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Who cares about the origin of Perez? Apparently it is a big deal to God. History in the OT is the recording of “His Story” = the characters and events that God deemed significant in His orchestrating of His kingdom agenda. A lot of the events in Genesis are all about the providence of God in preserving the Messianic Line that would eventually produce the promised seed of the woman from Genesis 3 – the one that would come to vanquish Satan and redeem the people of God. The stakes are enormous. How will God establish the Messianic line that will flow all the way through King David – the ultimate type of the Righteous King to come?

What type of people does God choose to use in His kingdom program? What does that say for the role that insignificant you or I play in fulfilling God’s purposes today? How does God weave the ordinary details of life into a tapestry of divine purpose and decree? The story of the patriarchs – of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Judah and Joseph – is all about the gracious fulfillment of the promises of God despite the tangled web built by man’s sin and failure. We may be faithless, but God remains faithful. Here we have the dirty laundry of Judah’s family exposed for all to view.




A. (:1-5) Lust of Judah Leads to the Husband for Tamar = Er

1. (:1-2) Canaanite Sex

“And it came about at that time, that Judah departed from his brothers, and visited a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; and he took her and went in to her.”

Judah knew God’s clear prohibition against marrying a Canaanite woman: Gen. 24:3; 28:1

At what time? When Jacob thought that Joseph was dead; Judah trying to ease his conscience and put the past behind him

Duncan: Now you’ll recognize the name Adullam, this friend Hirah the Adullamite apparently comes from that area nearby the cave of Adullam. It’s south or southwest of Jerusalem. It’s an area of territory where David will one day hide in a cave. And it’s an area interestingly enough that Judah will be given when the land of Canaan is parceled out.

Parunak: Two things are distinctive about the marriages of the members of the chosen family up to this point:

• They are initiated with the approval and encouragement of the family.

• They place a premium on marriage to members of the family. . .

Jacob’s marriage violates both of these principles.

2. (:3-5) Conception and Birth of 3 Sons

a. (:3) Er

“So she conceived and bore a son and he named him Er.”

b. (:4) Onan

“Then she conceived again and bore a son and named him Onan.”

c. (:5) Shelah

“And she bore still another son and named him Shelah;

and it was at Chezib that she bore him.”

B. (:6-11) Loss of Tamar Leads to Isolation and Barrenness

1. (:6-7) Tamar Married and Widowed

a. (:6) Tamar Married

“Now Judah took a wife for Er his first-born, and her name was Tamar.”

b. (:7) Tamar Widowed — Divine Execution of Er

“But Er, Judah’s first-born, was evil in the sight of the LORD,

so the LORD took his life.”

Word play – Er means evil;

2. (:8-10) Tamar Violated and Vindicated

a. (:8) Onan Tasked with Impregnating Tamar

“Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.’”

Parunak: This is the first reference in the Bible to the custom of levirate marriage.

• “Levirate” comes from the Latin word “levir,” which means “husband’s brother.”

• If a man had no offspring, his brother was expected to take his wife. The first child born to that union would be counted as heir of the original husband, while the later ones would be reckoned descendants of the new husband.

• This custom later becomes part of Israel’s law in Deut 25:5-10, and is the basis for the history in the book of Ruth.

• The fact that it was legislated indicated that sometimes a man would be reluctant to perform this duty. The closest kinsman in Ruth was afraid that he would “mar [his] inheritance” (Ruth 4:6).

b. (:9) Onan Intentionally Denied Tamar His Seed

“And Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so it came about that when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground, in order not to give offspring to his brother.”

Parunak: the whole trend of scripture ought to caution us concerning contraception. Fruitfulness is considered a blessing from the Lord (Gen 1), especially in the patriarchal family, whose seed is to bring blessing to all the earth (12:3). Barrenness is a great misfortune, sometimes made part of a curse (e.g., Hos 9:14). We should think twice before taking action to block what God intends as a blessing.

