The story is so short that it is possible to miss exactly why it happened, and in any case, there is no explanation of the actual mode of death utilized by God. So the imagination has a little fun with this one, if you think about it for more than a minute.
Er was mentioned first. He married Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah. That was the only intro I got before God decided he didn't like his face and smacked him right off the planet. Or maybe it was an anvil? The book doesn't say. Before, when God would personally kill people, the book would explain how. But apparently with individuals, nothing is forthcoming. Still... probably an anvil.
Tamar was now a widow without children. Judah asks Onan if he will have children with her. And then, once more, God decides he doesn't like Onan and another anvil comes down. Maybe two this time. Three? Either way, he was quite dead, and God was the culprit.
So what happened?
From what you can gather from the text, Tamar was an extremely beautiful woman. Onan wanted to keep her this way by executing a little maneuver at the near end of having sex with her. (He pulled out.) It is likely that Er did this first for the same reasons. Apparently these two don't understand the phrase, "Be fruitful and multiply," which were the ongoing orders direct from God at the time. This was a direct act against Him, and so God killed them.
The story gets a bit kinky from here on out. Tamar actually wants to get pregnant after all this, but she specifically wanted a child direct from the Judah line. She disguises herself as a prostitute and goads Judah to hire her services. I believe the payment was a goat. Seems about right, I guess.
He sleeps with her and she gets two children out of the deal: Perez and Zerath. She did get into trouble for prostitution and it was Judah who announced that she should be burned to death. She happens to slip him a few mementoes from the event, he realizes what really happened, and so removes her sentence. Talk about whoops.
But still, we all have to admit that the funniest part of this story was the fact that God just went and squished two fellows that he did not at all like. Few in history have ended up in that bucket. Just remember, when you are doing something that you know is evil, God has killed for such things before. And I still think it was an anvil. Maybe two. Three?
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