Wednesday, September 9, 2015


   In the first chapter of Matthew, which records the lineage of Jesus, the mother of Judah’s son, Perez, is listed as Tamar. In noting that only five mothers were named and I was fairly familiar with the other four, I started researching to find out more about this woman. Of course I started with the Old Testament itself as her story is told in Genesis 38. It’s a rather unsavory story, even repugnant to the average twenty-first century mind.

          But, there’s something in the character of this woman Tamar that resonates with me and I want to share her story with you. You see, she too was a widow and, like you, found out that there were battles and challenges after becoming a widow that overshadowed the death of her husband. I don’t mean to diminish the grief that accompanies becoming a widow, but that often is only the beginning of pain, disappointments, and set-backs which come in many and diverse forms.

Let me quickly summarize the story for you to help you understand what led to Tamar’s depth of despair and hopelessness. Tamar was married to Judah’s oldest son, Er, but because of his wickedness, God caused Er to die before he and Tamar had a child. Onan, the next son in line, was to raise up a son through Tamar to keep his brother’s lineage alive, but he refused to do so and he too died at God’s hands. 

The third son, Shelah, was too young but Judah promised Tamar that when he was old enough he would give him to her so that she would conceive a child. 

This was in keeping with the custom of “kinsman redeemer” found in the book of Ruth. The closest of kin was to ensure the line of the deceased husband. Once Tamar had married into Judah’s family, she was a part of it and he was legally her father. But he told her to go back to her own father and he would call for her when Shelah was mature because he thought that Tamar was responsible for the other sons’ deaths and that Shelah would die too. She obeyed him and did so
Now, the tribe to which Tamar belonged prohibited a childless widow from remaining a widow and it was Judah’s responsibility to make sure that didn’t happen and I’m sure at this point of time, Tamar trusted her father-in-law to look out for her interest and the interest of his eldest son. They believed that his name could not, under any circumstances, go into oblivion.

We don’t know how long Tamar remained in the home of her parents. But we do know that during that time Shelah did, in fact, become a mature man and Judah’s wife died. We also know that the desire to have an heir remained strong in Tamar’s heart. I conjecture that it was this desire and the anticipation of it coming to fruition that kept her going through the lonely, shameful, barren years she was waiting. Remember, she lived in a culture where it was a disgrace to be a childless widow, and she had twice been left one.  Shelah was her last hope.

  After years of waiting, it became clear to Tamar that Shelah was not going to come asking for her. It also became clear to her that she was thought to be the cause of the deaths of her first two husbands. This was a crushing blow to her as well as humiliating. Imagine the depths of despair into which this must have pushed her, most likely overwhelmed by feelings of complete hopelessness. But, Tamar was not going to stay there. She may have lost all trust in men, but she knew her legal rights and she was not going to go to her grave without an heir.  In fact, Gien Karssen in her book, Her Name is Woman, states that she considered it a religious duty to produce an heir from the tribe of Judah.
 When she heard that her widowed father-in-law was going to be shearing sheep nearby, a plan formed in her mind. She dressed in the veiled clothing of a temple prostitute and sat by the side of the road where Judah passed by.

           He offered her the usual payment for her “services” which would be brought to her by his servant and she complied on the condition that he give his walking stick, cord and identification seal to her as a guarantee that he would keep his word. These objects were symbols of a man’s identity and personal worth.

Idenification Seal 
           As one writer put it, “It is astonishing that Judah gave them up.” The Greek historian, Herodotus, states that the staff was made specifically for each person with a personal emblem carved on top of it.  It was much more than a mere walking stick. As the leader of a tribe, it was Judah’s emblem of authority with the names of his forebears carved into it.

Judah's emblem of auhority.
          It is especially astounding that Judah would give up that staff. The fact that he did so is a testament to his state of mind and lack of wisdom at this time in his life.

           Can you imagine the fear Tamar experienced attempting to conceal her identity by disguising her voice and making sure Judah did not catch a glimpse of her face? This gal deserved a medal for chutzpah, if nothing else! Judah didn’t know it yet, but he wasn’t dealing with an ordinary prostitute.

          To Tamar these almost-sacred objects were symbolic of the son that she would have to succeed Judah. Her actions beg the question: What made Tamar so resolute in her desire to bring forth a male heir from the tribe of Judah? Perhaps she didn’t even know the origin of this strong resolve, but God did. God knew that his son, the promised Messiah, would come from the tribe of Judah and I suggest that it was He who put this strong desire in Tamar’s heart.

          Tamar suffered greatly from the sins of her two husbands. Doubtless she was shocked and shamed by the wickedness of Er and humiliated and insulted by Onan’s behavior. But, she was a woman with no rights of her own; no one cared about her opinions and certainly less about her feelings – except God.

            The rest of the story is a fascinating read and I strongly encourage you to read it. Tamar’s clever insistence upon taking Judah’s symbols of honor and dignity become clear. Her story demonstrates how God can take the greatest disappointments, the deepest pain, even the failures and sins in our lives, and turn them around for good. In nine months Tamar gave birth to twin boys. God gave her not just one, but two sons. Imagine her joy and pride to become the mother of two sons from the tribe of Judah. Finally, she was vindicated and recompensed all in one birth.

          One of the boys was named Perez, and through him Tamar became an ancestor of Jesus, our Messiah. In fact, she is the first registered woman in the genealogy of Jesus. Now, this could only happen through the mercy and grace of God. The Law said that she deserved death, yet God gave her life and the privilege of being in the lineage of His son.

            Ladies, not matter the situation in which you find yourselves, God’s grace is greater and He will come to your rescue; yes, even if you have tried to turn things around on your own, in your own way. He, as your loving, caring Father, will rescue from your deepest pits and make those plans He has for you become a reality.

We are all dead in our sins until and unless we have accepted Jesus as our savior. If you have not done so, I pray that you will ask God to open the eyes of your heart to see Him as He really is: a loving heavenly father who longs to give your life meaning and purpose. If He can do it for Tamar, He can and will do it for all who call upon Him. Hebrews 4:16 states it this way: Let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it the most.
Message by Shari Hervold


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