Say her name: Tamar
With the celebration of Easter upon us, Women & Faith decided to look at some of the interesting women in Jesus’s life. In his genealogy, 40 men were mentioned to point out and confirm his prophetic lineage as the son of David. Interestingly, the text doesn’t mention all of the wives and mothers whom the men fathered their sons with. It identifies only five women — Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. At first glance I thought, oh, they singled out the women who had an… atypical sexual history or perhaps the women who had more than one husband or lover. But then Mary doesn’t quite fit that bill so let’s regroup and perhaps just reflect on the women’s stories for what they were.
Tamar was married to two of Judah’s sons. The first named Er died because, well, he was wicked. “But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death.” Genesis 38:7. And then it was custom for when one brother dies that the other would marry the wife in order to ensure there was offspring. But this other brother, Onan, didn’t want to do that so he allowed his ‘love’ to fall to the ground during lovemaking. In today’s world it is called the withdrawal method of contraception, but I digress. God was not pleased and killed him too. “But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also.”
Now, two times a widow, it would be up to the next brother, Shelah to marry Tamar, provide for and take care of her. His father Judah promised that when he grew up he would take her as his wife. But he didn’t intend to keep the promise. “Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow in your father’s house, till Shelah my son grows up”— for he feared that he would die, like his brothers.” Genesis 38:11. Of course the text tells us that they died because they were wicked men.
Tamar was therefore left out in the cold. But when Judah’s wife died, she had an idea that could have come straight out of a telenovela. She decided to take initiative. She decided to dress up like a prostitute and be in position for when Judah would be looking for some … well, let’s call it intimacy. And positioned she was. For their encounter the ‘love’ fell in the right place and resulted in Tamar becoming pregnant with twins. There’s more to the story but it concludes with Judah taking responsibility and acknowledging his wrong. “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” Genesis 38:26.
Now why would Tamar be included and singled out in the genealogy of the sinless son of God? Why does God say her name, so to speak? Maybe a son had to come through Judah’s lineage by any means necessary? But even if that is so, why mention her name? Why not mention Sarah, wife of Abraham, but mention Tamar? Furthermore, Tamar was no regular woman. Dressing as a prostitute, sleeping with her father-in-law, taking matters into her own hands because of the raw deal she received — nothing about these actions is regular or even holy so why does she get mentioned? Is it because, given all the circumstances, she was after all, more righteous than Judah as he said in his own words?
I am not exactly sure, but I think the fact of her being mentioned in the genealogy shows that no matter how you have suffered or been mistreated as a wife, or as a woman, God’s providence stands above it all. It also tells me that God understands the hard stuff women have chosen to do, given the harder stuff they have had to endure. Her inclusion gives women with an unexpected hard story a measure of hope, visibility, and a good ending by way of a role in the biggest story of all time — the birth of the Messiah.
As women of faith, we can take comfort in the fact that even if/when we have suffered in matters of love and justice, a just and loving God stands above the march of time and will vindicate his precious daughters.
Passionate about faith and women empowerment, Shelly-Ann Mair-Harris is the author of several publications including God’s Woman and The Goodies on Her Tray. A woman of faith for several years, Shelly-Ann is the creator of Family and Faith Magazine and Women & Faith. She is also a podcaster, an award-winning playwright and poet as well as a trained and experienced media, marketing, employee engagement, change management and strategic communications professional. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.