Tamar is the first woman listed in Matthew’s genealogy of Christ — be sure you look at the right Tamar. (There are three Tamar’s mentioned in Scripture — but this one’s story is in Genesis 38.) You may find this story surprising — especially that Tamar, who poses as a prostitute and sleeps with her father-in-law, is commended, both by him — and later, indirectly, by the women of Bethlehem (Ruth 4:12), and finally, by being the first woman in the genealogy of Christ.
Is God condoning prostitution? Incest?
No. But as you read the story in Genesis 38, let me give you a little background and also a clue in order to help you find the answer to the above question.
Family was extremely important in biblical days — and when a woman’s husband died and left her with no children, God had a way for that husband’s name to not die out. A brother or a near kinsman was to marry her and raise up the first son in the late husband’s name. Tamar knew that. She loved her late husband. She knew that her father-in-law had an obligation to help her carry on her late husband’s name. Read the story in Genesis 38 with that in mind.
Then, here’s the clue: It’s actually another question — one posed by Jerram Barrs in his book, “Through His Eyes: God’s Perspective on Women in the Bible.” Dr. Barrs is one of the godliest men I know, a leading professor at Covenant Seminary. His book is one of the best I’ve read on women in the Bible. After his chapter on Tamar, he asks: “What is your response that righteousness is not about observing a set of rules, of holding to legality, or even simply about keeping a written code of morality, but that righteousness is, at its heart, a matter of proving oneself true in relationships?”
I also recommend Tim Keller’s excellent sermon, titled, simply, “Tamar.” You can find it at the sermon store at redeemer.com — It’s 2.50 to download an MP3.
Read Genesis 38 carefully — with this background and Jerram Barr’s thought-provoking question in mind. I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts on “Why did Judah say Tamar was “more righteous” than he was?”