Women of Hope: Tamar

Soon I will no longer be able to hide that I am with child. What will I do? It’s bad enough to be sent shamefully back to the house of my father. A woman should live with her husband’s family – even if he no longer lives. My father. He will not live with anymore shame because of me. When he learns of my state, he will give me over to the Pharisees. I will be put to death.

Maybe this is my fault. Maybe I should not have allowed my father-in-law to think me a prostitute. Maybe I should not have lain with him, but Judah denied me my rights as his son’s wife. The Law is my only covering as a widow – I am to marry my husband’s brother. So why cast me out? Why send me back to my father?

For a man of God, Judah has failed to trust Yahweh in His provision for heirs. I was so proud to be part of his tribe, to be part of the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But look at me now. Shame rules my days. Fear holds me in its tight grip. 

Oh, that my desperate act will not be the end of me and these little ones. Surely, my story does not end here. Lord Almighty, I no longer put my hope in Judah. I put my hope in You.

Tamar’s story may be the most confusing one of the entire Bible (Genesis 38). When we read its words through a twenty-first century lens, nothing about it seems holy or even right. But, when we understand Tamar’s world as a patriarchal, tribal culture that’s governed by the Law of Moses, we begin to see her choices as bold. And brave. 

When her first husband dies, the Law says Tamar is to marry his brother in order to have a child who would carry on her dead husband’s legacy (Genesis 38:8; Deuteronomy 25:5-6). When Judah’s second son chooses to dishonor God and his dead brother by not giving Tamar an heir (Genesis 38:9; eww!), God kills him. Then Judah panics, fearing that Tamar will bring death to his last son, so he sends her home to her father (Genesis 38:11). In their culture, that is not how it’s done. At all.

And Judah knows it. It’s why when he finds out that the “prostitute” he thought he slept with is actually Tamar, he calls her righteous because she had the fortitude to make the situation right when he did not (Genesis 38:26). “In her own culture it was Judah who was worthy of rebuke … Judah was the villain; Tamar was the courageous (albeit a bit audacious!) heroine.”1 

Tamar’s actions might be shocking to our modern sensibilities, but without a man over her, she would have no covering, no protection, no provision. In her day, women without a husband or sons became beggars or prostitutes, and she didn’t care for either of those options. So, she put a plan into motion – and her hope in God. 

Desperation and Redemption

Tamar’s story depicts events we might not relate to culturally, but we understand how fear can lead to decisions made out of desperation. 

A chapter of my own story is about a time when I was desperate to save a relationship. Fear taunted me – one day telling me to run. The next day, to cling, nag, beg – do whatever it took to keep what I had. But desperation pushed me to do the bravest thing I could. I turned to the One I fully trusted. I surrendered to His bold call to let it all go, and with trembling hands, I gave back the engagement ring. 

Looking back, I can see I never lost hope for God to redeem the broken things, but I didn’t know how He would work it out. I had to choose to walk in faith, to surrender a future I had counted on in order to trust the one God promised would be good – even though it remained unknown to me. Truly, at the time I was in such a state that I would have done whatever He asked of me. So to consider Tamar’s life-and-death situation, I can only imagine the depths of her desperation.

Forced beyond her limits, Tamar’s response ends up pushing Judah out of complacency and fear, into a response that reflects a reverence for both her and the God he’d been ignoring for years. And, God – His response leads to the redemption of this family so they could continue to carry a mighty mantle into the future (Genesis 49:10). 

Photo from Canva

The Scarlet Thread

When we read the Bible as one story – God’s story – we begin to see patterns unfold into larger themes and motifs that create layers of meanings. Like the tiny, scarlet thread that’s tucked into Tamar’s narrative. Wrapped around the wrist of her baby boy at his birth, this red cord becomes a clue, a connector of the past, present, and future. 

Eyes to the past, we see that much like Judah’s twins, Isaac’s sons were born with some jostling and confusion. Isaac’s firstborn, Esau, described as a “red” child, came out of the womb with his brother, Jacob, holding tightly to his ankle (Genesis 25:26), foreshadowing Jacob’s taking of the firstborn’s inheritance. 

