GENESIS - CHAPTER 38
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
38:1. “And it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down from his brethren, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.”
The nation of Israel, whose rejection of Christ is portrayed in the sale of Joseph by his brethren, is now brought before us symbolically in Judah. His going down from his brethren to dwell with Hirah the Adullamite portrays Israel’s departure from the land in A.D.70. As he dwelt with this Adullamite, so has the nation which he represents dwelt amongst the Gentiles until this present day.
Adullam, located about fifteen miles northwest of Hebron, means a testimony to them, and Hirah means paleness: hollowness. Israel’s absence from the land, and her presence among the Gentiles are a testimony to the truth that she is a nation under divine chastisement because of her rejection of Christ.
Paleness is used frequently in Scripture in connection with death. In Re 6:8 e.g., we read, “... and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death.” Hollowness speaks of mere outward form. In Ex 27:8 God directed that the brazen altar be made “hollow with boards.” That altar was only a figure or symbol of what it portrayed: Calvary. A scattered Israel clings to the hollow empty ritual that has long since ceased to have value in God’s eyes. She seeks to preserve the appearance of a near relationship with God, but it is a mere hollow form.
It is significant that a place called Adullam figured prominently also in connection with David during the time of his rejection by Israel: a rejection that symbolizes this present age of Christ’s rejection by that same nation.
Judah’s going from his brethren portrays an additional truth relative to Israel since her rejection of Christ. Praise, which Judah represents, has also gone from that rebellious nation.
38:2. “And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah, and he took her, and went in unto her.”
The KJ version here is ambiguous. 1 Ch 2:3 makes it clear that Shuah was the mother, not the father, of the woman who became Judah’s wife. See also Ge 38:12. The name of the woman herself is not given.
The Canaanite trafficker, as we have seen already, represents one who trafficks in spiritual things for an ulterior motive, and the wife, we have seen to represent the expression of spiritual life, good or bad. Shuah means depression (hollow place), with riches as a possible second meaning.
In Judah’s alliance, then, with this Canaanitess, we have a picture of Israel today, having a spiritual life which is nothing more than a trafficking in spiritual things. Fallen from the high place where God had placed her, she is in a “depression, a hollow place” from which it is impossible to see anything except earthly things; and there, occupied with earthly riches, she remains oblivious of the fact that she is spiritually bankrupt.
The deliberate failure of the Holy Spirit to record the name of this woman would teach us, that as God thus doesn’t recognize her, neither does He recognize the false spiritual life which she represents. He would warn men that as the name of Judah’s wife is omitted from the Scriptural record, so will the unbeliever’s name be omitted from the Lamb’s book of life, an omission which will result in that man’s soul being cast into the lake of fire for eternity.
The mention of her mother’s name rather than that of her father, may indicate that she was illegitimate, reminding us that the spiritual life which she represents is also illegitimate in God’s sight.
38:3. “And she conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Er.”
Er means awaking: stirring up. Since he is a firstborn he represents the old nature, so that the meaning of his name simply points to the awaking or stirring up of that old nature, not only in Judah, but also in the nation of which he is the representative. The life of that nation for almost two thousand years has been a testimony to the activity of the old nature which will not be subject to God.
38:4. “And she conceived again, and bare a son, and she called his name Onan.”
Onan means their vigor (feminine): their iniquity. Like Er, he also was wicked, so that his birth continues to point to the fact that Israel has simply continued to increase in a yieldedness to wickedness (the thought of yieldedness is conveyed in the fact that the vigor is feminine rather than masculine).
38:5. “And she yet again conceived, and bare a son, and called his name Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bare him.”
Shelah means quietness: request. There doesn’t appear to be any evil connected with the meanings of his name, nor is there any evil recorded of him, and in 1 Ch 4:21 we read of his posterity, which includes “the families of the house of them that wrought fine linen,” and fine linen is said to be “the righteousnesses of saints” (Re 19:8). In addition, he was Judah’s third son, the number of resurrection. All of these things combine to present Shelah in a favorable light. It may be therefore, that he represents Israel as she will be in a coming day, resurrected spiritually, resting in quietness and peace, and producing the fruits of righteousness during the Millennium.
