Tamar and Judah


In Genesis 38 we have the complex story of Judah and His growth experience with God and His church.


Judah is introduced to the Bible as the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. Genesis 29:35. He grows up and decides to marry a Canaanite woman, the daughter of his friend Shuah. Through her Judah has three sons – Er- Watcher; Onan – Strength; Shelah – Peace. In the process of time Judah finds a wife for his son Er by the name of Tamar – Erect one. All of this shows that Judah is unconverted at this time for he has chosen not to remember the counsel given by his grandfather Abraham in selecting a wife for Isaac that he is not to take a wife of the Canaanites. Genesis 24:1-6


Er proves to be an evil man and God slew him. As a result of this event Judah has Onan go into Tamar to be a husband to her and to raise up a family to remember Er. Onan refuses to do this and does not consummate his marriage to Tamar but ensures that there will be no children in Er’s name. As a result of this decision God slays Onan also. Now Judah is stuck for if he allows his last born son to marry Tamar God might kill him as well. So he instructs Tamar to remain a widow until Shelah is grown up and then he will marry Tamar as well. It would appear that Judah did not intend to follow through with his promise for when Shelah is grown he does not give him to Tamar.


Tamar is aware of the duplicity of her father-in-law and decides to strategize for herself, perhaps with some help from God, for in the end she is pronounced as the righteous one. Tamar decides that when the opportunity strikes she will pose as a harlot to entice Judah to sleep with her and thus consummate a marriage and produce a child. She goes to the sheep shearing grounds of Timnath and poses as a harlot when Judah is around. Judah decides to seek out the harlot and promises to give her a kid goat if she will sleep with him. She agrees to the deal but since Judah does not have the kid available she takes a promissory note from him – Judah’s signet ring, his bracelets, and his staff. Judah agrees to give these three testimonies to her. Judah consummates the marriage with his daughter-in-law, whom he does not recognize, and she is impregnated.


Shortly after this union is consummated, Judah sends his friend to take the kid goat to the harlot. When he can’t find her he asks the locals to tell him where the harlot is. The locals testify the truth that there was no harlot around there. The friend returns to tell Judah and returns with the kid, the unfulfilled promise. Judah is content for he was willing to pay, but not so much willing to change.


Three months later it is told to Judah that his daughter-in-law had played the harlot and was pregnant. Judah, without conducting an investigative judgment, declares that she should die by being burnt with fire. This punishment will be meted out to the wicked after the millennium but was an extreme form of punishment in Judah’s time. Eventually, after the establishment of Israel the punishment for whoredom would be the stoning of the man and the woman. Deuteronomy 22:22. Also if a woman is a whore and is the daughter of a priest then the punishment would be to burn her with fire. Leviticus 21:9.


But because Tamar is righteous she is willing to enter into judgment and she brings forth the three witnesses, her form of the three angel’s messages. She tells Judah to judge righteously and to discern whom it was who slept with her and by whom she had a child. Judah recognizes the truth of the matter and recognizes that these three item were his identifying signs that he was the man by whom Tamar was impregnated. Judah, as the priest of the family, declares that Tamar was more righteous than he was. He releases her from the death penalty, but he will not declare her as his wife. He knew her again no more.


From this pregnancy Tamar bears two sons. The one son is Pharez and the other is Zarah. Because Pharez is born first he is declared the eldest. Matthew 1:3 declares that “Judas (Judah) begat Phares and Zara of Thamar (Tamar)…” Thus Messiah comes from this unusual family experience. Matthew1:1-16.


There are many interesting truths in this chapter of Scripture. First of all God does not want His children to intermarry with non-believers. God has communicated this thought all through the Bible. Genesis 6:1-6; 24:1-6; Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 17:17; I Kings 11:1-9; Nehemiah 13:23-27; II Corinthians 6:14-18. God wants His people to be pure and to be distinct and holy. God does not want a mixed religious marriage for it will bring chaos and confusion to the family.


God wants his people to be honest and straightforward. He does not want His children to act in a manner that communicates falsehood, or deception. Judah practiced this in his marriage to a Canaanite and in his refusal to give Shelah to Tamar. Thus Judah set the stage for deception to happen to him as well as what he had done to others, including the deception he practiced on his own father in the matter with Joseph.


God uses the relationships that are familiar to people to accomplish His tasks. So in the times that Judah lived God used the sheep-shearing event to set the stage for the fulfillment of God’s plans to have a child through Judah. In the process of all of the events God even used Judah’s sexual behaviors to accomplish a change of heart in Judah, when he acknowledged that he had not followed through with his part of the bargain of not giving Shelah to Tamar as he had promised.


God also gave a type of the Investigative Judgment when Judah passed judgment on Tamar without all of the facts. When Tamar presented the three angles messages, of that spiritual event, Judah acknowledged that he was the one at fault. He then was willing to have grace extended to him by not having himself stoned. He also granted grace to Tamar.


With all of the above in place the prophecy of Genesis 49:8-10 would be fulfilled. Judah became a changed man. Apparently he was able to recognize the hand of God in the story of Tamar and he was willing to submit to God and allow God to make changes in his heart. Thus when the next Investigative Judgment type took place in Genesis 44 Judah was ready to display the character of Christ, his great great grandson, and intercede for Benjamin before Joseph.


All of these events taken together make up the foundational principles of the gospel message that was to be proclaimed before the whole world. Judah and Tamar will go down as one of the most unusual, but poignant stories in the Bible. God will accomplish His holy will, even though using the most difficult of people to accomplish His tasks. God will be praised and glorified through His people. Ezekiel 36:23