…and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar….
Prepare to Listen. Light 2 purple candles. Be still and silently repeat: You are the Lord my God.
Prayerfully Read Genesis 38:13-30
13When Tamar was told, ‘Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep’, 14she put off her widow’s garments, put on a veil, wrapped herself up, and sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. She saw that Shelah was grown up, yet she had not been given to him in marriage. 15When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16He went over to her at the roadside, and said, ‘Come, let me come in to you’, for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, ‘What will you give me, that you may come in to me?’ 17He answered, ‘I will send you a kid from the flock.’ And she said, ‘Only if you give me a pledge, until you send it.’ 18He said, ‘What pledge shall I give you?’ She replied, ‘Your signet and your cord, and the staff that is in your hand.’ So he gave them to her, and went in to her, and she conceived by him. 19Then she got up and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood. 20When Judah sent the kid by his friend the Adullamite, to recover the pledge from the woman, he could not find her. 21He asked the townspeople, ‘Where is the temple prostitute who was at Enaim by the wayside?’ But they said, ‘No prostitute has been here.’ 22So he returned to Judah, and said, ‘I have not found her; moreover, the townspeople said, “No prostitute has been here.”’ 23Judah replied, ‘Let her keep the things as her own, otherwise we will be laughed at; you see, I sent this kid, and you could not find her.’ 24About three months later Judah was told, ‘Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the whore; moreover she is pregnant as a result of whoredom.’ And Judah said, ‘Bring her out, and let her be burned.’ 25As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, ‘It was the owner of these who made me pregnant.’ And she said, ‘Take note, please, whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.’ 26Then Judah acknowledged them and said, ‘She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.’ And he did not lie with her again. 27When the time of her delivery came, there were twins in her womb. 28While she was in labour, one put out a hand; and the midwife took and bound on his hand a crimson thread, saying, ‘This one came out first.’ 29But just then he drew back his hand, and out came his brother; and she said, ‘What a breach you have made for yourself!’ Therefore he was named Perez. 30Afterwards his brother came out with the crimson thread on his hand; and he was named Zerah.
This is a strange story. It doesn’t fit with the narrative of Genesis; its purpose is unclear; God isn’t mentioned and there is little theological teaching. Its main character, Tamar, is one of only five women named in Jesus’ genealogy, therefore her story is worth our reflection.
It’s a surprising mention as Tamar has little to recommend her. She was a Canaanite who, when unjustly treated by her father-in-law (he failed to rightfully marry her to his 3rd son), she stood up for herself, took the initiative and made a desperate plan. She played the prostitute and waited for Judah. He fell for it and, without asking questions or discovering her identity, Judah ‘went into her.’
As pledge for payment Tamar shrewdly asked for items that would clearly identify Judah. Much later, when he discovered his daughter-in-law was pregnant, he showed no sympathy and made no attempt to hear her story, just demanded she be burned to death. However, when Tamar returned his property with her message that the owner was the father, he was quick to admit his wrongdoing and exonerate her. He said, “She is more in the right than I.” It seems, God agreed. Her oldest son from prostitution, Perez, is Jesus’ ancestor. And Tamar is named with him in his family tree.
This strange story is another example of God’s advocacy for the powerless. We can’t dismiss Tamar because we’re appalled by her act of prostitution. She stands for all women who suffer in loveless situations and act in desperate ways, reminding us to listen to their stories. They may be more in right than we know. What do you think?
Respond in Prayer
Lord God, remember all those women in tragic circumstances with no one to stand up for them. May I listen to their stories and, rather than condemning them, stand up for them. Amen.
Live Obediently. Hear the story before making a judgment.
 Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press. 1982, p. 308.
 Read her brief history in vv 1-11 of this chapter. It was custom to marry a childless widow to the next of kin. The child born of this union would become the dead husband’s heir. Tamar had already been married to the oldest two brothers, but Judah, out of fear of losing a 3rd son, sent Tamar back to her father’s home and wait for the youngest son to grow up. Judah failed to do his duty, and Tamar remained a widow in an unenviable situation.
Reading my Bible has been central in my life since I received my first Bible at 8 years of age. My decades of reading, studying and teaching the Bible gives my devotions a unique and enriching perspective. Reflecting on Jesus' family tree enriched my understanding of Jesus and the salvation he offers.