Bob Deffinbaugh: Many are those who have tried to make this passage the proof text for banning any method of birth control. Because of the strong emotional and moral implications involved here, we must take careful note of what it is that is called evil. I believe that Onan was condemned for three reasons. First, Onan’s sexual conduct was “contrary to nature.” While Paul was speaking of homosexuality and perhaps other perversions in Romans 1:26-27, what was practiced by Onan was also contrary to nature. It would be difficult, in my estimation, to defend Onan’s actions as “natural.”

Second, Onan was disobedient in his actions. His society at least commended the raising of seed to a brother’s name, and his father had directly commanded it (verse 8). We are led to infer from the story that Judah never knew why children had not been conceived, for only Tamar would have known the cause. From Judah’s biased perspective it was Tamar who must be the jinx, and this prompted him to withhold his last son.

Third, Onan sinned because his motivation was evil. Not only did Onan sin against his father and Tamar, but he sinned primarily against his dead brother. Onan put his own personal interests above his brother’s inability to continue the family line. In essence, Onan’s act was the product of self-seeking at the expense of others. Just as Joseph’s brothers had no “brotherly love,” neither did this son of Judah. In this sense he was surely a “son of his father.”

Personally, I think that we do the text an injustice if we conclude that any and every form of birth control is sin on the basis of this passage alone. Birth control in any form would have been evil for Onan, but that is not the same as saying it is wrong in any form for us, for we have not been commanded to raise up seed as he was. Birth control (or any act, for that matter) is evil if it is motivated by self-seeking and if it is clearly an act of disobedience. “Whatever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23) must be one standard by which we measure our every action. Many, I fear, do prevent the conception of children for purely selfish reasons. Some practice birth control out of a lack of faith, doubting that God will provide materially or emotionally. Since “children are a gift of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3), I believe that one should carefully consider his real reasons for birth control, but I cannot step beyond this to say that it is always wrong.

c. (:10) Divine Execution of Onan

“But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD;

so He took his life also.”

3. (:11) Tamar Denied a Husband and Offspring

“Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, ‘Remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up’; for he thought, ‘I am afraid that he too may die like his brothers.’ So Tamar went and lived in her father’s house.”

Hughes: As Bible readers, we know that Judah would become the principal tribe in Israel, the royal tribe through which Israel’s King would come. But at that time the line of Judah faced extinction. Er was dead. Likewise, Onan was no more. And Judah had manipulated Tamar away from Shelah. Of course, with the passing of time and Shelah’s maturity, Tamar came to understand the bitter truth – she had been permanently sidelined. What could she do?



A. (:12-14) Preparing the Deception

1. (:12) Worldly Companionship Puts Judah at Risk

“Now after a considerable time Shua’s daughter, the wife of Judah, died; and when the time of mourning was ended, Judah went up to his sheepshearers at Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite.”

2. (:13) Clandestine Intelligence Presents the Opportunity

“And it was told to Tamar, ‘Behold, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.’”

Bob Deffinbaugh: The moral atmosphere of the annual sheep-shearing might best be understood when compared to a contemporary television commercial. Visualize a group of hard-working shepherds finishing an exhausting, hot, and thirsty week among the sheep, leaving the fields after having completed this annual task. Suddenly one calls out to the others, “It’s Miller time!” With a girl in one arm and a bottle of booze in the other, the celebration begins. Tamar knew well that this was the kind of thing that took place at sheep-shearing season

3. (:14) Treacherous Bitterness Makes the Most of the Opportunity

“So she removed her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the gateway of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah had grown up, and she had not been given to him as a wife.”

Parunak: Her behavior, while culpable, may be mitigated by the customs of the day. Waltke observes that both Hittite (14th-13thcentury, ANET 196 # 193) and Middle Assyrian (14th-12th century, ANET 182 # 33) laws make not only the brothers of a deceased man but also his father responsible for raising up children to a barren wife. If such expectations prevailed in Canaan at this time, Tamar is simply claiming what is her due.