There must be some spiritual lesson connected with Judah’s being at Chezib flowing: falsified when Shelah was born, but I regret being unable to decipher clearly what that lesson might be. Flowing seems to convey the thought of abundance, as falsified does of deceit. Israel’s conversion will come during the Tribulation, but that will be the time when she will have been deceived by the beast into believing that his covenant is one of peace when, in fact, God says it is a covenant with hell. “Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement, when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves. Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place. And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand, when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it” (Isa 28:15-18). Israel will indeed be at “Chezib” when she experiences what Shelah seems to represent - her spiritual resurrection. The seeming prosperity and peace implied in “flowing” will be found to have been “falsified.”
38:6. “And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar.”
Tamar means a palm tree, and as such she represents righteousness, for in Ps 92:12 we read, “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree....” Judah’s attempt therefore, to wed her to Er, his wicked firstborn (representative of the old nature), speaks of Israel’s attempt to make righteousness her possession apart from conversion. Israel, however, is but God’s mirror for every man: the natural man also believes that it is possible to possess righteousness apart from faith in Christ.
It was in the fruit of that union that Judah expected to perpetuate his own line, but his expectation was disappointed, as will be the expectation of everyone who thinks that the old nature and righteousness can ever be joined together; yet such is Satan’s success in deluding men, that there are millions who have no better hope for eternity.
38:7. “And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord slew him.”
The old nature, which Er, as a firstborn represents, is always wicked in God’s sight, and must always suffer the same fate - it must die. This is the truth declared by the Lord to Nicodemus in Jn 3:7, “Ye must be born again,” and by Paul in 1 Co 15:50 “... flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” This is the lesson Israel must learn before she can inherit those covenant blessings which her own unbelief has delayed so long.
38:8. “And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.”
According to leviratic law a man was required to marry his brother’s widow, and the son born of that union was counted as the heir of the deceased brother. Onan we have seen to represent increased yieldedness to wickedness, and his marriage to Tamar portrays the persistence of Israel in attempting to form an alliance with righteousness, while at the same time continuing to increase more and more in sin.
38:9. “And Onan knew that the seed should not be his, and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.”
Onan’s refusal to raise up an heir for his dead brother was based on the knowledge that that heir would inherit the double portion which belonged to Er as Judah’s firstborn. In the absence of such an heir, Onan would inherit that double portion. His conduct therefore, seems to have been prompted by a covetous desire to secure that double portion for himself, even though it meant the cutting off of his brother’s name. All of this presents a portrait of Israel in her attempt to “cut off” the Heir, and seize the inheritance. It presents her also as the nation which refused to teach the Gentiles how to enter into a right relationship with God so that they might be blessed.
The unfruitfulness of his union with Tamar continues to demonstrate the spiritual unfruitfulness resulting from the attempt of iniquity to join itself to righteousness.
38:10. “And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also.”
In Onan’s death we see the ultimate end of all who persist in sin, as we see also the impossibility of a man’s pleasing God apart from a repentance that forsakes sin. There can be no fruitful union between iniquity and righteousness. We may also learn something of the divine displeasure provoked by our failure to share Christ with others. In 2 Ki 7:9 we hear the confession of four lepers who had found an abundance beyond their own needs, “We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace: if we tarry till the morning light some mischief will come upon us: now therefore come, that we may go and tell....” The generation of Israel that refused to produce spiritual fruit, that “cut off” the Heir, and that refused to preach the Gospel, has also been slain. It will be a new, converted generation that will inherit millennial blessings.
38:11. “Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father’s house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father’s house.”
