Who was this Tamar and why is her story important? Steph takes a look at one of the few women mentioned in Jesus’s genealogy.
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Who Was She?
There aren’t many women mentioned in Jesus’s genealogy. After all, it was important to those Matthew was writing to that Jesus’s family tree go back to Abraham. Plus, in that time, one’s patriarchy was especially important. Yet, for God’s purposes, He chose to include Tamar and Bathsheba in the list of Jesus’s ancestors. Today, let’s consider Tamar, the mother of Judah’s sons Perez and Zerah.
Matthew 1:1-3 says, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar” (ESV).
To discover who Tamar was, we have to flip all the way back to the book of Genesis. To get the complete story, we have to read Chapter 38 in its entirety. (Actually, it helps to read the preceding chapters as well to grasp what’s going on.) But for today, let’s touch on the highlights and discover how Tamar was just like us and why the Lord may have chosen to include her in Jesus’s genealogy.
This is one of those stories that never ceases to amaze me. Judah selected Tamar to be his eldest son’s wife. However, Er was evil and the Lord put him to death. In that time, it was a brother’s responsibility to father a child with the deceased’s wife so his family line could continue. However, Onan had no desire to father a child who wouldn’t technically be his. The Lord was not pleased, and Onan died as well.
That just left their kid brother, Shelah. Judah promised his daughter-in-law that when Shelah grew up, he would father her child. So she went to live in her father’s home until her brother-in-law became a man. The years went by, Shelah grew up, but Judah didn’t honour his word. So this patient widow with an aging father and no other prospects took matters into her own hands.
She changed out of her widow’s clothes and covered herself in a veil. She then went to sit by the road where her father-in-law would pass by. Thinking she was a prostitute and having lost his wife, Judah sought comfort in her arms.
He promised to send her a young goat in payment. And for insurance, she asked that he leave his signet ring, his cord, and his staff. When Judah’s servant went to find “the cult prostitute,” she was nowhere to be found. In order to hide his indiscretion, Judah decided to let the woman keep his things rather than trying to find her.
A short time later, he found out his daughter-in-law was pregnant. Scandalous! How could she do that to his family name? As punishment, he was going to have her burned, which was not out of the question in that day and age. And yet, Tamar knew Judah’s secret. He was the father of her child.
When she sent back his things and informed him of the truth, Judah acknowledged in verse 26, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah” (ESV).
He relented and did not have her killed. His lineage would continue. In fact, despite all their unrighteousness and ungodly behaviour, this family was part of Jesus’s family tree. Amazing!
Although Tamar’s actions are understandable, they were still deceitful and sneaky. But for His own reasons, God saw to it that Matthew included her in his gospel.
In what ways was Tamar just like us? What can we learn from her story?
Tamar was trapped in a situation that went from bad to worse.
Have you ever felt that way? I’m sure you have. In Tamar’s case, it was the family she married into and society’s expectations of her. This may be true of you or it may be something else, but you can likely relate to her loneliness, disappointment, and abandonment.
In Tamar’s day, she was connected with her late husband’s family regardless of how they treated her. Judah’s pride was on the line. So after years of ignoring his daughter-in-law, he wanted to put her to death because she’d sullied his family name by getting pregnant. Have you ever done something against society’s expectations—even against God’s Word—because you felt you had no choice? The answer is likely yes.
Tamar experienced forgiveness and understanding when the truth came to light.
While Tamar was in the wrong, Judah recognized that “she was more righteous” than he was. He relented and his line continued. As the mother of two sons, Tamar once again had hope for her own future. God understands what you’ve done and why, and He offers you forgiveness and salvation through faith in Jesus. He even brings good out of bad situations.
In the end, Tamar was blessed beyond her wildest imaginings.
Of course, she wouldn’t know what would happen thousands of years in the future, but God knew this woman would be named as one of His Son’s ancestors. What an amazing blessing!
God was gracious to Tamar—beyond what she deserved, beyond what she expected. He poured out His mercy and grace upon her. And He is willing to do the same in our lives.
Stephanie is a freelance writer and a contributor to our Christian internet radio station, HopeStreamRadio.