Sunday, March 6, 2011

Genesis 38:1-11 Judah Tries to Live on a Fence

"At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah.  There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua.  He married her and lay with her; she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was named Er.  She conceived again and gave birth to a son and named him Onan.  She gave birth to still another son and named him Shelah.  It was at Kezib that she gave birth to him." (Genesis 38:1-5 NIV)

Joseph had been taken away from his brothers, but Judah left on his own and was living among the Canaanites for some time.  He marries and has three sons, which would take a number of years.  Also, as this account continues, we see that Judah stayed there until at least one of the sons, Er, was old enough that Judah sought a wife for him:

"Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn,
and her name was Tamar.
But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the Lord's sight;
so the Lord put him to death.
(Genesis 38:6-7 NIV) 

Twice in these few verses we are told that Er was Judah's firstborn.  I do not know why this is being emphasized, but perhaps it is to show us that Judah's line is starting to become established among the Canaanites, in whose land he was living.  His wife is a Canaanite. (v.2)  Judah's third son Shelah (and probably the other two sons as well) was born in Kezib.  I have to check the geography, but I get the sense that Judah is living on the border of places occupied by Israelite and Canaanite peoples, perhaps traveling back and forth between the two as he tended his flocks.  [Note:  Adullam is southwest of Jerusalem, and Kezib is about three miles west of that.]  He seems to be somewhat removed, yet lives near enough that he accompanies his brothers when they go to Egypt to get food during the famine which is soon to envelop the surrounding territory.

Judah is certainly not the first, nor the last, to try to live in both worlds -- that of the Canaanites and also of the Israelites who worshipped God.  Of course, it never works out like one planned.  Er is wicked (not surprisingly, since his mother does not know God and Judah might not, either...or is at least in a state of compromise).  In fact, Er is so wicked that God puts him to death.

Judah's next son Onan is not any better.  In that culture, if a man died before having any offspring, his brother (or sometimes his nearest male relative, if there were no brothers) was expected to marry the widow.  Their first son was considered the deceased man's son for inheritance purposes.  Under this arrangement, the widow's support would also be accomplished:

"Then Judah said to Onan, 
'Lie with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law
to produce offspring for your brother.'
But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his;
so whenever he lay with his brother's wife, 
he spilled his semen on the ground
 to keep from producing offspring for his brother.
What he did was wicked in the Lord's sight, so he put him to death also."
(Genesis 38:8-10 NIV)

     Things are not going well for Judah now...or for his sons.  Judah has only one son left, and he is determined to not lose him:

"Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar,
'Live as a widow in your father's house until my son Shelah grows up.'
For he thought, 'He may die too, just like his brothers.'
So Tamar went to live in her father's house."
(Genesis 38:11 NIV)

  In other words, Judah has no intention of giving Shelah to Tamar.  Somehow, it seems he is blaming Tamar for his sons' deaths.  It never occurs to him that his own choices and the resulting wickedness of his sons may be at least partly to blame for these tragedies.

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