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Genesis 38:2-10

Context

38:2 There Judah saw the daughter of a Canaanite man 1  named Shua. 2  Judah acquired her as a wife 3  and had marital relations with her. 4  38:3 She became pregnant 5  and had a son. Judah named 6  him Er. 38:4 She became pregnant again and had another son, whom she named Onan. 38:5 Then she had 7  yet another son, whom she named Shelah. She gave birth to him in Kezib. 8 

38:6 Judah acquired 9  a wife for Er his firstborn; her name was Tamar. 38:7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord killed him.

38:8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Have sexual relations with 10  your brother’s wife and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her so that you may raise 11  up a descendant for your brother.” 12  38:9 But Onan knew that the child 13  would not be considered his. 14  So whenever 15  he had sexual relations with 16  his brother’s wife, he withdrew prematurely 17  so as not to give his brother a descendant. 38:10 What he did was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord 18  killed him too.

1 tn Heb “a man, a Canaanite.”

2 tn Heb “and his name was Shua.”

3 tn Heb “and he took her.”

4 tn Heb “and he went to her.” This expression is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.

5 tn Or “she conceived” (also in the following verse).

6 tc Some mss read this verb as feminine, “she called,” to match the pattern of the next two verses. But the MT, “he called,” should probably be retained as the more difficult reading.

tn Heb “and he called his name.” The referent (Judah) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

7 tn Heb “and she added again and she gave birth.” The first verb and the adverb emphasize that she gave birth once more.

8 tn Or “and he [i.e., Judah] was in Kezib when she gave birth to him.”

9 tn Heb “and Judah took.”

10 tn Heb “go to.” The expression is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.

11 tn The imperative with the prefixed conjunction here indicates purpose.

12 sn Raise up a descendant for your brother. The purpose of this custom, called the levirate system, was to ensure that no line of the family would become extinct. The name of the deceased was to be maintained through this custom of having a child by the nearest relative. See M. Burrows, “Levirate Marriage in Israel,” JBL 59 (1940): 23-33.

13 tn Heb “offspring.”

14 tn Heb “would not be his,” that is, legally speaking. Under the levirate system the child would be legally considered the child of his deceased brother.

15 tn The construction shows that this was a repeated practice and not merely one action.

sn The text makes it clear that the purpose of the custom was to produce an heir for the deceased brother. Onan had no intention of doing that. But he would have sex with the girl as much as he wished. He was willing to use the law to gratify his desires, but was not willing to do the responsible thing.

16 tn Heb “he went to.” This expression is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.

17 tn Heb “he spoiled [his semen] to the ground.” Onan withdrew prematurely and ejaculated on the ground to prevent his brother’s widow from becoming pregnant.

18 tn Heb “he”; the referent (the Lord) has been specified in the translation for clarity.



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