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Tamar : Judah's Thorn, God's Grace

Tamar was a Canaanite woman in Genesis 38 and daughter-in-law to Judah. She's not to be confused with David's daughter. Tamar married Judah's oldest son Er and never conceived a baby by him. The first problem here is Tamar was Canaanite. She wasn't a Hebrew raised under the Abrahamic covenant. Judah also married a Canaanite woman and she bore him Er and Onan (Genesis 38:2-4). Judah knew by the example and order of his father Jacob, (son of Isaac, son of Abraham) he was to marry a Hebrew woman. He chose not to and found a wife for Er as well from among the Canaanites. Right away there's disobedience here. What Judah and Er didn't know (and how could they) was the Messiah would come through Judah so God was keeping a special eye on Judah's blood line.

Now the Bible says Er was wicked in the sight of the Lord (Genesis 38:7) and God slew him. When you consider the coming Messiah centuries later this is understandable. No man is perfect, but obviously Er repulsed God by his life and He wasn't going to use him to carry a bag of dirty socks let alone the blood line of Messiah. Not having had a son to carry on Er's lineage and according to the customs of that time, Er's brother was to carry on his line for him by impregnating his widowed wife until she bore a son. This job fell on Onan, Judah's second son.

Onan wasn't a pinnacle of honor himself either. Knowing that the first son his brother's wife may have wouldn't be considered his heir "he wasted his seed on the ground, in order not to give offspring to his brother." Genesis 38:9

This truly is a strange custom, but necessary at the time. The first son born to Tamar by her husband's brother would be considered her husband's and raised as such. The offspring would eventually be able to care for the mother, more people would populate the area and those kids born would raise their children under the name and family of the dead husband. Onan was fully aware of the custom and instead of honoring his brother and being obedient to his father, he chose to be selfish and not perform his duty at all.

This brought a heavy price for Onan. "What he did was wicked in the LORD's sight; so He put him to death also." Genesis 38:10. It was wicked because even though Onan had no idea about the Messiah to come, his selfishness was a wicked affront to God and His plans to provide mankind with a Savior. At that time Judah was wondering what in the world was wrong with Tamar. Two sons lost to one woman! The next in line for Tamar would be Judah's son Shelah. He was too young at the time to take on this duty for his dead brother. Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar "Live as a widow in your father's house until my son Shelah grows up.' For he thought, 'He may die too, just like his brothers.' So Tamar went to live in her father's house." Genesis 38:11

Judah pawned her off. She should have remained in Judah's household and family, but instead he cast her aside afraid Shelah would die too. He sent her to live with her father and was hoping over time she may forget about Shelah and find another husband. Obviously Judah had no intentions of fulfilling the duty for Er either. Tamar became an outcast, tossed out from her husband's family.

This was a huge blemish on her to be returned to her father widowed and with no children like a broken toy returned to the manufacturer stamped DEFECTIVE. Society looked down on childless women and who would care for her when her father was gone? Who would marry her after having two dead husbands? She had become an outcast through no fault of her own. This had to be devastating to Tamar. Tamar may not have said much or if she did it wasn't recorded, but judging by the customs of the time she probably kept things to herself and was obedient to those in authority over her.

After a long while Judah's wife died also. When Judah recovered from grieving he went to Timnah to see the men who were shearing his sheep for him. Tamar had continued living with her father waiting patiently for Shelah who was now old enough. She heard Judah was going to Timnah. At this point she realized Judah wasn't going to honor Er or his duty and give her to Shelah as his wife. She decided if Judah wasn't going to send Shelah then she'd go to Judah. So she put a veil over her head to disguise herself, changed her clothes and went to sit on the road leading to Timnah to put herself right in Judah's path (Gensis38:14)

"When Judah saw her he mistook her for a prostitute because her face was covered. Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, 'Come now, let me sleep with you.'

'And what will you give me to sleep with you?' she asked.

'I'll send you a young goat from my flock,' he said.

'Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?' she asked.

'What pledge should I give you?'

'Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,' she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him." Genesis 38:16-18

Once she left Judah she changed her clothes and went back to her father's house. After awhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend Hirah and Hirah was to get his seal, cord and staff back from the prostitute. Only problem was Hirah couldn't find her. He asked around town for the prostitute and everyone told him there was no prostitute around. So Hirah reported back to Judah that he couldn't find her. Judah didn't want to be a laughingstock by having went to a prostitute so he told Hirah it was ok. She could keep what he'd given her and he did try to send her the young goat (Genesis 38:23) thus honoring his word. How embarrassing for Hirah. I'm sure he was trying to be secretive about this goat he had to deliver to a prostitute. The people he's asking, Hirah's assuming would be familiar with the prostitute, but they weren't. They were probably looking at him like "prostitute huh? There is no prostitute probably because we wouldn't be using her if there was one you perv." And Hirah was doing it for his friend. Try telling those people that. "I didn't see the friend did" ya right!

3 months later Judah hears that Tamar is pregnant and guilty of prostitution. After all, she's widowed, but is suddenly pregnant. Instantly he wants her burned for it. In the eyes of the law she was Shelah's wife and this was bringing shame on his family. Of course Judah didn't stop to think that he didn't want Shelah with Tamar and was trying to avoid it. He went instantly selfish and hypocritical and only worried that it was making him and his family look bad. She was drug from her father's house on Judah's orders to be burned on the forehead or cheek as a lable to everyone she was a harlot. She then has a desperate message sent to Judah saying "'I am pregnant by the man who owns these,' And she added, 'See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.'" Genesis 38:25

Judah was the adulterer not Tamar. She acted in accordance with the law by going to Judah when he failed to send Shelah as he should have. He was the criminal not her. How embarrassing for Judah! Everyone now knows she wasn't a prostitute. Judah was the harlot. After all he'd done so he and his family wouldn't look bad, he and his family now looked really bad because of him.

She shouldn't have deceived him and that was her sin, but Judah should have done what was right by her. Judah was shocked, but he did confess his sin "'She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah.'" Genesis 38:2. He owned his sin rather than dodge it. He couldn't deny it to protect himself. He openly looked silly.

Months later Tamar gave birth to twin boys. "As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, 'This one came out first.' But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, 'So this is how you have broken out!' And he was named Perez. Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out and he was given the name Zerah." Genesis 38:28-30

The babies seemed to be already struggling for the birthrate before they were born and Perez won the struggle. Through the line of Perez came the Messiah. Judah sure wasn't cast into a good light in this story and Tamar, a gentile, did act more righteous than Judah the Hebrew, she still obtained her rights deceitfully. God still showed grace however, in that through them the Messiah came. There are no great men and women of God. Only a great God. Despite man's sinfulness God still shows grace and mercy. He still brings about His will and purposes in spite of us for us.


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Disclaimer: I do not condone the teaching of men by women nor am I trying to exercise authority over men by using this blog as a method of teaching men. All posts are for the edification of women. For more on what I believe concerning this issue please see: Women - No Dominion Over Men
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