I apologize for the late delivery of this blog post. Monday is usually the day I publish new material, but a nasty cold took me down earlier this week. Now I’m wondering if it wasn’t for the sake of what I discovered.
I’m studying Tamar’s story, and I’m seeing how an overwhelming lack of understanding of her tale is playing out across our world right now. You’ll want to pause and read Genesis/B’reisheet 38 if you’re not already familiar with Tamar. The short chapter is an amazing digression in a larger narrative, but it is one that must not be missed.
I would also urge you to reject the usual feminist perspective of scripture as patriarchal and misogynistic. Tamar’s story is so much more than that, and to stop here in your thinking is to do her a great injustice and miss the fact that her actions provided the opportunity for revelation, healing, and repentance.
I admit that I never truly understood Judah’s statement “She is more righteous than I” until I came across sources that delved more deeply into the text, the history, and the culture. Understanding all three is crucial to learning the lesson at hand.
One must accept that children were highly prized at the time in which Tamar’s story was written. Children were understood to be life and wealth, not burdens and inconveniences. And when I say wealth, I don’t mean that they were treated as mere property. Children were considered one of the ultimate blessings not just for the woman but for the family as a whole. This truth must be accepted, or the rest of the story breaks down.
And perhaps that’s why we are where we are today.
When a woman was denied the right and privilege to bear children, she was denied an honor to the degree of severe social shame. Yet in Tamar’s case, her shame wasn’t because she was unable to bear her own children. Something, or someone, stood in her way.
A close reading of the text reveals that Judah had no intention of giving Tamar to his youngest son for the purpose of raising up offspring for his brother, which was something that Tamar wanted for herself and her dead husband. She was trapped between Judah’s fears of losing another son and her inability to marry anyone else because she was legally bound to her brother-in-law. In her desperation, Tamar took drastic action to ensure that her husband’s name would not be lost among his brethren and that she would become a mother.
At this point, one might believe that Tamar’s efforts to gain children were what made her more righteous than Judah. She took a great risk to achieve what should have rightfully been hers. While her methods were more in keeping with her Canaanite heritage, her desire to be part of Judah’s family—a family striving to adhere to the instruction of the one and only living God—must not be casually discarded.
Both Judah and Tamar conducted themselves inappropriately. Two wrongs never make a right, and neither person in this story was perfect. But here’s where Tamar prevailed: Judah, believing his daughter-in-law was guilty of adultery, wanted her to be dealt with publicly, whereas Tamar, knowing Judah to be the one by whom she was pregnant, sent him a coded message that only he would understand, thus revealing the truth. Tamar fulfilled her duty to her dead husband, but more significantly, she spared Judah public shame.
Allow me to repeat that: Tamar spared Judah public shame.
What she did was huge, and the moral implications have reverberated throughout history for those willing to learn the lesson.
Through her understanding of shame and humiliation, Tamar had become sensitized to what Judah was about to experience if she allowed it. Again, Tamar was holding all the cards, yet she chose to act in righteousness by sparing Judah’s dignity when she withheld her words. What Tamar knew—that for which she was willing to put her life on the line—was that psychological damage can harm far worse than physical damage.
Words hurt, and once spoken, they can never be taken back.
Fast forward to today when exposing someone’s shame is considered not simply justice but righteous justice. People are applauded for conducting smear campaigns to the point of canceling another person in the eyes of a fickle society. The fact that this goes on in politics is no big surprise, although it is still unacceptable, but at the familial level, it’s nothing short of reprehensible.
Imagine airing your dirty laundry to the degree that you make millions of dollars and produce a documentary. Surely, the hurt you’ve experienced justifies you doing so, right? No, not according to God’s word. Not even if you attach the latest trending social label to it.
Tamar was on the fringe of society as a two-time childless widow, unable to remarry a man of her choice, and a foreigner. Yet instead of cashing in on her low status for the sake of gaining sympathy, she considered the other person and spared him the loss of dignity that would equate to a loss of life.
For her selfless actions, great integrity was attributed to Tamar, the outsider. She wrote herself into the most important royal lineage known to man, that of King David and ultimately, King Yeshua. She was and always will be a role model for how to conduct ourselves when someone else’s dignity is on the line.