The story of Judah and Tamar tells the tale of double standards and evil infesting a family. It’s heartbreaking to see the impacts, which affect multiple generations. And it paints the picture of how needy we are for God’s righteousness and his mercy in our world today…
6 Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.
8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.
11 Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s household until my son Shelah grows up.” For he thought, “He may die too, just like his brothers.” So Tamar went to live in her father’s household.
12 After a long time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Judah had recovered from his grief, he went up to Timnah, to the men who were shearing his sheep, and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went with him.
13 When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,” 14 she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife.
15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16 Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.”
The evil of Judah’s family was so deep that God caused the death of both Er and Onan. I always find this story as the ultimate contrast to Enoch, who was so close to God that God removed him from the earth and took him straight to heaven. Er and Onan, on the other hand, were killed for their wickedness. Immediately our thoughts go to the question of why God doesn’t knock off several wicked people we are thinking of today…
Be careful what you wish for. And figure out first whether you’re more of and Enoch or an Er before you sign up for hasty justice.
Judah did not provide his third son to Tamar as he had promised, and Tamar, who perhaps has learned a few tricks from Er and Onan, hatches a plan to act as a prostitute to trick Judah into sleeping with her. It works, and Tamar becomes pregnant, finally, securing children from Judah’s family. Was it worth it, Tamar?
And Judah, who has a mighty double standard, is ready to set her on fire when he finds out she was a prostitute. He had no difficulty using a prostitute himself, yet the idea that his daughter-in-law would prostitute herself is punishable by death.
Herein lies the issue. Every prostitute is someone’s daughter. Or daughter-in-law. Or mother. And I’m not sure that this mistaken concept of right and wrong has evolved very far to today. I don’t know people in the sex trade, and I don’t know people whose children have entered the sex trade to ask them. I do know, however, that we judge sin in the public setting and then we secretly commit the same sin in the private setting.
Paul calls us on this in Romans 2:1,”You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” This is a human problem.
And it’s only through the grace and mercy of Jesus that we can be accepted ourselves and then accept other people who are as broken as we are. The story of Judah and Tamar is a sad, sad story. Judah is caught in his own lie at the end of the story, and he admits she is more righteous than him. To me, the damage is already done and the impacts are multi-generational…