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1898 B.C. Judah,
the fourth son of Jacob left his family circle and sought Canaanite friends.
He moved to the city of Adullam, where he met and married a Canaanite girl.
They had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. Judah's brother, Joseph, was
at the time in Egypt as a servant to the Pharaoh's bodyguard, and it was
Judah's idea to sell his brother as a slave. Over time Judah's immoral
character is in stark contrast to his brother Joseph's moral character.
Just as Judah married a Canaanite, he sought a Canaanite wife for his firstborn son, Er, he arranged for him to marry a girl named Tamar. Tamar's name means 'palm tree', which indicates endearing beauty. Tamar herself came from the idolatrous nationality as did Judah's wife. Tamar was pleased to be chosen to marry Judah's firstborn, known to be the son of Jacob, an honoured elder who had come to live in Canaan. She had considered herself privileged to marry into such wealth and distinct family who worshipped the God of all Creation.
Judah married Er to Tamar far too early, he was too young and there was little fear of God. Er was a wicked and sinful man in defiance of God and His principles. Tamar's husband was disgracefully shameless in the sight of God, which led to his death. According to the ancient law, a widow of a deceased brother became the next brother's wife to continue the family line hereditary. Er's brother, Onan was not willing to have a child who would not be counted as his own, and so, although he married Tamar, he prevented the possibility of her to have a baby which would be known as his brother's child, as the firstborn. Onan failed to fulfil his responsibility to his late brother's memory. The producing of children is for the brother's name, which assured a man's lineage and memory for posterity. Onan feared the child would come before himself. It was very wrong and selfish of Onan to deny a child to Tamar, his deceased brother's widow. He also died.
Tamar being widowed once again, the next son of Judah, Shelah, should have become her third husband to carry on her first husband's prosperity, required by tribal law. Tamar's father-in-law was responsible to see that the right thing was done towards his first son's wife. Tamar could not remarry without him arranging it. Tamar, therefore was denied a child, who would be the firstborn of Judah, an heir. This was not pleasing to God. The marriages revolved around a Levirite Law, a marriage provision for inheritance and widows. The reason for a widow without a son to marry the next brother is for the sole purpose that an heir might be born, to whom goes his father's inheritance and his father's name. A Levirite marriage in the ancient world was a legal duty of a brother-in-law. Her first husband had a premature death through wickedness, her second husband rebelled against the marriage. Tamar's first two husbands were executed by the Lord God, one for wickedness the other for rebellion.
God judged Judah's first two sons, but Judah judged Tamar and sent her home. Tamar, still a childless widow, was promised Judah's youngest and third son, Shelah, would be betrothed to her, and marry her when he grew of age, but Judah broke his promise. He didn't really intend for Shelah to marry Tamar, for fear God would kill him, too, just as he had his two brothers. Tamar learned of Judah's unjust deceit. Without heirs the tribe of Judah faced extinction. Judah made a false promise to Tamar. Tamar had embraced the belief of God's promise to Abraham.
Unknown at the time was the importance of continuing the line of Judah, for King David, Mary and Joseph, came from this tribe, also bearing The Lion of The Tribe of Judah, The Messiah.
In the process of time Judah's wife died. After the time of mourning was over, Judah went to supervise the shearing of his sheep. Sheep-shearing was also a time for pagan rites and celebration. Tamar knew that her father-in-law had left for the Canaanite sheep-shearing festival, which involved pagan temple prostitution and realised by now that she was not going to be permitted to marry Shelah, though he was fully grown. A widow without children in ancient times was a formidable period of duration.
Tamar felt hurt and humiliated which resulted
in her taking justice into her own hands. This refusal led Tamar to
go to far-reaching extremes to get results. Tamar was determined to save
her family line. She resorted to a method which is not condoned for
her purpose. Tamar cunningly laid a trap for Judah. She covered herself
with a veil to disguise herself, as a harlot (a temple prostitute) and
sat beside the road in an open place where she was easily approachable.
Tamar, being covered, since her face was veiled, her true identity was
Judah approached her, propositioned her and secured her favours, leaving his seal, rope and stick as a pledge for a goat. A seal bore the name or design of a person to make an impression in clay or wax. They were usually carried by cords and hanging around the neck or waist. By her slyness, Tamar was able to become impregnated by her father-in-law. This deed was a great risk, a pregnant widow meant the death sentence. Judah's seal was a form of identification, usually inseparable from him and since Tamar had Judah's seal and stick, she could prove he was the father of her unborn child. In Canaanite culture it was the custom of using three pieces of identification. Judah's signet was a cylindrical seal hung by a cord around his neck. Judah's staff was elaborate which he himself carved, both items easily recognisable.
Tamar had been a Canaanite and was well aware of fertility festivals. Tamar dressed up as a cult- prostitute which showed Judah's act as a shameful form of pagan idolatry. Judah had mistaken her for a prostitute who was sacrificing goats to the goddess of fertility at the local Temple. Prostitutes dedicated themselves to the Temple and their goddess. Judah asked his friend the next day to take the young goat to her, and to pick up his pledges he had given her, but couldn't find her!
