The Bible is called God-inspired, and I believe it really is. This makes it all the more amazing that the lives of the men and women in the Bible are not made ‘more holy’ than they were. God meant them to be just as they are with all their strengths and weaknesses. This time I’d like to share about Judah’s daughter in law.
Her name was Tamar
After Joseph was sold by his brothers as a slave to Egypt, his brother Judah decided to distance himself from Jacob’s family and went to live in Canaan. He married a Canaanite woman named Shua. She gave him three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. And Judah chose a Canaanite wife for his son Er. Her name was Tamar, which means: ‘to stand erect’, or ‘palm tree.’
He wants it all for himself
We don’t know what Er did, but the Bible says he was wicked in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord put him to death (Genesis 38:7). This was hundreds of years before God’s Torah was given to the people of Israel, but in that ancient time, it was already custom that in such a situation a second son (or the father in law himself) would step in and raise up offspring for his brother. This was done to preserve the inheritance of the eldest son. So Judah tells his second son Onan to sleep with Tamar, his brother’s wife. But Onan, who is now the eldest and probably also the one who will inherit everything, does not want to help Tamar give birth to the future heir of the Judah clan. He wants it all for himself, so he spills his semen on the ground. And the Lord kills him as well.
A tragic situation
What a tragic situation. How terrible for Tamar. The Bible doesn’t but I would not be surprised she felt humiliated when Judah says to her: ‘Go back to your father’s household and live there as a widow until my son Shelah will be old enough.’ What a lame excuse. If I would be in Tamar’s place I would feel rejected, and yes, deeply humiliated as well. This was so unfair. She did not deserve this. And now she had to wait for years for the third son to give her an heir?
The only thing she could do was to live up to her name to stand erect like a palm tree Tamar, and to hold her head high!
Her father in law could have stepped in, but he didn’t. Why not? Did Judah blame her for the deaths of his two sons? Was he afraid to die also? We do not know for sure. The Bible does say that Judah was afraid that Shelah might die (38:11). Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do about it then to go back to her father’s house as a widow, risking neglect, ridicule, and gossip. The only thing she could do was to live up to her name: ‘to stand erect like a palm tree Tamar, and to hold her head high! ’Although years passed by, Tamar did not give up to fight for righteousness. She heard that her mother in law had died. Shelah was an adult now, but Judah had not kept his promise. Tamar was still living in her father’s household as a widow, ignored by Judah.
A radical and risky plan
Then one day she hears that Judah is shearing sheep in Timnah, a village nearby. This is a festive time, men only occasion. I don’t know whether such occasions would attract prostitutes the Bible does not say, but Tamar comes up with a radical and risky plan. She takes off her mourning clothes and dresses like a veiled prostitute. She sits beside the road. Judah passes by and invites her to sleep with him. He promises a goat, but she wants a pledge in order to be sure she gets her pay. He gives his seal and his staff and has sex with her. Then she leaves, goes back to her father’s house and puts on her widow’s clothes. Judah sends his friend Hirah to bring the goat and have his seal and staff back but the prostitute is nowhere to be seen. Judah is embarrassed, so he decides to leave it with that.
Then, 3 months later Judah hears that Tamar is pregnant. He is furious and demands she’ll be burned to death, but then Tamar reveals who the father is by showing the seal and staff. Judah cannot but admit that Tamar is more righteous than he is, because he did not give Selah to her. Tamar is restored to the house of Judah and when she gives birth to twins, she calls the first one Perez, which means BREAKTHROUGH and the second son’s name Zerah: BRIGHTNESS… after all those years she was vindicated and called righteous. She had not given up but stood tall.
And you know what is so awesome: she is one of the women in the lineage of our Lord Jesus Christ. Her perseverance was key to the coming of our Lord.
God is faithful
Our God does not always take away injustice done to us. Neither does He always explain why things went this or that way and we were hurt in the process. But God is faithful and watches over us, even when we do not always see or feel it. Tamar’s life was not easy… but she held on to righteousness and her breakthrough came. Are you in a difficult unjust situation right now? Hold on tight to the promises of God, He is the same yesterday – in the days of Tamar – today in your situation and forevermore. Bless you, dear sister!
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