Genesis 38:10 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

Genesis 38:10, NIV: "What he did was wicked in the LORD's sight; so the LORD put him to death also."

Genesis 38:10, ESV: "And what he did was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and he put him to death also."

Genesis 38:10, KJV: "And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also."

Genesis 38:10, NASB: "But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD; so He took his life also."

Genesis 38:10, NLT: "But the LORD considered it evil for Onan to deny a child to his dead brother. So the LORD took Onan's life, too."

Genesis 38:10, CSB: "What he did was evil in the Lord's sight, so he put him to death also."

What does Genesis 38:10 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

Onan had been forced by custom and his father's command to marry his brother's childless widow, Tamar (Genesis 38:1–8). This practice, known as a "levirate marriage," would later become part of the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 25:5–6). Under this practice, any children born would be considered the heirs of the departed brother. This provided a legacy for the family and support for the widow. Even that later version allowed a man to refuse that role, though such a choice would have been considered dishonorable (Deuteronomy 25:7–10).

In this case, Onan did not want to put his time and resources into children that would not be his own. Rather than refusing to marry Tamar, or declining to have intercourse with her, Onan tries to get the "best" of both options. He routinely has sex with Tamar but interrupts the act at the end to avoid conception (Genesis 38:9). In a very blatant sense, Onan is "using" Tamar. She's not being treated as a wife, or even as a childless widow, but as a sex object.

God saw Onan's repeated practice of this as a heinous sin and put him to death, just as He had done to Onan's brother, Er (Genesis 38:7). There's a poetic irony in the fact that Onan's sin is called "wicked," using a Hebrew word which is the reverse of the Hebrew name "Er."

With Onan's death, two of Judah's sons (Genesis 38:1–5) have been killed by God for their sinfulness. Both have died while married to Tamar. According to tradition, Judah's next son, Shelah, should now take Tamar. Out of fear (Genesis 38:11), Judah will delay that choice. His excuse is that Shelah is too young, but time will prove this to be a deceptive excuse (Genesis 38:14).