Scripture: Genesis 38:1-30
Key verse: (26) “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son, Shelah.”
Reflection: Today’s assigned readings in the “Year with the Bible” contain some pretty spicy tales. DISCLOSURE: THIS DEVOTION CONTAINS MATURE CONTENT—at least a PG-13 rating! The Joseph narrative continues with Potiphar’s wife making false accusations of sexual assault against Joseph that land him in prison. Before that we hear the sordid tale of Judah and Tamar. It’s a complicated story filled with tragedy, sin, and betrayal — tough stuff for a daily devotion!
By way of background, Judah was Joseph’s older brother, who orchestrated selling him into slavery. We learn in chapter 38 about his family with a Canaanite woman named, Shuah. He has three sons: Er, Onan, and Sehlah. Er married a woman named Tamar. Er’s evil caught up with him and he died. It was a practice in that day that widows without children would marry a brother of their husband so that the brother’s name could carry on. So Tamar was given in marriage to Onan, but he did not want his brother’s line to continue, so he did not fulfill the obligations of levirate marriage. Then he died. Sehlah was too young to marry at that point, and so Judah sends Tamar home to her people “until Selah grows up.”
Fast forward a few years and we learn Selah has grown up, but Judah has not fulfilled his obligation to Tamar. Tamar learns he is coming her way, so she devises a way to trap him, posing as a prostitute, and ultimately conceiving twins by Judah. When Judah learns his daughter-in-law is pregnant, in righteous indignation he demands she be put to death for adultery. That’s when Tamar reveals her identity through showing Judah the items pledged to the “prostitute” for her payment.
Unfortunately, many traditional biblical scholars paint Tamar as “deceitful” in this, twisting the story to make the marginalized widow into the antagonist. In truth, Tamar embodies a boldness in securing what is her right by law. Only her ingenuity in securing proof of Judah’s immoral action saves her life. Truth be told, far more Tamars in our world fall victim to far too many Judahs whose righteous indignation masks their own dark sin.
Thank God Tamar had that ingenuity. Thank God she had that boldness. Thank God she had that courage. For if Judah had prevailed, if the man with all the power had succeeded in branding the victim in this story as the offender, had Tamar been burned at the stake as Judah demanded, then her sons Perez and Zerah would never have been born. If Perez hadn’t been born, then Hezron wouldn’t have been born. And if Hezron hadn’t been born, then generations later, Jesse wouldn’t have been born. And if Jesse hadn’t been born, King David wouldn’t have been born. If David had never been born, then how could Jesus, the King in the line of David, have fulfilled his call to be the Messiah?
It all began with Tamar and her courage to secure justice. I wonder what we could all learn from her.
Prayer: Thank you, O God, for our sister Tamar. Thank you for her ingenuity, her conviction, and her courage to secure a future for her family. For through her family you have worked to redeem this broken world where far too many Tamars fall to injustice and betrayal each and every day. Through her family, you have worked to redeem us all. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].