Judah and Tamar – Genesis 38

26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him.  Genesis 37:26-27 ESV

Judah spared the life of his brother Joseph by suggesting to the other brothers that Joseph be sold off as a slave rather than killed, as they had wanted to do.  Besides being a less harsh fate, it would also ended up saving the entire family from starvation, as Joseph was to gain power in Egypt by the hand of the Lord, and was used by Him to bring everyone safely through a harsh, seven-year famine. 

Against the will of his parents, Judah then took a Canaanite wife. 

38 It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and turned aside to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua. He took her and went in to her, and she conceived and bore a son, and he called his name Er.  And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar.  Genesis 38:1-3, 6 ESV

Abraham and Isaac had gone to great lengths to prevent their sons from marrying Canaanite women, but great-grandson Judah did not follow in this practice.  The original concern was a fear that the sons would be influenced by their wives to turn to worship Canaanite gods and abandon the God of Israel, who had called them as His own people.  Canaanite idol worship involved many practices that the Lord specifically prohibited and despised, including gross immorality and even child sacrifice.  This fear of the parents was later realized.  Even wise King Solomon, a man of great faith, would be pulled away from the God who blessed him through the influence of his many foreign wives, who worshiped other gods and idols.

Judah’s father, Jacob had traveled back to his homeland to take a wife from his own people.  (He ended up with two due to the deception of his father-in-law, Laban, and it grew from there). Yet, despite his family’s guidance and history, Judah left his brothers and married a Canaanite woman.  When it came time for his own son, Er, to marry, he did reverse course and chose an Israelite wife for him, named Tamar. 

But God took the life of Judah’s half-Canaanite son Er.  Scripture says it was because Er was “wicked in God’s sight”.    Judah’s next son took Tamar on as his own wife, as was the custom of the time.  But he died, too.  Judah began to think that perhaps Tamar was bad luck, and thus had no intention of letting his third son marry her, as the culture of the time demanded.

God’s plan was to use Judah to continue the kingly line, but apparently this was not going to happen through Judah’s Canaanite wife.  There are non-Jewish women in the kingly line, but these women were chosen by God, not man.

12 In the course of time the wife of Judah, Shua’s daughter, died. When Judah was comforted, he went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. Genesis 38:12 ESV

Judah was now a widower, left also with a widowed daughter-in-law Tamar, whom he now neglected, and one remaining son, Shelah.  After a season grief, Judah left this group to attend a sheepshearing with his friend Hirah. 

13 And when Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,” 14 she took off her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, wrapping herself up, and sat at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she had not been given to him in marriage.  Genesis 38:12-14 ESV

Tamar wanted a child of her own but saw that she was being prevented from having one by a situation that Judah held sway over.  Judah kept Tamar in his household as a widow, presumably to wait for his son, Shelah, as a husband.  But once Shelah was of marrying age, Judah held him back from her, believing Tamar to be bad luck.  Realizing her position, Tamar decided to take matters into her own hands.

In a very bold move, she disguised herself as a prostitute on the road to the Judah was taking, and as he came by, he propositioned her, not realizing who she was.  Tamar wisely took Judah’s signet ring, cord and walking staff as a pledge, realizing that if her plan to continue the lineage worked, she was also in great danger of being stoned for adultery.  In fact, when it was discovered that she was pregnant, Judah insisted that she be put to death, not realizing until later that he was the father.  When she produced the evidence of Judah’s pledge, he confessed his hypocrisy and took her as his wife, though they had no further intimate relations.

What a story to include in the Bible!  Just like the scheme of Abraham and Sarah to continue their lineage through Sarah’s maid, Hagar, God’s word does not paper over our shortcomings. 

Yet, God honored Tamar’s plan and included her and her offspring in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Tamar is one of five women listed in the genealogy in Matthew Chapter 1. 

Why might God honor this series of events?  Only God knows for sure, but we can speculate.  There is prophecy that the Messiah would come through Judah, but Judah chose to go off on his own and marry a Canaanite woman despite the specific warnings against it by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, his father.  That is not to say that there are no Canaanites or non-Israelites in the Messiah’s lineage, there are.  But those individuals were chosen by God, not by man.  In Judah’s case, the lineage continued through Hebrew blood, both his and Tamar’s, and the Canaanite connection was not selected by God.

Tamar conceived, and she bore twins.  There was a battle between the two as to which one would be born first, and it was a close race until the very end.

27 When the time of her labor came, there were twins in her womb. 28 And when she was in labor, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 29 But as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out. And she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” Therefore his name was called Perez.  30 Afterward his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah.  Genesis 38:27-30 ESV

Aside from the names of his own offspring, that is pretty much all we know about Perez.  He was determined to be born first, and he was successful in that effort.  Though birth order appears to be less important in God’s eyes than man’s, Perez made his way into the genealogy of Jesus Christ, apparently with God’s blessing.

One last consideration is the pledge that Judah had left with Tamar.  The signet, usually a valuable ring, was a sign of authority, usually delegated or exhibited as some type of seal.  Further down the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Lord tells Zerubbabel that he would be delegated God’s authority as a divine signet ring (Haggai 2:24).  Zerubbabel, too, was chosen by God to be in the lineage of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Perhaps Judah’s pledge of a signet to Tamar was more symbolic than just proof a of fatherhood, but also symbolic of membership in God’s chosen, holy lineage, as well.


Looking at your own lineage, are there any twists and turns that brought you to where you are today?  Can you see where the hand of God has been working all along for your good?

Have there been people of faith in your family history who have been praying for you?  How have their prayers and faith impacted your life?  Who in your family (or even future descendants) are you praying for?

What situations in your life today are sources of disappointment for you?  We can ask God to take these and use them for something good and for His glory.

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