Judah’s dismissal of Tamar represents Israel’s separation from righteousness, a separation which has existed now for almost two thousand years. As far as Israel is concerned, righteousness has been “a widow” sent back to dwell with God, because the wickedness of that nation has made it impossible for righteousness to dwell in their “house.” Though Judah stipulated that it should be only “till Shelah my son be grown,” it is clear that he had no intention of ever giving her to Shelah “lest ... he die also.” Thus Judah continued to dwell with a nameless wife whose two wicked sons God had slain, she herself representing a spiritual life that God does not recognize. This is a picture of the condition of Israel since her rejection of Christ. She has existed with a spiritual life that God refuses to recognize, the two slain sons representing the two houses comprising the nation, i.e., the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Both have been slain by God. Israel’s national existence ended with her rejection of Christ, and the righteousness through which her life might have been perpetuated, dwells “a widow” in God’s house.
38:12. “And in process of time the daughter of Shuah Judah’s wife died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheep-shearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite.”
A prerequisite of Israel’s blessing is that she be severed from every empty religious form, and joined only to Christ by faith, the same requirement as applies to all men who would be blessed. Israel, however, must be forced to break that association with mere religion, since she will not break it voluntarily. That compelled severance, pictured here in the death of Judah’s wife, will come in the Tribulation.
The counterpart of Judah’s being comforted may be the short-lived “comfort” brought to Israel at the beginning of the Tribulation through her treaty with the beast.
He was accompanied to Timnath by Hirah paleness: hollowness, the Adullamite a testimony to them. What Hirah represents spiritually (see verse one), has accompanied Israel for almost two thousand years, and will continue to be her companion in the Tribulation as the judgments of God become the “testimony” to her folly.
38:13. “And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep.”
Word of Judah’s activities came to Tamar where she sat waiting the day when she could return to his house to be the vessel through which his line would be perpetuated in her union with Shelah. She is a picture of the righteousness which has been dismissed by Israel, waiting in the Father’s house for the day when she can return to the house of Israel to be the means through which the life of that house will be perpetuated in the Millennium.
But Judah was concerned with sheep-shearing, not with the restoration of Tamar to her rightful place in his house as the wife of his son. And so is it with Israel today, as it will be also in the Tribulation. She is busy “shearing sheep” spiritually, and has no interest in restoring righteousness to its proper place in her house, a house which has been desolate since the day she dismissed “Jesus Christ the righteous.” (Relative to “sheep-shearing” as the evil spiritual activity in which Israel has been engaged for the past two thousand years, it is to be noted that the sheep represent lost men and women, and since the sheep’s wool is its covering, and is the symbol of righteousness, the shearing of that covering speaks of the removal of the righteousness which men need to fit them for God’s presence. Israel has “sheared” the sheep by failing to preach the Gospel, and by teaching instead that salvation is obtained through law keeping).
38:14. “And she put her widow’s garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath, for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife.”
Prophetically this points to the Great Tribulation (the final half of the Tribulation era), when true righteousness will once again be presented to Israel, but spiritual blindness will prevent her recognizing it. “Veiled” or “wrapped,” it will be recognized only by the small believing remnant. The apostate mass of the nation will see salvation through faith in a crucified and risen Jesus as she sees it today: a despised thing, a spiritual harlot.
Timnath means thou wilt number: a portion, but “sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath” is literally “sat in the entrance of Enaim, which is by the road to Timnath.” Enaim is believed to be the same as Enam, meaning their fountain: double fountains. The New English Bible rendering of this phrase is, “sat where the road forks in two directions on the way to Timnath.” All of this combines to show us in symbolic language that in the Tribulation the choice offered Israel will be the same as that offered all men in every age. Calvary is the point where the road to eternity forks: one fork leading to heaven; the other, to hell and the lake of fire.
