WIVES and HUSBANDS
Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.” Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!” As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.” Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I.” Genesis 38:24-26a
There are some stories in Scripture that are totally unsuitable for inclusion in a series of Sunday School lessons or a Bible story book for children. One such story is the lurid tale of Tamar, daughter-in-law of Judah.
Jesus was once asked a trick question about seven short-lived brothers who each married the same woman, one after the other. To the Hebrew mind-set, that question would not have seemed strange at all: Ancient law and custom dictated that a widow should indeed marry her late husband’s younger brother.
Tamar first married Judah’s eldest son. When he died young, she was supposed to marry Judah’s second son, but he died as well. So Tamar settled down to wait for the third son to grow old enough. But the years passed and nothing happened, except that her mother-in-law also died, leaving Judah a widower.
Tamar then took matters into her own hands. Dressing and posing as a prostitute, she lured her father-in-law into a sexual tryst. Judah left with her certain tokens of his name and rank, as a guarantee that he would later pay for her services. But when he sent the promised kid from his flock of goats, the “prostitute” who had set up her tent beside the road to Timnah seemed to have vanished.
When the widowed Tamar turned up three months pregnant, Judah was all for carrying out the penalty prescribed in the Law of the Lord: He called for her to be brought out and burned at the stake.
Let the following poetic meditation, imaginatively placed in the mouth of Tamar herself, take up the story at that point. It’s not an edifying story, . . . but it is a story that reminds us of the sort of people who became the earthly ancestors of our sinless Lord Jesus.
It turned out that Tamar had not one but two babies in her womb. Both of these twin boys, and their father and mother as well, are mentioned by name in the genealogy of Jesus with which the New Testament begins. (See “From Such As These Christ Jesus Came,” week 1 in this series.)
Considering the human line of descent he had, no wonder our loving Lord Jesus showed such sympathy toward sinners!
Me? Burned at the stake? Well, we’ll see about that.
There’s too many deaths in this family, I’d say:
My husband, his brother, my mother-in-law.
I’ll not add my death to that total today.
Now, here is a staff, and a seal on a string.
Go show them to those who would judge me today.
“I’m carrying seed from the man who owns these.
Who’ll claim his possessions?” That’s what you must say.
I do what I must to be claimed as a wife.
My first husband’s age was the same as my own.
He died, and they said I must wait for awhile
and marry the youngest when he was full grown.
I didn’t mind having a husband who’s young,
but nobody honored that promise to me.
So now I will take a new husband who’s old,
yet able to father a new family.
Who knows what may come from the life in my womb?
Perhaps there are two lives instead of just one.
Who knows who’ll be born, once I’ve started this line –
the line of descent when I bear Judah’s son?
“O Thou who hear’st when sinners cry,
though all my crimes before Thee lie,
behold them not with angry look,
but blot their mem’ry from Thy Book!” Amen.
[Isaac Watts, “Psalm 51” in The Psalms of David Imitated, 1719; in the public domain}
Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas