Bible Commentaries
Genesis 38

Trapp's Complete CommentaryTrapp's Commentary

Verse 1

Gen 38:1 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.

Ver. 1. And it came to pass at that time. ] Before the rape of Dinah, the sale of Joseph, and soon after their return from Mesopotamia.

Judah went down from his brethren. ] A green youth of thirteen or fourteen years of age, left his company, where he might have had better counsel. There is a special tie to perseverance in the communion of saints. They that "forsake the assembling of themselves together," axe in a fair way for apostasy. Heb 10:25

To a certain Adullamite. ] There is a double danger of evil company. (1.) Infection of sin, - at least, defection from grace. (2.) Infliction of punishment. Rev 18:4

Verse 2

Gen 38:2 And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name [was] Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her.

Ver. 2. And Judah saw there, &c. ] He saw, took, went in, all in haste: Patre inconsulto, forte etiam invite; his father neither willing nor witting. Hence, for a punishment, was so little mercy showed to his sons. These hasty headlong matches seldom succeed well. It is not amiss to marry, but good to be wary. Young men are blamed of folly for following "the sight of their eyes" and "lust of their hearts." Ecc 11:10 Sed Leo cassibus irretitus dicet, Si praescivissem.

Verse 3

Gen 38:3 And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er.

Ver. 3. And she conceived, &c. ] St Jerome tells us of a certain drunken nurse, that was got with child by her nursling, a boy of ten years old. a This he relates as monstrous, and takes God to witness that he knew it to be so.

a Bruson., lib. iv. cap. 9.

Verse 4

Gen 38:4 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan.

Ver. 4. She called. ] Shush named her two latter children; the one it is like by the licence, the other by the absence of her husband.

Verse 5

Gen 38:5 And she yet again conceived, and bare a son; and called his name Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bare him.

Ver. 5. He was at Chezib. ] Called also Achzib. Mic 1:14 It hath its name from lying.

Verse 6

Gen 38:6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name [was] Tamar.

Ver. 6. And Judah took a wife for Er. ] When he was but fourteen years of age, as appears by the Chronicle, seven years after the selling of Joseph. And here it is well observed, a that though Judah took a wife without his father’s consent, yet he will not have Er to do so.

a Musculus.

Verse 7

Gen 38:7 And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him.

Ver. 7. Wicked in the sight of the Lord. ] A Sodomite, say the Hebrews; but this is hard to say. a As an evildoer, he was soon cut off. Psa 37:9 God would not have such to be his son Christ’s progenitor. Too wicked he was to live: you may know him to be the son of a Canaanitess. Partus sequitur ventrem.

a In Heb., videtur esse allusio seu inversio nominis. ער erat רע : q.d., Er erat vigil perversus.

Verse 8

Gen 38:8 And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.

Ver. 8. And Judah said unto Onan. ] At fourteen years of age likewise. For, from the birth of Judah to their going down to Egypt, were but forty-three years. And yet before that, Pharez had Hezron and Hamul, Gen 46:12 being married about the fourteenth year of his age; which was, doubtless, too soon. Childhood is counted and called the flower of age. 1Co 7:36 And so long the apostle would have marriage forborne. While the flower of the plant sprouteth, the seed is green, unfit to be sown. Either it comes not up, or soon withereth. Too early marriages is one cause of our too short lives. Pursuit of sexual pleasure is death’s best harbinger, saith one.

Verse 9

Gen 38:9 And 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.

Ver. 9. When he went in unto his brother’s wife.] God, for the respect he bears to his own institution of marriage, is pleased to bear with, cover, and not impute many frailties, follies, vanities, wickednesses that are found between man and wife. Howbeit, there is required of such a holy care and conscience, to preserve between themselves, by a conjugal chastity, the marriage bed undefiled; taking heed of an intemperate or intempestive use of it: which by divines, a both ancient and modern, is deemed no better than plain adultery before God. Qui cum uxore sua, quasi eum aliena, concumbit, adulter est, saith that heathen. b Onan’s sin here was self-pollution, aggravated much by his envy that moved him to it, expressed in these words, "lest he should give seed to his deceased brother." And the more sinful was this sin of his in spilling his seed; because it should have served for the propagation of the Messiah; therefore the Lord slew him: as also, because he was not warned by his brother’s punishment. c

a Intemperans in coniugio, uxoris suae adulter est. - Aug. In uxorem alienam omnis amor turpis est, in suam vero nimius. - Hieron.

b Seneca.

c Hebraei inquiunt perinde ut homicidam, reum esse qui temere semen profundit. - Mercer., in loc.

Verse 10

Gen 38:10 And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.

Ver. 10. Wherefore he slew him. ] God oft punisheth the abuse of the marriage bed, either with untimely death - it was well said of one, a that Venus provides not for those that are already born, but for those that shall be born - or else with no children, misshapen children, idiots, or prodigiously wicked children, &c. Cavete let this consideration be as the angel standing with a drawn sword over Balaam’s shoulders.

a Cuffe’s Differ. of Ages, 106.

Verse 11

Gen 38:11 Then 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.

Ver. 11. Lest peradventure he die also, &c. ] Judah lays the fault all on her, whereas it was in his sons. Sarah, on the other side, blamed herself only for barrenness. Gen 16:2 "Judge not, that ye be not judged": but "if we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged." In judging of the cause of our crosses, we are oft as far out as she was, that laid the death of her child to the presence of the good prophet.

Verse 12

Gen 38:12 And 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.

Ver. 12. The daughter of Shuah, &c. ] This was just in God upon Judah, for his fraudulent dealing with Tamar; whom he neither married to his son Shelah, nor suffered to be married to another. Sin is oft punished in kind.

Verse 13

Gen 38:13 And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep.

Ver. 13. To shear his sheep. ] And so to put by his sorrow, as Jonathan did his anger, by going into the field to shoot. At sheep shearings they had feasts. 1 Samuel 25:8 ; 1Sa 25:11

Verse 14

Gen 38:14 And 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.

Ver. 14. Covered her with a vail. ] As they that do evil shun the light. She was going about a deed of darkness.

For she saw that Shelah was grown. ] She ran into this foul sin, partly for revenge, and partly for issue. But this excuseth her not: for the revenge she took was private; and she should have sought a godly seed by lawful wedlock, and not by abominable incest. Discontent is the mother of much mischief; as it was in Judas, Haman, &c.

Verse 15

Gen 38:15 When Judah saw her, he thought her [to be] an harlot; because she had covered her face.

Ver. 15. He thought her to be an harlot. ] Because she sat in an open place: first, In bivio, saith Junius, where there is liberty of looking every way; the guise and garb of harlots. Proverbs 7:12 ; Proverbs 9:14 Eze 16:24-25 Next, she sat covered: whores were not altogether so shameless then as now: they shun not to be seen with bold and bare faces, breasts, and wrists. a Such a sight may soon inflame a Judah; nay, occasion a Job to break his covenant. Job 31:1 The ivy bush showeth there is wine within: which, though no evil follow upon it; yet the party shall be damned, saith Jerome, because she offered poison to others, though none would drink it. See Isaiah 3:16 .

Because she had covered her face. ] Some read, Because she had coloured or painted her face. But that he knew her not by her voice one would wonder. Surely, he was so set upon the satisfying of his lust that he minded nothing else. Lust is blind; "and if the blind lead the blind," &c.

a Hosea 2:2 - "Let her take away her fornication from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts"; laid out, and painted, or patched.

Verse 16

Gen 38:16 And 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?

Ver. 16. Let me come in unto thee. ] This is recorded, (1.) To cut the comb of those proud Jews, that glory so much of their pedigree, and name of Judah. How could they say, "We be not born of fornication?" Joh 8:41 (2.) To mind us that there is no Church to be found on earth without blot and blemish. (3.) That we may consider and admire the utter abasement of our Lord Christ, who would be born, not only of holy, but of impure parentage. And this, to show, [1.] That he borrowed no grace or glory from his progenitors, and as he needed not to be ennobled, so neither was he disparaged by them; [2.] That by his purity and passion all our sins are expiated and done away; like as the sun cleareth whatsoever filth is found in the air or on the earth. Three women only are mentioned in his genealogy; Rahab the harlot, Bathsheba the adulteress, and this incestuous Tamar; Matthew 1:3 ; Mat 1:5-6 to show his readiness to receive the most notorious offenders, that come unto him with bleeding and believing hearts. 1Ti 1:15

Verse 17

Gen 38:17 And he said, I will send [thee] a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give [me] a pledge, till thou send [it]?