The meanings of the places mentioned are also instructive. Thou wilt number: a portion reminds us that men are either numbered as spiritual sheep or goats, and the eternal portion assigned each man will be governed by whether he is a sheep or a goat. But the other meanings their fountain: double fountains assure us that Calvary, the place where the road to eternity forks, is also the place where God has opened a fountain for the cleansing of sin, as it is written, “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” (Zec 13:1).
In the Tribulation the mass of Israel, and of the nations, will choose to worship the beast, and thereby condemn themselves eternally; but a remnant of Israel and of the nations will trust in Christ and cleanse themselves from sin and condemnation.
38:15. “When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face.”
Judah’s failure to recognize Tamar the representative of righteousness, points to the failure of apostate Israel in the Tribulation to recognize righteousness, their blindness being so great that they will receive the mark of the beast and worship him, mistaking him for God.
In the Tribulation only the believing remnant of Israel and of the Gentiles will save their souls by refusing to worship the beast, and instead trusting Christ as Savior.
38:16. “And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law).
And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me?”
Judah may have been ignorant of her identity, but he wasn’t ignorant of the fact that to associate with a harlot was sin, so his sin was deliberate. Israel’s worship of the beast will be also deliberate sin, for that error will be the result of having deliberately refused to read God’s Word which not only foretells her folly, but warns also of the terrible eternal conse-quences.
Tamar’s question, “What wilt thou give me?” reminds us that a price must be paid for sin. It brings death.
38:17. “And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it?”
This is the symbolic warning that Israel’s alliance with the beast will require her to give up what the kid represents: Christ; and the fact that the surrender of the kid was to be in the future declares the truth that it won’t be until Christ returns to judge Israel and the nations at the end of the Tribul-ation, that they will discover the deadly folly of having chosen to worship the beast.
It must be remembered that if Judah’s line were to be legitimately continued, Tamar must be given to Shelah. As the childless widow of Judah’s dead son, she must produce offspring by the surviving son, otherwise Judah’s line would end. Scripturally, the cutting off of the physical line symbolizes the end of a man’s spiritual life. The spiritual lesson is easily read. The nation which Judah represents must “marry” righteousness, and produce a “son,” Christ, otherwise the nation will die.
It is Tamar, the representative of divine righteousness, who takes the initiative to ensure the continuance of Judah’s line, and in this we are reminded that it is God Who has taken the initiative to ensure the continuance, not only of the life of Israel, but of every son of Adam.
In her exchanging the honorable garments of the widow for those of the despised harlot, it isn’t difficult to see the foreshadowing of the condescending grace of the Lord Jesus Christ the righteous One, that led Him to make “himself of no reputation” (Php 2:7), that led Him to lay aside His glory and be “numbered with the transgressors” (Isa 53:12), so that men might be saved.
As God, out of Judah’s illicit union with Tamar, produced the two sons through whom Judah’s line was perpetuated, we are being shown the truth that in the Tribulation God will bring good out of evil, for while the mass of the nation will worship the beast, there will be a small believing remnant which will trust in Christ, and that remnant will emerge from that terrible time of judgment as the believing Israel that will inherit millennial blessing.
Had Judah acted honorably and given Tamar to Shela, he would have saved himself from the shame and humiliation that resulted from his own dishonorable union with her. Had Israel accepted Christ two thousand years ago, she would have saved herself from the shame and humiliation that will be hers in the Tribulation, when she too will have to confess that Christ “hath been more righteous than I.”
The kid wasn’t given immediately, but a pledge was given that it would eventually be delivered. And so will it be with apostate Israel in the Tribulation. Those who worship the beast will be required to “give a pledge.” They will be required to receive his mark on their hands or foreheads - a thing at the time of little apparent consequence, but the time will come when “the pledge” must be yielded up. The deceived nation will discover, eternally too late, that their dalliance with the beast to secure a brief earthly pleasure (the preservation of their physical lives), will have cost them their souls.
38:18. “And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him.”
