Forty women: 10. Tamar

Rape. Incest. Infertility. Rivalry. More rape. And we’re still in Genesis. It’s not exactly family-friendly reading, is it.

And yet, of course, family is the whole point. These women are fighting for the family. Fighting to keep the family going through the generations. Fighting for their own place within it and for their sons’ right to inherit it. Fighting for the protection and honour of the people in it.

And so today we have another story that isn’t exactly family-friendly. Another woman fighting for her right to be counted as part of the family. Another family full of tragedy and trauma.

It starts so straightforwardly. Judah marries and his wife has three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah. Three fine sons. Heirs to carry his name through the generations. Three fine, wicked, selfish sons. Judah gets a wife for Er, but before Tamar can fall pregnant by him, God puts wicked Er to death.

No problem. There are two more sons to go. Tamar is married to the second son, Onan. Selfish Onan, who doesn’t want his son to be counted as belonging to his elder brother. Selfish Onan who will go and lie with his wife, but make sure never to get her pregnant. Selfish wicked Onan who goes the same way as Er, put to death by the Lord.

No problem. There’s still one more son, after all.

But Judah doesn’t want his third son to go the way of the first two. It’s Tamar who has to go. She’s dangerous, poisonous, bringing only harm to his two fine sons. He ought to marry her to Shelah. He ought to keep her in his household, his family. But he won’t. He sends her away. Sends her back to her own father. Cuts her out of the family.

Oh sure, he promises he’ll send for her to return. He promises she’ll marry Shelah one day. But that day never comes: “For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife.” (Genesis 38:14).

Tamar knows her rights. Tamar knows her place. Tamar is going to fight for her place in the family, whatever it takes.

Tamar is bold and Tamar is brave. Tamar isn’t afraid to act shamelessly in order to shame her father-in-law. She may be the one disguising herself as a prostitute, but he’s the one paying for sex with a prostitute. She may be the one pregnant and unmarried, but he’s the one who broke his promises.

She isn’t shamed for her actions. She isn’t blamed for his actions. Even Judah admits, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” (Genesis 38:26)

Righteous indeed. Tamar, the mother of Perez and Zerah. Tamar, whose descendant some nine generations later, will be the first to sit on the throne in Jerusalem. Tamar who will be the first of just three women to be named in the genealogy of Christ (Matthew 1:3). Tamar, who would not let any man take away her right to be counted in the family of God’s people.

Forty women: 11. Potiphar’s wife