Ver. 17. Wilt thou give me. ] The love of money breeds noisome lusts. 1Ti 6:9 Harlots are sordida poscinummia, as Plautus hath it.

Verse 18

Gen 38:18 And 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.

Ver. 18. And he gave it her, and came in unto her. ] He gave her whatsoever she desired; as the manner of such men is: and although he committed incest ignorantly, yet not through ignorance, but through heat of lust, which is brutish and boisterous, burning as an oven: whence the Greeks have named it: and Plato compares it to a headstrong horse. a

a ’ Eπιθυμια απο του θυμιεν ardere. Plato appetitum assimilat equo, qui sit, σκολιος, κρατεραυχων, Bραχυτραχηλος, μελαγχρως, κωφος, μαντιγι μογις υτεικων .

Verse 20

Gen 38:20 And 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.

Ver. 20. By the hand of hls friend. ] His broker. Fie upon such Adullamites! Such coal carriers as this, saith one, be good to scour a hot oven with. Such another was Jonadab to Amnon. How much better that heathen, that answered, Amicus tibi sum, sed usque ad aras.

Verse 21

Gen 38:21 Then 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].

Ver. 21. Where is the harlot? ] The holy whore, as the Hebrew word importeth; such as committed that filthiness, under a pretence of holiness. Such, among the heathens, were the lewd worshippers of Priapus (this is thought to be Baalpeor); and Venus at Cyprus; where the maids, in honour of their goddess, prostituted their chastity to all that would, once a year. So in their Lupercals and Bacchanals at Rome, in quibus discurrebatur ad publicos concubitus, for like reason. Of such unclean persons, even by God’s house, we read in 2 Kings 23:7 , and of such as "sacrificed with harlots" in Hosea 4:14 , who brought their hire for a vow; called therefore, the price of a salt bitch (dog). Deu 23:17-18 Vah propudium!

Verse 22

Gen 38:22 And 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].

Ver. 22. There was no harlot in this place. ] Few places can say so. Every house in Egypt had a dead corpse in it; and too many houses here have such, as, "living in pleasure, are dead while they live." 1Ti 5:6 a Of this sort was that Arlet, a skinner’s daughter in Normandy, whose nimbleness in her dance made Duke Robert enamoured, &c. On her he begat our William the Conqueror. b In spite to whom, and disgrace to his mother, the English called all whores, harlets. But who can read without detestation, that in Rome a Jewess may not be admitted into the stews, unless she will be first baptized? as Espencaeus, an honest Papist, complains. c

a Sane, hercle, homo voluptati obsequens fuit dum vixit. - Terent.

b Heyl., Geog., p. 96.

c Espencae., De Continentia, lib. iii. cap. 4.

Verse 23

Gen 38:23 And Judah said, Let her take [it] to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her.

Ver. 23. Lest we be shamed. ] His care was more to shun shame, than sin. How much better that heathen! Satis nobis persuasum esse debet, &c.; this we should be fully persuaded of, saith he, that although we could conceal the matter from all, both gods and men, yet we should do nothing covetously, nothing unjustly, nothing against chastity, or common honesty. a Though I were sure, saith another philosopher, b that all men would be ignorant of what evil I do, and that all the gods would forgive it me; yet, for the filthiness that is in sin, I would not commit it. Plato condemns the poets for saying, that it were no matter though men did commit sin, so they could hide it. c Si non caste, saltem caute. How much better the Christian poet! Turpe quid acturus, te, sine teste, time. "Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight," though none else saw thee? said God to David. 2Sa 12:9 And David, in his sorrowful confession, saith as much to God upon the matter; "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned"; viz., in respect of the secrecy of my sin; therefore it is added, "and done this evil in thy sight." Psa 51:4

Behold, I sent this kid, &c. ] He comforts himself in the loss of his pledge, that yet he had been as good as his word: but not a word we hear of sorrow for his sin; which, if he can but keep secret, he rests secure. This is a piece of natural atheism; and it is general. d

a Nihil tamen avare, nihil iniuste, nihil libidinose, nihil incontinenter esse faciendum. - Cicero Offic.

b Si scirem homines ignoraturos, et Deos ignoscituros, tamen propter peccati turpitudinem peccare non vellem. - Sen.

c Wς λυσιτελει το αδικειν εαν λανθανη . - Auson.

d Quasi dicat, Ego steti promissis, hoc mihi sufficit.