The signet was used to impress a design on clay or wax, and was the equivalent of a modern signature. As with signatures, no two signet designs were identical, and as a man today is identified by his signature, so was a man then identified by his signet. It was usually perforated, and by means of a cord or chain passed through the perforation, was frequently worn as an ornament suspended from the neck, or attached to the owner’s staff. The word here translated “bracelets” is literally “threads or cords,” a fact which has led some to conclude that Tamar demanded Judah’s staff because the signet was attached to it by the bracelet, though it is perhaps, more likely that she demanded it as additional proof of identity.
It is not however, the things themselves that are important, but rather what they represent spiritually. The lesson of the surrendered signet therefore, is that Judah was putting himself under the power of Tamar, for any document upon which she might choose to imprint it would have had the same validity as if he himself had prepared it. Since she, as a harlot, represents evil, the truth being declared is that Israel’s acceptance of the beast as the Messiah will place her under the power of Satan.
His relinquishing also the bracelets (lit. cords) may be the symbolic announcement of the fact that apostate Israel’s alliance with the beast will mark the surrender of the last cord linking her with God. Thereafter she will be abandoned to judgment as a people, who having cast off God, will be cast off by Him.
The staff is the symbol of the Word, so that Judah’s surrender of his staff points to the fact that in the Tribulation, apostate Israel will surrender the Word, and accept instead the lie of Satan.
“... and she conceived by him.” God works in mysterious ways to accomplish His purposes. It was through Pharez, one of the sons born of this sinful union, that the line of Judah was perpetuated, a perpetuation in which we see, as it were, Judah’s own life continued for countless generations. So will it be with Israel in a soon-coming day. God will bring good out of evil. While the mass of the nation will be joined to the beast in the Tribulation, God will bring out of that terrible time of judgment the believing remnant that will be the true Israel which will inherit millennial blessings.
38:19. “And she arose, and went away, and laid by her veil from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood.”
Tamar had conceived, but she had not yet given birth. In Isa 66:7-8 it is written, “Before she travailed, she brought forth, before her pain came she was delivered of a man child. Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.” This verse has been used to support the view that Israel’s conversion will be a miracle occurring literally “in one day,” that day being the one in which Christ returns to establish the millennial kingdom. Such a view however, is not supported by the facts. The conversion of the remnant will be a day-by-day experience covering the whole Tribulation period. Individuals will be saved throughout those seven years, and it will not be until Christ’s return that they will then be revealed as a corporate entity - the new converted nation of Israel that will inherit the kingdom.
Two thousand years ago “before she travailed” Israel brought forth the “man child”, but that was the Christ Who must first die for Israel’s sin. The Christ Who will “rule the nations with a rod of iron” is the “man child” Who will be born out of Israel’s Tribulation “travail.” And as with the King, so will it be with the nation which He will rule - that nation (the believing remnant) will also be born out of the travail of the Tribulation.
Tamar’s conception therefore, is the foreshadowing of the conversion of the hundred and forty-four thousand of Israel after the rapture of the Church. From that small beginning there will come “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations and kindreds, and people, and tongues” (Re 7:9), the Jews and Gentiles converted in the Tribulation. From that seed conceived by Tamar (and it was the seed of Judah, the representative of the nation of Israel) there came Pharez and Zarah, who represent the Jewish and Gentile converts of the Tribulation respectively. As there was an interval of nine months between the conception and the birth, so will there be an interval (the Tribulation) between the conversion of the initial hundred and forty-four thousand (the seed) and the birth of the new converted nation of Israel, together with the converted Gentile nations. The time spent by Tamar in her father’s house after she had conceived, represents that interval of the Tribulation. As far as the nation of Israel is concerned, the righteousness which Tamar represents will dwell “a widow in her father’s house” during the Tribulation, but individual Jews will believe, and receive by faith the righteousness which Tamar represents. And the physical continues to portray the spiritual, for as the placenta is cast away after the birth, so will the unbelieving mass of the nation be cast away after the birth of the believing remnant, the new nation.
