So, You Think Your Family Has Issues!

The Story of Judah and Tamar
(Genesis 38)

If you have ever read the Book of Genesis, you may notice that it seems chapter 38 takes an abrupt detour from the preceding and following chapters.  Genesis Chapter 37 ends with Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers and Genesis Chapter 39 picks up with Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. Tucked in between these two events is a very ‘Scandalous” Harlequin Romance-like story about Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar.  God knew that his Son Jesus was coming through the loins of Judah, however, the “how” took a lot of interesting twists and turns. What a great depiction of how God’s Will is always done!

The Characters

a. Judah – Jacob’s fourth son of Leah who separated himself from the family business and started up his own establishment thirty miles away among the Canaanites. He married a Canaanite woman by whom he had three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah.

b. Tamar – A young Hebrew woman who had married into the family of Judah. Her first husband died, punished by God for an unnamed crime. Under the Levirate Law that protected widows from poverty, she could have sexual intercourse with her husband’s younger brother to keep the namesake alive.

c. Er: Husband of Tamar, eldest son of Judah and his heir. Little is known about him, but he apparently committed some crime that offended God so much that He put him to death.

d. Onan: Second son of Judah, with a duty to have sexual intercourse with Tamar until she conceived and had a son. If she had a son, Onan’s own inheritance would be greatly lessened. He ‘spilled his seed’, as a form on contraception, so that she could not conceive. He chose disobedience rather than law-abiding justice, and was punished by God.

e. Shelah: Judah’s youngest son whom he refused to give to Tamar to perform the required duties.

f. Perez and Zerah: The twin sons of Tamar and Judah. Through Perez, Tamar became the direct forbearer of King David and Jesus the Messiah (See the book of Ruth)

The Plot

The chosen line of Jesus ancestry was to be pure Hebrew without mixing of other races.

  • Abraham, the first source, had insisted that Isaac marry a Hebrew woman
  • Jacob in his turn also married into the same family.
  • Judah was pure Hebrew, but married a Canaanite and his sons were of mixed race

Tamar is a Hebrew and not a Canaanite name and it is fairly certain that Tamar was a Hebrew, a descendant of one of Abraham’s numerous sons by Keturah or of Nahor. Possibly Tamar perceived what Judah had not realized, that the only way in which the line of Judah could be continued into succeeding generations in a manner pleasing to the Lord was through Judah himself.

Therefore, Tamar acted in a proper manner. Under the Levirate law, if Shelah was not to play the husband’s part towards her, then it was the duty of the next relative to do so — Judah himself. Tamar therefore was perfectly entitled to require that he assumed the obligation, just as Ruth did to Boaz after the unnamed “nearer kinsman” had declined to do so.

Therefore Tamar posed as a prostitute and Judah not knowing who it was went into to her and she conceived.  In Gen 38:26 when the truth came out that Judah was the father, he admitted that Tamar had been more faithful than he since he refused to give her his youngest son to marry.

The Epilogue

Do we see how the Holy Spirit may have motivated Tamar in giving herself willingly to a man old enough to be her father. Had she not done what she did, the line of Judah might have become extinct. The ordained genealogy of the Jesus through the tribe of Judah what have been frustrated.

We often become so concerned about the method or conditions surrounding how a child is brought into the world that we lose sight of the fact that God’s ways are not our ways. The story of Judah and Tamar is just one of several twists and turns that took place in the forty-two generation lineage of Jesus the Messiah!

He that has an Ear, Let him hear….


Larry Watlington

Teacher – Alpha & Omega CWC