The story of Tamar as recorded in Genesis 38 is both sordid and tragic. Many readers consider the narrative indecent, and some even suggest it should never be read in public. No matter how we lli at it, we know God included it in scripture for a reason.
Tamar lived in the era before God gave the Mosaic Law, in a society dominated by strict family tribal rules and pre-Levirate customs. If a woman's husband died without offspring, his brother was to marry her to produce a son as the legal heir of the deceased husband. Around this custom, which later became part of the Mosaic Law, revolves Tamar's story.
It is one of rejection, radicalism, and righteousness. Her in-laws rejected her; she acted radically to gain that which was rightfully hers; and in the end, she was deemed righteous.
Many view Tamar as a woman of integrity because she risked herr life to fulfill her duty to herself and her family. However, she unwittingly performed an even more important task. God used her to preserve the Messianic line because, without the birth of her son Perez, the line from Judah to David would have been broken.
The Bible's account begins after Judah, one of Jacob's 12 sons, moved to the Canaanite royal city of Adullum. There he married a Canaanite woman named Shua, and she bore him three sons; Er. Onan, and Shelah (Gen 38:1-5). Judah arranged for Er. his eldest son, to marry Tamar. At some point, Er behaved wickedly before the Lord, so the Lord killed him (vv.6-7). In accordance with a Levirate-marriage custom, Judah instructed his second son, Onan, to marry Tamar so he could produce an heir for Er. But Onan, knowing the child would not be his legally, refused. So the Lord killed him also (vv.8-10).
Then Judah told Tamar to return to her parents' home and remain a widow until his third son, Shelah, became old enough to marry. But fearing he might lose his youngest son as well, Judah rejected Tamar in his heart and had no intention of keeping his promise to give her Shelah. Tamar, however, believed Judah and obediently returned to her father's home (v.11). She remained faithful to the restrictions placed on her and awaited the fulfillment of her legal right to bear children in Judah's family.
Years past, Shelah reached marrying age, and still Judah made no plans for him to marry Tamar. Realizing Judah had lied to her, Tamar became desperate and devised a radical plan.
She received word that Judah was traveling to the city of Timnah with his friend Hirah the Adullamite to supervise the shearing of his sheep. (Judah's wife had died, and his time of mourning for her was complete.) So Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute, veiled her face, and sat by the entrance gate of the town (vv.12-14).
As expected, Judah noticed her and solicited her services, not knowing she was Tamar. He promised to send her a goat for payment and granted her request to leave his signet, cord, and staff as collateral (vv.15-18). <To Be Continued>