Wow! What a story! How did this make it into the Bible? What do we make of this story of sexual sin, deceit and hypocrisy? It is a story we often avoid. Liz Curtis Higgs writes in her book, Really Bad Girls of the Bible: “Anyway you tell this story you eventually come to a scene that, even in our anything-goes society, doesn’t sit well on the psyche: A young woman poses as a prostitute so she can sleep with her father-in-law. On purpose. …You won’t find much enthusiasm for sermon skits about Tamar and Judah at church. Not many weekly women’s meetings are called: ‘The Tamar Circle.'”
And yet Tamar is called by Judah at the end of the story “more righteous” than he. What is going on here?
Well this story is a mess from the beginning. Judah begins by marrying a Canaanite woman named Shua. This was not God’s will. He began a little family and chose a bride for his oldest son named Er. He chooses a Canaanite woman named Tamar.
Er then angers God and is killed as a result. Onan is expected to father a child by Tamar. This child will not be his, however, but his dead brother’s. This does not sit well with Onan and so he spills his semen on the ground and refuses to impregnate Tamar. God kills Onan. (Picking up on a pattern here?)
Judah has just one son left, Shelah. Thinking that Tamar is somehow responsible for the death of his other two sons… he tells Tamar that she needs to come back when his last boy is older. He sends her back to her father’s house… effectively sentencing her to live as a childless widow until the day she dies.
Thus the desperate plot by Tamar to have a child by Judah. It is a risky, immoral, deceitful… yet effective plan. Soon Tamar is found to be with a child by Judah who doesn’t even know who it was he who had slept with.
It is only when Tamar produces proof of paternity that Judah remarks that she is “more righteous” than hIm. The story ends with birth of Tamar’s twin sons being born. The baby’s room is done up in blue. Everybody’s smiling. But wait…
What is the take away from this bizarre story? I can think of four:
1) You might have a twisted testimony and you might not have done things that you are proud of… but God is into redeeming lives… forgiving sin… and setting people free of their past. People “with a past” can be “born again” into His family.
2) Children are NOT mistakes. A person’s birth story does not mark them for dishonor. God had great plans for Tamar’s son, Perez.
3) God can use anyone as an example of his grace. Tamar is the first woman mention in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew Chapter 1. Some of have pointed out that her inclusion was to foreshadow the inclusion of the Gentiles into the Kingdom of God.
4) God’s plans are higher than ours. He transcends even the bad decisions we make in desperation. He is carving out a plan that will ultimately bring glory to himself.