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38. Judah and Tamar

And it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down from his brethren, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. 2And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her. 3And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er. 4And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan. 5And she yet again conceived, and bare a son; and called his name Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bare him. 6And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. 7And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him. 8And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. 9And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. 10And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also. 11Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father’s house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father’s house.

12And in process of time the daughter of Shuah Judah’s wife died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep. 14And she put her widow’s garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife. 15When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face. 16And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.) And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me? 17And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it? 18And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him. 19And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood. 20And Judah sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman’s hand: but he found her not. 21Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot, that was openly by the way side? And they said, There was no harlot in this place. 22And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said, that there was no harlot in this place. 23And Judah said, Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her.

24And 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. 25When 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. 26And 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.

27And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb. 28And 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. 29And 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. 30And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah.

8. Go in unto thy brother’s wife. Although no law had hitherto been prescribed concerning brother’s marriages, that the surviving brother should raise up seed to one who was dead; it is, nevertheless, not wonderful that, by the mere instinct of nature, men should have been inclined to this course. For since each man is born for the preservation of the whole race, if any one dies without children, there seems to be here some defect of nature. It was deemed therefore an act of humanity to acquire some name for the dead, from which it might appear that they had lived. Now, the only reason why the children born to the surviving brother, should be reckoned to him who had died, was, that there might be no dry branch in the family; and in this manner they took away the reproach of barrenness. Besides, since the woman is given as a help to the man, when any woman married into a family, she was, in a certain sense, given up to the name of that family. According to this reasoning, Tamar was not altogether free, but was held under an obligation to the house of Judah, to procreate some seed. Now, though this does not proceed from any rule of piety, yet the Lord had impressed it upon the hearts of man as a duty of humanity; as he afterwards commanded it to the Jews in their polity. Hence we infer the malignity of Onan, who envied his brother this honor, and would not allow him, when dead, to obtain the title of father; and this redounds to the dishonor of the whole family. We see that many grant their own sons to their friends for adoption: it was, therefore, an outrageous act of barbarity to deny to his own brother what is given even to strangers.139139     A line or two is here omitted, as well as the comment on the tenth verse. — Ed. Moreover he has not only shortened his brother concerning the right due to him, but he rather spilled seed on the ground than to raise a son in his brother’s name.


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