The story of Tamar in the Bible is intriguing. It’s a story of struggle and loss.
But it is also a daring and dangerous story of risk, courage and victory.
Through the story of Tamar and Judah, God shows up in ways that can only be described as grace.
Let’s dig in.
The story of Tamar in the Bible verses
There are two well-known Tamar’s in the Bible. This post is about the very first one mentioned in the Bible.
The Bible verses about this Tamar are:
- Genesis 38
- Ruth 4:12
- 1 Chronicles 2:4
- Matthew 1:3
The story of Judah and Tamar in the Bible
The story of Judah and Tamar seems to pop out of nowhere in the middle of Joseph’s story. It might seem random but it’s not.
First, this account seems to unfold while Joseph’s life in Egypt was also unfolding.
But while we get a detailed version of what’s going on with Joseph, we only get the quick version of the story of Judah and Tamar.
Second, this account is the story of Jesus. Read on to find out about the significance of Judah and Tamar in the genealogy of Jesus.
Summary of the story of Judah and Tamar in the Bible
After Joseph is sold into slavery, Judah went off to another town in Canaan and moves on with his life. He found a wife there and had three sons who were named Er, Onan, and Shelah.
When his first, Er, was old enough to marry, he found a Canaanite wife for him. Enter Tamar.
Scripture says Er was wicked so God killed him. As is customary, Onan should have stepped up, married Tamar and given her children so that Er’s name could be carried on through the generations.
However, Onan is satisfied with just having sex with Tamar without getting her pregnant.
And God allows him too to die.
Tamar was now a widow twice over.
Judah promised Tamar that when Shelah was old enough, he would give his last son to her.
Judah never fulfilled his promise and it forced Tamar to get creative.
At some point, Judah’s wife died, leaving him a widower. While he went off to a nearby town, Tamar put her creativity and cunning into action.
She dressed up life a prostitute and placed herself where Judah could have seen her.
Because Tamar is completely covered, Judah did not suspect anything.
Before she had sex with him, she asked for insurance in the form of items which belonged him. Judah promised that he would pay her later on with a young goat but in the meantime, she could hold on to his things.
When Judah sent back his friend with the goat, the ‘prostitute’ was nowhere to be found.
Three months later, it was discovered that Tamar was pregnant. Judah was quite angry and was ready to have Tamar severely punished.
But then Tamar sent Judah’s things with a messenger telling them that her pregnancy was by the man who owned those things.
Judah was thoroughly embarrassed. He admitted his guilt and sin and released Tamar from judgement.
Tamar gave birth to twin boys: Perez and Zerah.
Lessons from Tamar in the Bible
Now, what can we learn from the story of Judah and Tamar in the Bible?
Let’s review some lessons for life, relationships and faith.
The greed and selfishness of others can stand in the way of your destiny
One of the first things that stood out to me about the story of Tamar in the Bible was the level of greed and selfishness that threatened to destroy her life and destiny.
Take Onan’s behavior for example.
His responsibility was to take Tamar as a wife AND impregnate her.
According to Hebrew law, this was his obligation. Read Deuteronomy 25:5-10.
So what was Onan’s problem?
With his older brother dead, he stood to inherit that portion of land and estate.
But if Tamar were to have children, they would be attributed to her dead husband, Onan’s brother.
The estate would remain with Tamar and her children and Onan would get none of it.
So instead of creating his brother’s lineage, he manipulated and used Tamar for sexual gratification.
It can be hard to be in a situation where it seems you are not in control of your destiny.
Truth is, you aren’t.
But neither is the person who is trying to destroy your life’s destiny.
And anyone who tries to stand in God’s way or tries to hinder his work in your life will be dealt with by God.
Be careful of people who want the fun without the responsibility
Here is another life lesson from the story of Tamar in the Bible that we can learn from the situation with Onan.
Onan was satisfying himself with Tamar’s body but the one thing she needed to get from him was being withheld from her.
Onan was just having fun at Tamar’s expense but didn’t want the responsibility of fathering more children.
This relates to choosing someone to marry as well as choosing friends.
