If you’re anything like me, you might find the genealogies in the Bible confusing at best, and boring at worst. The seemingly endless list of names, the repetitive stanzas… what on earth are we supposed to do with them? Well, as is the case with most difficult sections of the Bible, the answer is to study them!
My favourite genealogy (or at least the one I find the most interesting!), is the one at the beginning of Matthew. Beginning with a genealogy seems strange to us, but for the Jews of Matthew’s time, it was an important literary technique. By highlighting Jesus’ ancestry, he traces the promises made to Abraham and to David down through the centuries and shows how they are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. But what is even more interesting to me is the women. Most genealogies don’t mention any women at all, since a Jew’s lineage was always traced through his father, but Matthew, incredibly, mentions five – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. We’re going to take a look at these women together over five entries, exploring who they were and why they were included in the line of promise in Matthew’s gospel. We begin today with Tamar.
Tamar’s story appears in Genesis 38. The chapter is stuffed, almost bizarrely, in the middle of Joseph’s narrative, just after he was sold to Potiphar in Egypt. In the story, Judah (Jacob’s fourth son), married a Canaanite woman, and then, when his eldest son Er came of age, found him a wife – Tamar. When Er did evil in the sight of the Lord, he was killed, and it was his brother’s duty to marry Tamar and give Er a male heir. Again, Onan did evil and the Lord took his life as well.
Now, Judah’s responsibility was to give Tamar to his third son, but he refused, leaving Tamar in disgrace and destitute, unable to marry again. So, Tamar took things into her own hands. She dressed up as a prostitute and offered herself to Judah. When she fell pregnant, Tamar used Judah’s payment for her services as proof of who the father was and was spared punishment. She tricked Judah into performing the duties that he had failed to do and brought him to a point of acknowledging his sin. Tamar’s son Perez was the ancestor of David and, ultimately, Jesus.
It’s a strange story and seems stranger still to include Tamar in Jesus’ ancestry. But when we look at her, we discover a woman of incredible faith and resilience. Tamar was not one of God’s chosen people, but she lived by their laws. And when she was betrayed and discarded, she used her intellect to get what was due to her. And in turn, Judah recognised his own guilt and her righteousness in her actions: “she is more righteous than I.” It is a story that both condemns Judah and exonerates him, since he confessed his sin and Tamar bore no penalty for her actions in the end.
So, why did Matthew include Tamar in the story? I think one of the reasons is that, through her bravery and boldness, the line of David, and therefore, Jesus was established. Through her, Judah was changed from a man who ignored the sacred Laws into a man who was blessed to be the father of Kings (see Genesis 49:8-12). God used a sinful man and a desperate but faithful woman, and through them the line of promise extended from Abraham, to David, and finally to Jesus. Tamar never knew the full significance of her life on earth, never knew that she would one day form part of the genealogy of the Son of God. We don’t know our significance either. But the Lord uses all kinds of people, and all kinds of situations for His glorious purposes. We can take hope from Tamar, that with faith, resilience, and tenacity, we too might become part of the amazing story of God’s redemption of the whole world.
PRAYER: Lord God please keep me faithful to you. Lord, like you used Tamar in your plan, please use me. I want to make my life available to you, so as you will be glorified, whatever the cost. In Jesus Name, Amen
SONG: Glorious Ruins by Hillsong – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcGlTzsZqqI