By Karen Bledsoe
“Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram,” ~ Matthew 1:3 (NIV)
If you have ever studied Jewish genealogy you will notice that it is very rare for a woman to be listed as an ancestor. The Bible, however, makes an exception in Matthew. This account lists the women in Jesus’ genealogy and there is a reason for that and it will be covered in this series. Jesus’ genealogy is also listed in Luke and when it comes to the verses where the women are listed in Matthew, they are absent in Luke. Here is the reference in Luke of Perez:
“…. the son of Perez, the son of Judah…” ~Luke 3:33
No mention is made of the woman in the line here as it is in Matthew’s genealogy. We ask ourselves why did Matthew stray from the norm? Why does his list include women? Why did he list these specific women? Some were of a questionable background, none of them known for any acts of bravery or leadership, and all of them were Gentiles except for Mary, Jesus’ mother, who was a Jew. These women had no special attributes that would give a reason for them to be listed, yet here they are, listed with their husbands, except for Tamar, who was not the wife of Judah but his daughter-in-law. However, he is listed as the father of her children, twins Perez and Zerah. It is Perez who is the forbearer of Christ. How did this happen?
To find out the answers to these questions we go to Genesis 38. Here we read that Judah went with his friend Hirah, an Adullamite, and met a Canaanite woman known only as the daughter of Shua, whom he married. In time, she gave him three sons. These sons preserved Judah’s line, which would eventually lead to the birth of the Messiah. This is where we learn that Jesus had Gentiles in his bloodline. Judah’s sons had a mother who was a Canaanite. A pagan. Her people worshipped other gods, participated in pagan rituals, and sacrificed to their pagan gods. Women were revered as temple prostitutes. The Canaanites were so bad that God told Joshua to lead the Israelites into Israel kill the Canaanites. All of them. Men, women and children and all their livestock. They were to be destroyed. The reason? Canaanites were descendants of the Nephilim. The Nephilim were the giants mentioned in Genesis 6 and they were the cause of the Flood of Noah. They were the offspring of human women and fallen angels who left their angelic state to take on the form of man and either marry or force themselves upon human women to in order create the Nephilim. The human bloodline would become so polluted by Nephilim DNA that they would be unredeemable.
You may say this is false because in Matthew 22, Jesus said that the angels do not marry in heaven, which is true.
“At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” – Matthew 22:30
We are not married in heaven and neither are the angels. The angels who fell along with Satan were no longer in heaven so this verse does not refer to them. The angels that sinned are the angels discussed in Jude:
“And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling–these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.” – Jude 1:6
These angels “abandoned their proper dwelling”, meaning they left their angelic bodies and took on the form of man so that they could create their one offspring, the seed of the serpent, the Nephilim. This is a fascinating subject that we will cover another time, but it is something that you need to know about because the Canaanites had Nephilim among them (think of Goliath and Og, King of Bashan) and the Nephilim had corrupted DNA. Therefore, God demanded they be destroyed. He did not want what led up to the flood to occur again. Joshua did kill most of them, but some escaped and some were taken as slaves. This was disobedience on the Israelite’s part, allowing these beings to survive.
This does not mean that Judah’s wife is a Nephilim. In fact, she wasn’t, but there were Nephilim among her people. She was not an immoral person and was faithful to her husbands and was probably a virgin when she married Judah’s oldest son, Er. In fact, evil was done to her but not by her and we need to remember that and the way she was raised. Does this excuse her actions? No, but it does explain them.
Temple prostitution was accepted among many pagan religions. It was even highly regarded and a sought-after position for daughters in these religions. It was not considered wrong in the Canaanite religion or society to become a temple prostitute. Even prostitutes who were not associated with the temple but practiced it to make a living were not looked down upon. Tamar grew up around this and was taught this. This is probably what enabled her to do what she did to bear a child and preserve the line of Judah.
Tamar was married to Er, Judah’s firstborn. In fact, it was Judah who picked her out for her son.
“Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death.” Genesis 38:6-7
The Bible doesn’t say what Er did that caused God to kill him, it just says he was wicked, and it was so bad that God had to take his life from him. Tamar was now a widow, but she was also childless. In those days, when a woman who was left childless and widowed, she was given to her late husband’s brother as his wife and their firstborn son would be considered in all ways as the son of the late husband/brother. This is known as the Levirite Law (www.bible-people.info/Tamar.htm) and the Israelites did practice it as God gave it to them in Deuteronomy 25:5-10:
“If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.”
Tamar was given to Er’s brother, Onan, and their firstborn son would be thought of as Er’s son, and heir of Judah’s line. However, Onan did not like the thought of his son being claimed as his dead brother’s son.
But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. ~Genesis 38:9
This was considered wicked in the Lord’s sight and so God took his life as well.
Here we have Tamar, twice widowed and still childless. Judah had another son, but he was too young to be given in marriage to her so Judah sent Tamar back to her father’s house to live as a widow until the time came that he could give her to his son Shelah to carry out the law and provide an heir to the tribe of Judah.
