The Judah-Tamar Incident
Chapter 38 is a sub-plot that runs near the beginning of the story of Joseph. This lesson
attempts to deal with God's reasons for including it here.
Judah had three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah.
- Er erred after marrying Tamar
("was wicked in the Lord's sight" -- we're not told how) so God killed him.
- The responsibility of raising up progeny for Er by his widow Tamar
then fell to his brother Onan. But Onan didn't want to raise a son that would be called, not
his own, but his brother's, so "whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen
on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother". (v.9) So God zapped him, also.
This verse is sometimes used as a proof text for two erroneous doctrines:
...both of which focus away from God's purpose, made plain in the context: namely,
to perpetuate the line of the deceased brother
- That sex is for procreation only
- That it is a mortal sin to masturbate
- After losing two sons, Judah told Tamar to live as a widow in her father's house. At first
it was because his third son Shelah was too young to marry, but then as Shelah grew up,
Judah became more concerned about losing another son than about obeying God's law,
(i.e. allowing Shelah to marry Tamar. (see v.14).
- God's consequence for failure of a brother to perpetuate his brother's family line:
God said he would skip ten generations and give the inheritance to the eleventh son
down the line. See Deuteronomy 23:12. A careful study shows that the eleventh in Judah's line
was King David.
- After Judah's wife died, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute, and Judah fathered twin
sons by her: Perez and Zerah. (Read the chapter for the more complete story). Perez became an
ancestor of Jesus, and is mentioned in Ruth 4:12.
- Why did God include this story in the narrative?
- To demonstrate that Jesus came from a line of sinners.
- To show that ten generations indeed were skipped -- to David.