Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. – Matthew 1:3
Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. – Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)
One of the skeletons in Jesus’ genealogical closet was a woman by the name of Tamar, the Canaanite wife of Judah’s oldest son, Er.
At that time, the sons of Israel weren’t a nation yet. They were a bickering, jealous, scheming lot who sold their own brother into slavery. Judah’s was the line that would eventually produce the Messiah. You’d think it would be a line that was pure and noble, filled with brave men and women who did what was right.
Now Judah’s son Er so wicked that God put him to death. Since he had no sons, his widow, Tamar, was given to his brother Onan, Judah’s second son. This was the custom back in those days to keep the family line going. Problem was, if Onan fathered a son, the boy wouldn’t legally be his—it would be his dead brother’s.
That didn’t go over too well with Onan. So he made sure he wouldn’t sire a child through Tamar. That didn’t go over too well with God, who zapped him, too.
“Live as a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up,” Judah told Tamar. But he had no intention of giving his remaining son to a woman who went through two of his offspring already.
Tamar did what she was told. She went to her father’s house and waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually she realized that she’d be a widow in her father’s house until the day she died if she waited for Judah to make good on his word. So she took matters into her own hands.
Disguising herself as a prostitute, she sat down by the roadside when she knew he’d be passing by. Her plan worked. Judah “hired” her.
“What will you give me?” she asked.
“A young goat from my flock,” he said.
“Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?”
“What do you want?” he asked.
“Your seal and your cord and the staff in your hand.”
Without a thought he handed them over.
Shrewd of Tamar. Stupid of Judah. These items were the driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers of that day, used for identification.
When Judah sent a servant with the promised goat, he couldn’t find her.
“There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here,” the men of the area told him.
“Ah, let her keep what she has,” Judah said when the servant reported back to him.
Three months later Judah learned Tamar was pregnant. Furious, indignant, he called for her to be burned to death. She played her trump card.
“See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are,” she said. “I am pregnant by the man who owns them.”
Ever want to get away? I’m sure Judah did at that moment.
“She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah,” he said.
One of the twin boys she bore, Perez, would be an ancestor of Jesus, the Messiah.
This isn’t a story of “all’s well that ends well.” Neither is it evidence that “the end justifies the means.” And don’t claim Romans 8:28—“all things work together for good.” “Good” isn’t “best.”
But to fulfill His promise, God used the only thing He had—flawed human beings who thought nothing of shirking their duty, going back on their word and obtaining what they wanted through deception and manipulation.
Human nature hasn’t changed. But what has changed is that now we can do something about it. For God “has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done, but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9 NIV).
And that’s a trump card in anybody’s hand.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.* Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lord! Amen.
*From “Amazing Grace,” by John Newton (Public Domain)
Read and reflect on Genesis 38:6–30.
This is the second in a series exploring the genealogy of Jesus.
From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea for the Seasons, © 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.