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(Image credit: Gelder, Aert de - Tamar and Judah; Public Domain)
Tamar (alternately spelled Thamar) was the wife of Er, the firstborn of Judah, who was the fourth son of Jacob. Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, was the son of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham. Jacob fathered twelve sons who became the twelve tribes which comprise the nation of Israel. Er died and according to the Law of Moses regarding marriage, a man was required to marry the widow of his brother, if the brother dies with no male heir. (Note 1) This was to be done to preserve the name and estate of the deceased. Therefore, Onan, Ers brother married Tamar. But Onan also died.
Judah, the father-in-law had a third son, Shelah. At the time of Onans death, Shelah was too young to marry. Being fully aware of the law and its requirements, Judah promised Tamar that when Shelah was old enough, he would give her to him in marriage. But when the time came, Judah did not honor his word and obey the law. In desperation to conceive a son who would preserve her late husbands name and estate, Tamar disguised herself as a harlot (a prostitute) and offered her services to Judah. She became pregnant with twin sons. Months later, when Judah was informed of Tamars pregnancy, he demanded that she brought out publicly and put to death; the penalty for whoredom. IT WAS THE LAW!!!
When Tamar proved that Judah, her father-in-law, was the father of her unborn, Judah publicly acknowledged his own guilt. Because he had not allowed Shelah to marry Tamar, he was the outlaw. Tamar was fully vindicated. She had obeyed the law and was judged as not having committed any act deserving of punishment; particularly punishment by death. Tamar was acknowledged as being righteous, because she was determined to preserve her late husbands family line. The names of the twin sons were Perez (or Phares) and Zerah (or Zara) recorded in the Gospel of Matthew as follows: And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar (Matt 1: 3)
Tamar understood her duty, and she also knew her rights and the rights of the dead. The scriptures do not indicate that she conspired or consulted with anyone for advice. She determined what needed to be done in order to right a wrong and had the courage to follow through.
Note 1: Among the Hebrews marriage with a brother's widow was forbidden as a general rule (Lev. xviii. 16, xx. 21), but was regarded as obligatory (Deut. xxv. 56) when there was no male issue, and when the two brothers had been dwelling on the same family.
- The scriptural references provided can be used to piece together Tamar's real life story. GEN 38: 6, 24; RUTH 4: 12; 1 CHRON 2: 4; MATT 1: 3
- "Seekers of the Promised Land." Great People of the Bible and How They Lived. Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Association, 1974.
- Youngblood, Ronald F., F. F. Bruce, and R. K. Harrison. Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1995.