NKJV - 9 But Onan knew that the heir would not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in to his brother's wife, that he emitted on the ground, lest he should give an heir to his brother.
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✿ Onan resented a child of his being born to carry on Er’s name. Both were wicked men and may have been bitter enemies; hence, Onan wanted his brother’s name blotted out. The firstborn in such cases carried on the dead man’s name (Dt. 25:6-10). Furthermore, the devil may have stirred up hatred in Onan for the Seed of the woman who seems to have been intended to come through Er’s offspring (Gen. 38:3). ✿ Both Er and Onan were wicked men that displeased the LORD wherefore He slew both of them in Gen. 38:9. When Judah saw that his two sons were dead and the law had not been fulfilled by his second son, he promised Tamar his third son when he was old enough. This wouldn’t have been long, possibly one or two years, as the three had been born in quick succession (Gen. 38:3-5). He may have been old enough at the time, but Judah hesitated to give her to him lest he die too. Judah’s wrong caused Tamar to carry out the plan of having a child by Judah himself, whose own wife was now dead (Gen. 38:12). ✿ Er, Judah’s firstborn, seems to have been the chosen one in Judah’s family through whom the Messiah was to come. Even after his death, Tamar his widow bore a son to Judah whose name (Pharez or Phares) appears with hers (Thamar) in the line of Christ (Mt. 1:3). Er’s wickedness may have included despising his privilege to bring forth one in the lineage of Christ (Gen. 49:10; Gen. 38:9). ✿ The "sceptre of government" in Gen. 49:10 refers to the rule shall not depart from Judah; i.e., Judah shall be the ruling tribe and from him shall come the Messiah who shall rule eternally and bring obedience to the people.
First we should consider that Judah had personally rejected the covenant of marriage (Genesis 38:2) as outlined in Genesis 24:3; 28:1 by marrying a Canaanite woman, whose union produced three sons. As the great Arthur Pink stated: God's blessings reign through righteousness, never at the expense of. If you start out wrong you will end up wrong. Although the record doesn't specifically tell us what he did, the Bible clearly states Er was evil so God killed him. Considering the then present Canaanite culture was fostered by the lewd, immoral nature of Noah's grandson (whom he cursed in Genesis 9), it is reasonable to surmise that the apple didn't fall far from the tree. In compliance with Ancient Near-Eastern culture, Judah instructed Onan to marry his childless, widowed sister-in-law and produce offspring who would be the dead man's (Er's) heir. (V.8) (Also See Deuteronomy 25:5-6). "And Onan knew the seed should not be his....." (V.9). Had he produced an heir he would no doubt have been responsible for the child's rearing, welfare, etc. Yet Onan apparently felt he would receive no personal benefit. This is speculation on my part but he may have considered that the addition of another heir (brother) in the family would reduce his personal inheritance. Whatever his motivation or lack of, Onan's failure to exercise family commitment resulted in his death.
To answer the question directly; Gen 38:9 has nothing to do with masturbation. The sin of Onan is the failure to do his duty to his brother's wife. It is not a sexual sin, it is a sin of selfishness. Some people try to link this passage with a prohibition on masturbation because they think masturbation is wrong and they want the Bible to condemn it. But masturbation is not sin and there is no prohibition against masturbation in the Bible. Regards Phil
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