Genesis (Part 171)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 38:1-5

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


Before we catch back up with Joseph, first we are going to spend some time with Judah. Things with him are now going well. The Pulpit Commentaries includes a lengthy note to start this chapter:

Genesis 38:1

And it came to pass. The present chapter appears to interrupt the continuity of the narrative of Joseph’s history. Partly on this account, and partly because the name Jehovah occurs in it (Genesis 38:7Genesis 38:10), it has been pronounced a later Jehovistic interpolation (Tuch, Bleek, Davidson, Coleuso). Its design has been explained as an attempt to glorify the line of David by representing it as sprung from Judah (Bohlen), or to disclose the origin of the Levitate law of marriage among the Jews (Knobel); but the incidents here recorded of Judah and his family are fitted to reflect dishonor instead of glory on the ancestry of David (Havernick); and the custom here mentioned of raising up seed to a dead brother by marrying his widow, though the idea may have originated with Judah (Lange), is more likely to have descended from earlier times (Delitzsch, Keil). Rightly understood, the object of the present portion of the record appears to have been not simply to prepare the way for the subsequent (Genesis 46:8-27) genealogical register (Gerlach), or to contrast the wickedness of Judah and his sons with the piety and chastity of Joseph in Egypt (Wordsworth), or to recite the private history of one of Christ’s ancestors (Bush, Murphy, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’), or to show that the pre-eminence of Judah in the patriarchal family was due exclusively to grace (Candlish), but also and chiefly to justify the Divine procedure in the subsequent deportation of Jacob and his sons to Egypt (Keil). The special danger to which the theocratic family was exposed was that of intermarrying with the Canaanites (Genesis 24:3Genesis 28:6). Accordingly, having carried forward his narrative to the point where, in consequence of Joseph’s sale, a way begins to open up for the transference of the patriarchal house to the lend of the Pharaohs, the historian makes a pause to introduce a passage from the life of Judah, with the view of proving the necessity of such removal, by showing, as in the case of Judah, the almost certainty that, if left in Canaan, the descendants of Jacob would fall before the temptation of marrying with the daughters of the land, with the result, in the first instance, of a great and rapid moral deterioration in the holy seed, and with the ultimate effect of completely obliterating the line of demarcation between them and the surrounding heathen world. How the purity of the patriarchal family was guarded till it developed into a powerful nation, first by its providential withdrawment in infancy from the sphere of temptation (Genesis 46:5), then by its separate establishment in Goshen beside a people who regarded them with aversion (Genesis 46:34), and latterly by its cruel enslavement under Pharaoh (Exodus 1:10), is a subject which in due course engages the attention of the writer. At that time.

(1) If the date of Judah’s marriage, as is most probable, was shortly after the sale of Joseph (Keil, Kurtz, Lange, Alford, Wordsworth, Quarry), since at the time of that atrocity Judah was still living with his brethren, the only difficulty calling for solution is to account for the birth of Judah’s grandchildren, Hezron and Hamul (the sons of Pharez, the twin child of Judah by Tamar), in the short interval of twenty-two years which preceded Jacob’s descent into Egypt without making Er and Onan marry in comparative boyhood. The case becomes a little less perplexing if Hezron and Hamul, though said to have come into Egypt (Genesis 46:27Exodus 1:1Deuteronomy 10:22), may be regarded as having been born there (Hengstenberg), since twenty-two years afford sufficient space for the birth of Judah’s three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah, which may have taken place during the first three years after their father’s marriage, and for the birth of Pharez and Zarah, even if Er married as late as eighteen. Of course if the narrative requires the birth of Hezron and Hamul to have taken place in Canaan (Kalisch), it is simply impossible to hold that all this occurred within little more than a score of years. Hence

(2) the date of Judah’s marriage has been placed before the sale of Joseph; but even on this assumption the task is arduous to make the birth of Hezron and Hamul occur before the emigration of their great-grandfather to Egypt. For as Judah was not more than four years older than Joseph (cf. Genesis 29:35 with Genesis 30:25), his age at the time of Joseph’s sale could not have been more than twenty-one. But placing Judah’s marriage at the earliest possible date, viz; in his fifteenth year, only substitutes an interval of twenty-eight years instead of one of twenty-two, in which Judah’s son Er must be born, grow up to manhood, (say at fifteen) marry, die, and leave his widow Tamar, who, after marrying with Onan and waiting for Shelah (which would consume at least another year), must become the mother of twin sons by her father-in-law (for which another year would be required), and must see the elder of the two married at ten years of age, if his sons are to be born upon the soft of Canaan. On either hypothesis, therefore, it seems indispensable to hold that Judah’s grandsons were born in Egypt; and in this case there is little gained by putting Judah’s marriage earlier than Joseph’s sale, i.e. in Judah’s twenty-first year. That Judah went down—from Hebron (Genesis 37:14), or the mountains (Keil), towards the south (Aben Ezra, Rosenmüller) from his brethren,—setting up a separate and independent establishment apart from them; “not only immediately after Joseph was sold, but also on account of it,” “in a fit of impenitent anger” (Kurtz), in a spirit of remorse (Lange)—and turned in to a certain Adullamite,—literally, and pitched (sc. his tent, Genesis 26:15up to, as far as, or close by, a man, an Adullamite, i.e. belonging to Adullam, a town in the Hebron valley (Jos 15:1-63 :85); in the time of the conquest the seat of a Canaanitish king (Joshua 12:15), afterwards celebrated for its connection with the history of David (1Sa 22:1, 1 Samuel 22:22 Samuel 23:13), subsequently mentioned in Scripture (2 Chronicles 11:7Nehemiah 11:30Micah 1:15), but never successfully identified—whose name was Hirah—”Nobility” (Gesenius).

