Don Peavy Sr., in an LA Examiner response to a series of articles in the Gold Star Daily, claims that God slew Onan, not to punish Onan for something he did that God finds detestable, but “to veto such a cruel and unjust act against Tamar” the widow.
According to this line of reasoning, Tamar, hadn’t God zapped Onan dead, “would be forced to continue to bear the shame of being childless even as Onan went about his business having given the appearance that he had fulfilled his obligation under the levirate marriage law.”
With Onan dead, people wouldn’t blame Tamar for not bearing an heir. Peavy didn’t exactly say how, but his bottom line seems to be: God zapped Onan dead, not because of something Onan did that’s detestable to God, but to give Tamar, and, by extension, all women, a break, after always getting the short end of things.
Cute, except that, to me, Gen 38:10 allows no room for misinterpretation: “And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also” (Protestant King James Bible). Or the Catholic Douay-Rheims: “And therefore the Lord slew him, because he did a detestable thing.”
Any which way you look at the passage, and regardless of whether it’s a Catholic or a Protestant bible, the message is clear: (1) Onan did something, (2) What Onan did God finds detestable, (3) Because of what Onan did which God finds detestable, God zapped Onan dead.
Let’s not limit our search, however, to what Peavy has to say. Let’s take a look at what other non-Catholics have to say.
The most common is that Onan was slain because of his refusal fulfill his duty under the ancient Levirate custom. Well, maybe, except that it flies in the face of Deut 25:5-10 which prescribes public humiliation as punishment. If all one gets in refusing to give offspring to his dead brother’s wife is public humiliation, then Onan couldn’t have been guilty of this. Onan was killed, not merely rebuked.
There is likewise a disconnect here. What Onan did made God angry, very angry. If refusal to do his brother-in-law duty is an offense repulsive to God, wouldn’t the Levirate custom make that offense punishable by death too? Why just a slap in the wrist?
Other non-Catholic views claim that Onan was killed because of fratricide, he refused to perpetuate his brother’s line, a form of fratricide.
Still others say Onan was slain for failing to do the husband’s duty. Maybe, except that the punishment for this is divorce, not death.
On the other hand, the Catholic view, held by the early Christians, the Church Fathers, and even by the Reformers Luther and Calvin, is the most likely Bible-wise.
Indeed, Bible’s clear: any use of the sexual faculties other than for the purpose it was created, i.e., procreation, is abhorrent to God, detestable enough to warrant the death sentence. Look at Rom 1:26-27 where homosexual unions is condemned in the strongest terms. And what happens in homosexual unions if not the “wasting of seed,” the very thing that Onan did?