportunity to have sex with Judah. After the death of his wife, Judah apparently had no hesitation to use the services of a prostitute. Judah did not even recognize Tamar's voice, and she became pregnant by her father-in-law in only one encounter. She immediately resumed her status as a widow after that, and waited on an uncertain result. When it was evident to the people around her that she was pregnant, she was accused of prostitution and Judah was ready to have her killed for her offense. There was no concern expressed for the unborn baby that would also die.

When she was brought out to be subjected to the penalty, she sent the three items of pledge to her father-in-law indicating that the man who owned them had made her pregnant. Tamar still made no open accusation against Judah, so he was left with choosing the next step. Judah acknowledged the items as his own, and declared Tamar to be more righteous than himself, because he had not kept his word to give her to Shelah as a wife. There is no reference that Judah confessed to the LORD, or gave any glory to the LORD for the developments in this matter. The first two sons of Judah are the only men in Jacob's family who were killed by the LORD before the family went into Egypt. The grace of the LORD had given Judah two sons after the loss of his two eldest, and his third son was preserved. Judah took Tamar into his household, but he never again had sexual relations with her.

Tamar was carrying twins, and when they began to be born, a unique aspect took place. One baby put out a hand and the midwife tied a scarlet thread on it. When that hand was drawn back his brother was delivered first and it was said he made a breach for himself. That son was named Perez. The one with the scarlet thread came out second and was named Zerah. That birth of twins through Tamar was somewhat reminiscent of an earlier birth. Esau came forth from the womb first, but his twin Jacob received the blessing, and became Israel, the father of the twelve tribes set apart by the LORD. Judah was the fourth son born of Leah, though Jacob had loved Rachel more. Judah unknowingly brought about the conception of twins within his daughter-in-law, and the LORD thereafter continued to direct the genealogy through Perez leading to King David and eventually to the Christ in ways that glorify God alone.

Matthew 1 "1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2 Abraham became the father of Isaac. Isaac became the father of Jacob. Jacob became the father of Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar. Perez became the father of Hezron. Hezron became the father of Ram. 4 Ram became the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nahshon. Nahshon became the father of Salmon. 5 Salmon became the father of Boaz by Rahab. Boaz became the father of Obed by Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse. 6 Jesse became the father of King David. David became the father of Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah." God brings about his perfect plans for his chosen children of his Kingdom in mysterious ways, despite how much individuals may depend upon their family heritage or on their own attempts to be righteous before the LORD.


LORD, I thank you for your written word that shows how you work in the lives of the fallen descendents of the first Adam to draw souls back to yourself. It is very easy to take pride in being a member of a family or nation, and to forget that god alone provides salvation to eternal life by your grace and mercy. Even in the generation just after Jacob, you allowed a Canaanite woman to give birth to an ancestor of King David. None of the patriarchs had sinless lives, but through the grace of a loving God they participated in the flow of blessings down through the ages. I praise you my Savior that I have become part of that everlasting flow of blessing by your forgiveness of my many sins, and the gift of a wife and family you brought to me by your own plan. Help me Lord Jesus to use my remaining days in this physical body to share the gospel as you allow, and to honor your name by a sincere manner among other people. amen.

Published 6 July 2017