Genesis (Part 173)

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

Genesis 38:11-19

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.

12 In the course of time the wife of Judah, Shua’s daughter, died. When Judah was comforted, he went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13 And when Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,” 14 she took off her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, wrapping herself up, and sat at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she had not been given to him in marriage. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16 He turned to her at the roadside and said, “Come, let me come in to you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” 17 He answered, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” And she said, “If you give me a pledge, until you send it—” 18 He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” She replied, “Your signet and your cord and your staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. 19 Then she arose and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood.


Well, things just get worse for Judah here.

From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(11) For he said, lest he also die.—It is evident from this that Judah, for reasons which, in Genesis 38:26, he acknowledged to be insufficient, wished to evade the duty of giving a third son to Tamar. It does not follow that he blamed her for their deaths; for the loss of two sons in succession might well frighten him. Philippsohn says that it became the rule, that if a woman lost two husbands, the third brother was not bound to marry her, and she was even called Katlannith. the murderess. (But see St. Matthew 22:25-26, where no such custom is acknowledged.)

As the note states, Judah may have been afraid for his third son’s life. He may also just have been behaving immorally. The rest of this section points in the latter direction. Between verse 11 and 12, we experience something of a time jump. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 38:12

And in process of timeliterally, and the days were multiplied (cf. Genesis 4:3), which is rendered by the same words in the A.V.—the daughter of Shuah Judah’s wife died; and Judah was comforted (or, comforted himself, ceased to mourn), and went up unto his sheep-shearers (vide Genesis 31:19to Timnath,—a border town between Ekron and Bethshemesh (Joshua 15:10) in the plain of Judah (Kalisch, Wordsworth, WL. Alexander in Kitto’s ‘Cyclopedia’); but more probably here a town (Joshua 15:57) in the mountains of Judah (Robinson, 2.343, Keil, Alford, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’)—he and his friend—ὁ ποιμὴν αὐτοῦ (LXX.)—Hirah the Adullamite.

“And the days were multiplied” is a good way of saying “sometime later.” Judah’s wife dies and he goes to town with his friend when his mourning period ends.

Ellicott provides a note on “Timnath” and what it refers to:

(12) Timnath.—There were two places of this name (Joshua 15:10Joshua 15:57). One was a little to the west of Bethlehem, the other upon the Philistine border, beyond Bethshemesh. As it lay, however, only about seven miles beyond Adullam, and as the flocks there were Judah’s private property (Genesis 38:13), and under the charge of Hirah, this remoter place, now called Tibneh, is probably the Timnath meant, as at Bethlehem the pastures were occupied by his father. (See also Genesis 38:14.) For the sheep-shearing, see Genesis 31:19. Instead of “his friend Hirah,” the LXX. and Vulg. render his shepherd Hirah. This would require no change in the consonants, but only in the vowels. Most of the other authorities agree with the Authorised Version; but even so, there was most probably some partnership between Judah and Hirah in these flocks, and they would be under Hirah’s charge whenever Judah was absent, tending the flocks of his father.

Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 38:13

And it was told Tamer, saying, Behold thy father in-law—חָם, a father-in-law, from חָמָה, unused, to join together. Of. γαμβρός for γαμερός, a son-in-law, or generally one connected lay marriage, from γαμέω—goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep.

Genesis 38:14

And she put her widow’s garments off from her (to prevent detection by Judah), and covered her with a veil,—to conceal her features, after the fashion of a courtesan (Genesis 38:15; cf. Job 24:15)—and wrapped herself,—possibly with some large mantle (Alford)—and sat in an open place,—literally, in the opening (i.e. gate) of Enaim (LXX; Gesenius, Keil, Kalisch, Lange, et alii)less happily, in the opening of the eyes, i.e. in a public and open place (Calvin), in the parting of the ways, in bivio itineris (Vulgate), in the opening (or breaking forth) of the two fountains (Aben Ezra, Rosenmüller)—which is by (or upon) the way to Timnath;—”close to the site of Thamna, now Tibneh, three miles to the east, on an ancient road coming from Adullam, the very road by which the patriarch Judah would have come from Adullam to Timnah, is a ruin called Allin, or Anita, or Ainim” (‘Palestine Exploration,’ quoted by Inglis)—for she saw that Shelah was grown (he was probably not much younger than either of his brothers who had died), and she was not given unto him to wife—literally, for a wife.

