Tamar ~ From Canaan to Christ


Not for Children

This is one of the ugly stories of the Bible, certainly not one that you will find in a children’s Bible story book. So why are we looking at it today?

When you visit your local library, chances are you will find a section devoted to paperback romance novels. Whether you read them, write them, or abstain from them, you know that there are certain elements contained in most of those books that are present merely for stimulation of the senses, let’s say. They do not move the plot along, develop the theme, or round out the character. Their sole purpose is to gratify the reader. The Bible contains no such elements. Any “objectionable elements” you may find in the Bible are there for a legitimate purpose.

Our Father saw fit to include Tamar’s story in His Holy Word for our benefit, so it behooves us to discover why He thought it was important for us to know what happened to her. Let’s delve now into the story of Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah, and see if we can discover what God wants us to learn from her experience.

Tamar’s Story

There are two women named Tamar mentioned in the Old Testament, and we will eventually study both. The focus of today’s study is the Tamar who was married to Judah’s son Er. You may read her story in Genesis 38:8-30, but I will merely summarize it here, due to the sensitivity of the material and the fact that I cannot see my audience.

You may remember that Judah was one of the sons of Jacob, from whom originated one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Judah was not exactly his father’s pride and joy, for he did not do everything exactly the way he ought, but lived to please himself. When Judah was of age to be married, he went out to one of the neighboring cities and found a girl named Hirah who pleased him well. She was a Canaanite, and Judah knew full well that he and his entire family were forbidden by God to have anything to do with the Canaanites. But Judah wanted her, and so he married her without the blessing of his father or brothers.

Judah and Hirah had three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. Arranged marriages were common in that day, and when the firstborn, Er, was of age to be married, Judah found a wife for him, Tamar. But the Bible says that Er was a very wicked young man, and God killed him for his wickedness. We do not know the nature of his crimes, only that they were intolerable in the sight of God, and he died young and childless.

The Hebrews had a tradition, the purpose of which was to keep the name of each of the men alive. According to this tradition, when a man died childless, the nearest living eligible relative (called a kinsman redeemer) would then marry the widow. The firstborn of this marriage would become the heir of the deceased, and after that the kinsman redeemer could have children for himself. So Onan, Er’s younger brother, was given to Tamar in marriage. But Onan refused to fulfill the role of the kinsman redeemer, and God took his life too.

Shelah was too young to be married, so Judah told Tamar to wait patiently, and in due time he would also give her Shelah as a husband. Years passed, and Tamar saw that Shelah had grown up and was old enough for marriage, but Judah did not make good on his promise. Tamar grew tired of waiting, so she discarded her widows’ garments and dressed herself as a harlot. She sat in a place where Judah would notice her, and sure enough she seduced her father-in-law into sleeping with her. He had no idea it was her because her face was heavily veiled. Judah promised to pay her for her services with a kid from his flock, and she asked him to give her a pledge of his promise until then. So he gave her three things at her request: his signet ring, his bracelets (or some interpret this as some part of his garment), and his shepherd’s staff. After the deed was done, Tamar put her mourning clothes back on and waited. In the meantime, Judah searched for the harlot but could not find her.

Three months passed and it became obvious that Tamar was pregnant. She was brought to the town square, and her father-in-law Judah was called. He sentenced her to be burned. Burned? Why not stoned? Evidently he considered her crime to be very grievous. But then she produced his ring, bracelets, and staff, and said, “By the man, whose these are, am I with child.” Judah recognized them immediately and knew he was just as guilty as she, if not more so, because not only had he slept with her, but he had also broken his promise to her. Judah released Tamar from the penalty of her crime and let her go.

In due time Tamar bore twins, and what a rough time she had of it! While she was in delivery, one of the infants stuck out his little hand. The midwife tied a scarlet thread around his wrist so she would know which one was the firstborn. The baby then put his hand back in, and out popped his brother. The midwife called this one Pharez, which means “division,” because he broke out of the womb before his “older” brother. He was followed shortly thereafter by the baby with the scarlet thread around his wrist, who was then named Zarah, meaning “splendor.”

