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Tamar’s “Wrong” Makes It Right

Today I’m happy to host guest columnist Katherine Tucker. You can read her bio below.

In honor of Women’s History Month, consider the hope of Easter through the story of a woman in the Bible. Her story is obscure, often misunderstood, and frequently passed over. Those familiar with it tend to cringe a little at her name. “Tamar.” It invokes ideas of prostitution, seduction, and revenge. What could this harlot have to do with our LORD, the incarnation, and the resurrection? As it turns out, literally everything.

 The truth is that we have Tamar “the prostitute” to thank for Jesus’s family tree. Tamar is one of three women named in Matthew’s account of Christ’s genealogy, and she appears as early as chapter 1, verse 3. We will celebrate the resurrection of Christ in a few weeks, in part because of her.

The story of Tamar in Genesis 38 is unpopular, her actions appear to be unpraiseworthy, and we certainly want to avoid relating “Tamar the Prostitute” with Christ and the hope of the resurrection. Right?

Actually, I will argue that Tamar’s actions were noble and righteous, and that Tamar’s hope fueled her actions, securing the hope that we have this side of the empty tomb.  

But first, some backstory…   

Moses’s writings detailed God’s promise to Eve of her offspring crushing the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). Genesis records the generations that pass as we look for this promised One. By the time we get to chapter 38, we have encountered the stories of son after son who could have been the one, but who proved themselves unworthy: Noah and his first-born son ultimately failed (9:20–25), Abraham, Issac and Jacob all have sordid stories sprinkled with deceit, selfishness and pride; eleven of Jacob’s twelve sons did evil, including Judah, who assisted in selling his brother Joseph into slavery and then lying to his father about it (37:29­–34). The next chapter recounts how Judah arranged for Tamar to marry into this dumpster-fire family. What a lucky girl.

Judah, son of Jacob, secured Tamar (a Canaanite) as a wife for his oldest son, Er (Gen. 38). Er was evil in God’s eyes, so he died. Judah gave his second son, Onan, to Tamar to procure offspring for her late husband in accordance with Hittite Law. But Onan was also evil, showing contempt for God’s promised seed by repeatedly wasting his own on the ground. Onan refused to provide offspring for Tamar. His actions were heinous because the promised one was to come through the line of Jacob (27:29) and Judah’s three older brothers had already disqualified themselves from acting as seed-bearers due to their own wickedness (see 34:25–30; 37:12–36]. So, God struck Onan dead. And that left Tamar twice widowed and childless, a devastating status for a woman of her time.

Having these Israelite in-laws, Tamar would have been familiar with God’s promise about the one to come. Judah’s youngest son represented the only remaining (unmarried) heir.  As Judah was a widower, and neither father nor son seemed concerned with extending the family lineage, Tamar determined to secure the seed of the promised one. So, Tamar presented herself as a prostitute to obtain the seed from Judah because she believed in the promise of God and hoped for the one to come—the same one who gives us hope today.

When people come to this story, they often harshly reject Tamar’s actions because what she does seems wicked and vindictive when seen through our modern Western lenses. Yet a comprehensive reading of the story of Tamar within the story of the rest of Genesis reveals that her actions both adhered to the law and demonstrated righteousness. Judah later even calls her “righteous” (38:26).

Our Bible teachers often (rightly) show how the text emphasizes God using broken, messed up people for his good purposes. And while we might subconsciously put these characters on a pedestal, we tend to cringe at the details that lead up to the climax of faithfulness in their stories. The Bible is riddled with stories of evil and wickedness, and many of its narratives would make for R-rated movies; yet, from all that darkness and pain comes the hope of the world.

Because of Tamar’s faith and initiative, we have the very hope of Easter. Ultimately, her “wrong” made it right.

Katherine Tucker is a second-year student at Dallas Theological Seminary pursuing a Master’s degree in Counseling Ministries. She lives in Garland, Texas, with her husband, Robert, and their daughters, Elizabeth (5) and Charlotte (3).

Photo by Michael Starkie on Unsplash

Sandra Glahn, who holds a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and a PhD in The Humanities—Aesthetic Studies from the University of Texas/Dallas, is a professor at DTS. This creator of the Coffee Cup Bible Series (AMG) based on the NET Bible is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books. She's the wife of one husband, mother of one daughter, and owner of two cats. Chocolate and travel make her smile. You can follow her on Twitter @sandraglahn ; on FB /Aspire2 ; and find her at her web site: aspire2.com.

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