The Story of Judah and Tamar
Gen 38:1 “It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and turned aside to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. 2 There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua. He took her and went in to her, 3 and she conceived and bore a son, and he called his name Er. 4 She conceived again and bore a son, and she called his name Onan. 5 Yet again she bore a son, and she called his name Shelah. Judah was in Chezib when she bore him.
6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. 10 And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also. 11 Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow in your father’s house, till Shelah my son grows up”—for he feared that he would die, like his brothers. So Tamar went and remained in her father’s house.
12 In course of time the wife of Judah, Shua’s daughter, died. When Judah was comforted, he went up to Timnah to his sheeps hearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13 And when Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,” 14 she took off her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, wrapping herself up, and sat at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she had not been given to him in marriage. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16 He turned to her at the roadside and said, “Come, let me come in to you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” 17 He answered, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” And she said, “If you give me a pledge, until you send it—” 18 He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” She replied, “Your signet and your cord
and your staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. 19 Then she arose and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood.
20 When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite to take back the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her. 21 And he asked the men of the place, “Where is the cult prostitute who was at Enaim at the roadside?” And they said, “No cult prostitute has been here.” 22 So he returned to Judah and said, “I have not found her. Also, the men of the place said, ‘No cult prostitute has been here.’” 23 And Judah replied, “Let her keep the things as her own, or we shall be laughed at. You see, I sent this young goat, and you did not find her.”
24 About three months later Judah was told, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has been immoral. Moreover, she is pregnant by immorality.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” 25 As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” And she said, “Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” 26 Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.
27 When the time of her labor came, there were twins in her womb. 28 And when she was in labor, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 29 But as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out. And she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” Therefore his name was called Perez. 30 Afterward his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah.”
In this account Judah, the son of Jacob marries a Canaanite woman, whose father’s name Shuah means “wealth”. She bears 3 sons: Er,whose name means awake, aroused, stirred up and excited. Onan, whose name means strong and vigorous. And lastly, Shelah, whose name means petition, request, demand and thing asked for. Shelah was born at Chezib which means “false”, from the root word meaning “to lie, to deceive, to disappoint, to fail”
This story about Judah and his sons has important implications for us. His first son marries Tamar, but he is wicked (ra) and dies without a descendant. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word ra (Strong’s No. 7451) which is translated wicked in this verse can also be translated wrong in certain cases. It is possible that this might be the better translation in this case. It could be that Er was wrong to be an ancestor of Jesus Christ and that is why he was removed.
This story happens many years before the law of the kinsman redeemer is given to Moses. (Leviticus 25:48) According to the Israelite law of levirate marriage (from the Latin levir, meaning “a husband’s brother”), the brother of a childless dead man is required to raise children to his dead brother’s name by marrying the widow. Therefore, Judah then gives his second son to Tamar to produce an offspring for his dead brother, Er.
The meaning of the custom is explained in Deu. 25:6: “that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.” Secondary economic factors are also present. The widow cannot inherit her husband’s property. Only her children can, so she is reliant on them. If she has a child by the levirate custom, the property of the deceased then passes on to that child.
This is God’s principle of the kinsman redeemer
The Hebrew word redeemer is: Ga’al gaw-al’ meaning to redeem, act as kinsman-redeemer, avenge, revenge, ransom, do the part of a kinsman by marrying his brother’s widow to beget a child for him,
“The nearest of kin had the responsibility of redeeming his kinsman’s lost opportunities. If a person was forced into slavery, his redeemer purchased his freedom. When debt threatened to overwhelm him, the kinsman stepped in to redeem his homestead and let the family live. If a family member died without an heir the kinsman gave his name by marrying the widow and rearing a son to hand down his name (Deuteronomy 25:5; Genesis 38:8; Ruth 3-4).” (2)
The Story of Ruth and Boaz
“The book of Ruth is a story about Naomi’s Goel (Kinsman redeemer). Naomi (PleasantOne), a picture of Israel, had wondered away from Bethlehem (house of bread). he was the poorest person in Israel, but her kinsman was the richest man in Israel. Because of the death of her husband, Elimelich (God is my king), and two sons Mahlon (sick) and Chilion (pining), she and her daughter-in-laws lost all income and their homestead. Naomi was living in a foreign land and sensed the loss of her homeland and relatives. She became bitter. The secret of all her daughter-in-law Ruth had was in her union with Boaz (In him is strength). The nearer kinsman had the first right to the property and Boaz came next after him. If Ruth’s closer relative would not redeem or purchase it, Boaz was prepared to do so. The man who was nearest of kin agreed to redeem the piece of land until he found out there was a young widow involved. He raciously backed out because it would mar his own inheritance (Ruth 4:6)! That left Boaz as the rightful nearest of kin who had the privilege of redeeming her land and her with it. The Moabitess and the Jew became one.
