● Gen 38:1a . . About that time
Joseph was 17 when he arrived in Egypt (Gen 37:2) and 30 when he became prime minister (Gen 41:46). When he went to work for Pharaoh; a 14-year period began, consisting of two divisions-- seven years of plenty, and seven years of famine. After 9 of the 14 years had passed-- the 7 years of plenty, and 2 of the years of famine --Joseph summoned his dad to Egypt (Gen 45:6-9) which would add up to a period of only about 22 years or so.
Some commentators feel that chapter 38 is out of place chronologically; that it really should have followed chapter 33 because there just isn't enough time lapsed-- from Joseph's arrival in Egypt and Jacob's subsequent arrival --for all the births; and all the growing-up time needed for the particulars in chapter 38 to reach an age mature enough to sleep with a woman and father a child (see Adam Clarke's Commentary for an analysis of the circumstances).
"about that time" is so ambiguous, and so unspecific, and the above mentioned time elements so narrow; that the phrase could simply indicate that the events of chapter 38 happened not right after Joseph went to Egypt, but most likely any time during the whole time Jacob was resident in Canaan; in other words: any time between chapter 33 and chapter 47. Joseph was 7 years old when Jacob returned to Canaan, and 17 when carted off to Egypt. So, adding 10 to the 22, would make the period of "about that time" equal to about 32 years total.
● Gen 38:1b . . Judah
Judah's saga is pretty interesting because it concerns the Israeli tribal head chosen to perpetuate the Jewish line to Messiah (Gen 49:8-12, Heb 7:14).
Some people call this section in Genesis sordid; but I think it's actually kind of humorous because a very resourceful Gentile girl is going to really get one over on the "chosen people".
● Gen 38:1c . . left his brothers
One can hardly blame Judah for wanting to put some distance between himself and the others once in a while. They were so cruel, so selfish, and so thoughtless. People of cruelty generally make bad company what with all their complaining, their sniping, their carping criticism, their tempers, and their propensity to harm people. If those boys were hard hearted against their own kid brother, just think how cruel they must have been with animals. Judah was no prize himself, that's true, but at least he wasn't a cold blooded murderer at heart. I have no doubt he felt very bad at Josephs' sobbing and begging for his life down in that pit. But I thoroughly suspect he felt that selling his kid brother into slavery was the only way he could possibly save the boy's life. Even if Joseph had escaped his brothers that day, they would always be looking for another opportunity to finish the job.
● Gen 38:1d . . and camped near a certain Adullamite whose name was Hirah.
The community of Adullum was roughly 12 miles northwest of Hebron, and later apportioned to the tribe of Judah during Joshua's campaign. (Josh 15:35)
Some translations say that Judah "turned in" to Hirah; implying he lodged in Hirah's home rather than set up his own pavilion. The Hebrew word is natah (naw-taw') which simply means to stretch or spread out; which may indicate that Judah was into a little independent ranching on his own in the area; implying that Judah's spread neighbored Hirah's range land.
Natah is one of those ambiguous words with more than one meaning; which only serves to accent a frustrating fact of life in the world of Bible scholarship that it's pretty near impossible to translate ancient Hebrew texts verbatim into the English language without making an inadvertent error here and there.
● Gen 38:2 . .There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shua, and he married her and cohabited with her.
From the spiritual aspect; Jacob's family was practically on an island in the midst of a sea infested with caribes. The only viable option for spouses in that predicament was either for a prospective Canaanite to be a God-fearing person, e.g. Melchizedek (Gen 14:18) or sincerely convert to Jacob's religion like Ruth did. (Ru 1:16, Ru 2:11-12)
Whether the daughter converted isn't said. And since there existed no Divine prohibitions against intermarriage with Canaanites at this time-- Israel's covenanted law doesn't have ex post facto jurisdiction (Gal 3:17) --then surely no one could possibly accuse Judah of a sin for marrying outside either his religion or his ethnic identity. However, since two of Shua's boys were incorrigible and ended up dead, slain by God, and none of her three male children by Judah were selected to forward Abraham's line to Messiah; Judah's choice doesn't look good.
Gen 38:2 is tricky because at first glance it looks like the girl might be the daughter of a man named Shua. But in verse 12, the daughter's moniker in Hebrew is Bath-Shuwa' (see also 1Chrn 3:5) which is the very same moniker as Bathsheba's. (1Chrn 3:5)
NOTE: In Hebrew, a daughter is a bath; and a son is a ben (e.g. Judah ben Hur).
Bath-Shuwa' (or: Bath-Shua) just simply means a daughter of wealth; which isn't really a name at all, but a status. Exactly what the status of a "daughter of wealth" is supposed to convey about a girl is hard to tell. Perhaps it just means she's an eligible consideration for marriage-- like a girl who comes of a good family; but that doesn't necessarily mean that a blue-blooded girl is the best choice. Things like education, breeding, and wealth are no guarantee that maybe a girl from across the tracks wouldn't make a much better wife and mother. (she'd certainly tend to be more frugal)
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