Black Widow – Forgiveness

This is the final chapter of Tamar and Judah.  In the last blog, Tamar, knowing that Judah is not going to give her his third son Shelah in marriage to her, commits a desperate act.  She disguises herself as a Temple prostitute and waylays Judah as he travels with his friend Hirah to sheer his sheep. Her story continues and the outcome is incredible. Black Widow – Forgiveness.

Tamar Knows Judah’s Character

Tamar has had a lot of time to study Judah’s character.  She’s seen that he seems to do whatever it takes to get ahead financially.  She sees too that he is very prideful. He is going to shear his sheep with his buddy Hirah.  Hirah seems to appear in crucial times in Judah’s life – it’s interesting to note how our friends can influence us for good or evil dear one. Shearing his sheep means that Judah is advancing in his wealth by having herds of sheep taken care of by paid shepherds. His greed for more, however, gets the better of him.  He assumes that Tamar is a temple (Genesis 38:20-23) prostitute. So far Judah is willing to let his daughter-in-law die childless rather than obey the law but Tamar is taking one final chance to get her husband’s birthright.

The Moon Goddess Asherah

So what is a temple prostitute and why is that important to Judah? Briefly, the Canaanites worshiped the moon goddess Asherah, the goddess of fertility.  Temple prostitutes then, were used to further a person’s wealth.  A man would pay to sleep with a temple prostitute believing that the goddess Asherah would prosper him. Tamar, knowing that, and having many years to study Judah’s character, dresses herself as a temple prostitute knowing it is very likely that Judah will sleep with her.

Tamar Saves Judah’s Family Line

Genesis 38:15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, for she had covered her face. 16 So he turned aside to her by the road, and said, “Here now, let me come in to you”; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. And she said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” 17 He said, therefore, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” She said, moreover, “Will you give a pledge until you send it?” 18 He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” And she said, “Your seal and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. 19 Then she arose and departed, and removed her veil and put on her widow’s garments.

How many years has Tamar had to be a widow?  How many years is she stuck in helpless shameful hopelessness?  Are you there now dear one?

Note that Judah gives away his most valued possessions in order to take a chance at increasing his wealth.  How far he has fallen. His seal, (same root word used in Ephesians 1:13 ‘When you believed you were marked in him (Jesus)with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit), his personal family signature, his cord (Sechel Tov on Gen. 38:18 which may be a wrap or a cloak or possible the rope(s) he uses to tie his sheep for shearing) and staff (carved specifically for the owner) are all given to Tamar as a pledge.

Judah doesn’t want to be laughed at

20 When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite, to receive the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her. 21 He asked the men of her place, saying, “Where is the temple prostitute who was by the road at Enaim?” But they said, “There has been no temple prostitute here.” 22 So he returned to Judah, and said, “I did not find her; and furthermore, the men of the place said, ‘There has been no temple prostitute here.’” 23 Then Judah said, “Let her keep them, otherwise we will become a laughingstock. After all, I sent this young goat, but you did not find her.”

When Judah’s friend cannot find Tamar at the gate or in the city, Judah’s willing, for the sake of his pride, to let her be unpaid though he is in debt to her. His pride makes him unwilling to try to retrieve his most personal possessions. Has your pride been a stumbling block in your life dear one?

24 Now it was about three months later that Judah was informed, “[v]Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the harlot, and behold, she is also with child by harlotry.” Then Judah said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!” 25 It was while she was being brought out that she sent to her father-in-law, saying, “I am with child by the man to whom these things belong.” And she said, “Please examine and see, whose signet ring and cords and staff are these?” 26 Judah recognized them, and said, “She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not have relations with her again.

Tamar is the Heroine

First Judah places Tamar in an impossible situation of hopeless blackness widowhood. Now he is the father of her child.  Until he knows that, when he is told of Tamar’s pregnancy, he thinks she is a prostitute and commands that she be burned. Judah has not taken on the responsibility of Tamar’s care for years, instead sending her home to be a burden to her family. Yet he has the right to dictate her demise in the cruelest way possible – burning to death.

Leviticus 20:14 and 21:9 give specific reasons for someone to be burned to death.  Neither of these pertain to Tamar so why is Judah so cruel?  I can only surmise that it is his pride.  Finally Judah realizes that she has behaved with extraordinary discretion in revealing the truth without shaming him. Tamar is the heroine of the story, but it has one significant consequence which may surprise you.

‘What Will We Gain?’

The clue lies many chapters back, at the beginning of the Joseph’s, Judah’s half brother’s story in Genesis 37. It is there we find that it was Judah who proposed selling Joseph into slavery: “Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover his blood? Let’s sell him to the Arabs and not harm him with our own hands. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

This is a speech of monstrous callousness. There is no word about the evil of murder, merely pragmatic calculation (“what will we gain”). At the very moment he calls Joseph “our own flesh and blood,” he is proposing selling him as a slave. Judah has none of the tragic nobility of Reuben, who alone of the brothers sees that what they are doing is wrong, and makes an attempt to save him (it fails). At this point, Judah is the last person from whom we expect great things.

Tamar is Willing to Risk her Own Life for Judah’s Future

The man we see who is willing to do anything for personal gain, takes his share of the money from the sale of Joseph. He takes off, leaving his brothers to deal with their father’s grief. He marries the foreign daughter of a wealthy man and after God takes his evil sons, attempts to have his daughter-in-law annihilated by having her burned to death.  Now with the birth of twin sons by her, Judah returns home. Imagine!

Because Tamar  is willing to risk her own life for Judah’s future (His family tree is now going to grow), Judah’s heart is changed permanently all these years later. Then, he was prepared to see his brother sold into slavery. Now, he is prepared to carry his father’s blame (Genesis 43:3-10)as well as suffer that fate himself rather than see his half brother Benjamin held as a slave. Here’s the senario: Judah’s back home but now his family has to go to Egypt to buy grain because there is a famine in the land. Joseph, sold into slavery in Egypt is now second only to Pharaoh and in charge of doling out the grain.

Read Genesis 39-45 for Joseph’s fascinating story. Neither Judah, nor his brothers know who he is as they come before him. Judah says to Joseph:

Genesis 43:33,34 “Now, my lord, let me remain in place of the boy as your lordship’s slave, and let him go with his brothers. How can I return to my father without the boy? I could not bear to see the misery which my father would suffer.”

Judah’s Turnaround

It is a precise reversal of character. Callousness has been replaced with concern. Indifference to his brother’s fate has been transformed into courage on his behalf. Judah is willing to suffer what he once inflicted on Joseph, so that the same fate should not befall Benjamin. At this point, Joseph reveals his identity. We know why. Judah has passed the test that Joseph has carefully constructed for him. Joseph wants to know if Judah has changed. He has. Thanks to Tamar.

God is never limited by man’s sinfulness dear one.  Tamar’s story is one of blackness to beauty.  It is akin to the blackness of our sinful state and the beauty of forgiveness.  Jesus family tree starts with Tamar.   Her story is the beginning of His story – His plan of salvation for you and me.  Are you hopeless dear one?  Like Judah, Jesus will change you.  Ask Him for forgiveness.  Your life will be forever changed.