Genesis 38:15

When (literally, and) Judah saw her, he (literally, and he) thought her to be an harlot;—literally, thought her (i.e. took her for) an harlot, like λογίζεσθαι τινα de r& (cf. 1 Samuel 1:13Job 13:24), or to זוֹנָה (fem. part. of זָנַה, commit fornication); vide Genesis 34:31because she had covered her face—more meretricis.

Tamer – who has been patiently waiting to be made a wife of Judah’s third son – runs out of patience. She finds out where Judah is going and deceives him into believing that she is a harlot. Ellicott has an interesting note on verse 15 and what Judah may have believed was occurring:

(15) Because she had covered her face.—The Jewish commentators all agree that this was not the custom of harlots; and as Judah, in Genesis 38:21, calls her kedeshah, one consecrated, he probably thought that she was a woman performing the vow required of every female votary of the Phœnician Venus (Astarte), once in her lifetime (Herod. i. 199). Hence the hire was a kid to be sacrificed to the goddess. As for Tamar her object was to assert her claim to the inheritance of ‘Er. Lange considers that the wickedness of ‘Er had caused him, equally with Onan, to neglect her, and that consequently there was no real incest. This is made probable by her immediate conception.

The note is interesting in that we see some conjecture as to whether or not incest has occurred. Commentators argue that the evil of Er and Onan may remove that specific stain from Judah, though the rest is still certainly, uh, questionable behavior. Returning to The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 38:16

And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter-in-law). Though willing to commit adultery or fornication, Judah would have shrank from the sin of incest. And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me? The conduct of Tamer, though in every way reprehensible, is not to be attributed to mere lust, or inordinate desire for offspring, if not from the son Shelah, then from the father Judah, but was probably traceable to a secret wish on the one hand to be avenged on Judah, and on the other hand to assert her right to a place amongst the ancestresses of the patriarchal family. Yet Tamar was really guilty of both adultery and incest, though Lange thinks the wickedness of Er and Onan renders this open to question.

Genesis 38:17

And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock—literally, a kid of the goats (Genesis 38:20; cf. Judges 15:1). And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it?—literally, if thou wilt give me a pledge until thy sending (sc. then I consent to thy proposal).

The note here argues that Judah is possibly innocent of incest while Tamar is not, since she knows who he is. There are other arguments, which we will get to in the next section, which are far more favorable to Tamar. For now though, returning to Ellicott and verse 18:

(18) Thy bracelets.—Heb., thy cord. The art of engraving was probably not advanced enough among these nomads to permit them to engrave gems small enough to wear in a ring. Judah evidently suspended his signet round his neck by a cord; and this custom still exists among the Arabs, of whom some wear signet rings, while others hang them round their necks. Probably each man of distinction had his emblem, and in Genesis 49:0 Jacob seems to refer to them. Thus Judah’s emblem was a lion, Zebulun’s a ship, Issachar’s an ass, &c.

Thy staff.—The staff in ancient times was elaborately adorned. Herodotus (i. 195) describes the staves carried by the Babylonians, as having on them carvings of fruit, or of some flower or bird; and Homer perpetually makes mention of the “sceptres,” that is, walking-sticks, of the kings, as carved so magnificently as to be worthy of being ascribed to Hephaestus, and handed down as emblems of authority from father to son. (See Iliad, ii. 101-107.) It is from these staves that the sceptres of kings, and the batons of field-marshals, &c, are derived.

She basically takes these things to ensure that Judah will send her the goat as promised. However, has a dual purpose for taking these things that we will discover in the next section.

Concluding with The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 38:19

And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood.

Having successfully deceived Judah, she leaves and puts back on her widow’s garments.

In the previous section, I noted that Onan’s sin was, in part, the treating of Tamar like a prostitute. Here we see Judah literally treating her like a prostitute, though it is a deception perpetuated by Tamar herself.

(This family’s history would make for a very interesting and drama-filled TV series.)