In our continued series of the five women in the genealogy of Christ, and in search for answers to the question – “Why did Matthew pull the four women into the genealogy of Jesus? Why did he go out of his way to do it? Today we come to a lady called Tamar.
The story of Tamar is found in Genesis 38:6-30. Briefly, Tamar was the daughter-in-law of Judah. She was a childless widow, who was given to her brother-in-law after her husband’s death. By this marriage, her offspring would continue the name and inheritance of the deceased. Such a union was later called a Leverite marriage (Deut 25:5-6). Unfortunately, Tamar’s brother-in-law refused to have proper sexual relationship with her. God killed him for this. Afterwards, Judah would not give Tamar to any of his other sons. So Tamar disguised herself as a harlot and seduced Judah. Through him, she became the mother of Perez.
Tamar, the forgotten woman: 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. 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 when he could not fulfil his duty as a keensman redeemer 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.
Let’s learn some lessons.
1. God’s plans are bigger than your mistakes. Aren’t you grateful for that? We know how the story ends! How did Tamar assess her own life? I’m guessing that she assessed her life as a huge tragedy. Disappointment. Betrayal. Her life is so not what she wanted it to be. But she did produce a son and that son turned out alright. And he had a son who had a son who had a son who had a son who had a son who had a son who had a son who is the Son of God.
See, I don’t think you can assess your life on your life span. What I love about the Bible genealogies is this, zoom out and take a 42-generation perspective. Sometimes, we get so embroiled in the minute, circumstantial details of our lives, we just feel like our lives aren’t what we want them to be and what we need is a little bit of eternal perspective. God’s plans are bigger than your mistakes-sexual or otherwise. I think sometimes we reduce God to the size of our biggest failure. But He is bigger than that.
2. Let me make a second observation. It’s not who goes before you, it’s who you leave behind. I think some of us read these stories and we can identify with them because we come from dysfunctional families and dysfunctional situations. At Christmas, a lot of people are going back into situations where it just brings all this stuff back, and the truth is, some of you are here and you wonder if you’re destined to make the same mistakes that your parents made. You wonder if you inherited their genes! You ask, ‘am I going to mess up the same way my parents messed up?’ Be encouraged. Your mom is not you, your dad is not you, you are not them, you are a unique individual and you don’t have to make the same mistakes. You can leave a magnificent legacy with Christ’s help.
3. Finally, look at Grandmother Tamar. She was a part of the Messiah’s genealogy! You are, too! If you have put your faith in Christ, then Galatians 3 says you are a child of Abraham, you have been grafted into this genealogy and His church is your family. It is your messed-up family. We are all sinners, and yet John writes in John chapter 1: “…as many as have received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God.” You can’t imagine how important you are to God’s family. You have the divine genes of Almighty God! You are of infinite value to Him.