Then Judah said to Onan, "Sleep with your brother's wife. Perform your duty as her brother-in-law and raise up offspring for your brother."
I. GOD'S DISTINGUISHING GRACE TO JOSEPH, separating him from his brethren in character, in his father's affection, in the method of his life, in' the communications of the Spirit. Joseph is the type of the believer, faithful to the covenant, amongst both the Canaanitish heathen and the unfaithful children of the covenant, the patriarchs.
II. THE WORKING OF EVIL PASSIONS AND MORAL IMPURITY BROUGHT TO A CLIMAX THROUGH THE DEVELOPMENT OF GOD'S GRACE IN THE INDIVIDUAL. Joseph brought the evil report to Jacob. Joseph dreamed. Joseph was evidently both in himself superior to his brethren and more favored by God. That is the old story - the Cain spirit developed by contact with the Abel spirit. A time of special grace is always a time of special wickedness and judgment. Witness the advent of the Lord, the Reformation period, the revival of religion in the last century, leading on to the outburst of both wickedness and judgment at the end.
III. THE DREAMS OF THE PIOUS LAD WERE THEMSELVES STEPS IN THE COURSE OF REVELATION. The dominion which was foreshadowed was that of the spiritual kingdom over the unspiritual.
IV. THE PROVIDENTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE PROMISE. Partly through the personal character of Joseph, partly through the evil passions of his brethren, partly through the apparently casual incidents of the neighborhood, partly through the Spirit of righteousness working in the heart of Reuben, partly through the weakness and fondness of Jacob. How strangely "all things work together" in God's hands 1 He weaves the web composed of many single threads into one united, orderly pattern as a whole in which we are able to trace his own thought and purpose.
V. Joseph in the pit while his brethren sit down to eat bread represents THE BELIEVER SUFFERING IN THE MIDST OF AN UNBELIEVING WORLD. A type of Jesus cast into the pit of his humiliation, while the Jewish people despised and rejected claims, his prophetic words, his evident favor with God, and by their transactions with Gentiles, the Romans, gave him up to what seemed to them ruin, but what was the crowning of his head with glory. We begin to see at this point that, as the Psalmist sang, "the word of the Lord tried him."
VI. THE DELIVERANCE Of Joseph and his transference to the sphere of his future triumph are EFFECTED THROUGH JUDAH IMMEDIATELY, THROUGH THE OTHER BRETHREN AND THE ISHMAELITES OR MIDIANITES SECONDARILY. These names of Judah, Ishmael, Midian remind us that the fleshly links which bind the descendants of Abraham together are not lost sight of by God, are called in to serve the purposes of grace, but not to take the place of the true spiritual work, which goes on in its own appointed channel. So in the history of the Church, while there are many secondary influences at work, still there is a remnant according to the election of grace in which there is the real continuity of Divine dealings.
VII. The genuine grief of Reuben, the barbarous inhumanity towards their father of the fallen sons, THE OVERWHELMING SORROW OF THE AGED, HEART-BROKEN JACOB, the rising up of all his sons and daughters to comfort him, are all beautiful and significant touches of nature in this history, which remind us that we are not "following cunningly-devised fables, and that God's gracious kingdom of truth and love does not annihilate the human in order to reveal the Divine, but puts its rainbow on the cloud.
VIII. THE INTRODUCTION OF EGYPT again into the history. Egypt is the type of the world, as built upon the foundation of fallen humanity alone, without the special grace of God, Into that bulk of the unrenewed race the leaven of the kingdom must be put. The connection between the covenant family and Egypt, which we trace in the history of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as afterwards in their descendants, represents at once
(1) the thoroughly human character of the kingdom that God would set up in the earth, for the people of God found much in Egypt which they carried away with them afterwards, and assimilated to their own specially-communicated faith;
(2) the breadth of the promises of God - the separation of the one people was for the sake of all the families of the earth. - R.
Ruth 4:10). It may suffice to add, in this place, that similar customs prevailed among the Indians, Persians, and some Italian tribes, and that they are still practised by the Tsherkessians and Tartars, the Gallas in Abyssinia, the Afghans, and other nations. It was in conformity with this law that Judah commanded his second son, Onan, to marry the childless widow of his elder brother. But Onan was not more virtuous than the family to which he belonged: unwilling to maintain his brother's name, he knew how to frustrate the hopes of Judah. God took away his life for that reckless wickedness.
Onan.I. IT WAS PROMPTED BY A LOW MOTIVE. It was as selfish as it was vile. Onan's design was to preserve the whole inheritance for his own house.
II. IT WAS AN ACT OF WILFUL DISOBEDIENCE TO GOD'S ORDINANCE. Ill deservings of others can be no excuse for our injustice, for our uncharitableness. That which Tamar required, Moses afterward, as from God, commanded — the succession of brothers into the barren bed. Some laws God spake to His Church long ere He wrote them: while the author is certainly known, the voice and the finger of God are worthy of equal respect.
III. IT WAS A DISHONOUR DONE TO HIS OWE BODY. Unchastity in general is a homicidal waste of the generative powers, a demoniac bestiality, an outrage to ancestors, to posterity, and to one's own life. It is a crime against the image of God, and a degradation below the animal. Onan's offence, moreover, as committed in marriage, was a most unnatural wickedness, a grievous wrong, and a desecration of the body as the temple of God. It was a proof of the most defective development of what may be called the consciousness of personality, and of personal dignity.
IV. IT WAS AGGRAVATED BY HIS POSITION IN THE COVENANT FAMILY. The Messiah was to descend from the stock of Judah, and for aught he knew from himself. This very Tamar is counted in the genealogy of Christ (Matthew 1:3). Herein he did despite to the covenant promise. He rejected an honourable destiny.
(T. H. Leale.)
2. Special law for the marriage of the deceased brother's wife by the brother was given of God for special ends.
3. Seed was much desirable and is so in the Church of God; for which such laws were made (ver. 8).
4. Wicked creatures are selfish in duty, therefore unwilling to seek any good but their own.
5. Self-pollution, destruction of the seed of man, envy to brethren, are Onan's horrid crimes (ver. 9).
6. Onans may be in the visible Church.
7. Such uncleanness is very grievous in God's sight.
8. Exemplary death may be expected from God by such transgressors (ver. 10).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)
(M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)
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