Tamar had waited for Judah's third son to protect inheritance rights, but followed a pagan Hitite law inheritance practice which calls the father-in-law into Levirate marriages in the absence of sons, in her case, Judah. Her actions were scheming and deceitful, she did not trust God to fulfil His promises and moved ahead with her own plans, nevertheless God brought about His plans regardless of this.
Tamar was motivated by a noble desire to become the mother of Judah's tribal representative. Tamar's rightful place was as the matriarch (a woman who dominates any field of activity) of the prominent tribe of Judah. Judah's actions were no less than Tamar's, just because cultic prostitution was an accepted part of Canaanite culture into which he married. Tamar's desperate act was driven by a sense of injustice that had been done to her. Tamar continued to wear widow garments to declare Judah's broken promise to the community.
The death of an adulterer or prostitute outside the pagan temple rites was with fire or by stoning. A betrothal was as serious as a marriage. Tamar was aware of the risk and knew all the consequences of the action she decided to take. She also knew everyone of Judah's house would identify Judah as the owner of the seal, cord and stick. About three months later word reached Judah that Tamar, his daughter-in-law, was pregnant, Judah shouted and judged her to be burned. As she was being taken to be killed she sent the identification objects of the man who impregnated her, to her father-in-law. The identification seal and walking stick was seen by Judah, he admitted that they were his and confronted his experience with Tamar, therefore the death sentence over her was withdrawn, but he did not marry her.
Judah had held the responsibility to judge the outcome of Tamar's pregnancy. Judah was not considering righteousness when he demanded Tamar to be burned, he merely wanted her out of the way for he also believed she had been the reason for his son's deaths. Upon seeing his personal belongings, he immediately knew she was the one who was legally right. His youngest son, Shelah, did not have to marry Tamar for justice had been done.
Judah concealed his own sin yet was harsh on Tamar. Tamar was put in the situation because of her rightful desire to continue the line of Judah. Judah's situation was of lust only, but neither reason can be justified. There was a commendation to Tamar from Judah for her attention to family inheritance rights against his shameful neglect, Judah praised Tamar as being more righteous than himself, and God mercifully blessed her.
In due season the time of her delivery
arrived and she had twin sons. The birth of twins to Tamar was a special
blessing from God. As they were being born, the midwife tied a scarlet
thread around the wrist of the child who appeared first, but he drew back
his hand and the other baby was actually the first to be born, he was called
Perez meaning 'Bursting Out'. Then, soon afterwards, the baby with the
scarlet thread on his wrist was born, and he was named Zerah. At a birth
there was to be no mistake about the firstborn.
Despite his brother's hand, Perez was the firstborn, and ultimately ancestor of King David and of the lineage of Jesus Christ. God showed which twin of Tamar He selected. Through Perez, Tamar and Judah become ancestors of Jesus. Perez, son of Tamar, was a direct ancestor of King David as were both Tamar and Judah, who occupied an important role in history. The Messianic line of Judah came through Tamar, she was placed in the greatest of all genealogies.
Tamar is the first of five women who are mentioned in the lineage of Christ.
Judah was a Jew, and Tamar, a Gentile, their parentage can be looked upon as foreshadowing of both Jews and Gentiles to share in the blessings of Christ. Perez, a twin was born as a result of many sins, yet he, Judah and Tamar became the ancestors of Christ who died for the sins of all. Tamar's birth of twins and its events were obviously miraculous. An incident whereby, once more God had chosen the younger to receive preferred status.
Tamar's children were married when they travelled to live in Egypt under Joseph's care with the rest of the family of Jacob and Tamar would have accompanied them all. Judah was Jacob's representative son and tribe. The Tribe of Judah became the largest in Israel. Tamar's sons were legally granted the status of the blessing of the firstborn of Jacob's family. The family line that was heading towards extinction, but saved by Tamar's desire, were to be rulers of the entire family and the nations. Jacob prophesied that from Judah and Tamar's descendants the Messiah would come, bringing an age of peace.
Judah became the main tribe of Israel from which came royalty. Judah's family rose to leadership through Tamar's sons, and Jacob prophesied the mysteries surrounding the coming Messiah. Tamar's firstborn twin Perez, became the main ancestor of the family line of those who were to live in Bethlehem and Tamar, herself became prominently known and cherished in their history.
Tamar had been a disadvantaged woman whose circumstances God's providence reversed.
Tamar is a notable heroine throughout the Bible. Judah, one of the heirs to the everlasting covenant was put to shame by Tamar, a Canaanite woman. Tamar's son, Perez became the head of the leading tribe of Israel.
Tamar's sinful practise was pardoned and her good intention was accepted, magnifying the grace of God. Tamar preserved the prominent line of Judah. She was responsible for the survival of the descendants and obtained the blessing of the firstborn of Judah's sons, which he himself should have rightfully given her.
God blessed her with the firstborn blessing of Jacob through Judah, but not double portion inheritance which was given to Joseph. Tamar's life demonstrates the overwhelming intervention of God and control of His chosen family.
Judah's admission of Tamar's righteousness relates not to sexual immorality but to a matter of legal rights.
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