Verses 1-7 – Judah moves away from his family and marries a Canaanite woman. His wife has three sons – Er, Onan and Shelah. Then Judah picks a wife for his oldest son, Tamar. The Bible says Er was evil in the sight of the Lord and the Lord killed him. Think about this for a minute. We have seen some evil characters so far, but none that the scriptures state, “The Lord killed them.” It was pretty evil what Josephs’ brothers did to him, but the Lord didn’t strike them down.
Verses 8-10 – This law about marrying a widow in the family is explained in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. This whole purpose was for the widow to remarry a family member for the inheritance and the children would take care of the widow when they were old. Judah then tells Onan he has to marry Tamar. But Onan does as his father says up to the point of conceiving with her. Onan doesn’t want an heir for his brother; he wants his own. So, Onan emitted his seed on the ground. This displeases God and He killed him.
Verse 11 – Judah tells Tamar to go to her father’s house and wait till Shelah, Judah’s last and youngest son, grows up and she can marry him.
Verse 12 – Judah’s wife is not named. The Bible just says she is the daughter of Shua. She dies and Judah is grieved and goes up to his sheep shearers at Timnah.
Verses 13, 14 – A long time must have passed between Onan’s death and when Tamar moves home. Now because Tamar said Judah had not kept his end of the bargain, Tamar removes her widow’s garments and covers her face with a veil and portrays herself as a prostitute. She goes out and sits in the open where Judah will see her. Judah took her for a harlot. Remember it has been years since he has seen her.
Verses 15-23 – Judah wasn’t shocked to see a prostitute out in public because this practice was common among pagan cultures such as Canaan. Tamar was driven to this action because she wanted an heir to Judah’s line. Judah was driven by lust. Neither action was justified. Judah gave Tamar his staff as a pledge that he would bring her goats for payment. Judah sent the goat but could not find the woman. She had returned to her father’s house and put her mourning clothes back on.
Verse 24 – Three months pass and Judah learns that his daughter-in-law is with child. Judah says to bring her out and she will be burned. This story in no way says that God winks at prostitution. Tamar was not a prostitute. She simply wanted her child to be an heir in Judah’s family. Judah and Tamar are direct ancestors of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 1:1-6)
Verse 25 – Tamar is brought out and brings the signet, cord, and staff (These markings on these objects shows to whom they belonged).
Verse 26 – Judah immediately sees his mistake and tells her she has acted more righteous than himself.
Verses 27-30 – Tamar has twins. One was coming out first and the maid puts a red string bound on his hand, but the other twin pushes out ahead and becomes first. This is significant later on. The first is called Perez meaning “this breach is upon you.” The second is named Zerah (draw your own conclusion to the significance. The Bibles doesn’t).