by Rev Joel Yong
And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother. But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also. Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, Remain a widow in your father’s house, till Shelah my son grows up—for he feared that he would die, like his brothers. So Tamar went and remained in her father’s house.
The commentaries of old are often shy to discuss this passage for obvious reasons.
But it is necessary. It highlights that Judah’s sons were evil.
And God struck them down, one by one.
Onan, seemed to have an opportunity to do right though.
Back then, when a husband dies, it’s the duty of the husband’s family to send his brother to take his place, so the widow would not be defenseless and prone to mistreatment from society.
She would have a husband again.
But any children conceived, would be considered descendants of her dead husband’s line.
Strange to us, but that was their custom back then in the Middle East.
But here, we read that Onan did not want children, that were not listed in the books, or seen as of his own.
Even if it was his brother’s line of descent, that was not good enough of him.
So … he slept with Tamar but did not want to complete the reproductive act.
He used her body but did not desire to give her descendants.
It was not family planning; it was pure selfishness …
And for that, God struck him down too.
Then we read that Judah becomes worried and makes up an excuse to Tamar.
He does not want to seem cold and heartless and does not cast her out as a defenseless widow, but he is reluctant to let his next son marry her too.
He somehow thinks she might be the cause of why her husbands are each dropping off dead!!
Either he cannot see that his sons were evil and that is why they all died, when judged by God.
Or he knew they were evil but feels helpless to prevent their descent into sinfulness that culminates in their deaths.
I think it’s the former and not the latter …
Perhaps sometimes we are blind to not just our own sinful state but that of those around us.
We are blind because we love them too much, to the extent that we think they can do no wrong or aren’t that bad …
So when God acts to correct this evil, we still seem clueless as to why things happened the way they did …
Keep reading the next few chapters and see what folly he gets up to next …