Personal study notes – Genesis 38

Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Genesis 38

HOLY GHOST TIMING – I often wonder about the interludes in the Bible. We left Joseph being sold as a slave, his father mourning, and instead of showing us what happens next to Joseph, we are going to a chapter about Judah. This is a vivid contrast to Joseph as we shall see in this sad and sordid story.

One warning we can get from this is: BE CAREFUL WHOM WE HANG AROUND WITH. I am sorry to say that Judah hung around the wrong people.

Judah left his brothers and visited an Adullamite named Hirah – he was a pagan pal of Judah, definitely not a godly guy. Judah marries a Canaanite named Shua and she bears a son named Er, and she bears another son named Onan, and Shelah.

ADULLAMITE – means Justice of the people – we have to be careful when we listen to the justice of the people, for human justice is not always God’s justice. We will see here that Judah’s pagan pal will give advice that is decidedly human.
SHUA – means wealth – wonder if Judah was marrying for love or wealth.
ONAN means strong.
ER means watchman/awake
SHELAH means a petition.

Judah then takes a wife for Er, named TAMAR (palm tree).

Genesis 38:7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD killed him.”

I have to be honest, the first time I read the Bible, a passage like this would send shivers up my spine for many reasons. One reason was the sin that I had in my life before I got saved, and how I was always afraid that God could strike me dead at any moment. I also came from a home that had little teaching of God in it, and was told God was there watching, kind of like Santa Claus, making a list and checking it twice. When would I make the one move that would bring the big kibosh down. Then I wondered about why would God kill someone – wouldn’t a God of love want to keep that person alive and try to save them? And then I would wonder about what the person did that was so bad. SHIVERS.

Well, learning more about God has corrected some of the above errors of my thinking, as well as some teachings I have received since. It is true, that our sovereign God could, if He wished strike someone dead, but at this time He is wanting that none shall perish, and all who want to be saved He wants saved. In God’s economy sin is sin is sin. Any sin is sin – we tend to look at others who have done huge sins like murder or adultery and compare them to our tiny sins like a white lie. Truth be told, no sin is tiny, all sin pollutes. Some is more noticeable to us in the flesh than others, but to God all sin is sin. If we are brutally honest with ourselves we will see that we have all sinned, all hurt others, and all are deserving of death, and it is only through our Savior that we have any hope at all. God does not grade on a sliding scale – it isn’t I only did 12 sins so I should get into heaven before someone who crossed the line and did 13 sins. For God one sin is enough to pollute, without Jesus to cleanse our lives. We would go crazy if God was not absolute justice – we would then be putting our lives on a gigantic balance scale- did we do enough good deeds to offset sins, how many extra do we need to do? God doesn’t work like that – for God it is sin or no sin. And He loved us so much He sent His only begotten son to die for our sins, and save us from ourselves.

I still would have argued with Pastor Don about God killing someone as being rather drastic – (although in my past at one point I wanted God to kill my father and He didn’t -thank God for that. But when someone causes a lot of hurt, we in our human minds think death is too good for the person). God is the only one who can make that call. But in a sermon once, Pastor Don asked us if we had a home and walked into the kitchen and saw a great big ugly wild rat, what would we do? We would kill that rat and look for any others in our walls, even killing the baby rats. Why? To protect our family, our children, our pets. We would know that one rat would multiply and create many rats. The rats carry disease and could bite and hurt the people in the house. For God, some sinners are so bad that they are like rats and it is an act of mercy to protect his other children to stop them from hurting others. Also, for that person, sometimes it is best to stop them before they dig themselves deeper into sin. I am certain that Er was given many chances to change, but refused. He had to have been very evil – especially if you see some of the other evil kings and people in the Old Testament that God permitted to live for a season. When God acts there is a real reason for His acting.

There was a custom in those days that if a wife married into a family and her husband died before offspring was born, she would be given to the next youngest son, until she produced a son. That son would be considered the son of the first husband and would inherit the property that the first husband would have inherited.

Judah tells Er’s brother, Onan to go into Tamar, but he does not do what is expected, instead he “emitted on the ground.” It was a selfish move on His part because He wanted to become the firstborn son by position and inherit the double portion that Tamar’s son would have gotten.

When we disobey God’s laws we think we sin in secret, but there is one watching continually, God, who sees what we do in secret.

Genesis 38:10 And the thing which he did displeased the LORD, therefore He killed him also.

Judah seems to be losing sons right and left and in Judah’s mind the one common denominator was Tamar. So to protect his youngest son, Judah tells Tamar to remain a widow in her father’s house until Shelah is grown. But over time it became very obvious to Tamar that Judah never intended to give her to Shelah so that she could bear the heir.

Well, Judah’s wife dies, and to comfort himself he goes up to the sheepshearers at Timnah to visit his pagan pal and party as they usually did at sheep shearing time.

Tamar finds out about it and she devises a plan. She puts on a veil and wraps herself, sitting in an open place where Judah will pass. Judah thinks she is a harlot because Tamar had covered her face. Remember that the temple gods of the pagans were worshipped with prostitutes, so he probably thought she was a temple prostitute.

