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Tamar: The Soliciting Prostitute In the Genealogy of Jesus
Tamar’s story is all about sex and intrigue, at least the way it is reported (Genesis 38). That makes it difficult to tell, especially for those who are looking for a moral.
We have to read her story of seduction (exciting enough for a blockbuster movie) and then push back the details in our search for her redeeming qualities.
If we succeed, we will discover the appealing story of an unmentionable woman who receives honorable mention in the illustrious genealogy of Jesus.
Tamar Dressed as a Prostitute
Women in the Genealogy of Jesus
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:
Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron . . . Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse . . . and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba),
Solomon the father of Rehoboam . . . and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.
Tamar is the only one of the five women mentioned in this ancestry (Matthew 1) who forces her way in.
- Rahab is approached by Israelite spies who rescue her family when they destroy Jericho, facilitating her marriage to Salmon, resulting in the birth of Boaz who gets into the lineage.
- Ruth is guided into marriage with Boaz by Naomi, the Hebrew woman who is her former mother-in-law.
- Bathsheba is accepted by King David, great grandson of Boaz (after incidents of adultery and murder).
- Mary is selected by God Himself.
- Tamar, the soliciting prostitute is the only one who forces her way into the genealogy of Jesus.
Tamar is set up to have children with outstanding Hebrew pedigree.
- She is the wife of Er--the first son of Judah;
- Judah is the fourth son of Jacob;
- Jacob is the father of the tribes of Israel.
However, her husband Er is too wicked to live, and he dies leaving her childless. Now what?
Judah allows his second son, Onan, to marry Tamar. According to their custom, a man is obligated to provide the widow of his dead brother with a child, who would be considered the heir of the deceased. Onan is unwilling to perform his duty, and he makes sure that his semen never enters Tamar’s body. His rebellion is offensive to God, and he also dies. What next?
Tamar Gets Even
Tamar disguises herself and poses as a prostitute on Judah’s route to Timnah.
It is a devious plot. Judah's wife is now dead. Who knows how long since he has been with a woman? He solicits the pretending prostitute and offers to pay with a goat. Tamar asks for his shepherd’s staff, his signet and its cord as collateral until he sends the goat. Wise woman!
Judah does not know that the woman is Tamar, but he leaves her pregnant with twin boys. When the news of her pregnancy spread, Judah calls for her immoral action to be punished by death. She presents his staff, signet and cord as proof that he is her partner in crime. He confesses to his wrongdoing and rescinds her death sentence.
The story of their birth is as gripping as the event of their conception.
The midwife grabs the first hand that she sees, and ties a red cord around it to mark the firstborn; then, Zerah (meaning sunshine) to whom the hand belongs pulls back.
Perez whose name means bursting forth exits his mother’s womb ahead of his brother, and makes his way into the genealogy of Jesus.
The other women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus have other important parts to the story of their lives.
- Rahab is mentioned in the Faith Hall Fame (Hebrews 11) for her contribution to the Israelite’s capture of Jericho.
- Ruth’s expression of devotion (1:16) to Naomi, her mother in law is still sung at weddings.
- Bathsheba’s political influence on the life of King David and her son, King Solomon is well established (2 Samuel 11-12; 1 Kings 1-2).
- Mary is venered as a saint.
- Tamar has no such story. Her only title is soliciting prostitute.
To find her real legacy, we have to raise our focus from the unmentionable Tamar to the God who selects her for mention; not because of her redeeming qualities, but because of the power of His redemption. He rewards her quest for significance with a son who becomes an ancestor to the Savior, who brings love and grace to forgive and redeem all the Tamars who receive Him.
Tamar's life is a series of mishaps interwoven with God's control and ending with a message of hope for all men and women who have mismanaged the circumstances in their lives. God has a place within His will for everyone.
Tamar’s legacy is grace illustrated!