Tamar her name means “date palm” or “palm tree” which, suggest strength as her story will show. Tamar like most young woman married with the dream of one day becoming a mother, after the death of both her husbands, both leaving her barren, and a father-in-law who betrayed her, Tamar’s overwhelming desire to have children lead her on a path that could have destroyed her very life.
Tamar married “Er” the oldest son of “Judah” when she was a young lady. It was Judah who arranged for the two to marry which was customary in their culture”. When her husband “Er,” failed to impregnate her, by withdrawing before ejaculation which was considered a sin for a man to waste his seed, God killed “Er” leaving Tamara a widow and barren. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan ‘Go into your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her; raise up offspring for your brother” (Genesis 38 1:6).
Tamar was not only barren, but without a child she had no rights to inherit her dead husband property. This is where the Levite law steps in to play. According to Deuteronomy 5:10 “If a man died, and his wife had not yet had a child by him, she could go to his brother and demand that he marry her and give her a child who would inherit the property of the dead husband.” Tamar was protected under this law which stated that a woman had the right to have children by her husband a right that was denied to her by “Er.”
Under this same law Judah son Onan was obligated to marry her and give her a child that would carry on her husband “Er” name. Onan obliged his father and married Tamar, but like his brother he too wasted his semen in the ground. “Er” motive was never revealed outside of selfishness, but Onan, down right, refused to father a child that would not be recognized as his own. Then Judah said to Onan, “Lie with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lords sight, so he put him to death” (Genesis 38: 8-10).
Tamar had to have felt rejected, and deprived of having children, not by one but two husbands. And for a Jewish woman, this meant disgrace, because people thought that being childless was a punishment from God. Still she held deep inside the passion to bare children. So when her father-in-law Judah, told her to return home to her father’s house and wait until his third son Shelah was old enough to marry her. Tamar did as Judah asked.
Tamar waited patiently for Judah to keep his promise to her only to once again experience rejection as well as betrayal. Judah, had no plans, on allowing Shelah to marry Tamar. In fact Judah looked at Tamar as being a jinx holding her responsible for both his son’s death. He was not about to take a chance on losing another son, especially not his last. So Tamar decided to take matters into her own hands. After the death of Judah’s wife when he recovered from his grief he went up to Timnah to shear his sheep. When Tamar heard that her father-in-law was in town she had to act fast. Since Judah was not going to give her his youngest son to marry it was time to take drastic action, proclaiming what was rightfully hers.
So Tamar took off her widow clothes and put on special clothing that of a prostitute, which included a veil covering her face. With the veil to disguise her identity Tamar waited for Judah at the city gates. When Judah arrived thinking that Tamar was a prostitute, he went over to her, and asked her to come lay with him. (Genesis 38: 16). During this time there where two kinds of prostitutes, the sacred prostitute, which, means, (kedeshah, sacred woman) and the normal prostitute which means (zonah). Although both are mention in this story I believe that Jonah perceived Tamar as a sacred prostitute. Sacred prostitution was part of Canaanite religious practice, and Canaanites were the dominant social group at this time. For Tamar the veil was not a sign of prostitution, but a part of her plan, to get Judah to lay with her.
Several months later, Judah was informed that Tamar was pregnant little did he know that he was the father. Devastated that Tamar had prostituted herself, Judah ordered her to be put to death. To his surprise before her sentence could be carried out, Tamar sent word to Judah “Guess what I am pregnant, by the man who owns these things. See if you can figure out whom they belong too.” What Tamar was talking about was the seal, cord, and staff that she received as payment for having sex with Judah. Now talk about getting caught in the act. Judah must have been in total shock. Here he was condemning Tamar to death for committing the act of prostitution, when indeed he was just as guilty. Since there was no way he could deny it, Judah spoke the truth, and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I didn’t give her my son Shelah.”
What an amazing story. Tamar risked her life to accomplish that which was rightfully hers. Now there are some who may say she was wrong, but I say that she was a woman scared by the rejection of her husbands, betrayed by her father-in-law, yet she took a stand and in doing so, she received that greatest miracle, the birth of two sons. “When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 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 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 given the name Periz (which means he who pushes through). Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out and he was given the name Zerah (which means scarlet) Genesis 38: 27-30
When God makes a promise nothing or no one can stop it. God made a promise that Jewish people would continue through many generations. It was out of ignorance, that Judah was willing to discontinue his family line. But God used a broken woman, and from her shame, Tamar by her own determination rose above her circumstances, ensuring that the tribe of Judah would survive. What an amazing story. What an awesome God we serve. What makes this story so inspiring to me is how God took a bad situation and turned into to something good, but isn’t that the very nature of God.