Tamar asks Judah what he will give her as payment, and he says that he will send a goat from the flock. Tamar asks for a pledge.

Verse 18 Then he said, “What pledge shall I give you? So she said, “Your signet and cord and your staff that is in your hand. Then he gave them to her, and went in to her, and she conceived by him.

These three things are kind of like the credit cards of that day and age. The signet that Tamar asked for was what a person would use to sign legal documents. It would have his signature on it, so that people would know who sent something. The cord was a symbol of the man’s wealth and possessions,  and the staff would have indicated his position. So Tamar took things that would clearly indicate who Judah was.

This is exactly what happens when you give yourself over to sin, be it prostitution or any other sin, the cost is high – it strips you of your person, your power and your position. Sin costs far more than the momentary pleasure that you get.

Judah leaves her, and sends a man with a goat, but the “prostitute” Tamar could not be found. Judah also learns that there was no prostitute in the place to begin with.

Judah then does what most sinners do, tries to cover up. Verse 23 Then Judah said, “Let her take them for herself, lest we be shamed; for I sent this young goat and you have not found her.”

Thought just crossed my mind – Jacob/Isaac tricked his father with a goat, Joseph was pronounced dead because of goat blood, and now Tamar tricked Judah by telling him that she would hold onto his possessions until she receives a goat for payment. And Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats.

THREE MONTHS LATER…….. I would have loved to see this scene.

Tamar is pregnant, and Judah is told that she played the harlot. Judah says, in verse 24 “Bring her out and let her be burned!”

Have you ever spoken out in self-righteousness only to discover that your sin has found you out? I sure have. One thing I notice in myself and others is that sometimes the things we protest the loudest about are the very things that we are the most guilty about. We will see this theme often in the Bible in the lives of the Old Testament kings.

Tamar is brought and she says verse 25 “By the man to whom these belong, I am with child.” And she said, “Please determine whose these are–the signet and cord, and staff.”

Verse 26 “So Judah acknowledged them and said, “She has been more righteous than I, because I did not give her to Shelah my son.” And he never knew her again.

Tamar gives birth to twins. Tell me if the following scenario doesn’t bring to mind Jacob and Esau:

Verse 27-30 Now it came to pass, at the time for giving birth, that behold, twins were in her womb. And so it was, when she was giving birth, that the one put out his hand; and the midwife took a scarlet thread and bound it on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” Then it happened, as he drew back his hand, that his brother came out unexpectedly; and she said, “How did you break through? This breach be upon you!” Therefore his name was called Perez. (Which means breach, breakthrough) Afterward his brother came out who had the scarlet thread on his hand. And his name was called Zerah (Which means a rising light, to appear as the sores of leprosy appear and in King James is spelled Zarah).

Tamar and her sons are mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus Christ -Matthew 1:3

We will see something continuing through the scriptures called the SCARLET THREAD – and this is the first time we hear about that – it is the beginning of the line of salvation. Remember though our sins be as scarlet, they will become as white as snow thanks to Jesus’s gift of salvation.

Beth Moore adds some wonderful insights to the above story.

I forgot that it was Judah who convinced his brothers to sell Joseph rather than kill him. Jacob was distraught to the news of Joseph’s “death”. Beth, in her study, The Patriarchs says on page 174 “At that time Judah left his brothers and went down.” We talked about the need that sometimes arises for a move or a change of scenery. A new start without a new heart, however leads to the same old problems.”

I know that one. Before I got saved I moved around the country a lot, living in Chicago, California, and New York, and changing circles of friends. None of those moves helped me escape my past, for my heart still had not changed. It was only after Christ came into my life that a change for the good occurred.

Beth continues on page 174 “Er has his unique place in Bible history. He is the first individual about whom we read that God killed him. Although we are not told of Er’s offenses, we need not wonder if they were serious. The only other lives God has taken in Scripture thus far are the inhabitants of Noah’s world who had hearts that were “evil all the time” Genesis 6:5″


“Interestingly, in Hebrew the word for “Evil is Er spelled backwards.” (Wenham, Word Bible Commentary) As we’ll note in Er’s younger brother, whether evil is forward and upfront or backward and hidden, God sees and reacts to it.”

Beth said that if you wanted to see the custom of levirate marriage (brother in law marriage) you can check out Deuteronomy 25:5-10. And it was important because in that day and age survival of family lines was important. Onan knew this, and still refused to do what he needed to do according to the levirate law.  Beth continues on page 175 “…God is adamant that we know He sees the sins in a darkened bedroom as clearly as those in the light of day. You see, Onan took Tamar for sexual pleasure alone and had no intention of giving her offspring. He played Tamar for a harlot “rather than a wife celebrated for fruitfulness.” Onan also knew that if a son did not have offspring the brothers would gain the inheritance.

On Page 176 Beth continues stating that three elements set Judah up for a fall. “Just as we learned through the life of Jacob, a deceiver frequently becomes the deceived, and the perpetrator of wrong becomes the victim of wrong. When you and I don’t repent from wrongs we’ve perpetrated, we have to live in fear of their coming back to haunt us…Secondly, Judah had recently lost his wife–vastly increasing his vulnerability. Thirdly, he was probably under the influence of free-flowing wine. A festival with much revelry surrounded the ancient sheep shearing.”

