What does Genesis 38:10 mean?
ESV: And what he did was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and he put him to death also.
NIV: What he did was wicked in the LORD's sight; so the LORD put him to death also.
NASB: But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord; so He took his life also.
CSB: What he did was evil in the Lord's sight, so he put him to death also.
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.
KJV: And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.
NKJV: And the thing which he did displeased the Lord; therefore He killed him also.
Verse Commentary:
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).
Verse Context:
Genesis 38:6–11 explains how Tamar came to be widowed twice. Judah's eldest, Er, marries Tamar but is killed by God for unspecified sins. By tradition, a widow would be given to the next surviving brother, with any resulting children considered successors of the deceased man. Er's brother, Onan, takes Tamar as a wife, including intercourse, but deliberately avoids providing her with children. For taking sexual advantage of Tamar, Onan is also killed by God. Judah apparently blames Tamar for his sons' deaths and tells her to wait before being married to the next brother, Shelah. When it becomes clear that Judah won't care for her, Tamar makes plans of her own.
Chapter Summary:
Jacob's son Judah marries a Canaanite woman and has three sons. His first son marries a woman called Tamar but is put to death by God for an unnamed sin. Judah follows tradition and marries Er's widow to the next oldest brother. Onan takes advantage of the situation for sex, but deliberately refuses to give her children. God puts him to death as well. When Judah abandons Tamar, she disguises herself as a prostitute and has sex with him. Found to be pregnant, she proves Judah is the father, and he admits his guilt. She then gives birth to twin boys.
Chapter Context:
Genesis 38 departs from the story of Joseph (Genesis 37:26–28) to describe what happens when Judah moves away from his family at Hebron and marries a Canaanite woman. Two of his three sons are put to death by God, each while married to the same woman. When Judah abandons her, she works a scheme to trick him into having sex with her. Confronted with proof that he is the father in her scandalous pregnancy, she is allowed to live and gives birth to Judah's twin boys. The following chapter returns to a focus on Joseph and his rise within Egyptian society (Genesis 39:1).
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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