What does Genesis 38:18 mean?
ESV: He said, "What pledge shall I give you?" She replied, "Your signet and your cord and your staff that is in your hand." So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him.
NIV: He said, "What pledge should I give you?" "Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand," she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him.
NASB: He said, 'What pledge shall I give you?' And she said, 'Your seal and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand.' So he gave them to her and had relations with her, and she conceived by him.
CSB: "What should I give you?" he asked. She answered, "Your signet ring, your cord, and the staff in your hand." So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him.
NLT: What kind of guarantee do you want?' he replied. She answered, 'Leave me your identification seal and its cord and the walking stick you are carrying.' So Judah gave them to her. Then he had intercourse with her, and she became pregnant.
KJV: And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him.
NKJV: Then he said, “What pledge shall I give you?” So she said, “Your signet and cord, and your staff that is in your hand.” Then he gave them to her, and went in to her, and she conceived by him.
Verse Commentary:
Tamar, twice widowed by Judah's two oldest sons (Genesis 38:6–10), has disguised herself as a prostitute with a veiled face. She is attempting to trap Judah into taking care of her since he has abandoned his agreement to allow her to marry his third son. Judah, completely unaware that this is Tamar, is attempting to hire her services (Genesis 38:14–17).

She has agreed to the price of a young goat, but only if Judah gives her something of value as collateral until he can send payment. Her choice are items that Judah will certainly want to get back: something uniquely his and clearly irreplaceable. A signet, or "seal," would have been used to stamp his identity on documents. Judah likely carried such an object on a necklace or other cord. Men during this period would also own and carry a staff, likely carved in some unique way.

Tamar's initial plan may have been simply to blackmail Judah: to shame him into caring for her. When he is forced to leave his identification, it's an opportunity to prove what's happened. That she becomes pregnant by this encounter is—from her point of view—the best possible outcome. She now has the children she was promised, as well as leverage to ensure her future.

It's important to note that Scripture doesn't condone Tamar's actions any more than those of Judah. These events are recorded, not endorsed, by their inclusion in this passage.
Verse Context:
Genesis 38:12–19 describes a plan devised by the childless widow, Tamar, to provide for her future after being abandoned by her father-in-law, Judah. He has violated tradition by delaying—refusing, it turns out—to give her to his next-oldest son, Shelah. Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute and engages in sex with Judah, keeping his signet ring and staff until he can pay her. This results in pregnancy, setting up a scandalous revelation.
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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