The Prostitute Tamar: A Woman of Great Faith?

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“And he did not sleep with her again.” Genesis 38:26

I’ve always thought it interesting how many people can read this story of Tamar and Judah and have no trouble believing at all that the harlot Tamar was never touched again nor bore any other children than her twins, but yet so many cannot believe the righteous young Mary, the Mother of Jesus, would have remained untouched and never bore any more children after Jesus. Is it the harlot thing that makes us believe it is possible for one but not the other? Was it her unrighteousness that lead to such chastity among men like Judah or was it something else?  It seems we are always so quick to decide for ourselves what is acceptable and permissible when it comes to the lives of others. Thankfully, Tamar was not so. Had she allowed Judah to determine what was permissible in her life, Jesus might not have been born or King David either. Many read this story of King David’s greatly descendant-grandmother as a sort of blip on the narrative of the line of Judah. The story is a mere chapter long, after all, and sandwhiched between the patriarchal greats of Judah and Joseph. How unfortunate that her assertiveness to claim what belonged to her, even through the failed promises of others, has labeled Tamar the deceptive harlot of Judah’s indiscretions rather than the Israelite daughter and great woman of faith responsible for the birth of the line of Jesus through the very man who sought to see her die. Like Tamar, we must begin to awaken ourselves to the hidden things that have so long escaped us and rise to see them revealed in a new way that can bring about our freedom. 

Here she was, an Israelite woman, given over to Judah’s first born son. Judah himself the son of Jacob, a patriarch of the Israelites and having himself married a Canaanite woman rather than a woman from his own Israelite tribe, has born a son from this iniquitous union and the Bible tells us he is wicked, and God puts him to death. Can you imagine the scorn Tamar and her family felt in her being given in marriage to such a union. Perhaps Judah sensed this and trying to make it good with his tribesman and setting a good example as patriarch he gives her to his middle son and tells him to give her an heir that she may not be shamed, only Onan knowing this would mean his brother’s inheritance would be given to him directly if no heir would come, purposefully lays with Tamar and each time does not allow his seed to spill inside her but instead ejects it onto the ground and let’s it die. How many times had Tamar layed with Onan knowing he would betray the life she had been promised? How many unions are there today where one partner refuses to offer themselves fully and are still withholding their seed. This strong and obedient Israelite woman endured through the sin of another and waited in hope for a promise fulfilled. And the Lord saw that Onan’s action was wicked, and he put him to death also. And now Judah, believing Tamar is accursed, and having no sight for the wickedness of his own sons, shames this Israelite woman by asking her to adorn the widow’s mark until his youngest is old enough to marry, and he sends her back to live in her father’s house.

“Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, ‘Live as a widow in your father’s household until my son Shelah grows up.’ For he thought, ‘He may die too, just like his brothers.’ So Tamar went to live in her father’s household.” – Genesis 38:11

How many women have felt the scorn of being sent home again? Even this act of disgrace that was meant to discourage her from her promise the Lord used for good. And in her father’s house, surrounded by people of her own Israelite faith, she continued to grow in strength and in wisdom and the Lord begins to reveal to her the intent of Judah’s heart and at the appointed time, she removes the garments of the past and embraces the garments needed to bring about not only her future but the future of all Israel and even all mankind. 

“When Tamar was told, ‘Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,’ she took off her widow’s clothes… For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife.” – Genesis 38:13-15

With much courage and assertiveness, Tamar rises up against the wickedness in Judah’s heart and sets out to stop him from going the way of his sons, which by his own treachery might also have resulted in death. When Judah’s Canaanite wife dies prematurely, we are not told why but perhaps it was that she too followed in the iniquity of her son’s in some manner of wickedness, something God tried to protect the Israelites from by admonishing them not to marry foreign wives, which Judah had ignored and now his own lineage was in jeopardy, we see Tamar, this Israelite woman of faith has devised a plan to save Judah and his own lineage by disguising herself in the robes of a harlot and allowing this patriarch of Israel to bare within her womb the seed of all seeds, a seed which would bare forth the Kings of Israel and the Redeemer of all mankind.

This scorned and shamed Israelite woman whom Judah, the son of Jacob, grandson of Abraham, Father of the Jewish faith, would rather put to death than see his last son born of iniquity from a Canaanite woman die because of his own unrighteousness is being saved by the assertive and fierce loyalty to family of a woman whose actions so boldly pre-date the characteristics of her seed King David. Tamar steps in and with wisdom and planning, she no doubt received while in her father’s house, saves Judah from shame and gives him inheritance in a name worthy to be praised. 

And this is why Judah calls her righteous. Not because she sought his wealth or his title in a plot of revenge but because this Israelite woman of faith sought after the inheritance she was promised. The inheritance all of Israel was promised. And she claimed it with all wisdom. And she was worthy to be praised. And she was righteous to never be touched by wickedness again. 

“Judah recognized them and said, ‘She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.’ And he did not sleep with her again.” -Genesis 38:26

The seed of the promise she was destined to carry was inside her waiting to break forth. If it weren’t for Tamar’s perseverance to see her given what was rightly hers, that seed would not have been made fruitful and born life. That seed would have died within her and you and I would not have been given the fruit of that seed in Jesus Christ. How easy it would have been to simply allow the betrayal of Judah to occur, to spend her days as a widow and marred by bitterness, but just like Mary, and Ruth who would follow in her footsteps, Tamar knew her fiat was necessary for the Lord to do his work in her. Without her ‘Yes’ to do what was necessary the word could not come forth. And the Lord blessed her with double for her trouble. 

“When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.” But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, “So this is how you have broken out!” And he was named Perez. (The greatly descendant-grandfather of King David) – Genesis 38:27-29

The Bible is filled with stories of women who are called to appointed times. Women who had to give themselves over to the promises they were given. Women of great faith who are called for such a time as this. Women willing to do whatever it takes to see their promises break through. You are more than a blip in the story. You are the story. This is your time to take off the garments of your past and put on the garments of your future. This is your time to see your seed break out!

{Waking Eve: One Woman’s Journey to Reclaim Eden by Kim Engel}

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2 comments on “The Prostitute Tamar: A Woman of Great Faith?”

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