The chapter is oddly placed and fits better revolving around the rape of his sister Dinah in Genesis 34.
Judah is the son of a man who did not want to marry his mother, and maybe didn’t want him. Jacob loved Rachel, but Laban’s trickery gave him six sons and a daughter by way of Leah, a woman God smiled upon. Judah is fourth in the birth order, and now moves away from his family.
Judah’s family moved around a bit during his childhood and his three older brothers were weak. Jacob at the end of his life has little nice to say about Rueben, Simeon, and Levi. Those three sons caused him serious problems. Yet at the end of his life, Jacob compliments Judah. My timeline has Judah leaving this messy family either after the rape of his sister, or after the selling of Joseph into slavery, either way, Judah wants out.
The Adullamite Girl
Adullam is north of Hebron, call it a day’s walk. In the future, Joshua will assign Judah’s kin the land of the Adullamites. Judah’s romantic options were limited, so he falls for a Canaanite girl from the village of Adullah, likely without his father’s blessing.
Marrying a Canaanite was a problem because they rejected God’s character and God’s design for marriage. For example, it was expected of every girl, whether married or not, to serve in rotation as a temple prostitute. At this time temple wasn’t usually a physical structure, so these sexual acts took place at a tree or pole outside, upon higher ground, so the so-called gods could see. Asherah, the common deity of Canaanite people, was the mother and mistress of Baal. So in order to invoke God’s blessing, girls were constantly sought out to represent Asherah in ritualistic communal sex acts.
In the modern world, we call much of this sex trafficking, but the Canaanites called it normal, and God strictly forbid it.
But this is the world Judah married into.
Weird And Weirder
Social security is a form of government intervention for at-risk people. During the days of Genesis, no such thing existed. In order to help families stay together and to keep girls out of prostitution, something called the levirate marriage found acceptance. Later God even ordained it (Deuteronomy 25:5).
If a widow was without a child, the nearest brother or kinsman took her as his wife so she could have a baby. The child was known under the name of the dead husband, and the woman was protected socially and financially.
The pragmatics of Levirate marriage made life complicated. For example, wife #1 didn’t appreciate her husband having sex with his sister-in-law, which is more than understandable, and the children viewed it as a threat to their family and inheritance.
In the future, this will be called the kinsman redeemer, as seen in the beautiful story of Ruth.
The Legacy Of Tamar
Judah had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah.
When Er was in his teens Judah found a wife for him named Tamar. Er was somehow wicked so God put him to death, a circumstance common in scripture.
Onan was likely still in his later teens and was given the task of making Tamar pregnant. Instead, he chose to take advantage of Tamar. The sex act requires some form of nudity, so Onan was able to enjoy Tamar’s female form without acting as a responsible man, and did so by spilling his semen on the ground. The phrase whenever shows he took advantage of her more than once. God was insulted and put him to death, putting him to death for taking advantage of Tamar sexually, not for spilling semen on the ground.
No doubt some degree of superstition arose labeling her as damaged goods. Judah mercifully asks her to remain a widow in his house and in a few years his youngest son can perform the family duties, but he has no intention of making good on this promise. Tamar waits her turn, and it becomes obvious Judah will never make good on his word.
After Judah’s wife died, he chose to go enjoy himself at the Sheepshearing Festival. It’s what you might think, sheep are brought in, sheared and the wool is sold for profit. In the ancient world, this was a big thing, and the Festival eventually turned into a big party.
Judah was possibly intoxicated when he left the Sheepshearing Festival and wandered on the road. Tamar wore the clothes of a prostitute, we’re not sure what that looked like and in the recorded dialogue Tamar outsmarts Judah, requiring from him a payment pledge that clearly identified him (signet ring, cord, and staff).
Tamar was no fool.
Three months later Tamar is accused of immorality and the Canaanites want to burn her. She produces the pledge artifacts and clearly identifies Judah as the father, and Judah admits to the facts and calls her more righteous than I.
During the birth, the 0ldest drew his hand back and the youngest came forward. Tamar’s legacy endures forever, through one of her sons her bloodline enters the royal messianic line, through King David, all the way to Jesus.