May 11, 2016

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART IV: JOSEPH AND HIS BRETHREN (Gen. 37:1-50:26)

 

 

Topic #B: THE FAMILY OF JUDAH. Gen. 38:1-30.                                                                                                                             

 

 

Lesson IV.B.3: TAMAR IS EXPOSED AND TWINS ARE BORN TO HER (Genesis 38:24-30)                                                          

 

 

 

Genesis 38:24-30 (KJV)

 

24 And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt.

25 When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff.

26 And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more.

27 And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb.

28 And it came to pass, when she travailed, that the one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first.

29 And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez.

30 And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah.

 


Introduction

 

In the midst of the narrative describing Joseph’s career in Egypt, the writer of Genesis introduces the account of Judah’s shameful involvement among the Canaanites.  Judah was the leading member of Jacob’s family, one destined to be the channel of all Jehovah’s rich promises to and through Abraham to later generations and the world.  Judah’s name was to be prominent in the Messianic line.  David would be one of his honored descendants.

 

Judah needed to become a new man to be pleasing in the Lord’s sight, but his marriage to the Canaanite woman (v. 2) was a first step in the intermingling of God’s people with a race that was well-known for its gross immorality.  Israel would become contaminated by the unspeakable abomination of lewd nature worship.  God is a God of separation; when we fraternize with the world, we pay and awful price.

 

 

Commentary

 

24 And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt.

 

Three months came and went, and the incident faded completely from Judah’s mind.  Then came startling news that shook the whole neighborhood and gave the gossips something about which to really wag their tongues.  Tamar was pregnant.  Clearly she had been unfaithful to her commitment to Judah’s remaining son.

 

When the news reached Judah, he was surprised, angry, and afraid, all at the same time—Bring her fourth and let her be burnt,” was his harsh and hasty response.  Of all the world’s arrogant hypocrites, it would be hard to find a worse one than Judah.  Talk about the double standard!  The only difference between him and Tamar was that Tamar was a woman and he was a man, Tamar had been caught and he had not.  “Let her be burnt!” he said, casting blame about like a madman, throwing stones in the air which were to fall back on his head.  We can imagine him continuing, “Get the stake, get the wood, get the fire, and fetch the woman.  Where is she, the immoral wretch! She has disgraced my family, she has dishonored the Judaic line!” Was Judah still blaming Tamar for the death of his first two sons?  Was he being nagged in his conscience because he refused to marry Tamar two Shelah?  Well, here was a golden opportunity to get rid of a woman he had come to dread and dislike, and at the same time he would appear righteous.  “Let her be burnt!” he said, but he meant “Let her (and her baby) be publicly burnt alive.” According to the later Mosaic legislation, burning, the severest penalty, was prescribed for certain extreme cases (Leviticus 20:14; 21:9), and stoning was the penalty for a case like Tamar’s, seeing that she was betrothed to Shelah (Deuteronomy 22:20).  In patriarchal times fathers seem to have possessed the power of life and death over the members of their families.

 

 

25 When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff.

 

As the executioners hurried off to Tamar’s house, the news of a public burning spread throughout the town.  Soon Tamar was dragged from her home and down the village street.  “Hold it,” she may have cried.  “Hold everything.  I have a confession to make.  I should like to incriminate the partner to my crime.” What a sensation that announcement must have made.  She was probably hurried back home to get the evidence she said she had.  Then she was dragged back down the street to the town square.  The stake may have already been set up and an excited crowd gathered to console Judah and enjoy the sight of Tamar’s death.  The shameless woman was hauled up before Judah so that her death sentence might be ratified and her partner named.  Then we can see Judah’s swarthy face suddenly turn pale beneath his tan, his eyes stare in utter disbelief at what Tamar had in her hand. “By the man, whose these are, am I with child,” she said.  “Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff.”

