Inserted in the middle of the story of Joseph (and his special robe), in Genesis chapter 38, is the odd story of Judah and his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Chapters 37, 39, 40 and following are about Joseph, but chapter 38 deals with Judah. This chapter, in the matter of Torah Designs, is a “Leviticus” chapter, and is about sanctification or being set apart. (Click here for more information on Torah Designs.) It appears that the story of the lineage of Jesus through Judah is set apart as something special here.
First of all, I discovered something interesting about the name of Judah. In Hebrew letters it is spelled jot hay vav dalet hay, and it means praise or celebrated. You may have noticed the name of God (jot hay vav hay) in the name of Judah. According to the rabbis, the meaning of the letter dalet is a door or a pathway. By inserting the dalet in the Hebrew spelling of the name of the Lord (JHVH) it becomes (JHVDH) or Judah. This tells us that Judah is the door or path to the Lord. This is very true because it is through the line of Judah that Jesus, God in the form of man, was born.
After his brother Joseph was sold into slavery, Judah moved near Adullam. There he married the unnamed daughter of a Canaanite named Shua. She delivered three sons to Judah, Er, Onan and Shelah. Er, which is defined as watchful, was evil and the Lord took his life. In Hebrew, Er is spelled ayin resh. The meaning of these letters is sight and evil. Er was more than watchful, he looked for evil.
Even though the law of levirate marriage, where a relative marries the widow in order to have children to inherit the dead father’s estate (Deuteronomy 25:5-6), had not been given to Moses it was a custom of the people of that region (Genesis 38:8). Judah instructed Onan to father a child by Tamar for his dead brother. Onan refused to do so and the Lord took his life, also.
Apparently Shelah was too young to marry Tamar. His name means request. Possibly after the death of his eldest son, Judah desired or requested another son of the Lord. And this son was so named.
Shelah was born at Chezib, which is defined as deceived. After a long time, Tamar took matters into her own hands and deceived Judah. He did not know that the woman was his daughter-in-law. She became pregnant by Judah and was to be killed for adultery. Tamar proved to Judah that the child was his, and Judah recognized that Tamar was more righteous than he (Genesis 38:26). Tamar apparently lived with Judah, but he never slept with her again.
The name Tamar is defined as upright. Tamar was more upright than Judah. Her name is spelled tav mem resh and is composed of some interesting words. Tav mem spells a word that means pious, and tav resh is a term of endearment, like “sweetie.” Mem resh spells bitter. Tamar was an upright woman, a pious woman (?), a dear woman who was understandably bitter because of Judah’s lack of action.
When the time came for her to deliver, it was discovered that she bore twins. The first infant stuck his arm out and the midwife tied a scarlet thread around his wrist. But the other baby was born first. He was named Perez which is defined as breakout. The other child was named Zerah which means scarlet or brightness.
This occasion is yet another instance of the first being last, and the last first. The first baby to appear was the last born. You will recall in the case of the fraternal twins Jacob and Esau, Esau was the eldest. Yet before they were born the Lord told Rebekah that the eldest would serve the younger.
And here we have a picture of the Jews and Gentiles. The Jews received the promise first, but now have been blinded (Romans 11:25, New King James Version) and are still awaiting the Messiah. We Gentiles received the promise later, and have already received the Messiah, Jesus! Praise His name!
There is more to the Bible than meets the eye.