38:20. “And Judah sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman’s hand: but he found her not.”
Judah, instead of going himself to deliver the kid and recover his pledge, sent his friend the Adullamite, and in this we are being shown symbolically the attitude of Israel, the unbelieving nation, in the Tribulation. Adullam we have seen to represent the hollow empty form that will mark Israel’s relationship with the beast in the Tribulation. It will be that worthless religious form that they will, as it were, send to redeem the pledge, that is, hope to use to obtain the eternal life found only in the Christ represented by the kid.
The woman was not to be found however, and in this God would teach men that righteousness cannot be bought. It is a priceless thing which a gracious God offers men as His gift, and he who will not accept it as such will fail to find it by any other means.
38:21. “Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot, that was openly by the way side? And they said, There was no harlot in this place.”
The word that has been translated “openly” is literally “in Enaim,” and in our study of verse fourteen we have seen that it means their fountain: double fountains, and that according to The New English Bible translation it means “where the road forks in two directions on the way to Timnath.” That place we have seen to be a picture of Calvary. Adullam’s failure to find the harlot and redeem the pledge with the kid, declares the truth that unbelieving Israel will also fail to find Christ, until she abandons her attempt to buy righteousness, and is willing to receive it as God’s gift offered to all who put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The testimony of the men “There was no harlot in this place,” was indeed the truth, both literally and symbolically. Tamar was no harlot, nor is Christ Who now sits at “Enaim,” the blasphemer that unbelieving Israel still thinks Him to be. Judah was unaware that that supposed harlot was, in fact, the woman through whom his own life was to be perpetuated, and unbelieving Israel is similarly unaware that the Christ she despises is the One through Whom her life will be perpetuated in the believing remnant.
38:22. “And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her, and also the men of the place, said that there was no harlot in this place.”
So will it be in the Tribulation. Israel’s “testimony” (her occupation with law-keeping) will also have to return, reporting failure to find what Tamar represents - righteousness.
38:23. “And Judah said, Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her.”
In our study of verse eighteen we have seen that the signet, bracelets and staff, given her as a pledge, represent Israel’s surrender to the beast, of all that links her with God. It wasn’t Judah’s intention however, to pay with the signet, etc., but rather with a kid, nor will it be unbelieving Israel’s intention to surrender her link with God in the Tribulation. She will be deceived into thinking that the price of the false peace, bought by her worship of the beast, is a relatively small one (believing the beast to be her Messiah), but like Judah, she will discover that the “pledge” can’t be recovered. She will discover, too late, that what she has given up is her very life, and that it is too late for repentance. There was no one to accept the kid sent by Judah, nor will there be anyone to accept from apostate Israel what the kid represents - Christ offered by faith to God. The beast will retain the “pledge” (apostate Israel’s life), leaving her without God for He will have gone from her.
38:24. “And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot, and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt.”
The three months speak of resurrection, and the manifestation of divine government, for three is the number of resurrection, while the month is the twelfth part of a year, and twelve is the number of God’s government manifested. This verse points us to that time when God will enter into judgment with Israel, for the judgment to which Judah summoned Tamar proved to be a judgment upon himself, and as we have seen, in the present context he represents apostate Israel.
As Judah’s daughter-in-law, Tamar represents righteousness according to God’s standard, that is, the righteousness which comes through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That however, is the very righteousness which apostate Israel condemns, just as Judah unjustly condemned Tamar. The self-righteous hypocrisy of the man who was responsible for her condition is simply a picture of the hypocrisy of the Jews, who in condemning Christ, were condemning also God’s righteousness. But in condemning Tamar, Judah unwittingly condemned him-self, and so is it with unbelieving Israel.
38:25. “When she was brought forth, she sent to her father-in-law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff.”
The day is not far off when what is presented here symbolically will be fulfilled literally. Right-eousness, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, will come forth, to return upon the head of guilty Israel the condemnation which she in her blind folly has passed upon Him.
