Judah relocated to Adullam and married a Canaanite woman. They had three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er married a woman named Tamar, but God struck him down due to his wickedness. According to the custom of the time, it was then Onan’s duty to father children with Tamar in place of his deceased brother. However, Onan deliberately avoided fulfilling this obligation, and God was displeased with his actions, leading to his own demise. As a result, Tamar remained a widow and had to wait until Shelah grew up.
After some time, Judah’s wife passed away. Despite the promise to give Tamar to Shelah as his wife, it never came to fruition. In desperation to bear children, Tamar resorted to disguising herself as a prostitute. Unaware of her true identity, Judah engaged in a sexual encounter with her. As payment for her services, Judah offered a goat and left behind his seal and staff as a pledge.
Later, when Judah attempted to send the goat as agreed, the prostitute was nowhere to be found, and they concluded that they had made a fruitless effort. Sometime later, Judah discovered that Tamar was pregnant. Filled with anger, he demanded an explanation. Tamar, revealing the seal and staff, declared that the owner of those items was the one responsible for her pregnancy. Judah, overwhelmed with embarrassment, acknowledged his role in the situation. Tamar gave birth to twin sons, Perez and Zerah, who were fathered by Judah.
26. Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.
This is a subplot within the broader narrative of Joseph’s story.
Judah’s actions in this account are indeed questionable. Firstly, he takes a Canaanite wife, which goes against the prescribed practices of his people. Moreover, he engages in sexual relations with a prostitute, unaware that she is his daughter-in-law. Additionally, he fails to fulfill his promise to give his youngest son, Shelah, to Tamar as a husband. These transgressions highlight the moral failings of Judah.
These sins serve as a demonstration to God that the Israelite family, if allowed to remain in Canaan, would be influenced by the Canaanite culture. Over time, they might assimilate and lose their distinct identity as God’s chosen people. By being in Egypt, where they are despised, they can develop their own national identity without the same temptations from outside influences when they eventually return to Canaan.
It is noteworthy that Tamar’s son, Perez, becomes an ancestor of King David and, ultimately, Jesus, thereby highlighting the redemptive power of God’s plan despite the flawed actions of individuals.