Genesis chapter 38

Judah marries Shua. Onan refuses the rights of a widow. Judah has sex with a prostitute. Judah wants a woman to be burned alive.





VERSE 1. At that time, Judah went down from his brothers, and visited a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.


VERSE 2. There, Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite man named Shua. He took her, and went in to her.

He took her, and went in to her. The act of sexual intercourse was the deed by which marriage was enacted.

There was no Justice of the Peace or church minister.

In our day, most translations water it down. They say something like this: “He married her and made love to her.”

They should say: “He married her by making love to her.”


VERSE 3. She conceived, and bore a son; and he named him Er.

Judah and Shua had three children:


VERSE 4. She conceived again, and bore a son; and she named him Onan.


VERSE 5. She yet again bore a son, and named him Shelah. He was at Chezib when she bore him.


VERSE 6. Judah took a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar.

Tamar. This word means “date-palm.”


VERSE 7. Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the LORD’s sight. So the LORD killed him.

So the LORD killed him. This is unexpected. The LORD kills somebody.

WHY? The LORD killed Er because he was wicked.

Was Er drastically more wicked that other people? Why were other wicked people not killed?

WHAT? What was the wickedness of Er? What specific action was so heinous that the LORD needed to kill him?

HOW? How did the LORD kill Er? A knife-fight? A bolt of lightning?

NOWADAYS. In our day, the LORD doesn’t seem to kill wicked people any more. Instead, they flourish.




VERSE 8. Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.”

perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. If a married man died but had no children, an obligation fell to his brother.

The brother was required to have sexual relations with the widow. That was how she would be able to have children and a lineage.


VERSE 9. Onan knew that the offspring wouldn’t be his; and when he went in to his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother.

he spilled it on the ground. After a period of genital intercourse, Onan withdrew and masturbated.


VERSE 10. The thing which he did was evil in the LORD’s sight, and he killed him also.

The thing which he did was evil. Some denominations cite this verse to “prove” that masturbation is forbidden.

However, that misses the point of this passage. The point of the passage is that Tamar was owed her rights. And Onan refused to grant them.

This was an injustice. It was an infraction of her human rights.

Onan damned Tamar to a childless future. She would have no means of financial support. She would be reduced to a homeless beggar.

That is the evil Onan did.


VERSE 11. Then Judah said to Tamar, his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow in your father’s house, until Shelah, my son, is grown up;” for he said, “Lest he also die, like his brothers.” Tamar went and lived in her father’s house.

Remain a widow in your father’s house. Tamar is a widow of Judah’s son.

Judah is required to care for her. But he expels her from his household.

Judah is violating his legal responsibilities toward Tamar.

This is reprehensible.




VERSE 12. After many days, Shua’s daughter, the wife of Judah, died. Judah was comforted, and went up to his sheep shearers to Timnah, he and his friend Hirah, the Adullamite.


VERSE 13. Tamar was told, “Behold, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.”


VERSE 14. She took off the garments of her widowhood, and covered herself with her veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the gate of Enaim, which is on the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she wasn’t given to him as a wife.


VERSE 15. When Judah saw her, he thought that she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face.

he thought that she was a prostitute. Was this the so-called great father of the faith looking for a prostitute?


VERSE 16. He turned to her by the way, and said, “Please come, let me come in to you,” for he didn’t know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?”

Please come, let me come in to you. Judah hired a prostitute.

We wonder:

  • Was prostitution common?
  • Was going to a prostitute considered morally acceptable? Tolerable? Neutral?
  • Did this tarnish the reputation of Judah, the so-called great father of the faith?


VERSE 17. He said, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” She said, “Will you give me a pledge, until you send it?”

a young goat from the flock. Judah offered this as the price of having sex with a prostitute.


VERSE 18. He said, “What pledge will I give you?” She said, “Your signet and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand.” He gave them to her, and came in to her, and she conceived by him.


VERSE 19. She arose, and went away, and put off her veil from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood.


VERSE 20. Judah sent the young goat by the hand of his friend, the Adullamite, to receive the pledge from the woman’s hand, but he didn’t find her.


VERSE 21. Then he asked the men of her place, saying, “Where is the prostitute, that was at Enaim by the road?” They said, “There has been no prostitute here.”

the prostitute. The Hebrew word is qedesha. It means “consecrated woman.”

It was used for a woman who had ritual intercourse with men in pagan fertility rites.

In those fertility rites:

  • The man would be on top. He represented the “sky.”
  • The woman would be on bottom. She represented the “earth.”
  • His semen would represent “rain,” which falls from the sky and makes the earth fruitful.

There has been no prostitute here. All the men know there is not prostitute. Had they been looking for one?


VERSE 22. He returned to Judah, and said, “I haven’t found her; and also the men of the place said, ‘There has been no prostitute here.’ ”


VERSE 23. Judah said, “Let her keep it, lest we be shamed. Behold, I sent this young goat, and you haven’t found her.”




VERSE 24. About three months later, Judah was told, “Tamar, your daughter-in-law, has played the prostitute. Moreover, behold, she is with child by prostitution.” Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.”

Bring her out, and let her be burned. Judah wants a woman to be burned alive.

Plus, he conceals that he was the man who had sex with her. He conceals that he got her pregnant.

In a similar situation, a woman was dragged before the Lord Jesus. The hypocrites said she was caught in the act of adultery and should be stoned to death.

The Lord Jesus responded with compassion and saved her life.

Judah is the moral opposite of Jesus. Judah is a terrible man.


VERSE 25. When she was brought out, she sent to her father-in-law, saying, “I am with child by the man who owns these.” She also said, “Please discern whose these are—the signet, and the cords, and the staff.”

I am with child by the man who owns these. Tamar was wise. She has evidence.


VERSE 26. Judah acknowledged them, and said, “She is more righteous than I, because I didn’t give her to Shelah, my son.” He knew her again no more.

Judah acknowledged them. Tamar caught Judah in a trap.


Judah recanted his demand that she be burned at the stake.

However, he still did not confess to having sex with a prostitute. Judah remains a hypocrite. And a terrible person.


VERSE 27. In the time of her travail, behold, twins were in her womb.


VERSE 28. When she travailed, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This came out first.”


VERSE 29. As he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out, and she said, “Why have you made a breach for yourself?” Therefore his name was called Perez.

Perez. This word means “breaking out.”


VERSE 30. Afterward his brother came out, who had the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah.

Zerah. This word means “scarlet” or “brightness.”


next chapter »

« previous chapter


CHAPTERS: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 4950

RESOURCES: Summary, Outline, Memorize

Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.


Author: todd

At Explore the Faith, I share insights into the Bible and theological writings. If you like what I write, become my partner by donating. Help me reach the world for the Lord Jesus Christ.