Judah was one of the 12 sons of Jacob that later become the 12 tribes of Israel. He fathered three sons, Er and then Onan, and lastly Shelah. Both of his two older son’s were killed by God.
Why He’s a Jerk
- Never rebuked his son Onan for lying in order to have sex with his dead brother’s wife (Tamar)
- He also had sex with his dead son’s wife (though he was “unaware” at the time it was her)
- He tried to ruin her in public to save his own face
- Left her to rot after she could not produce a son to carry on the linage
- Called to have her stoned for being guilty of prostitution
The story surrounding Judah and Tamar is told in Genesis 38. The basic story line is that Judah had two sons. The oldest son, Er, married a woman named Tamar. Unfortunately Er died and left his wife without a son or an heir of any kind. In those times it became the duty of the family to take matters into their own hands so that the widows did not become destitute and poverty stricken. It was also a social issue since many widows who become poor with no place to go could become prostitutes which would bring shame on the family. The family would have one of two choices usually. Either the brother of the deceased would have sex with the widow and produce an heir, or the nearest family member would “redeem” the widow and taking her on as they would a daughter or 2nd wife.
The method that was employed with having the brother produce an offspring. Unfortunately, Onan, liked the idea of having sex with her but was not so fond of producing any offspring by her. So he would continually have sex with her and make sure to pull out.
8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.
What did Judah do about his son’s behavior? He did nothing. Even after the Lord killed Onan Judah refused to help Tamar in anyway. He basically sent her away with no other assistance, even though one more brother could have got the job done. (In his defense, he probably didn’t know what Onan was up to).
11 Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s household 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 household.
Judah sleeps with his own daughter-in-law
Just allowing your daughter-in-law to fend for herself isn’t enough to make the jerk list. It’s about to get real now.
Judah’s wife dies and Judah decides it’s a good idea to go up town and find a prostitute. The Bible also informs us that even after Judah’s last son, Shelah< had grown up, Judah had no followed through on his promise to have him provide a son through her.
12 After a long time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Judah had recovered from his grief, he went up to Timnah, to the men who were shearing his sheep, and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went with him.
13 When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,” 14 she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife.
15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16 Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.”
This is where we find out that Tamar is infinitely smarter than Judah. What she does next is genius.
“And what will you give me to sleep with you?” she asked.
17 “I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” he said.
“Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?” she asked.
18 He said, “What pledge should I give you?”
A pledge was basically an item used as a guarantee, much like collateral.
“Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,” she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. 19 After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow’s clothes again.
20 Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back from the woman, but he did not find her. 21 He asked the men who lived there, “Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?”
“There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here,” they said.
22 So he went back to Judah and said, “I didn’t find her. Besides, the men who lived there said, ‘There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here.’”
23 Then Judah said, “Let her keep what she has, or we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you didn’t find her.”
Judah gets what is coming to him
24 About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.”Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”
25 As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”
26 Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again.