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Genesis  ◦   Chapter 38

1Now, regarding the time that Judah moved away from his brothers, he went to Adullam and stayed with a man named Hirah. 2While there, he met a Canaanite woman – a pagan, the daughter of a man named Shua. Judah gave in to his desires and took her, and he had sex with her; 3and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, whom he named Er. 4She became pregnant again and had another son named Onan. 5She gave birth to a third son while at Kezib, named Shelah.

6Judah arranged for his firstborn son Er to marry a woman named Tamar. 7But Er’s heart was hardened to God, and his character was completely corrupt, therefore he was unfit to be the ancestor of Messiah. So the Lord, acting to fulfill his promise to bring the Messiah to save the world, mercifully put Er to sleep in death.

8Then Judah, seeking to produce an heir for Er, instructed Onan, “Go and have sex with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her and produce an heir for your brother.” 9But Onan’s heart was also corrupt with selfishness, and he knew that any child produced with Tamar would not be his heir but Er’s, and would receive the birthright. So when he had sex with her, he withdrew prematurely and spilled his seed on the ground to avoid giving his brother an heir. 10The Lord accurately diagnosed him as hardened in selfishness and terminal in sin, and therefore unfit to be ancestor for Messiah. So, the Lord, in mercy, and to fulfill his promise to bring the Messiah to save the world, also put him to sleep in death.

11Judah didn’t understand the reason why his sons had died; so he told his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Go home and live with your father; remain as a widow until my son Shelah grows up, and he will fulfill his duty and give you an heir.” But Judah was not sincere. He was afraid for his son and thought, “My only remaining son may die too, just like his brothers.” So he sent Tamar to live with her father as a way of protecting his son.

12After some time, Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. Once Judah had recovered from his grief, he and his friend Hirah from Adullam went to Timnah, where the men were shearing his sheep.

13Someone told Tamar, “Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 14Realizing that no arrangements had been made for her to marry Shelah despite his coming of age, she implemented her own plan to produce an heir. She removed her widow’s clothes, dressed seductively, and disguised herself with a veil. She then sat at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah.

15When Judah saw her sitting there, dressed seductively, with her face covered, he thought she was a prostitute. 16So he went over to her and propositioned her, saying, “Come with me and let me have sex with you.”

“How much will you pay me to have sex with you?” she asked.

17“I will send you a young goat from my flock,” he replied.

“What will you give me to ensure you will send the goat?” she asked.

18“What security would you have me give you?” he said.

“Give me your seal and its cord, and your staff,” she answered. So he gave them to her and then had sex with her, and she became pregnant by him.
19Afterward, she returned home and changed back into her widow’s clothes.

20Judah sent his friend Hirah with the young goat to pay the woman and retrieve his seal, cord and staff, but Hirah could not find her anywhere. 21So he asked the men who lived there, “Where is the shrine prostitute who sits beside the road at Enaim?”

But the men said, “There is no shrine prostitute here and never has been.”

22So Hirah returned to Judah and said, “I couldn’t find her anywhere. And when I asked the men who lived there about her, they said, ‘There is no shrine prostitute here and never has been.’”

23So Judah said, “Well then, she can keep my things. It is better to just let her have them than to keep looking for her and let everyone know that we were so foolish to be tricked by her. Besides, I did send the goat, but you couldn’t find her.”

24About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has been sexually promiscuous, acting no better than a prostitute, and now she is pregnant.”

Judah, wanting to avoid giving her to Shelah, seized on this opportunity and ordered, “Take her out and burn her to death!”

25But as she was being taken out, she sent a message to her father-in-law: “I am pregnant by the man who owns these. Examine them and see if you recognize whose seal, cord and staff they are.”

26Judah recognized them immediately and said, “She has not defiled herself, but acted as is her right to produce an heir for my firstborn son. It was I who was the irresponsible one – who failed to do what was right – when I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And Judah never had sex with her again.

27 When it came time for Tamar to give birth, it was discovered that she was going to have twins. 28During labor, one of the twins put out his hand, and the midwife tied a scarlet thread to his wrist and said, “This one came out first.” 29But then he drew back his hand and his brother was actually born first, and the midwife said, “How did you break out first?” And he was named Perez (which means ’breaking out'), and he became the ancestor of the Messiah. 30Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, was born and named Zerah (which means ’the scarlet rays of dawn’).