The pledge, so carelessly surrendered three months before, was produced to condemn the guilty Judah, and so will it be in that day when Christ passes judgment on apostate Israel. The items of that pledge we have seen to be the symbols of Israel’s link with God. But the Link between Israel and God (as between every man and God) is Christ. Israel’s surrender of that Link will prove to be her condemnation.
38:26. “And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I, because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more.”
A condemned apostate Israel will be compelled to make the same confession in regard to Christ, but then it will be too late for that confession to save her. The believing remnant however, having made that confession amid the persecutions of the Tribulation, will continue to confess the worthiness of Christ as they enjoy His blessings in the Millennium. God’s dealings with Israel however, are but the pattern of His dealings with all men. He who will not confess the righteousness of Christ in time, will confess it, but too late for salvation, in eternity, and he who confesses Christ here on earth will continue to confess Him joyfully in eternity in heaven.
The vindication of Tamar at the judgment which condemned Judah, points to what will be as Christ judges the nations at the end of the Tribulation: condemned Judah represents the apostate mass of the nation of Israel, while vindicated Tamar just as clearly represents divine righteousness.
As Judah confessed his own unrighteousness he declared also the reason, “I gave her not to Shelah my son.” In the context of this verse, Judah continues to represent Israel, but particularly the Jewish leaders; and Shelah, the son under Judah’s authority, represents the common people who were willing to accept Christ, but who were prevented by their leaders, just as Shelah was prevented by Judah from marrying Tamar (righteousness). Had Judah given her to Shelah his (Judah’s) line would have been legitimately continued without the shameful exposure of his own sin. And so with Israel. Had she been willing to give the Righteous One His rightful place two thousand years ago, the exposure of her sin and shame that will come in the Tribulation, would have been unnecessary.
“... And he knew her again no more.” This declares the truth that Christ’s judgment of the nations will end for ever unbelieving Israel’s opportunity to embrace righteousness.
38:27. “And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb.”
38:28 "And it came to pass, when she travailed, that the one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first."
38:29 "And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez."
38:30 "And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zerah."
Tamar’s travail is but a picture of what will be in the Tribulation. Then righteousness will travail to bring forth the new converted Israel that will take the place of the old unbelieving Israel represented here by Judah. As Judah was replaced by the sons born out of Tamar’s travail, so will unbelieving Israel be replaced by what will result from the travail of righteousness in the Tribulation. Tamar produced not one son, but two, “twins were in her womb.” So will it be in the Tribulation. When the travail of that terrible time has been completed, it will be found that righteousness has brought forth not only a new converted nation of Israel, represented by Zarah, but in addition, a new converted family of Gentile nations, represented by Pharez.
We might just note in passing that this nameless midwife seems to be a type of the Holy Spirit. Her ministry was necessary at the birth of Pharez and Zarah, as is the ministry of the Holy Spirit in connection with the new birth, whether that new birth be of a man or a nation.
We should note also the significance of the scarlet thread bound upon Zarah’s hand from the time it appeared until his birth. That thread represents the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ: blood which has been upon “the hand” of Israel for almost two thousand years, and will remain there until her “birth,” i.e., the conversion of the believing remnant (the new Israel) in the Tribulation.
What is portrayed in the coming forth of Zarah’s hand was fulfilled two thousand years ago. Had Israel believed in the Christ who stood in her midst, she could have entered the millennial kingdom then, but her unbelief caused “the hand” to be withdrawn (but bound with the scarlet thread), Pharez, representative of the Christian Church, being born before the ultimate birth of Zarah, the new believing nation that will yet emerge from the womb of the Tribulation.
The significance of Zarah’s name a rising, becomes more apparent in the light of Simeon’s declaration concerning Christ in Lk 2:34, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel.” That fall is portrayed in the withdrawal of the thread-bound hand; and the rising, in the ultimate birth of Zarah.