Genesis (Part 174)

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

Genesis 38:20-23

20 When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite to take back the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her. 21 And he asked the men of the place, “Where is the cult prostitute who was at Enaim at the roadside?” And they said, “No cult prostitute has been here.” 22 So he returned to Judah and said, “I have not found her. Also, the men of the place said, ‘No cult prostitute has been here.’” 23 And Judah replied, “Let her keep the things as her own, or we shall be laughed at. You see, I sent this young goat, and you did not find her.”


After the agreement with the woman he believed to be a prostitute, Judah sends her the goat as a payment – expecting to have his things returned to him, by her, when she receives it. It does not play out that way. Picking up in verse 20 from The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 38:20

And Judah sent the kid—literally, the kid of the goats, which he had promised (Genesis 38:17)—by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman’s handbut (literally, and) he (i.e. Hirah) found her not.

Continuing on with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary in verse 21:

(21) Where is the harlot . . .?—Heb.,Whercisthe kedeshah (see Genesis 38:15that was at Enajim by the wayside? “Enajim (the two founts) by-the-wayside,” seems to have been the full name of the village. (See Genesis 38:14.)

The Pulpit Commentaries also has a note for verse 21:

Genesis 38:21

Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot,—literally, the consecrated, the prostitute being regarded as “one devoted to the worship of Astarte, a goddess of the Canaanites, the deification of the generative and productive principle of nature,” corresponding to the Babylonian Ashtarte, whose worship was of a grossly libidinous character (Herod; 1.199). Cf. Deuteronomy 23:19Numbers 25:1; Hosed Numbers 4:14; and vide Keil on Deuteronomy 23:19 that was openly by the way side?—or, that was in Enajim on the way, ut supra, Deuteronomy 23:14). And they said, There was no harlot (or kedeshah) in this place.

The notes here remind that Tamar pretended to be a cult prostitute.

Of course, Tamar is unable to be found. It is also likely that she was in that location so briefly that nobody even remembers her presence other than Judah and his friend. Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 38:22

And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said, that there was no harlot (or kedeshahin this place.

Now Judah is aware that something strange has happened so he wants to make the entire endeavor a secret. To that end, he decides he is willing to part with his things and to let her have them – as we see next. Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 38:23

And Judah said, Let her take it to her,—literally, let her take to herself (sc. the pledge)—lest we be shamed (literally, become a contempt, i.e. by inquiring after her. Though not afraid to sin against God, Judah was pained at the idea of losing his reputation before men): behold, I sent this kid (i.e. I take you to witness that I have fulfilled my premise), and thou hast not found her.

Ellicott also includes a note on verse 23:

(23) Lest we be shamed.—Maimonides asserts that Judah had committed no breach of the Law, the utmost therein commanded being that no Jewish woman should become a kedeshah (Deuteronomy 23:17). But Judah evidently regards what he had done as shameful, and having big friend’s testimony, if needed, to prove that he had performed what he promised, he bears with the loss of his signet and staff, rather than let the people know that he had been guilty of an act which they too would condemn.

As the note implies, Judah cannot pursue further action to determine who the woman is, and where his signet and staff are, because doing so would reveal what he has done The lesser shame, for him, is losing his possessions.