Some people look at you and know you have something great to offer.
So they latch on to you and hook their wagon to yours so they can benefit from you.
But the benefit is a one-way street. They get what they want from you but you don’t get what you need from them.
That amounts to you being taken advantage of. Pretty soon, just like Tamar, you will feel the burden of it.
Or, maybe you already are feeling it.
Some relationships are designed to be a one-way street. Designed for you not to get anything back from the other person.
Like if you volunteer at a soup kitchen for example or if you have young children. It’s all about the giving.
But, there are some very important relationships in life that were never designed to be this way.
Marriage is one of them.
Relationships with good girlfriends too.
Evaluate all your relationships now.
Are they mutually beneficial?
If not, you have some work of shedding to do.
Sometimes generational curses are at work in your life.
In the story of Tamar in the Bible, there is a not-so-obvious reality of the presence of a generational curse.
Let me explain.
Tamar’s life was affected by the generational curse of deception and dishonesty.
Jacob, Judah’s father, deceived his brother Esau.
Judah had been a part of the plot that led he and his brothers to deceive their father regarding the death of Joseph when they had in reality sold him into slavery.
In fact, it was Judah’s idea to sell Joseph. And it would seem that after he did that deed, he went off, found a wife, married and started his family.
Tamar had married into a family that was dysfunctional and toxic.
And unfortunately, she also had to resort to deception in order to get what was rightly hers.
Tamar had little option about whom she married. But the times are different now. You have a choice.
Ensure you get to know the history of the family you’re getting tied to. Don’t think you will escape the generational curses coming down through your new family.
If you know what the curses are, then you know how to go to battle to break them.
And they certainly are breakable because there is still a God who is mighty.
God can use a messy situation to accomplish his purpose
Since the time Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God made a promise.
The promise was that he would send a Savior into the world to save it.
Jesus was the gift that would accomplish all that.
There were multiple prophecies about Jesus. One of them was that Jesus would be born through the lineage of Judah.
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Micah 5:3
If you survey Judah’s character, you will see he’s not the kind of guy you want in your corner.
Remember, it was his idea to sell Joseph into slavery.
He has no ounce of love or care for Tamar whom he should have been treating like the daughter he never had.
Judah was so dishonest that Tamar had to scheme and connive to get what belonged to her. Because of Judah, she was led into the sin of incest.
This does not seem like the kind of situation that would lead to the fulfillment of a holy and divine promise.
BUT, God works through even messy situations to fulfill his own promise of sending Jesus through the line of Judah.
The LORD said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.” Jeremiah 1:12
Situation in your life looking a little dim?
Feeling God’s promises aren’t worth a thing based on what’s going on?
Stand back and watch God move.
God can use anybody to fulfill his promise
Tamar wasn’t Hebrew. She was a Canaanite woman. We do not know whether Tamar came to believe in Jehovah but what we know is that she was bent on having children.
Whether she desired motherhood to secure her future or to save her reputation among women, God had his hand in her desperation.
It’s not clear whether or not Judah knew that the Savior of the world would come through his bloodline.
But what seems clear is that he had no sense of urgency in ensuring his own bloodline would continue.
His attitude and character were jeopardizing God’s grand plan and promise.
Shelah, Judah’s last son, was the last chance for the continuing of the genealogy.
Or so we think.
So what does God do?
He does not intervene when Tamar is stirred up and becomes so desperate that she plans to take down Judah while taking what was already hers.
We can see the enemy at work, trying to destroy the seed from which Jesus was to come.
The enemy is always trying to use human weaknesses to destroy God’s plan and God’s people.
I assure you, God didn’t approve of Tamar’s choice to commit incest. This was never a part of God’s grand and perfect plan.
But God allowed a woman with a terrible, sinful plan to battle the enemy.
The prophecy concerning Jesus was being derailed and endangered but Tamar’s awful plan got them back on track.
Tamar was no more or less sinful than Judah or you or me.
But God can use even that to bring him glory.
But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Romans 3:5-7
When your destiny is being threatened, you have to get radical.
We have already discussed that Tamar’s method was not only unorthodox but it was also unethical and immoral.
