The story of Tamar, in Genesis 38, is interesting and you might consider it rather strange – not at all the type of story you expect to find in the Bible. In fact, it could be from the script of a current soap opera.
As background information, let’s talk about Tamar’s father-in-law, Judah. Before her story began, he had been party to selling his brother into slavery. Judah and his other brothers were jealous of the younger Joseph and, after considering killing him, decided to sell him to a passing band of Midianite merchants. The brothers then went home and lied to their aging father, telling him that Joseph had be killed by a wild animal.
In chapter 38 of Genesis we are told that Judah left his family and went to stay in Adullam. Concealed guilt often takes its toll on families. There he met a Canaanite woman and married her. This is another clue to Judah’s character. The teachings of the Jewish faith forbade marrying outside the Jewish nation. God did not want His children being influenced by the foreign gods of pagan beliefs. Judah had three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah. He found Tamar as a wife for his oldest son, Er. The Bible tells us that Er was so wicked that God put him to death. The influence of Judah’s poor character had affected his entire family. In keeping with Jewish law, Judah sent his second son, Onan, to Tamar. It was a brother’s duty to take the deceased brother’s wife as his own in order to produce children for him.
Deuteronomy ( meaning “repetition of the law”) chapter 25:5-10 says that if a brother dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother is to take her and marry her. The first son of that couple will carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name won’t be blotted out from Israel.
However, Onan, knowing that the child he would produce with Tamar would belong to Er, not him, took measures to keep Tamar from conceiving. (Read about this in Genesis 38:9.) He shirked his responsibility while still taking advantage of the benefits of sleeping with Tamar. God considered Onan wicked and put to death also.
With only Shelah remaining, Judah was understandably afraid of what might happen to his last son. He told Tamar to go and live with her father as a widow until Shelah grew old enough to marry her. Time passed but Judah never honored his promise. After a long while Judah’s wife died. Tamar, seeing that she would not be given to Shelah, made a plan of her own. She took off her widow’s clothes, disguised herself as a prostitute and waited in Judah’s path. When he saw her, not knowing her true identity, he availed himself of her services. He gave her his seal and staff as a pledge until payment could be sent to her. After Tamar left, she put on her widow’s clothes again. When Judah attempted to send payment to the prostitute, she was nowhere to be found.
About three months later it became apparent that Tamar was pregnant. Word was sent to Judah that his daughter-in-law was guilty of prostitution. If Judah had lacked integrity before, he proved himself to be a hypocrite now. He self-righteously ordered her brought out and burned to death for her crime but Tamar was ready with her secret weapon. She sent out the seal and staff and asked Judah if he recognized them. To his credit, Judah was instantly aware of his own sin, admitting that Tamar was more righteous than he.
Tamar gave birth to twin boys, Perez and Zerah.
I think that Tamar must have been a very strong woman. Many women in her situation would have given up, taken off the widow’s clothes and gone on with their life. Tamar chose to adhere to her faith and take matters into her own hands to follow the law.
I don’t know if she was aware of God’s control but I know that His will prevails. Without Tamar’s daring actions, the line of Judah may have ceased to exist. Because of her belief in the law, she became a part of the lineage of Christ.
The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:3
“Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron. ...”
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