Genesis 38 (NRSV)
Judah and Tamar
It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and settled near a certain Adullamite whose name was Hirah. 2There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; he married her and went in to her. 3She conceived and bore a son; and he named him Er. 4Again she conceived and bore a son whom she named Onan. 5Yet again she bore a son, and she named him Shelah. She was in Chezib when she bore him.
It isn’t hard to see the sons of Israel rapidly and willingly being corrupted by their Canaanite neighbors, and what the future will bring if they continued in that land. God had a plan to bring them out . . .
6Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn; her name was Tamar. 7But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death.
8Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her; raise up offspring for your brother.”
Matthew 22:24 (New International Version)
“Teacher,” the Sadducees said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him.”
This was done so the dead brother’s name would be carried on. But also it was so the widow would have children to support her. Apart from this, she would likely live the rest of her life in destitution.
9But since Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, he spilled his semen on the ground whenever he went in to his brother’s wife, so that he would not give offspring to his brother. 10What he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also.
Onan refused to take this responsibility seriously. He was more than happy to use Tamar for his sexual gratification, but he did not want to give Tamar a son he would have to support but would be considered to be the son of his brother Er.
11Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up” —for he feared that he too would die, like his brothers. So Tamar went to live in her father’s house.
One can understand Judah’s hesitancy to give his last son as a husband to Tamar. He may have wondered — Was she the cause of the death of his sons?
12In course of time the wife of Judah, Shua’s daughter, died; when Judah’s time of mourning was over, he went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite.
13When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,” 14she put off her widow’s garments, put on a veil, wrapped herself up, and sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. She saw that Shelah was grown up, yet she had not been given to him in marriage.
Tamar didn’t have the option of just finding another man to marry. She was under the headship of her father-in-law Judah, and he had to give her a husband. He determined whom and when she could marry.
15When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16He went over to her at the road side, and said, “Come, let me come in to you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law.
She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?”
17He answered, “I will send you a kid from the flock.”
And she said, “Only if you give me a pledge, until you send it.”
18He said, “What pledge shall I give you?”
She replied, “Your signet and your cord, and the staff that is in your hand.”
So he gave them to her, and went in to her, and she conceived by him. 19Then she got up and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood.
20When Judah sent the kid by his friend the Adullamite, to recover the pledge from the woman, he could not find her. 21He asked the townspeople, “Where is the temple prostitute who was at Enaim by the wayside?”
But they said, “No prostitute has been here.”
22So he returned to Judah, and said, “I have not found her; moreover the townspeople said, ‘No prostitute has been here.’“
23Judah replied, “Let her keep the things as her own, otherwise we will be laughed at; you see, I sent this kid, and you could not find her.”
We see how carefully and shrewdly Tamar planned this. Now she has proof of Judah’s actions in the signet, cord, and staff, proof that Judah will be unable to deny.
24About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the whore; moreover she is pregnant as a result of whoredom.”
And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.”
25As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “It was the owner of these who made me pregnant.” And she said, “Take note, please, whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.”
26Then Judah acknowledged them and said, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not lie with her again.
Judah acknowledges his guilt in not taking proper care of his daughter-in-law, and in sleeping with her.
27When the time of her delivery came, there were twins in her womb. 28While she was in labor, one put out a hand; and the midwife took and bound on his hand a crimson thread, saying, “This one came out first.” 29But just then he drew back his hand, and out came his brother; and she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” Therefore he was named Perez. 30Afterward his brother came out with the crimson thread on his hand; and he was named Zerah.
Matthew 1:1-3 (New International Version)
The Genealogy of Jesus
A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:
Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar . . .
by Joyce Carr Stedelbauer
I, Tamar, am not proud of what I have done,
you must understand … not proud of what I have done.
A desperate situation and I was justified.
You ladies alone today have other options –
savings – jobs – an acceptable place in society.
I was an outcast, a foreigner, twice widowed.
My father-in-law, Judah, son of Leah and Jacob,
reluctantly promised his youngest son
to care for me, as Hebrew law provided.
Judah reneged on his word – marriage or care,
would have let his son’s memory die with no heir.
I had no other choice.
Drying tears, I painted my eyes with kohl,
my mouth red with berry juice,
plaited ribbons in my hair,
humbling myself to sit near the city gate
with other ladies of the night.
It was degrading, a miserable experience,
I prayed as I waited ….
Judah came along as if he owned the road.
Smiling shyly at him – he turned –
hesitated but a moment –
came back to me.
Armed with the law of protection,
I demanded his ring before he took me.
Some months later he denied my claim
until I held out the dishonored ring.
Judah crumbled like a clod of dirt on the road.
Somehow out of His infinite goodness
God allowed me to birth twins sons
from the house of Judah, Messiah’s branch,
and the rest is His Story.
We read the strange story of Tamar and Judah remembering that God loves us not because of what we do — but because of who He is. It’s all grace. HERE is “Grace” sung by Michael W. Smith.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.