We are free to judge Tamar for the way she went about getting pregnant.
You see, Tamar took a long, hard look at her future and she could see that it was not going to be a pleasant life.
Since Tamar was a widow, unless she was married and had children, she would spend the rest of her life as a widow.
The life of a widow without children was nothing desire.
She would perhaps remain in her father’s house or if her family died and nobody else married her, she would end up living on the edge of society, scavenging just to feed herself or depending on the goodness and sympathy of people.
Tamar had to get radical and think outside the box to ensure she had children before her childbearing years passed and her destiny was permanently frozen in time.
Now, I’m not telling you to trap a man with a baby because you are convinced he’s your husband.
But what I am saying is that if you find yourself in a situation where you feel like your God-driven purpose is being threatened, it’s time to get radical.
Think outside the box in ways that are guided by the Holy Spirit.
Ask God to show you what to do. He’ll give direction.
Your God-given desires can be fulfilled but it will not happen unless you get moving. Once you get moving, God can step in and do His part.
God sees the unloved and the rejected
It almost seems that Judah was blaming Tamar for the death of his first two sons.
Those men died because of their own wickedness yet Tamar was being saddled and burdened with the consequences of the choice they made.
Talk about lack of responsibility and scapegoating!
Judah had no real love in his heart for her as a daughter.
He was willing to have her burned when she was found to be pregnant but he didn’t see his own sin.
Perhaps Judah thought she was cursed or something (my imagination running wild here).
But God does not leave Tamar to suffer. He specializes in people like Tamar.
The abused. The rejected. The unloved. The ignored.
As I said before, God sometimes does not intervene in terrible situations so that his will might be done.
He blessed Tamar with the wisdom to ask for insurance from Judah before she had sex with him.
This is what allowed her life to be saved when she is found to be 3 months pregnant.
God vindicated her.
And God shows up as well by allowing her to have the double blessing of twin boys!
Tamar’s future is now more secure than it had ever been for years.
Tamar in Jesus’ genealogy
How is Tamar related to Jesus?
Tamar gave birth to twin boys. They were named Perez and Zerah. In Matthew 1:3 and Luke 3:33, Perez is listed in the genealogy of Jesus.
Judah and Tamar family tree
The story of Judah and Tamar seems to drop into Joseph’s story very arbitrarily.
It almost seems out of place but it isn’t.
As I said before, the events of Judah and Joseph’s life were likely happening simultaneously. But more importantly, the Bible writer wanted to keep us abreast of salvation story, the story of how Jesus came to save us.
Judah and Tamar’s story is important because we learn about the development of the genealogy of Jesus as is outlined in the book of Matthew.
Here is a graphical representation of Judah and Tamar’s family tree and how it is connected to the genealogy of Jesus.
Importance of Tamar in the Bible
By studying the women of the Bible I have noticed a theme.
Firstly, it’s important to understand that the Bible is one story. Its aim is to tell us salvation story.
Jesus is the center of the story of salvation so the whole Bible is about Him.
I could not help but recognize how God works through messed up families. God constantly used women who were not raised to believe in Him, who were ostracized by society, neglected by family, and abused by men.
- Rahab was a pagan prostitute.
- Leah was unloved by her husband.
- Bathsheba was abused by David.
- Tamar was neglected and abused by Judah.
All of these women were in the genealogy of Jesus in some way.
No matter who you are or where you have been or what you have been through, God wants you to be a part of HIS story.
He does not need anybody’s permission to include you and to lift you up.
There is nothing that you have experienced that can separate you from God’s love and from His desire to make up a part of his family tree.
Final words on Tamar in the Bible
Tamar’s story took us through so many emotional twists and turns. Hers is a story of drama and trauma. But it is also one of courage and inspiration.
From her life, we can learn that God will address those who want to stand in the way of your destiny, God will work through messy situations and unlikely people to fulfill his promises.
But the chief takeaway is that Jesus wants us to be a part of his family tree. In fact, you and I are already a part of his family tree. We have been adopted into his family when we first believed.
And how is that for some encouragement?