Boaz was nearest of kin to her deceased husband (Ruth 2:1). He was able to redeem by paying the price of redemption (2:1), and he was willing to redeem the land (4:4).” (3)
In Numbers 35:19 this same Hebrew word is used as for the word “avenger” in “avenger of blood”, who is a near kinsman. Therefore the kinsman redeemer is also the avenger of blood. The Jewish law gave the right of redeeming and repurchasing, as well as of avenging blood, to the next relative, who was accordingly called by this name. To theHebrews this meant that the kinsman redeemer was one charged with the duty ofrestoring the rights of another and of avenging his wrongs.
Boaz represents Jesus Christ in his role of Kinsman redeemer and avenger of Blood! Jesus has gone before us and broken through the breech where we can enter in by his blood! He has made the way for us to be fruitful!
Onan Refused to Be Tamar’s Kinsman Redeemer
Gen 38:9 “But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother.”
Onan, knowing that this son with Tamar, will not be his heir refuses to impregnate her and makes a decision in his own strength to spill his seed on the ground. The Lord considered this to be wickedness and put Onan to death also. We can only imagine how Judah felt by losing his first two sons, and we can also only imagine how he felt about Tamar!
Gen 38:11 “Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow in your father’s house, till Shelah my son grows up”—for he feared that he would die, like his brothers. So Tamar went and remained in her father’s house.”
Tamar puts on widow’s garments and goes back to live with her father. The word widow in Hebrew is also translated “desolate house”. And connotes being forsaken, from the root word meaning to be bound! The widow’s garments identified her as one who was forsaken, desolate, and bound. Widow’s were specifically protected under the law of Moses. The book of Isaiah in chapter 54:4 states that widowhood was something that disgraced and shamed a woman and caused her to feel reproach.
The Bible does not say how many years Tamar waited; but after a considerable time, Shelah grew up. Remember that Shelah’s name means “petition”. It now becomes apparent to Tamar that her father-in-law has no intention of granting her “petition”! It is more than likely that he felt that he would lose that son also as he did the other two.
At that point, Tamar faced a dilemma. Should she just forget the whole thing? Or, perhaps even marry into a completely different family? Or should she take matters into her own hands and do the right thing by trying to perpetuate Er’s family line? Tamar does the later – she will procure for herself her right to have a son from husband’s family.
Let us now consider the name Tamar and what it means. Tamar’s name means “Palm tree”! She is a tree and her destiny is to bear seed and reproduce! Specifically her names refers to the date palm.
“It’s trunk is straight, tall and unbroken, terminating in a crown of emerald-green plumes, like a diadem of gigantic ostrich-feathers; these leaves are frequently twenty feet in length,….The palm is, in truth, a beautiful and most useful tree. Its fruit is the daily food of millions; its sap furnishes an agreeable wine; the fibres of the base of its leaves are woven in ropes and rigging; its tall stem supplies a valuable timber; its leaves are manufactured into brushes, mats, bags, couches and baskets. This one tree supplies almost all the wants of the Arab or Egyptian.– Bible Plants.” “Perhaps no point is more worthy of mention, if we wish to pursue the comparison, than the elasticity of the fibre of the palm, and its determined growth upward even when loaded with weights.” (4)
What a fitting description for this woman, Tamar. Another aspect of the palm tree is that it thrives in the hottest and driest places (persecution and adverse conditions), and is perpetually green (always spiritually alive and productive).
The palm tree is a symbol of the nations of the world being fed by Israel. James B. Jordan in his book “Through New Eyes” states that the70palm trees represent the nations of the world when the nation of Israel camped at Elim. (Ex. 15:27 and Numbers 33:9). The spiritual water from the 12 water jars (the twelve tribes of Israel)were to nurish the nations of the world and grow a new nation of Palms to replace the counterfeit Jerico (“City of Palm Trees”) which was destroyed.
“Once the counterfeit City of Palm Trees was destroyed, God began to grow His own. Fittingly, Deborah judged Israel under a palm tree (Judges 4:5). When finally grown, the true City of Palms was the Temple, which was frescoed with palms all around inside (Edenic motifs) representing God’s arboreal host (1 Kings 6:29; Ezk 41:18-21; Psalm 92: 12-14; cf. Psalm 52:8) (5)
Tamar Refuses to be Barren
Judah, as a representative of the nation of Israel, refuses to water Tamar (his palm tree) causing her to remain barren, therefore she takes matters into her own hands.
