This is another Tamar, and her story is sad in its own way. She was no royal daughter with fine, colorful robes. But, she was also subject to the culture of the day, which included levirate marriage law. Simply stated, this law required a man to marry his brother’s widow when 1) there was no male heir and 2) the two brothers lived on the same property. In other words,
by law, Tamar could demand motherhood rights
Who was this Tamar? Well, let me explain it this way.Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (with me?) Jacob had 12 sons. One of these was named Judah. Judah married a Canaanite woman named Shuah and they had three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah.
Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law, married to his firstborn son Er…then his son Onan. You can read about it in Genesis 38. Er was wicked in the Lord’s sight (v. 7) and the Lord killed him. Onan, knowing any child he had with Tamar would not be his but his brother’s, decided to spill his seed (v. 9). When Onan did this he displeased God…so He killed him too (v. 10). Judah then instructed his daughter-in-law Tamar to wait…remain a widow…at her father’s house…until the youngest son Shelah was grown.
[A possible inference is that Judah thought Tamar had an evil power that killed his two sons, so he protected Shelah so he could live. We know Judah’s sons displeased God, by the Word. Consider though, that in the moment, Judah was likely just a grieving father.]
Time passed. Shelah grew up, but Tamar was not given to him. Judah’s wife died, and he went to Timnath to be with his sheep shearers. So Tamar decided to dress up like a harlot, and sat in an open place (catch that!) so she’d be in Judah’s way. She got his attention and he propositioned her — “Let me come in unto thee.” Tamar asked about payment, and Judah promised a goat. But Tamar pressed for a pledge until he bring the goat. Judah, obviously not thinking and still grieving, let her choose the pledge. He gave Tamar his signet ring, his bracelets, and his staff.
Tamar conceived twins by Judah, her father-in-law. She committed a desperate act for honor and motherhood. When Judah returned with the goat, no one could identify the harlot. Then he realized his potential shame with goat in hand, while Tamar still possessed the ring, bracelets and staff. At the end of her first trimester, Judah learned how Tamar tricked him.She played the harlot. She is with child by whoredom. (v. 24)
She was brought before a public council and produced Judah’s belongings. Immediately, Judah acknowledged that he failed to keep his vow, and declared
“She hath been more righteous than I…”
Wow. The law that bound her also released her from guilt and stigma. All of us do not begin with aims to be concubines. Some of us got caught in cultural situations that tied us until another cultural situation freed us. These days, it is to our benefit and our credit to have a non-negotiable standard, the components of which can help us make good choices. We have liberties today that the women of old did not have, and we can live in and under that liberty.
We can choose to see through the aerial view of liberty, not the upward glance of concubine bondage constantly needing rescue.
Jesus already rescued us! Let’s move forward in freedom.
Before we do, though, we’re going to get Tamar. More about that later…
Selah, and love to all.