When Tamar was told, "Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep," she put off her widow’s garments, put on a veil, wrapped herself up, and sat down at the entrance to Enaim.
If you have never read this rare and wonderful story, open a Bible to Chapter 38 and meet Tamar, a bold and spirited heroine. Some of its details do not set examples we should follow, but its message certainly does.
Judah, a child of Jacob, has three sons. The oldest son marries Tamar and then dies, leaving her childless. Observing the rite of Leverite marriage, her brother-in-law marries Tamar, but then he too dies, leaving Judah with one remaining son. Judah is loathe to wed the last of his sons to Tamar, for fear that he will lose this child as well.
He sends Tamar home to her father, an act which leaves Tamar essentially an outcast: no husband, no son, no future. She is the classic helpless, powerless victim…in most stories, but not in this one!
Tamar acts, boldly, deviously and effectively. She pretends to be a temple prostitute and waits for Judah at Enaim, which is on the way to Timnah, where Judah is headed. Judah asks for her services and Tamar becomes pregnant with twin sons, one of whom is in King David’s lineage. When Tamar’s life is threatened for being pregnant out of wedlock, she exposes Judah’s role, and he acquiesces, admitting in a remarkable statement: "She is more in the right than I am."(38:26)
Walter Brueggemann comments on this story, remarking,“Thus a striking contrast is established between this man who has standing and status in the community and this woman who stands outside the law and is without legal recourse.” A striking example is also shown of powerlessness acting to reverse the status quo.
One is reminded of the women in Jesus’ parables, particularly the persistent widow who would not relent until the wicked judge granted her request. Brueggemann says, "It takes no imagination to know where in this story Jesus would have found ‘his folks.’" This is not to glorify Tamar’s action, but to acknowledge with gratitude her grit and determination that justice be done. No wonder she is one of only four women named in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.
For those who risk shame, humiliation and defeat for the sake of justice and mercy, we thank you, O God. Amen.
Copyright © 2010 Margaret Jones.