 

 

26 And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more.

 

Judah’s sin had found him out.  He vindicated Tamar, of course.  What else could he do?  “She has been more righteous than I . . .  Let the woman go,” he said.  She had simply taken what Judah should long ago have given.  Then he whitewashed himself.  “She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son,” he said, carefully sidestepping the fact of his own immorality.  There was no more talk of burning.  The shoe was now on his foot and a very uncomfortable shoe it proved to be.

 

Judah’s comment when he is found out shows he has faced up to the facts.  He makes a beautifully praiseworthy statement that provides a model for us twenty-first century men when we fall.  “She hath been more righteous than I.” He does add a reason: “I gave her not to Shelah my son.” But he does not turn that into an excuse.  His being afraid has been mentioned earlier, but here Judah refers to his action, not his fear; it constitutes the reason he is guilty not an appeal to extenuating circumstances.

 

To us Tamar was morally shameless, but in a technical sense, within the levirate marriage law, she was in the right.  She had obtained a child by the man who was responsible for seeing to it that a relative of her husband be given to her as a substitute husband.  Judah was publicly shown to be derelict in his duty of giving Shelah to Tamar, and to have been the man responsible for making pregnant the woman he had angrily condemned to death.  Judah was definitely more in the wrong than was Tamar.  Both had practiced deception, but she did it to secure her legal rights and he to circumvent his legal-paternal obligations. 

 

But God does not allow immorality to go unpunished.  Judah might evade his embarrassing guilt, but the incident was not to be closed in that easy way.  Moses was told by God to write up the whole story.  It was incorporated into the Holy Scriptures, and has been read by millions of people down through all the ages from that day to this.

 

 

27 And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb.

 

Judah is not once named in the events that follow.  He seems to have washed his hands completely of the woman who had shamed him and seems to have been totally ignorant of the fact that one of the sons now to be born to him (Pharez) would stand directly in the Messianic line. Such a thought was beyond Judah in his backslidden condition.  That God could be a God of such grace never occurred to him at all.  That God would pick up the seed of a pagan woman, the seed of an act of shame, and make the resulting son to be a direct lineal ancestor of the Christ Himself was knowledge of God too high for Judah, a sinful man.

 

Twin sons were born to Tamar.  God had wisely taken away two of Judah’s son’s; now in grace He gave him two in return.  But Judah was wholly indifferent.  He wanted nothing at all to do with Tamar or her sons.

 

 

28 And it came to pass, when she travailed, that the one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first.

 

The first child can be called the redeemed child.  It looked as though the one called Zerah was to be born first.  When his hand appeared they tied a scarlet thread around it—a beautifully symbolic act.  Later in Scripture the scarlet thread became a symbol of salvation.  It was a scarlet cord that Rahab was to bind in her window on the wall of Jericho so that she and her family might escape the vengeance of God.  Moreover, in the Bible, the one born first always had to be redeemed by sacrifice, under the Mosaic Law.  Thus Zerah was not the redeemed child.

 

 

29 And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez.

 

But Zerah (means “brightness” or “redness”) did not fulfill the early promise (was not born first) and Pharez (meaning “a breach”) the royal child, took his place.  The midwife had never seen anything like it.  She looked at the tiny little fellow in astonishment and held him up for his mother to see. “How hast thou broken forth?” she cried, “This breach be upon thee.” So they called him Pharaz and from that unusual child, ignored by his father, exclaimed over by a pagan midwife, the line to Christ was carried forward for another generation.  Such was the grace of God to Tamar, yes, and to Judah too.  Zerah was an ancestor of Achan (Joshua 7:1).

 

 

30 And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah.

 

Both Pharez and Zerah established families in the house of Judah (1 Chronicles 2:3-8); even Shelah established a family (see Numbers 26:19-22).  Tamar became a member of the family of promise, even though she was a Canaanite. Matthew mentions Tamar in the linage of the Messiah.

 

Once again we are astonished and encouraged that stories with all the messiness of our story is there in the Bible.  And this is the man who gives his name to one of Israel’s most important clans, the one from which David and Jesus are born; and this is the Tamar who appears in Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1:3).

 

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