Verse 24

Gen 38:24 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.

Ver. 24. Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. ] He was willing to be rid of her, for fear of losing his son Shelah, and therefore passeth a precipitate and savage sentence, to burn a great-bellied woman; which the very heathens condemned as a cruelty, in Claudius. a Howbeit there are that take these to be his words, not as a judge in the cause, but as an accuser. b "Bring her forth," sc., into the gates, before the judges; and let her be burnt if found guilty, according to the custom of the country. We read not of any that were, by God’s law, to be burnt with fire, but the high priest’s daughter only, for adultery. Lev 21:9 Hence the Hebrews say, that this Tamar was Melchizedek the high priest’s daughter. But it is more likely she was a Canaanitish proselyte. Let us beware of that sin, for which so peculiar a plague was appointed, and by very heathens executed. See Jeremiah 29:22-23 .

a Dio, lib. lvii.

b Verba Iudae de vivicomburio Thamarae, non sunt Iudicis, sed Accusatoris. - Alsted.

Verse 25

Gen 38:25 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.

Ver. 25. By the man, whose these are, &c. ] So his secret sin comes to light. All will out at length, though never so studiously concealed. Mat 10:26 "That which hath wings shall tell the matter." Ecc 10:20 It was a quill, a piece of a wing, that discovered the Gun Powder Plot. a

Discern, I pray thee, whose are these. ] So, when we come to God, though he seem never so angry and ill set against us, can we but present unto him ourselves his own; our prayer, Mediator, arguments, all his; and then say, as she here to Judah, "Whose are these?" he cannot deny himself.

a Ut taceant homines iumenta loquentur. - Juven.

Verse 26

Gen 38:26 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.

Ver. 26. She hath been more righteous than I. ] A free confession, joined with confusion of his sin; for he knew her no more. This was, to "confess and forsake sin," as Solomon hath it. Pro 28:13 Not like that of Saul; "I have sinned, yet honour me before the people": 1Sa 15:30 or that of those in the wilderness; "We have sinned; we will go up": they might as well have said, We have sinned, we will sin. Deu 1:41 The worser sort of Papists will say, When we have sinned, we must confess; and when we have confessed, we must sin again, that we may also confess again, and make work for new indulgences and jubilees; making account of confessing, as drunkards do of vomiting. a But true confession goes along with hatred, care, apology.

a Sandys’s Relation of West. Relig., sec. 8.

Verse 27

Gen 38:27 And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins [were] in her womb.

Ver. 27. Behold, twins were in her womb. ] Betokening two peoples pertaining to Christ. The Jews first put forth their hand, as it were, willing to be justified by their works, and to regenerate themselves. For this, they were bound with a scarlet thread - condemned by the law: wherefore, pulling back their hand, they fell from God. Then came forth Pharez, the breach-maker, that is, the violent and valiant Gentiles; who took the first birthright and kingdom by force: who when they are fully born, then shall the Jews come forth again. Romans 11:11 ; Rom 11:25-26 And that this is not far off, hear what a worthy divine, a yet living, saith: In Dan 12:11 we have a prophecy of the final restoration of the Jews, and the time is expressed, which is 1290 years after the ceasing of the daily sacrifice, and the setting up of the abomination of desolation, which is conceived to be in Julian’s time; who did essay to rebuild the Temple of the Jews, which was an abomination to God; who therefore destroyed it by fire out of the earth, tearing up the very foundation thereof, to the nethermost stone. This was Anno Dom. 360, to which if you add 1290 years, it will pitch this calculation upon the year 1650. Before this, Babylon must down, &c.

a Mr Case’s God’s Wait. to be Grac., p. 58.

Bibliographical Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Genesis 38". Trapp's Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.