What happened with Tamar and Judah? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
In our last look at Genesis 38, we talked about the sin of Onan. As the chapter goes on, there are aspects that an ancient person would understand that we miss today. For instance, none of this happened in a vacuum. Everyone in the community would know that Tamar’s husbands had both died. Why? What was going on? Was she perhaps killing them? Was the family of Judah just wicked?
Judah is also frightened. He has only one son left. What happens if he gives him to Tamar and he dies as well? There’s nothing left. Judah doesn’t want to risk it and sends Tamar back to her father.
Tamar is living with shame, however. She is supposed to have children and she does not. She has had two men in her life and nothing has happened and the man she was supposed to marry again has grown up and has not been given to her. She is a stigma.
Well, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
Tamar hears that her father-in-law is out and about so she goes and sits at a gate, much like a prostitute would, and disguises herself. Judah comes along and falls for her trap thinking she’s a prostitute. She asks for his seal, cord, and staff, as assurance he will pay her for her “services.” After he has his fun, he goes to get the goat for her and when he returns, she is not there and he is told that there have never been a prostitute there.
A few months later, he is told that his daughter-in-law, Tamar, is pregnant. He knows that his son has not been with her, so what does he do? He says that Tamar must be burned in the fire immediately. Hey. It will take care of the problem and his son can have a normal marriage to someone else then. Right?
Tamar has her trump card. She presents the cord and seal and staff and says “The man who got me pregnant is the man who owns these. Do you know whose they are?” Judah is shamed. He knows whose they are indeed, and everyone else knows whose they are. Judah has been caught having a liaison with his daughter-in-law.
In the end, Tamar does give birth and these children are twins. It is through these twins that eventually, Jesus will come about. After all, what happens here is really unrelated to what happens in the rest of Genesis for the most part. You could take this chapter out and you would not notice anything different in the story of Joseph.
When we read the genealogy in Matthew, there is no painting over of this. Tamar is mentioned in the text and every reader would recognize Tamar and what happened in the family line of the Messiah. God took the wicked action of Judah and still used it for good. He is still doing the same with any evil done today. No evil can truly overcome the way of God overall.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)