Part II: Genesis 38: 27-30

Copyright © 2001 by Larry G. Overton and Beth Overton

All rights reserved.




27 And it happened in the time of her giving birth, that, behold, twins were in her womb.

28 And so it was, while she was giving birth, one put out a hand. And the midwife, taking hold of it, tied a scarlet thread upon his hand, saying, “This one came out first.”

29 And it happened, as he withdrew his hand, that, behold, his brother came out. And so she said, “How you have broken through! This breach is upon you!” So his name was called Perez.

30 And afterwards came out his brother, who had upon his hand the scarlet thread. And his name was called Zarach. {LGO}


Illustration of Perez and ZarachThis biblical account of a birth is not particularly one I like to imagine myself attending. There are few birth scenarios that a midwife, doctor or any birth attendant would have nightmares about. Suddenly having a hand presenting out the vaginal opening is one such scenario.

This situation is called a “transverse lie” or an “oblique lie.” This means the baby is lying with his shoulder in the bottom of the uterus and his body transverse or sideways to the mother. (See illustration.) This rarely occurs at the time of delivery. It happens only .5% of the time. A transverse lie is considered the most hazardous malpresentation that can occur during labor. If labor continues with the baby wedged in this position, he will most likely become impacted and die. Then the uterus will rupture, taking the mother’s life as well. A transverse lie is most often diagnosed before the onset of labor, and a cesarean is scheduled if efforts to reposition the baby fail. If a transverse lie is discovered at the time labor begins, the immediate course of action is a cesarean.

A twin pregnancy is considered of higher risk than a single pregnancy. There are several reasons for this. (1) There is a higher chance that one of the infants will be in the transverse position. (2) The twins’ cords may become entangled. (3) The twins themselves may become entangled and “locked” with one another, causing the birth to be quite complicated, or even impossible. Our story in Genesis is an illustration of both transverse lie and locked twins.

When the midwife encountered the presentation of the hand, she marked it with a piece of colored thread. This is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it clearly indicates the importance attached to the firstborn in this ancient culture. The midwife clearly expected this child to be the firstborn, the one that “came out first,” to use her words. The fact that she chose to identify the one she expected to come out first in this fashion speaks to the cultural significance of “primogeniture,” the exclusive right of inheritance belonging to the eldest son. This act on the part of the midwife was also interesting because she most likely knew that this child would not be able to come out this way. He would have to draw his arm back before either one of the twins could be born.

In verse 29 the Scripture says, “…as he withdrew his hand, that, behold, his brother came out.” (Emphasis mine.) I draw at least two conclusions from this statement. First, Tamar was fully dilated. We know that because Perez came out quickly after Zarach got out of the way. Second, Perez must have been in an ideal position ready to be born. But it would have been impossible as long as Zarach was lying in his way. In other words they were locked together, hindering one another from being born.

The midwife’s response to Perez having “broken through” is an indication that she was surprised and also wondering how these babies would finally be born. It must have been a very difficult and tense birth for both the mother and midwife.

Once Perez was born, the midwife could easily turn Zarach into a better position if he had not already changed his position himself. Turning the second twin is a procedure often done by midwives delivering twins. The first twin must be in a good position for birth, but the second can be moved if he is not in a proper position for birth.

Since I first began studying midwifery, I have found this story to be an intriguing one. However, it wasn’t until I began this article that I found myself seeing its most significant message to me as midwife and mother. As I said before, this is the sort of birth that can give a midwife nightmares. However, these babies entered this world safely. Without the benefits of our great technological advances in modern medicine, without the availability of a cesarean section, these babies were born and survived. This fact gives me peace and comfort as both a mother and a midwife.

I am reminded of how many times I have clearly seen God’s hand at the moment of birth. I have seen babies born with true knots in their umbilical cords and marveled at how God protected them in the womb and during birth. One of these babies was my own granddaughter. I have prayed for and received guidance in moments of difficult deliveries. I have witnessed exhausted women in labor revitalized with amazing strength when asking the Lord for His help.

I have often heard childbirth described as a “miracle.” I certainly understand that sentiment. Witnessing a birth is an awesome, or awe inspiring, event. Actually, though, childbirth is a very normal part of life. However, when the abnormal occasionally happens in childbirth, as in the case of Tamar and her twins, God certainly can and does do miraculous things to safeguard both mother and child. What peace it brings to know God is there with us at every birth and ultimately it is He who brings us life.


Copyright © 2001 by Larry G. Overton and Beth Overton
All rights reserved.

Permission is granted to quote from or reproduce this document, as long as:
1. it is distributed free of charge;
2. the content of the document is not changed in any way;
3. and notice of copyright and authorship appears in the reproduction.