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And then come back and tell us all about her – and you. Share how God is using a woman’s story from long ago to challenge you, teach you, or encourage you.
It doesn’t need to be fancy. It doesn’t need to be long. If you’ve read here any length of time, you know I ramble and I love details. So it should be no surprise that if I’m able to find out anything about a Story, I’m going to write. it. all. out.
Write however much you feel comfortable. This isn’t a bible study – this is community coming together to talk about Him and the Stories He has written.
What could be more beautiful? Let’s chase history together.
- Tamar is the daughter of a Canaanite man
- Things were very tense between the Canaanites and the Israelites
- Leah’s son, Judah, had fled and settled down in Canaan
- Judah went against his family and married a Canaanite women
- Judah had three sons and began looking for a wife for his oldest
In the search for a wife for Judah’s oldest son, named Er, Judah settles on Tamar, whose name means “date” or “palm tree,” which is sturdy.
Remember that in this culture, a woman was not really a person, but an object. If her father said she was to marry someone, that is what she must do. Tamar likely was very young and didn’t want to marry Er. Why? Because he is known by all to be “wicked.”
So, What Happened?
Tamar obeyed and married this man. She left her father’s people and lived with Judah and his family – which must have been new and strange, because they lived as Canaanites but Judah was still an Israelite. We know from the Bible that, from the beginning, Tamar is curious about Judah’s God.
Now, we don’t know what “wicked” means exactly, but I think it’s safe to assume that he hurt Tamar. I think it’s also safe to assume she stayed quiet and submissive, though it’s definitely possible that he didn’t hurt her, and she was respectful and honoring her husband.
They weren’t married for long because God strikes Er dead.
Well, okay. There’s that.
Sometimes we read these lines and just keep going because we’ve heard the stories so many times. But man, what a powerful God we serve – Er was “wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.”
It was the custom back then that if a woman had no children and her husband died, the next oldest brother (kin to the husband) would lay with the widowed woman. The first child born would carry on the late husbands’ name, and any other children would be part of the brothers family.
Does that make sense? I hope so. Basically, it was set up by God to protect widows. Without an heir, a child, there would be no one to protect the women.
This law/custom made it so she would have someone to protect her when she was old.
So, Judah gives Tamar to his next oldest son, Onan. The Bible says, “Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Lie with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his.”
While Er was wicked, Onan was selfish. When he lay with Tamar, he made sure she couldn’t get pregnant – if you know what I’m saying. It’s very likely that he had realized without an heir to his brothers name, he and his children would inherit everything of his fathers’. He wanted it all to himself. The land, the animals, the wealth, and Tamar.
He wanted the pleasure of her, but he didn’t want any good to come to her.
How used must Tamar have felt? I’m sure that she knew what Onan was doing. How desperate must she have been for a child, and how devastated as she realized Onan planned to deny her her right to an heir.
Her devastation only increased because what Onan did “was wicked in the Lord’s sight, so he put him to death also.”
We can very safely assume that word about this was all over town. Tamar, twice a widow, must have been talked about so poorly.
People probably thought she was cursed, unlucky, or was out to get Judah’s household. Sometimes we have clean reputations, but things can be twisted and suddenly, we feel used, dirty, and like maybe we are the problem after all.
Judah sends Tamar back to her father’s household (which heaped shame upon her by doing so), but he promised to send for her when his youngest son, Shelah, was old enough to marry her. Really, he didn’t plan to send for her – he just wanted Shelah to live, and thought Tamar would curse them all and his very last heir would die. He ordered Tamar to remain a widow in her father’s house, which meant she must always wear widow’s clothing, forever reminding everyone of this one thing: she isn’t free.
Eventually, it became clear to Tamar that Judah was never going to send for her; she would die alone, childless and lonely. In that culture, it was the most shameful thing for her. Judah was denying her the rights she was guaranteed.
Judah’s wife died and Tamar found out that Judah would be traveling to Timnah – it seems to me that he went by way of where prostitues typically were, because Tamar took off her widow’s clothes (showing that she had indeed remained faithful to a family that wanted nothing to do with her) and covered herself with a veil as a disguise. Then she sat at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah.
I can only imagine the sound of her beating heart as she hurried to Enaim in the pitch black darkness. All the questions she must have been turning over and over in her head as she hurried on her way. What if Judah didn’t go that way? What if someone caught her? What if Judah did come, and then realized it was her? She would be killed, no doubt about it. What if it was all for nothing? What if she didn’t even get pregnant? And what if she did?
She wouldn’t be able to hide it forever – everyone would think she had disobeyed her father-in-law, and she and the baby would be killed.
Tamar risked everything for the hope of a child, the hope of a legacy.
Judah did come and, thinking she was a prostitute, he lay with her. As a pledge for future payment, she asked for his seal, his cord, and his walking stick. This was an incredibly bold request, as these three things were unique to each person and clearly showed that he was Judah. At that point, wouldn’t you expect Judah to question her, look into her eyes, and realize who she is? He does none of this; he hands over the items, anxious to sleep with her (well, with anyone, since he doesn’t know who she is).
And then the unthinkable happens: Tamar becomes pregnant.
Returning home, she put back on the widow’s clothing and continues on, faithful to her family. Judah sends a friend (probably too ashamed to go himself) to go pay the prostitute, but she’s no where to be found. Judah counts his losses and moves on with life.
Three months later, Tamar has been caught. Word reaches Judah that his daughter-in-law is pregnant and he says, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”
Tamar sent a message to her father-in-law that said, “I am pregnant by the man who owns these. See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”
She didn’t shame him. She didn’t call him out publicly. She didn’t try to embarrass him by pointing out the wrong he had done.
Instead, she used the items to point out that the child belonged to him – and in doing so, she pointed out that Judah had denied her her rights. He had been in the wrong.
Thankfully, Judah stops everything in time and Tamar is not burned to death. He doesn’t say that he was wrong, but he does say that “She is more righteous than I.”
When Tamar gave birth, she gave birth to two boys.
God didn’t just hear her plea for deliverance from a widow’s life – He gave her abundantly more. God didn’t answer the prayer for a child, He blessed her with twins. He had a plan all along, and He blessed her faithfulness in the long, trying and tiring years of loneliness.
What Does This Mean For Me?
Are you waiting on something? Have you been faithful, while others treated you poorly? Has someone spread a rumor or ruined your reputation, brought shame on you?
Have you acted as Judah and shamed someone, denied them what was deserved? A quick word can cut deep. There was a point when Tamar wanted to know about Judah’s God – but He wasn’t open to sharing. Judah had his own past regrets haunting him (read Joseph’s story to find out more), and he wasn’t willing to talk about God.
Do you allow your past choices, mistakes, or regrets to keep you from sharing about God’s love to the people around you? Because there are people who want to know. There are people who are craving His love and acceptance, and too often we shame them instead of loving them.
Wherever you’re at, whether there’s someone you need to welcome back in and love hard, or if you’re sitting in widow’s garb and waiting for the day that seems promised to you – He has the Plan all figured out.
Let’s remain faithful together.
And when we mess up – and we will – let’s praise Him that He remains faithful no matter what.
This is a trustworthy saying:
If we die with him, we will also live with him. If we endure hardship, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is. 2 Timothy 2:11-13 (emphasis mine)