What does Genesis 38:11 mean?
ESV: Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow in your father’s house, till Shelah my son grows up”—for he feared that he would die, like his brothers. So Tamar went and remained in her father’s house.
NIV: Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, 'Live as a widow in your father's household until my son Shelah grows up.' For he thought, 'He may die too, just like his brothers.' So Tamar went to live in her father's household.
NASB: Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, 'Remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up'; for he thought, 'I am afraid that he too may die like his brothers.' So Tamar went and lived in her father’s house.
CSB: Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, "Remain a widow in your father's house until my son Shelah grows up." For he thought, "He might die too, like his brothers." So Tamar went to live in her father's house.
NLT: Then Judah said to Tamar, his daughter-in-law, 'Go back to your parents’ home and remain a widow until my son Shelah is old enough to marry you.' (But Judah didn’t really intend to do this because he was afraid Shelah would also die, like his two brothers.) So Tamar went back to live in her father’s home.
KJV: Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father's house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house.
Verse Commentary:
Two of Judah's three sons with his Canaanite wife (Genesis 38:2–5) have been put to death by God for their wickedness (Genesis 38:7–10). When Er, the oldest, died, his brother Onan was forced to marry Er's wife Tamar. Now Onan has also been put to death by the Lord, leaving Tamar a widow once more. Neither situation was Tamar's fault, yet she is now childless and unmarried, with little hope of finding a husband.

The same tradition that applied when Tamar married Onan would indicate that Shelah, Judah's next—and last—son would take on the role of husband to provide Tamar with children. Scripture does not say how old Shelah is. Apparently, he's young enough that Judah's excuse seems plausible.

Claiming Shelah is too young is, however, just that: a temporary excuse. In truth, Judah seems to blame Tamar for the deaths of his two oldest sons. He might see her as bad luck, or think she was responsible for his sons' poor decisions. For now, he tells her to go back home to her own father—taking responsibility for her out of Judah's family—and wait for Shelah to mature. The following verses reveal that Judah never intended to complete the marriage between Tamar and Shelah (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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