Skip to main content

January 15, 2020

| Jim Cantelon |

Jesus’ Ancestors (1:1-17) Part 7

Judah married Er to a young Canaanite woman named Tamar. Their marriage was short-lived. Er died. So Judah ordered his n ext son, Onan to have sex with Tamar in order “to raise up offspring for your brother.” This was what we know as “levirate marriage” (more on that later). Onan complied with his father’s command but not fully. Whenever he ejaculated he withdrew (“coitus interruptus”) and “spilled his semen on the ground.” He “knew the child would not be his.” We’re told, “what he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight”, and so God is credited with his death.

So the patriarch consigns Tamar to widowhood — a fate worse than death in that culture — and tells her to wait until Shelah is old enough to father children. Tamar submits to Judah’s instruction and goes home, disgraced, to live with her parents.

Shortly thereafter Judah himself is widowed. Then, after the mourning period, he sets out to find his workers who are shearing his sheep. Tamar hears that her father-in-law is on the road. She quickly discards her widow’s garments, dresses as a prostitute, and intercepts him. He propositions her. She accepts, but demands a “pledge” or “IOU” that will guarantee Judah’s compliance in sending her a “goat” for payment. He gives her this “seal and its cord”, and the “staff in his hand”. This was quite extravagant — It would be like surrendering your driver’s license and credit cards. Judah was already awash in guilt, apparently.

A few months later Judah is told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution and as a result she is now pregnant.” Judah responds angrily, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!” When she is confronted she coolly replies, “I am pregnant by the man who owns these” and she produces the seal and staff of Judah. Judah embarrassed, replies, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t giver her my son Shelah.” Tamar, exonerated, gives birth to twins Perez and Zerah. Perez becomes a progenitor of the kings of Judah. Truly, “God moves in mysterious ways.”