Tamar – The Forgotten Woman of Christmas
By Patricia Chadwick
Tamar is often a forgotten woman, because her story isn’t pretty and we’d rather overlook it. But God didn’t overlook her. She is the first woman listed in the genealogy of Jesus. You can read Tamar’s story in the book of Genesis (Genesis 38:6 – 30).
The Bible is silent about Tamar’s genealogy. All we know is that she was a Canaanite woman. She was married to a man named Er, who was the son of Judah, one of the 12 sons of Jacob. Er displeased God in some way (we are not told what he did) and was slain by God. According to Hebrew law a widow was to marry the next son in the family, so Tamar was wed to Er’s brother Onan, so he could raise up seed for his deceased brother. Onan didn’t like this idea. He knew that according to Hebrew law any offspring would not be considered his so instead of fulfilling his responsibilities to his dead brother’s memory and posterity, Onan spilled his semen on the ground instead of impregnating Tamar. This angered God and for Onan’s faithlessness to the dead, God slew him, leaving Tamar a widow once again. According to Hebrew law, Tamar should have been given in marriage to Judah’s third son, Shelah. Judah promised Tamar that when Shelah became of age, she would be his wife. In the meantime, he sent her back to her father’s house to wait for that day. When Shelah grew into manhood, Judah broke his promise. Maybe he was afraid that Shelah would suffer the same fate as his brothers, but we are not told. Regardless, Judah’s failure to give Shelah in marriage to Tamar, as was promised had far-reaching results.
As far as Judah was concerned, his promise to Tamar had been forgotten. But Tamar refused to be forgotten. She does the unthinkable. If her father-in-law wouldn’t give her his son to raise up an heir for her dead husband, she would see to it that she had that heir, in her own way. She disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced Judah. Nine months later she bore twins as a result of this union. One of those twins, Peraz is listed in the Messianic line.
Now this was a questionable relationship, to put it mildly. Was this God’s will? I don’t think so. I’m sure God would have preferred to have Judah follow Hebrew law by giving Shelah to wed Tamar, which would have resulted in perpetuating an heir to the Messianic throne. While Judah chose to shirk his duty to provide male heirs to keep the messianic promise alive, Tamar would not let him. Tamar refused to be forgotten. She refused to be shoved aside. Although there is no evidence that Tamar worshipped Israel’s God, it is assumed that she must have had known the significance of Judah’s family line and she was determined to provide a male heir. Though she resorted to methods we cannot condone, God used this situation for His own good purpose.
We may be shocked when we see both Judah and Tamar listed in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, but we cannot presume to question God’s ways. Perhaps their heritage played a part in their being chosen to be in the line of the Messiah. Judah was a Jew. Tamar was a gentile. Perhaps their union was a foreshadowing of the fact that both Jews and Gentiles were to share in the blessings of the Gospel.
Excerpt from Old Fashioned Holidays from History’s Women written by Patricia Chadwick. It is available in ebook format at www.HistorysWomen.com/shop.