● Gen 38:3-5 . . She conceived and bore a son, and he named him Er. She conceived again and bore a son, and named him Onan. Once again she bore a son, and named him Shelah; he was at Chezib when she bore him.
The community of Chezib (a.k.a. Achzib and Chozeba) has been identified with Khirbet Kueizibah by somebody named Conder (Palestine Exploration, Jan. 1875). The Talmud mentions that a plain is in front of Chozeba; so Kueizibah has before it the valley of Berachoth (wady Arrub); which is a bit southwest of Adullum. So although Judah moved away from Bath-shua's parents, it wasn't far away.
● Gen 38:6 . . Judah got a wife for Er his first-born; her name was Tamar.
Ms. Tamar is a total mystery. Neither her family, her ethnic identity, her age, her looks, her education, her material worth, nor anything else is known about her. But she's the one through whom God will bring Messiah into the world; so I think it's safe to say she was probably a much better woman than Bath-shua.
● Gen 38:7 . . But Er, Judah's first-born, was displeasing to The Lord, and The Lord took his life.
Er has the distinction of being the very first member of the people of Israel-- the chosen people --whom God personally clipped Himself. Er was only the beginning because God's chosen people weren't chosen to be His pampered pets; no, they were selected to be the number-one caretakers, and propagators, of the knowledge of God. So then, of all the people in the world, Jews have the least excuse for failure to comply with God's wishes because they have always had that information at their fingertips while a very large portion of the rest of the world; for many, many centuries, didn't. Therefore, the status of God's chosen people isn't something to be proud of; no, it's something to be afraid of.
"Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O children of Israel-- against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt --saying: You only have I known of all the families of the earth: that's why I will punish you for all your iniquities." (Amos 3:1-2)
● Gen 38:8 . .Then Judah said to Onan: Join with your brother's wife and do your duty by her as a brother-in-law, and provide offspring for your brother.
NOTE: This is the first mention of adoption in the Bible. Others are Moses' adoption by an Egyptian princess, Manasseh's and Ephraim's adoption by Jacob, and Jesus' adoption by Joseph.
According to Deut 5:2-4, the covenant that Moses' people agreed upon with God as per Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy isn't retroactive. So then Judah's directive wasn't a strict by-the-book legal requirement as-stipulated by Deut 25:5-6; but was nevertheless something that God approved without it being a covenanted requirement.
The "duty" to which Judah referred was apparently a widely accepted custom; not only in his own day, but in days preceding him. Some feel that the custom had its origin in the early-day practice of purchasing a wife rather than courting; so that she became a portion of the dead man's estate. As such, she remained the "property" (and the responsibility) of the clan; thus assuring widows of a livelihood, and of protection and security after their husband's death. In that respect, being a "mail order" bride had its advantages in an era when very few women had careers of their own outside the home or were entitled to assistance programs.
● Gen 38:9 . . But Onan, knowing that the seed would not count as his, spilled it on the ground whenever he joined with his brother's wife, so as not to provide offspring for his brother.
It's been suggested that Onan's motivation for leaving his new wife childless was to make sure Er didn't posthumously cause his own inheritance to be reduced. As the firstborn, Er came in for a larger portion of Judah's estate than Onan. But with Er dead and out of the way, Onan became the firstborn by natural succession.
Actually, Onan didn't have to marry Tamar; but if and when he did, it was an implied consent to try his best to engender a boy so the dead man would have someone to carry on his name. But Onan chose instead to take advantage of his brother's widow and use her like a harlot; and that was not only a cruel thing to do, but a fatal error too.
● Gen 38:10 . .What he did was displeasing to The Lord, and He took his life also.
Some have attempted to use this passage as a proof text that it's a sin to practice contraception. But any honest examination of the facts testifies otherwise. Onan evaded his obligation, and married his brother's widow under false pretenses; apparently with the full intention of protecting his own inheritance rather than that of his deceased brother.
That was unforgivable because it's all the same as fraud and breech of contract; not to mention deplorably uncaring about a widow's predicament (cf. Luke 7:11-15). Tamar had a legitimate right to a baby fathered by Judah's clan, and it was their moral, if not sacred, duty to make an honest attempt to provide her with not only a baby, but also a man by her side to take care of her too.
● Gen 38:11a . .Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar: Stay as a widow in your father's house until my son Shelah grows up
At this point, Judah did the unthinkable: he disowned his daughter-in-law. That just wasn't done. When a girl married into a clan; she became one with that clan. I can scarce believe Judah sent Tamar back to her father; and I'm honestly surprised Tamar's dad didn't march her right back to Judah's front door and get in his face about it and demand he fulfill his obligations to one of Israel's own widows.
● Gen 38:11b . . for he thought: He too might die like his brothers.
No doubt Shelah's mom Bath-shua was by this time up in arms and protesting vehemently against any more marriages of her own sons to this "toxic" female.
I've a pretty good notion of what Judah had in mind. He had no intention of letting Tamar anywhere near his one and only surviving male heir. As far as he was concerned, Tamar was nothing less than a Black Widow-- one of the those venomous spiders in the southwest that eats her mate for dinner after the poor hormone-driven slob fulfills his one and only purpose in life.
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