Friday, December 17, 2010

Tamar: rejected widow becomes a mother in the story of Salvation History

The Gospel account of Our Lord’s lineage mentions just three women by name. Obviously, there were other women in the genealogy running parallel to the Old Testament patriarchs, but only three are named.

Tamar, Rahab and Ruth. Foreigners all.

And yet, these women were hand-picked by God and woven into the fabric of Salvation History, becoming part of the greatest royal household that has ever existed.

The first woman mentioned in the genealogical list is Tamar, a Canaanite. When we first see Tamar in Holy Scripture, she is married to Judah’s son, Er. All we know about Er is that he has offended God (though we aren’t given the details), and he pays for the offense with his life. According to levirate law, the next eligible son must step in and marry the widow. His number one duty as the Kinsman Redeemer is to produce an heir for the deceased brother. Onan, younger brother to Er, takes Tamar as his wife, but he is selfish and refuses to father a child with the young widow, because he does not wish to share any of the family inheritance with such an offspring. God takes the life of this husband as well. Tamar turns to Judah for help.

Her father-in-law decides to send Tamar back to her family, but promises to send for her when his younger son is old enough to marry. In time, though, Judah’s own wife dies, and by Levirate law, he is free to marry his own daughter-in-law and provide an heir for his sons’ inheritance. Judah does not send for her.

Tamar waits and waits. She who has been abandoned three times, she who has no hope for a child, she is the one God sees. God chooses Tamar to be named in the line of David, the lineage of Christ, and His will cannot be thwarted by disobedient husbands or a forgetful father-in-law.

One day, Judah passes through Tamar’s town on business. He sees a woman and, thinking she is a prostitute, he lays with her. He does not have the proper payment, so he leaves behind some personal items and promises to send payment.

Months pass. Eventually Judah learns that his sons’ widow is pregnant. Judah is furious. He demands that Tamar pay for her transgression with her life.

Before the sentence can be carried out, Tamar produces the personal items of the one who compromised her. Judah is shocked when he discovers that he is the father of Tamar’s child. Humbled, he admits that his sin is far greater than Tamar’s, and he now does the honorable thing and takes Tamar into his home and cares for her.

Tamar bears him twin sons. Perez and Zerah. Perez becomes the next link in the royal family. An unlikely offspring of an unlikely mother in less than ideal circumstances.

The abandoned and rejected one is raised to a position of noteworthy maternity.

No longer forgotten. Or abandoned. Or rejected.

A symbol of God’s faithfulness, and a symbol that redemption will eventually be extended to all people of all nations. And God will lift us from the mire of sin and shame.


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