Relationships – Tamar and Judah

At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah. There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and made love to her; she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was named Er. She conceived again and gave birth to a son and named him Onan. She gave birth to still another son and named him Shelah. It was at Kezib that she gave birth to him.
Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.
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.” 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. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.
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.
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.
When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,” 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.
When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 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.”
“And what will you give me to sleep with you?” she asked.
“I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” he said.
“Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?” she asked.
He said, “What pledge should I give you?”
“Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,” she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow’s clothes again.
Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back from the woman, but he did not find her. He asked the men who lived there, “Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?”
“There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here,” they said.
So he went back to Judah and said, “I didn’t find her. Besides, the men who lived there said, ‘There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here.’”
Then Judah said, “Let her keep what she has, or we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you didn’t find her.”
About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.”
Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”
As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”
Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again.
When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.” But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, “So this is how you have broken out!” And he was named Perez. Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out. And he was named Zerah.

  • Genesis 38:1-30

Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,

Perez the father of Hezron,

Hezron the father of Ram,

  • Matthew 1:3

If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.
However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.

  • Deuteronomy 25:5-10

A Quote

[Genesis 38, verses 6-10 in more detail] ”The Judah Interlude, as it is sometimes known, is bracketed by references to the sale of Joseph to Potiphar (37:36; 39:1). Such a parenthesis in the Joseph story demands some reason why a chapter laced with wickedness, immorality, and subterfuge should of necessity be placed in this spot. The answer is that the events recorded are chronologically in the right place, being contemporary with the time of Joseph’s slavery in Egypt (v. 1, ‘at that time’). The account is also genealogically in the right place, i.e., with Joseph gone (seemingly for good), with Reuben, Simeon, and Levi out of favor (for incest and for treachery), Judah would most likely accede to firstborn status. It provides a contrast because it also demonstrates the immoral character of Judah, as compared with the virtue of Joseph. Canaanite syncretistic religion and inclusivism threatened to absorb the fourth and later generations of Abraham’s heirs, but Egyptian exile and racial exclusivism produced not loss of their ethnic identity, but the preservation of it. …
[Genesis 38:6-10] Two sons were executed by the Lord, one for unspecified wickedness and one for deliberate and rebellious rejection of the duty to marry a relative’s widow, called a levirate marriage. This was a rather dubious distinction for the Line of Judah to gain. For details on levirate marriage according to later Mosaic Law, see … Deuteronomy 25:5-10 …”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary

What Do We Know about their Relationship?

Note: This may be a lot like the relationship between Abram and Hagar referring to the love relationship, but the concept of a levirate marriage predates its inclusion in the Mosaic Law.  As such, the relationship between Tamar and Judah’s sons is instructive.  And maybe some misconceptions exist (or not).

Judah was married with two grown sons and a third son nearly of age.  Tamar was married to the first son, Er.  Er was wicked and the Lord took his life.  As per levirate marriage, Onan, the second son, married Tamar to produce an heir for Tamar, but he spilled his seed, and the Lord took his life.  The third son, Shelah, was to be the next, but Judah felt Tamar to be the problem, a black widow of sorts.  He refused the marital union, claiming Shelah not old enough.

Tamar then dresses as a shrine prostitute and tricks Judah into having sex with her.  She accepts a goat to be delivered as payment for this sexual act, but she requires a pledge from Judah, his seal, cord, and staff.  When the goat is “delivered” they not only cannot find the shrine prostitute, but they learn that there never was a shrine prostitute at that location.  Judah has been made a fool.  Later, when it is obvious that Tamar is pregnant, Judah challenges her, threatening to put her to death, but she shows him his staff, seal, and cord.  She gives birth to twins, Perez and Zerah.  While Zerah’s hand came out first, it was withdrawn, and Perez came out first.

What Can We Infer about their Relationship?

First, we have levirate marriage established before the Mosaic Law was handed down from God.  Second, false god worship is in full swing with shrine prostitutes.  Thus, outside the Judeo-Christian ethic, sexual perversion and prostitution are linked to false religious practices in those ancient days.

It is not much of an inference to state that Judah has fallen away from the worship of the true God and joined his wife in the worship of false gods, just as many generations did after him.  Rev. MacArthur’s inference in the quote that the move to Egypt, even with the slavery, caused the sons of Israel to reunite, preserving the tradition of worshipping the true God, at least for a while as the worship of the Egyptian gods gets the waters muddied early in the exodus.

Judah is also far from righteous, as he admits, granting Tamar as more righteous than he, but Judah, in this case, is not honorable.  Later, as mentioned last week, he offers himself to be the slave of Pharoah’s governor, not knowing he is Joseph, but here, he will not risk his third son, violating the principle of the levirate marriage.

In What Ways Can We Fill in the Gaps about their Relationship?

As Rev. MacArthur states, Er was killed due to unspecified wickedness, but the wickedness of Onan is quite clear.  Yet, people get it wrong.  I have heard various resources call masturbation, Onan’s sin.  First, Onan’s sin was greed, megalomania, and selfishness.  He wanted the birthright of the first born, and if Tamar remained childless, he could get it.  Second, he slept with Tamar.  He did not simply masturbate.  We can see that Onan had sex with her to debase and humiliate her, but he withdrew, spilling his seed.  This, in his eyes, preserved him as being the heir, but it let Tamar know that she would be barren.  Unless he died, and he did.  Thus, masturbation was possibly not involved, and it totally misses the point of why Onan died as a result.

And as for the relationship between Tamar and Judah, Tamar and Judah have about the same type of “relationship” as did Abram and Hagar.  Judah had sex with what he thought was a shrine prostitute and they never had sexual relations ever again.  Now, we could fill in the gaps in that Tamar was the mother and Judah was the father and their relationship with their boys was nothing different than any other married relationship.  Yet, sexual activity was not present.  Often married couples stop that physical aspect of their relationship, but the love lingers on.  In this case, in filling in the gaps, we could indeed see Judah respecting Tamar, and in that sense, their relationship may have been even stronger than a physical one.

What Can We Learn from this Relationship?

If Judah and Tamar had a respectful relationship (painting broad strokes between the lines), we can learn a great deal from this relationship.  Outside the one instance using trickery, there was no physical element, but there was a different type of love.  It is hard, with the physical relationship totally off the table, to consider that they had a romance, but to respect each other in a loving way is how we should treat our spouse, with or without the physical element.

And our relationship with God is much in the same vein.  We must honor, respect, and love God for who He is and what He has done for us and how He loves us.  A romance is not part of this type of love, it goes much deeper than romantic love.

What Have We Learned thus far?

In shifting this section a bit, we have learned to:

  • Own our own mistakes and not blame others.
  • Be faithful to God, and worship properly, in the proper spirit.
  • Do not show favoritism among family members, but always go to God.
  • Forgiveness is extremely important for none of us are perfect except for God.
  • Beyond physical love, there are other expressions of love, and respect is very important.
  • And to love, love, and love.

A Closing Prayer

We are sometimes like Judah in that we stray, straying far away in some cases.  But You love us and You draw us back to You.  When we are unrighteous and dishonorable, even then You can make things work out for the good.  You put a provision on that promise “to those who love the Lord” but in some cases, we can see things that happen in our lives prior to accepting you as our Savior and loving You.  You have been with us since conception, loving us, so that we would come to love You.  Thank You so much for Your love.
In Thy Name we pray,

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.


Add yours →

  1. Good post and take. I appreciate you talking about Judah’s love for Tamar in way that is not sexual after the incident occurred. I thought this is a good take on the passage, no obligation to hear it by the way just wanted to make it available:

    Liked by 1 person

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