Tamar’s Trump Card

Tamar
“Your seal and your cord and the staff in your hand.”-

 

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.

Think again.

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.

The Lesson of the Begats

 

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong with our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do. – 2 Timothy 3:16–17 (NLT)

Are you guilty of skipping the “begats”?

The “begats” to which I refer are found in the first chapter of Matthew—you know, the long list of Jesus’ ancestors. I don’t know about you, but when I read, I like action. History never stuck with me, especially long lists of names I can’t even pronounce, let alone see why they’re important.

I, too, am guilty of passing over the begats. But one time I forced myself to read through them—only because I was following a read-through-the-Bible-in-one-year program and putting a check mark in the “Matthew 1” box without actually reading it was cheating, lying, and being deceitful. I knew it would prey on my conscience, so I plowed through.

And discovered something interesting: Jesus’ ancestors were not a saintly bunch. Up until then, I’d assumed that Jesus, who was sinless and pure, would have had a bloodline that reflected his holiness. Yet “holy” hardly describes some of the characters mentioned. I’d also assumed that his bloodline would be pure as well—all His ancestors would have been Jewish. I was wrong on that account, too.

Jesus’ ancestry includes people who lied, cheated, deceived, stole, and committed adultery and murder. Abraham lied on at least two occasions to save his own skin. Jacob, whose name means “deceitful,” lived up to his name. Judah thought nothing of sleeping with a woman he thought was a prostitute. Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, committed adultery with King David, who had her husband murdered when he discovered she was pregnant with his child.

Rahab was a prostitute from Jericho and not an Israelite. Neither was Ruth, King David’s great-grandmother. She hailed from Moab—Israel’s one-time enemy, a nation birthed in incest, whose bloodline traced back to Lot, who slept with his own daughters. Then there was the shrewd and persevering Tamar, whose twins were begotten in deceit.

Talk about skeletons in your closet! Jesus sure had plenty in His ancestry.

Another interesting note in the genealogy Matthew recorded is that he included women. It was unusual for women to be listed in Jewish genealogies. Matthew, however, lists five: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Only two were Jewish. Three bore moral blots.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at the stories of these five women, the role they played in Jewish history, and what it means for us today.

Everything in God’s Word has a purpose—even the accounts of unsavory characters whom God chose to fill a slot in the ancestry of His own Son.

What’s the message you see in this? That God doesn’t choose only men to fulfill His purposes? That allowing far-from-perfect men—and women—a part in His plan to save sinners is still more evidence of His amazing grace? Nobody’s perfect, but surely there were people with better moral records than these. That God makes good on His promises, even one made 4,000 years before it was fulfilled?

For me, seeing the names of some pretty unsavory characters whose treachery and deceit are chronicled in the archives of man, gave me a sense of relief and freedom.

Relief that I don’t have to be perfect—God can use me warts and all. And freedom from guilt that my past indiscretions will cause me to miss out on God’s purpose for me.

For God, you see, “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).

Skeletons in your closet? Don’t fret about them. It isn’t what’s in your closet that God’s concerned about—it’s what’s in your heart.

Thank you, God, for the lesson of the begats. Amen.

Read and reflect on Matthew 1.

 From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea for the Seasons, © 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.

LOOKING FOR SOME RELEVANT, INSPIRING ADVENT READINGS? CHECK OUT GOD, ME, & A CUP OF TEA FOR THE SEASONS. Available in paperback and Kindle editions. Click here to get your copy.