For Tamar, when Zerah’s little hand appears first, a scarlet thread signifies him as the firstborn. But, then his hand reenters the womb, confusion ensues, and Perez emerges first, taking on the firstborn’s place and rights.

Thus, the red thread begins its weaving – tying stories together, helping us see connections among them. Firstborn sons and inheritances. Births and the color red. 

Looking to the future, the generations after Tamar considered her blessed, as we see in a prayer spoken over Ruth, “may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah” (Ruth 4:12). But, what those who offered the blessing could not have known that day was Perez continued a line of men who become ancestors to the Messiah. In other words, we are given assurance that Tamar’s actions were honored by God. And, in case we’re still doubtful, Matthew cleverly includes Tamar in his genealogy of Christ, setting her into a history full of faithful people. 

Tamar – the foreign, forgotten widow – becomes a forerunner of Jesus, the Firstborn of All Creation (Colossians 1:15), the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:9-10; Revelation 5:5), the One to bring a heavenly inheritance to all God’s people by the shedding of His most precious, red blood (Ephesians 1:13-14). 

As a woman of hope, Tamar models for us a way of living by faith in the midst of our desperate situations. While her scarlet thread is but one cord that weaves in and out of God’s larger story, it ensures that Tamar’s narrative will be honored and spoken for all time – because she placed her hope in the One who responds and redeems. And so shall we.

Father God, we thank you for stories like Tamar’s that stretch our way of thinking and give us a fuller picture of who You are. You don’t judge Tamar’s desperate, forgotten state. You don’t shame her for her choices. Instead, You meet her in her desperation and redeem her situation – all the while paving a way for Messiah. How we marvel at the way You work all things together for good. Lord Jesus, it’s amazing to see You woven into the stories that came hundreds of years before your birth. Such intentional weaving of patterns builds our faith and gives us hope for futures we cannot see. Thank You for coming alongside us, just as you did Tamar, and for reminding us that You made us – wonderfully and fearfully. So, we never have to doubt your love, your nearness. There is nowhere we can hide from You – there is no shame great enough to separate us from You. Holy Spirit, You may not be named in Tamar’s story, but we see the way You sustained her with strength, resolve, boldness – and hope. Thank You for being our covering, our protection as we move about our desperate days. May we continue to put our hope in You and be strengthened by You. In Jesus’ name, amen.
(Inspired by Genesis 38; 49:10; Romans 8:1, 10, 28, 38-39, 10:11; Jeremiah 29:11; Psalm 139:5, 13-15; Psalm 91:1-2; Isaiah 40:31; songs: “Wonderfully Made” and “My Hope Is In You”)

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

  • 1 – Quote from Epic of Eden by Sandra Richter.^
  • On our “Women of Hope” playlist I have chosen two songs to represent Tamar — but maybe you’re beginning to see that most of these songs contain similar themes of faith, hope, and courage. I do love Ellie Holcomb’s “Wonderfully Made” for Tamar because I can nearly hear Tamar’s voice as the lyrics are sung — how much she needed to be reminded that she was made for purpose, that God saw the good in her. The song “My Hope Is in You” could very well have been Tamar’s prayer. It can certainly be ours.
  • Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:
    • This summer we’re continuing the rhythm of meditation. We’re filling our minds with our anchoring passage, Hebrews 11:1. Let’s stick with the NIV one more week so that we can ponder with the Spirit about the assurance He offers us for all we do not see.

      Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!

Featured photo: The painting, “A Veiled Beauty” by Frederick Arthur Bridgman. Bits and Pieces photo by Photo by Zrng N Gharib on Unsplash.

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Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

4 thoughts on “Women of Hope: Tamar

  1. Have you read Legacy of Grace by Francine Rivers? She creates the back stories—much like you did—for Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary.
    Thank you for artfully sharing your gifts—and for skillfully challenging my own heart.

    Sent from my iPhone

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