Tamar (Genesis 38)
Tamar sat silently at the entrance to her father’s tent. Activity bustled around her as the household prepared for the imminent arrival of their honored guest. Tea was prepared, cushions dusted, and the flaps of the tent opened wide to allow the early morning breeze to pass through. Through it all, Tamar remained silent and still. Her hands rested gently on her swollen belly, already growing heavy with child. Her eyes were closed and her lips moved in silent prayer,
“Elohim, my God, grant me strength, as you have before, for what comes next. Grant me courage, as you have before, that my resolve would not waver. Give me the words to speak, as you have before. Reveal the truth, God, and defend your child and the children of her womb.”
Tamar slowly opened her eyes as her father’s fear-tinged voice broke through the silence that had fallen over the tent, “He’s here.”
Tamar took a deep, jagged breath and rose slowly to her feet.
Gazing toward the horizon, she could see the outline of Judah, her father-in-law, striding toward her. The sun at his back cast Judah’s long shadow towards her. She could not see his face, but the speed and determination with which he covered the distance between them made clear this was not to be a friendly visit.
Tamar’s father stepped forward to meet Judah, but Judah shoved past him. “Move!” he yelled angrily. “Where is she? Where is your whore of a daughter?”
Tamar stepped forward confidently. “I am not a whore,” she said.
“Liar!” Judah spat at her. “Look! Your own body reveals the truth—you are pregnant.”
“Yes,” Tamar responded calmly.
Disgust filled Judah’s face as he surveyed his daughter-in-law, “Then you admit it! You have played the whore and you will suffer the consequences for your actions. I will not have my house and my name dishonored because of you.”
“It is you who have brought dishonor on your house and your name, father-in-law.”
“Lies!” Judah screamed.
Tamar stood resolute in the face of Judah’s onslaught. “It is not a lie, father-in-law. The dishonor you now live with is the result of your and your son’s actions. Er, your son and my husband, was a liar and a thief. His death is on his own head. Onan, your second son and my levir* , was no better. He too refused to fulfill his responsibility to me. When he died, you had the chance to do what was right—to marry your youngest, Shelah, to me and ensure my future and the future of your household. But you didn’t.”
“What does this matter now, you whore?” Judah sneered, “Your own words condemn you. The child you carry is not Er’s, Onan’s, or Shelah’s. You have played the whore and you will burn for it.”
A smile flickered across Tamar’s face as she said, “I hold in my hand the signet and cord of the man whose child I carry. Perhaps you recognize them, father-in-law?”
Tamar opened her hand, watching as the anger faded from her father-in-law’s face.
Judah’s hands shook as he reached out and took the signet and cord from Tamar’s hand. “It was you. You were the veiled woman by the side of the road that day. You were the woman I…” Judah’s voice trailed off as he dropped his head in shame. “Yes.” Tamar said, her voice gaining strength. “You left me no choice. You would not give me Shelah as my levir, as was my right, so I took you instead, as was my right. The children I carry are of your house and your line. I am not a whore. I am righteous and my future is now secure.”
Questions to ponder
What was your favorite part of the story?
Where did you see God in the story?
What is God inviting you to try on today in light of the story?
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*A levir is a male relative of a man who, after the latter′ s death, has the right, and the duty, to marry his widow. Levirs and levirate marriage has been practiced by many cultures throughout history, including ancient Israel.