God’s People, part 17: Tamar

Read Genesis 38


“And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.” (Ruth‬ ‭4:12‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 17: Tamar. There are many strange stories in the Bible, perhaps one of those stories at the top of the list is the story of Tamar. There are many elements of the story that are strange, and many elements that get highlighted by antitheists and skeptics alike to prove that God is nothing more than a fairytale dreamt up by simple minded ancients seeking to explain why things happen the way they do. Yet, like all things, one must first understand the context first before one can leap ahead to any such conclusion.

Tamar, like all of the women we have looked at thus far, is a woman of her times. She was born into a highly patriarchal society that valued the men over the women. What’s more, a woman who could not (for whatever reason) produce heirs to the male lineage of the family, were of no use to the patriarchal family structure. On top of that, any woman who could not produce children was seen to be under God’s curse (since this was her “natural” function and reason of exisiting) and was considered a stain upon her marriage and a shame upon her family.

Tamar’s case was slightly different, because it wasn’t that she was barren and unable to have children; rather, it was that her husband died before she could conceive a child. In that day and age, if such circumstances happened, the woman was to sleep with the next oldest brother of the husband so that the woman could bear a child. This was not so much out of courtesy to the woman (for what woman would want to have sex with her husband’s brother in normal circumstances), but a courtesy to the deceased husband who would not be able to have an heir of his own.

So, Tamar was married off to Onan, the second oldest brother; however, Onan didn’t want Tamar to have his brother Er’s children, he wanted his own kids. So he performed what is known as coitus interruptus or, as people know it today, the “pull out” method of birth control. In other words, he was having sex with his brother’s wife but “pulling out” before he could ejaculate and impregnate her (too much information, I know). The Bible says that, for doing this, Onan was seen as being wicked in the judgment of God and died prematurely.

Good news for Tamar, right? Wrong. Judah (the same Judah who was involved in selling his brother Joseph off as a slave) refused to have Tamar married off to his youngest son, for he saw her as being under God’s curse. In other words, rather than seeing his sons for what they were, namely wicked in God’s sight, he instead placed the blame on Tamar who had done absolutely nothing wrong. Tamar was told to go back to her parents home (which would have brought her “shame” upon them) and to wait until the youngest brother could marry her; however, as was indicated above, Judah had no intentions of ever letting his youngest marry this woman.

Tamar waited and waited, but Judah’s youngest son Shelah never came calling. This is when Tamar took things into her own hands. Knowing that Judah was recently widowed himself, she disguised herself as a prostitute and deceived Judah, who did not recognize her because she was not wearing her “widow’s clothes” that allowed men to know she had been married and also had herself veiled. When he called upon her “services”, she slept with him and conceived a child by him, thus eliminating her shame.

The question here for us is, why did Tamar have to prostitute herself out in order to have children? Was this fair, or right, or just? Prostitution is obviously sinful because it is the selling of sex, which is sacred, to make a profit out of giving another physical pleasure and because it exploits human beings and uses them as a means to an end (e.g. sexual pleasure). Yet, what about Judah’s sin? What about the sin of discarding a human being as worthless? What about the sin of patriarchy, which values one sex over the other? As can be seen in this story, God does not stand for such injustice and Tamar is the one who is honored by God, while Judah is the one who is ashamed.


In the face of patriarchy, it is a brave act indeed for both men and women to embrace, rather than shame or attempt to eradicate, the feminine.” – Alanis Morissette 


Lord, help me to be upright and just, not valuing anyone more than another for any reason, whether it be their sex, their gender, their color, their creed or any other thing. Amen.

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