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Bible Q

Why was Tamar considered righteous?

Tamar has a sad story:

  • She was married to Er, Judah’s son
  • God killed Er for being wicked
  • According to the custom of her time, she was then given to Onan, Er’s brother
  • Onan refused to honor his levirate marriage responsibility (“Onanism” is named after him)
  • So God killed Onan too
  • Judah promised Tamar that Shelah would marry her
  • But Judah didn’t honor that promise either

Because of this, Tamar took matters into her own hands:

Tamar … saw that Shelah was grown up, and she had not been given to him in marriage  … so she took off her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, and sat on the road to Timnah. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute and said, “Come, let me come in to you”. She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?”  He answered, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” And she said, “If you give me a pledge, until you send it”.  He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” She replied, “Your signet and your cord and your staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her and went in to her. When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite to take back the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her.

About three months later Judah was told, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has been immoral. Moreover, she is pregnant by immorality.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” And she said, “Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.”  Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again. (Extracted from Gen 38 : 13 – 26)

So she wasn’t considered righteous, just more righteous than Judah. Evidently that wasn’t much of an achievement. Consider:

  • Judah used a prostitute (and Tamar expected him to do so)
  • Judah said to burn Tamar for being “immoral” (and Tamar expected him to do so)

Both Judah and Tamar appear in the ancestry of Jesus:

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram.. (Mat 1:2-3)

The ancestry of Jesus includes mention of several females. Ruth is known for her faithfulness, Rahab for being a reformed prostitute, and Bathsheba for her faithlessness. So the fact she is in the line of Jesus can’t be taken as a judgment either way on Tamar (Or Judah).


One Reply to “Why was Tamar considered righteous?”

  1. Some side observations:
    * The price of a young goat: pretty expensive by today’s standards?
    * Since the firstborn line appears to go through Tamar – Shelah apparently didn’t come to much
    * Why was it so important for Tamar to get pregnant – apparently only her children were responsible for caring for her in her old age? (Cruel…)
    * I find it hard to believe that Judah stayed alive after this. What he did was much worse than Onan….