Judah had something in common with David according to Beth, “Neither man expected his tryst to result in a pregnancy. Both men thought the sins’s seriousness faded with time; therefore, consequences were past due. Both were caught in self-righteous indignation.” Both thought that the guilty one should die.


Page 177 “Genesis 38:25 (NIV) “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,: she said. And she added, “EXAMINE IT TO SEE whose seal and cord ands staff these are.”

“The wording she used” in the words capitalized “is exactly the same wording in the Hebrew that Judah and his brothers used in Genesis 37:32 when they took Joseph’s bloodied robe back to Jacob. “We found this. Examine it to see (Hebrew literally ‘see please’) whether it is your son’s robe.”
Judah, you’ve been had.
Don’t think for a moment the hair didn’t stand straight up on the back of Judah’s neck. How wise we are to examine our own lives before we’re forced to examine the evidence of our guilt in our own hands!”

Then Beth tells us that four women appear in the Gospel in Matthew’s genealogy prior to Mary – “Tamar (a Canaanite) Rahab (also a Canaanite and a harlot). Ruth (Aa Moabite) and Bathsheba (an adulteress who was originally the wife of a Hittite.” Page 177 “God made a point of showing that Jesus Christ redeems any lineage, no matter how pagan. No matter how scandalous.”

PRAISE GOD, I am so grateful that this is true because without God’s mercy, I would have been sooooo lost.


Page 177 “By the time the patriarchal narratives draw to a close in Genesis, we will glimpse a very different Judah. The recognition of his own sin over another’s was the beginning of his transformation. Come to think of it, it always is. If character change is what Genesis is all about.” and if Abram became Abraham and Jacob became Israel, what are you and I becoming.”


Last quote from Beth Moore, page 177 “God’s Word is meant to get all the way into our bones, curing our character sicknesses with the most dramatic of all marrow transplants. Christ is our donor. A perfect match for all infirmed. Is this study getting to us? The real us? Then let’s ask ourselves a very pointed question as we close: How are we changing?”

It is funny/sad to me to realize with what scorn I thought about the Bible before I got saved, and even when I first read it I just wanted to pick it apart. The Word got into me, and over time changes have been made. Whole areas of my life have been cleansed, and there are still areas to go. But the Word of God does change you. Sometimes I get a glimpse of how far God has brought me and I cry – because without Him I would have been dead, literally. We do serve an awesome God.

Some have been coming to my site who are agnostics and people who feel that they can pick and choose what to believe. I was like that once, and my heart goes out to them. When I look at my life and see the mess I made of it when I did my own thing, I now realize that my way failed, and lead to death, despair, and destruction. I pray that the Living Word gets into us and works its magic, which is far more powerful than any pagan magic. Let it grow us, change us, teach us, and love us.



About Heather Marsten

Welcome to Heather's Blog. I'm looking forward to meeting you and checking out your sites. I just moved about nine years of material over from another blog site, Xanga, who may close down mid-July. At first I was disappointed to make the move because I had a lifetime membership at Xanga and had to spend weeks transferring posts. But now I'm thrilled. Already I've met new bloggers and read many new websites. Blogging is a wonderful way to expand my horizons and garner new ideas. I'm a happily married mom of three young adults. My husband and I are proud to watch our children grow and venture out into the world. My daughter is still in college but my two sons have graduated. One has a job and the other just graduated and is in the process of finding a job in his field, physics. Anyone know of any jobs out there? I'm proud of our children and love watching them grow and mature. They've become fine, compassionate, and loving people. Empty nest? Nah, I'm too busy to let an empty nest bother me. Not enough hours in the day. My husband and I enjoy quiet time together and I have many interests to pursue - one of which is blogging :D I am a born-again believer and love God. As you read this blog, you will discover that Bible studies thrill me. There is so much wisdom contained between the covers of the Bible and I am fortunate to sit under the teachings of a remarkable pastor, Pastor Don Moore. Members of our church (Living Word Chapel in West Hurley, New York) are encouraged to teach and there are visiting pastors who stop by our church, I also study the Bible on my own and love sharing what I learn. One other passion is writing. My current work in process is a memoir. A scene from my memoir was published in a book called: Heavenly Company: Entertaining Angels Unaware - an anthology of angelic encounters compiled by Cecil Murphy. I'm hoping my memoir will encourage other survivors of abuse. I grew up in a home filled with abuse, including incest. For most of my life I was searching for something that would fill the void of not being loved by my parents. I tried many ways to find that love -- therapy, relationships, occult studies, and keeping my life so filled I had no way to think about my past. It was only when I discovered God that I was able to put the pieces of my life back together and walk forward in a joyous life. My nickname - wondering has changed from wondering where the heck God was in my life, to wondering what incredible adventure is going to happen next. I hope you enjoy my site. Please say hi, share some thoughts, and ask questions. I look forward to meeting you and checking out your sites. Have a blessed day. Heather
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