Gen. 38:14 “And she put her widow’s garments off from her, and covered her with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife.(Gen. 38:15) When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face.”
Having heard that Judah had become a widower, she deceives him into believing she is a prostitute. Not recognizing her, Judah requested her services and paid her with a pledge:
Gen 38: 18 He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” She replied, “Your signet and your cord and your staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him.
These were symbols of authority and marks of identification. The seal, cord, and staff were the insignia of a prominent men. “The signet ring or cylinder seal is used to sign contracts; the staff has markings carved on it which are particular to the owner.” (6) The seal was carried on a cord around the neck and used by rolling it over a soft clay document.
With his signet ring or seal and staff, it was possible for her to identify with certainty the father of her child, but when Judah sent his friend back with the goat as a payment, and instructions to retrieve his belongings, the woman could not be found. In fact, nobody had even heard of her. Much to Judah’s chagrin, he had to let the whole matter go, “lest we be shamed” (38:23). (To cover his OWN sin)
Three months later Judah learns that Tamar is pregnant and thought it could only be because she had played the harlot, since he had not provided her a proper husband. Judah decreed that she be put to death. When Tamar appeared for the execution she produced Judah’s seal and staff and said, “Do you recognize these?” Immediately he owned the items along with his responsibility and said, “She is more righteous than I am because I would not give her Shelah my son.”
Her righteousness was to be found in the duty she performed for her dead husband, to raise up offspring to perpetuate his name, something Judah had failed to accomplish. Tamar does this at great personal risk!
Gen 38:27 “When the time of her labor came, there were twins in her womb. 28 And when she was in labor, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 29 But as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out. And she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” Therefore his name was called Perez. 30 Afterward his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah.”
Tamar gives birth to twins
Perez, whose name means “breach”: to breach, gap, bursting forth bursting forth, outburst ;breach ; broken wall, from the root word: Parets which means: gap
Her second son’s name was Zerah which means “shining” and is from the root word Zerach which means “dawning” and “shining” “to rise, come forth, break out, arise, rise up, shine”
Perez (the breakthrought) become an ancestor of the Messiah, Jesus. (Matthew 1:3)
Jesus, The Lord of the Breakthrough
Micah 2:13, “One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head.”
Micah is telling us the Jesus Christ will come and break open our way! He goes up before us and breaks through our gates (or obstacles).
1 Chron 14:8 “And when the Philistines heard that David was anointed king over all Israel, all the Philistines went up to seek David. And David heard of it, and went out against them. 9 And the Philistines came and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim. (Giants) 10 And David inquired of God, saying, Shall I go up against the Philistines? and wilt thou deliver them into mine hand? And the LORD said unto him, Go up; for I will deliver them into thine hand. 11 So they came up to Baalperazim; and David smote them there. Then David said, God hath broken in upon mine enemies by mine hand like the breaking forth of waters: therefore they called the name of that place Baalperazim.” (Which means “lord of the breaks”)
Job 38:8 Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?
When we give birth our water must break first! This happens during labor!!
This story about David in the Valley of the Giants where he is faced with an attack by the Philistine army, is in direct opposition to the story of the Israelites when facing the giants before entering the promised land. (Numbers 13 and 14)
Some of us are in the valley of the giants! We are facing obstacles that are overwhelming and causing us to be unfruitful or unproductive. God desires that we be tenacious like Tamar and not give up. Remember the story Jesus told about the widow and the unjust judge? He granted her petition because of her persistence!
For Tamar it was seed time and she was a fruitful tree who refused to be barren!
Interestingly, both Tamar, who played the role of the harlot, and Ruth the Moabitess, both Gentile women, are named in Matthew in the lineage of Jesus Christ:
Matt 1:2 “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram,4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.”
Jesus is our redeemer in blood! Tamar did whatever she needed to do, even to the point of looking like a harlot, and she became intimate with Judah (whose name means Praise!) and gave birth to one who would be the ancestor of the Messiah. When we become intimate with praise miracles will happen!
When we become intimate with PRAISE the Lord goes before us and breaks through to our SHINNING DAWN!
Psalm 34: 1“I will bless the Lord at ALL times, his praise will continually
be in my mouth!”
Psalm 71:8 My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day.
It was a result of her intimacy with praise which caused her conception and she gave birth to twins (a double portion!) The seed of praise impregnates us with hope and gives birth to a breakthrough and a shining dawn! So arise and shine for your light has come and your breakthrough is at hand!!
1. “Trees and Thorns Studies in Gen 2 -4″ by James B Jordan pg 10
4. Smiths Bible Dictionary
5. “Through New Eyes” James B. Jordan pg. 91