Tragically, Judah apparently failed to see the significant connection to his past conduct. Tamar probably knew Judah's father (Jacob) had deceived his father (Isaac) to obtain the blessing that rightfully was his (Gen 27:18-24). And she probably knew about Judah's role in tricking Jacob into believing a wild beast had devoured Jacob's youngest son (Joseph) when, in reality, Judah and his brothers had sold Joseph into slavery. That deception, too, involved a goat and a personal item-Joseph's "tunic of many colors" (37:31-35).
Gal 6:7 warns, "Do not be deceive, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, and he was about to reap deception." Judah had sown deception, and he was about to reap deception. Judah slept with Tamar, and she became pregnant. After their encounter, she returned home, removed her veil, and again wore her widow garments. When Judah sent his friend to deliver the goat and retrieve his personal items, Tamar was nowhere to be found; and no one knew of any prostitutes in the area. Judah told Hirah to forget the matter and let the woman keep the objects to avoid further humiliation (Gen 38:18-23).
Three months later, someone told Judah Tamar was pregnant. Infuriated, he demanded, "Bring her out and let her be burned!" (v.24). And they dragged her out, she sent a message to Judah: “I am with child by the man top whom the things belong. And she said, 'Please examine and see, whose signet ring and cords and staff are these?'" (v.25).
Hebrew scholars have interpreted Tamar as saying, "I beg of thee, discern the face of thy creator and hide not thine eyes from me," appealing to Judah to judge honestly before God and to seek her welfare. The sages observed she could have pointed to Judah in front of his peers and declared, "He made me pregnant!“
Instead, by presenting Judah's items and not mentioning his name, Tamar showed her willingness to die rather than shame him publicly, revealing her righteous demeanor. Judah acknowledged Tamar had acted more righteously than he. "She has been more righteous than I, because I did not give her to Shelah my son," Judah said (Gen 38:26).
The Jewish sages believed the account reflected well on Judah, since he eventually confessed his sin against Tamar: "Since Judah confessed to his error sincerely, this is a sign of righteousness and so the story of Tamar." Other people have different views. However, there can be no doubt that God shed His grace on Tamar because she gave birth to twin boys, Perez and Zerah, from whom came King David and then Jesus (Ruth 4:18-22; Mt 1:3, 16).
Tamar may not have understood all the divine promises associated with Judah's family. But she understood her right to remarry, bear children, and partake in Judah's heritage. Although rejected by Judah, she sought inclusion with Israel. Perhaps unaware, she was indeed "standing on the promises of God." And God accepted her. Generations later, when Boaz was about to marry Ruth the Moabitess in a Levirate marriage, the elders of Bethlehem gave him this blessing: "May your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring which the Lord will give you from this young woman" (Ruth 4:12). Tamar had become associated with God's blessing.
Despite the dubious method used, the incident demonstrates God's perfect management of the Messianic line. The rabbis taught that Tamar asked Judah for his signet, cord, and staff, she spoke prophetically. The signet expressed the many kings who would descend from the line of Judah and Tamar. The cord suggested the authority that would be exhibited by Israel's many rulers. And the staff signified the coming of the King-Messiah through their lineage. Gen 49:10 predicted the Messiah would come through the tribe of Judah: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver form between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people."
Though we would not prefer an incident like this one to be associated with God's people-let alone the Savior of the world-the account of Judah and Tamar provides a glimpse of God's amazing graciousness and goodness. "The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works" (Ps 145:9).