The note addresses the sidetrack to discuss Judah. While there is some scholarly belief that this section was subsequently added by Jehovists, to give preeminence to the line of David, the note points out that this section of text strays far from actually giving honor to David’s line. The note also discusses the passage of time – as we go from Judah getting married to having grandchildren in short order.

Ellicott’s Bible Commentary includes an additional note for verse 1, re: Adullamite:

Adullamite.—The town of Adullam, near which was David’s famous cave, has been clearly identified by Lieut. Conder (Tent-work, ii. 158). It lay in the great valley of Elah, which formed the highway from Hebron to the country of the Philistines, some two or three miles south of Shochoh, and fifteen or sixteen miles west by north from Hebron. Judah “went down” thither, not as Abenezra and others have supposed, because it was to the south, but because it was towards the sea, and the road is an actual descent from the hill country of Judah into the Shephelah, or lowland, in which Adullam was situated. The sons of Jacob often, probably, with a few retainers, made expeditions in search of pastures for their cattle; and Hirah, apparently, had shown Judah hospitality on some such journey, and finally a friendship had grown up between them. “Turned in to,” however, literally means pitched (his tent) close by; and the friendship between Judah and Hirah, thus accidentally formed, seems to have ended in Hirah taking the charge of Judah’s cattle.

Continuing on with Ellicott in verse 2:

(2) Canaanite.—This is rendered in the Targum merchant, and so the Authorised Version translates Canaanite in Proverbs 31:24. In favour of this view is the fact, that the marriage of Simeon with a Canaanitish woman is regarded as an act so exceptional, as to be worth recording (Genesis 46:10). But we may well doubt whether, at so early an age, the terms Canaanite and merchant had become synonymous. “Shuah” was the name of the woman’s father, as appears plainly in the Hebrew. (See also Genesis 38:12.)

The Pulpit Commentaries also address the controversy of whether Canaanite can be understood here to refer to “merchant.”

Genesis 38:2

And Judah saw there the daughter of a certain (literally, of a man, a) Canaanite,—not of a merchant (Onkelos), but of an inhabitant of the land of Canaan—whose name was Shuah;—”Wealth,” “Riches,” “Cry for Help” (Gesenius). This was not the name of Judah’s wife (LXX.), but of her father—(vide Genesis 38:12)—and he took her,—i.e. married her (viz. Genesis 6:2Genesis 24:67)—and went in unto her.

The latter commentary is more skeptical about the translation of Canaanite to mean merchant. Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 38:3

And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er—”Watcher” (Gesanius). What is commonly regarded as an idiosyncrasy of the Elohist, viz; the naming of a child by its father, here occurs in a so-called Jehovistic section.

Genesis 38:4

And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan—”Strength” (Gesenius). The naming of a child by its mother a peculiarity of the so-called Jehovist; but vide Genesis 16:15.

The commentaries note that the mother providing a name is rare. However, we saw earlier in the text that Rachel named Benjamin, initially, before Jacob changed his son’s name.

In a short pair of verses, years are transpiring. Later, when we catch back up with Joseph, we can keep in mind that these events are happening with Judah’s family at the same time. Ellicott makes a note on verse 5 as we conclude the section:

(5) Chezib.—Mr. Conder has found traces of this place at Ain Kezbeh, near Beit Nettif, a little to the north of Adullam (Handbook, p. 408). In Micah 1:14-15, it is called Achzib, and is there also placed near Adullam.

The Pulpit Commentaries also address verse 5:

Genesis 38:5

And she yet again conceived (lit; and she added again)and bare a son; and called his name Shelah:—”Prayer” (Gesenius), “Peace” (Furst)—and he (i.e. Judah) wassc; absent (Gerlach); or, translating impersonally, it was, i.e. the event happened (Murphy)—at Chezib,—probably the same as Achzib (Joshua 15:44Micah 1:14Micah 1:15) and Chezeba (1 Chronicles 4:22), which in the partitioning of the land fell to the sons of Shelah, and was here mentioned that Shelah’s descendants might know the birthplace of their ancestor (Keil); or the fact of Judah’s absence at the birth of his third son may be recorded as the reason of the name, “Peace,” “Rest, “Prosperity, which the child received (Gerlach)—when she bare him—literally, in her bearing of him.

When we get to verse 6, Judah’s sons – born in this section – will be old enough to take wives. Their story is one of the strangest and most awkward to talk about, in the entire Bible.