“6 Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.8 Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfil your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.’ 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to avoid providing offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.11 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.”NIV
“But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his…” (9a).
‘According to ancient custom, if an older brother died without children, his younger brother was expected to marry the widow and produce a son to maintain the dead brother’s line. The marrying of one’s sister-in-law under such circumstances was called a “levirate marriage”; this custom was later incorporated into the Jewish law (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). It was the responsibility of the father (in this case, Judah) to see that the younger son fulfilled his obligation.’ Tom Hale: ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’, pp. 185,186.
Onan certainly did not want to do his duty. Such selfishness displeases God, and robs others of the blessings we might be (or give) to them. Ironically, we are also robbing ourselves in ways we maybe do not understand.
Notice the slightly different in wording here:
“But Er…was wicked in the LORD’s sight…”(7);
“What he did was wicked in the LORD’s sight…” (10 – regarding Onan).
In all that we have seen recently about the mercy of God, we need to remember that He is also holy, righteous and just. He is love, but He is also a God of holy justice, and wrath against sin. He sees us as individuals. He observes our behaviour. How we live matters to Him. He gives life, and He has the right to take it back, as and when He chooses. Surely, to live in the fear of God means to allow this truth about Him to sink deeply into our beings, and profoundly affect our conduct from moment to moment and day to day.
‘’Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” “ (Hebrews 12:28,29).
Admittedly, we may find this a difficult passage in some ways. But many years ago I heard an outstanding sermon on another emotionally challenging passage. The message was about the death of Uzzah, when he reached out his hand to steady the Ark (2 Sam 6:6). The preacher said, ‘If I rightly understand the truth about the holiness of God and the seriousness of sin, my question will not be, ‘Why did Uzzah die? But, ‘Why am I still alive?’
PRAYER: How we thank you for the Cross, Lord; that Jesus bore the penalty for all our sins in His own body. We cling to that ‘old rugged Cross’, knowing something of how selfish, self-centred and sinful we are. Day by day we need fresh cleansing in your blood, and renewal by the power of the Spirit. Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.