Tamar’s Purpose

Tamar’s story ends abruptly right here, with the birth of her twin sons. And that is well and good, for that was her purpose, to give us these sons, and one of them in particular.

Do you recall that Judah was a wild man, living only for himself in his youth and into adulthood? Well, it appears that when confronted with his sin, when Tamar produced the tokens that proved his guilt with her, that he was convicted and God humbled him and began to changed his heart. So Tamar was used by the Lord to effect a change for good in the heart and life of her father-in-law.

But her ripples extended well beyond that one man, and even beyond her community. You and I have been touched by Tamar. Did you know that? It’s true.

The book of Matthew opens with the genealogy of Christ, establishing His right to the throne of David. And guess who is named in that genealogy in verse 3! Let’s read the first three verses together:

Matthew 1:1-3 The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac; and Isaac begot Jacob; and Jacob begot Judas and his brothers; And Judas begot Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begot Esrom; and Esrom begot Aram….

There are three wonderful truths I want you to see here.

  1. Our gracious Father chose to use a Gentile woman, from out of horrible circumstances, to carry on the line of Christ.
  2. He chose to use Judah, a man with a selfish, stubborn, rebellious beginning, but who allowed God to humble him and use him.
  3. Which of their twin sons did He choose for that blessed line? The firstborn? The one whose name means “splendor”? No. God chose the divider, the rejected son, the one who created a breach. Why? Because that’s what God does. He chooses humble men, nobodies, to accomplish His will.

Jesus Christ was also a divider.

Matthew 10:34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

Down through the centuries, following Christ has often meant having to choose between the Father and family, between the Redeemer and dead religion, between true Liberty and bondage to sin. Jesus brings peace to the hearts of men who receive Him, but peace on earth is still yet to come.

Jesus Christ was also rejected.

Isaiah 53:3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.

Jesus Christ restored the breach between God and man.

Isaiah 58:12 And they that shall be of you shall build the old waste places: you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

“You  Can’t Choose Your Relatives”

No one but God could have put together this genealogy. If men had devised the line of Christ, do you think they would have included harlots? Gentiles? adulterers and adulteresses? women? liars? second-born? fifth-born? nobodies? Not on your life!

If men had devised the line of Christ, they would have chosen the best of the best, the cream of the crop. And they would have been so proud of their heritage. But God wanted to be sure that their only hope was in Christ, not in their ancestry. That’s why He filled the line of Christ with so many “hopeless causes.” Jesus Christ, fully God and yet fully man, got to choose His relatives. And He chose common folk, plain folk, despicable folk, humble folk, people like you and me.

1 Corinthians 1:25-28 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are.

These folks are included in the line of Christ

  1. To demonstrate the humility of Christ (Philippians 2:7).
  2. To prove that all are acceptable in God’s sight (John 3:16).
  3. That our boasting would be in God alone (Psalm 44:8).

Doesn’t this good news make you want to shout? It does me!

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for humbling Yourself to the level of a man who would go to a forbidden people to seek a wife, then seek a wife for his son from that same people. Thank You for associating Yourself with one of his bastard sons, born incestuously to his daughter-in-law. Thank You for extending Your mercy and grace to them. I am no better than they, and their testimony gives me hope to believe that Your mercy and grace are also sufficient for me at my worst. Thank You for being my Kinsman Redeemer. I have nothing wherein I may boast, unless it be what You have done for me. To God be the glory!


Next week: Woman Taken in Sin

Photo courtesy of estall of Pixabay





2 thoughts on “Tamar ~ From Canaan to Christ

    • The funny thing is, when I first chose to write about her, I picked her name out of the genealogy in Matthew. But when I actually began to study it out and write my post, I had forgotten, and I got excited all over again at “rediscovering” this truth. I was also surprised at which son God chose (though I shouldn’t have been because it’s just like God), for he would have been labeled “least likely to succeed” in our society. 🙂


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