Her desire to propagate the line of promise stands in stark contrast with the carelessness for progeny of Judah (and Onan). She, like Ruth several generations later, is an example of a Gentile who recognizes the promises of God through Abraham’s seed and by faith lays hold on those promises. Thus she becomes one of the progenitors of the Messiah (Matt 1:3), and one of only four women so remembered (all Gentiles, if Uriah’s wife was also a Hittite).

B. (:15-18) Transacting the Deception

1. (:15-16a) Taking the Bait

a. (:15) Attracted by the Bait

“When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, for she had covered her face.”

b. (:16a) Swallowing the Bait

“So he turned aside to her by the road, and said, ‘Here now, let me come in to

you’; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law.”

2. (:16b-18) Sealing the Deal

a. Negotiating the Price

“And she said, ‘What will you give me, that you may come in to me?’

He said, therefore, ‘I will send you a kid from the flock.’”

b. Securing the Pledge

“She said, moreover, ‘Will you give a pledge until you send it?’

And he said, ‘What pledge shall I give you?’

And she said, ‘Your seal and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand.’”

Bob Deffinbaugh: The seal, cord, and staff were not items purchased from mass-produced stock. Each had distinctive characteristics which were peculiar to the owner. The seal was the ancient cylinder seal used in the making of contracts. It was the counterpart of our Master Charge card today. The seal was a cylinder with the unique design of its owner carved in it. When a contract was made, hot wax was put on the document and the seal was rolled over it, leaving the impression of the owner of the seal. Judah’s seal was one of a kind, as were those of others.40He would therefore immediately recognize it as his own. The same was true of the staff. Possession of these gave Tamar proof of the identity of the father of her child when he was born.

c. Completing the Transaction

“So he gave them to her, and went in to her, and she conceived by him.”

C. (:19-23) Concealing the Deception

1. (:19) Changing Identities from Temple Prostitute to Grieving Widow

“Then she arose and departed, and removed her veil and put on her widow’s garments.”

2. (:20-22) Failing to Locate the Temple Prostitute

a. (:20) Sending the Kid to Receive Back the Pledge Items

“When Judah sent the kid by his friend the Adullamite, to receive the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her.”

b. (:21) Finding No Clue to Her Existence

“And he asked the men of her place, saying, ‘Where is the temple prostitute who was by the road at Enaim?’ But they said, ‘There has been no temple prostitute here.’”

c. (:22) Reporting Failed Search back to Judah

“So he returned to Judah, and said, ‘I did not find her; and furthermore, the men of the place said, There has been no temple prostitute here.’”

3. (:23) Giving Up the Search and Trying to Save Face

“Then Judah said, ‘Let her keep them, lest we become a laughingstock. After all, I sent this kid, but you did not find her.’”




A. (:24-26) Hypocrisy of Judah Exposed

1. (:24) Condemnation of Tamar

“Now it was about three months later that Judah was informed, ‘Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the harlot, and behold, she is also with child by harlotry.’

Then Judah said, ‘Bring her out and let her be burned!’”

Hughes: Judah’s violent declaration suggests that he may have leapt at the opportunity to have her out of the way once and for all.

2. (:25) Confrontation of Hypocrisy

“It was while she was being brought out that she sent to her father-in-law, saying, ‘I am with child by the man to whom these things belong.’ And she said, ‘Please examine and see, whose signet ring and cords and staff are these?’”

3. (:26) Confession of Judah

“And Judah recognized them, and said, ‘She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.’ And he did not have relations with her again.”

B. (:27-30) Hierarchy of Perez Taking Priority Over Zerah

1. (:27) Another Set of Twins

“And it came about at the time she was giving birth, that behold, there were twins in her womb.”

Reminds us of Jacob and Esau

2. (:28-30) Wrestling Match in the Birth Canal — Perez Breaking Out Before Zerah

“Moreover, it took place while she was giving birth, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, ‘This one came out first.’ But it came about as he drew back his hand, that behold, his brother came out. Then she said, ‘What a breach you have made for yourself!’ So he was named Perez. And afterward his brother came out who had the scarlet thread on his hand; and he was named Zerah.”