When this time came to give his son to Tamar, Judah was afraid to do so. His two oldest sons were dead after being married to her, what if his third son died as well. He would be out of sons and there would be no heir so Judah did not keep his promise and withheld his third and only surviving son from her. The daughter of Shua, the wife of Judah died. After his grieving was over he and his friend Hirah went up to Timnah to shear his sheep.
By now Tamar knew she was not going to be given to Shelah as his wife and she knew she would never have a son. She also knew that the Levirite law did not deem it unacceptable to be given to Judah to wife and bear a son, (http://www.egrc.net/articles/Rock/Joseph/Tamar.html) although this was not going to be the case here. Tamar was widowed, living in her father’s house, and could not be married to anyone else but Shelah. She knew she would never be a wife or mother. She was desperate. She had been told that Judah was going to Timnah so she devised a plan to get the child she wanted.
She dresses up as a temple prostitute. She did not do this to be with any man other than Judah. He was her target. He would father her child and she was going to deceive him into doing it.
Judah and Hiram are walking along the road to go Timnah, when he saw a temple prostitute sitting along the road and he went up to her to get her to sleep with him. They agreed to the price of one of Judah’s young goats, but she wanted collateral to ensure he would bring her the goat, he gave her his staff, and his seal and its cord. He gave them to her. After he left her, she discarded the disguise and took his staff, the seal and its cord and went home. There she waited for the day to come when she would have to tell Judah what she’d done.
Did God approve of this? Of course not! Lust did not drive Tamar to do what she did. She wanted a child. She would never have one any other way. Sleeping with any man would be adultery and she would be put to death for it. Until Judah gave her to his son Shelah, she would remain a childless widow and she knew Judah was never going to allow her to be his only surviving son’s wife. Posing as a prostitute in a pagan land was not considered as sin like it was in Israel. Tamar grew up knowing that they were revered and honored in Canaan. This does not excuse her actions but it does help to understand them.
Lust drove Judah. Not only that, being an Israelite he knew prostitution was a sin in God’s eyes. He believed that women were to be pure and their roles in society was to marry and have lots of children to carry on the family line. She must remain a virgin until her marriage and then she must remain faithful to her husband. Failure to do so meant execution. Judah believed all of this and still he saw no harm in being with a prostitute. He approached her, she did not approach him. There’s something to be said about Judah’s character here. Tamar knew that he would approach her. Why would she think that? Perhaps by the way Judah behaved around Canaanite women. We can’t say for sure that Judah was promiscuous but somehow Tamar knew he would come to her for her “services”. She knew he would sleep with her as a prostitute and he did.
Judah saw no harm in doing so either. However, he was infuriated with Tamar when he found out she was going to have a child. He ordered her to burned alive. She would not get away with her sin. She would not bring an illegitimate child into his family. She would not shame him in this way. He saw no harm in what he did with prostitutes, but he demanded the death of his daughter-in-law for being one and for nearly bringing a child into his line that would cost him his inheritance. What is so ironic in this is that it is because of Tamar’s actions that provided him a legal heir.
As she was being taken to die she produced Judah’s staff, cord, and seal to him telling him that the man to whom they belonged was the father of her child. Judah, recognizing these things as his, realized what he had done, that all of this occurred because he failed to live up to his family obligations of giving Shelah to her as her Levirite husband. He owned up to his wrong, which also says a lot about his character, and cancelled her execution, declaring that she was the more righteous of the two. He gave her a home, provided for her, and never touched her again. Her child would be recognized as Judah’s heir. Tamar gave birth to twins, Perez and Zerah. It would be from the line of Perez that the Messiah, Jesus Christ would come.
No matter how much we cover up our sin, it is always going to be there and eventually it will be discovered. Whenever we see someone else committing the very same sin, it makes us uncomfortable and angry. We can own up to our sin and ask for forgiveness or we can continue to try to hide it and become hard and bitter because of it. Judging others of a sin that we are committing ourselves makes us hypocrites. It also makes us hard and unforgiving.
Judah made things right for Tamar. God blessed them both with not one son, but two. Twins.
This woman is included in the genealogy of Jesus. She was determined to have a child to preserve Judah’s line. She was not a Jew but a Gentile. The genealogy of Christ carries the name of a Gentile woman who tricked her father-in-law into giving her the child he denied her by not giving her his son. Judah is no less guilty than Tamar. She was a woman some consider of questionable behavior. Why would she be included in the Messianic line? For the same reason Judah is included, and why all the others in His line are included. To show that even though man is sinful and wicked, God forgives. He uses the unjust as much as He uses the just. He uses us despite our faults and sins. We see in His genealogy the very reason God sent His Son in the first place. Mankind needs a Savior.
Jesus is the King of the Jews, and by having a Gentile in his family line, it makes Him King of the Gentiles as well. As God told Abraham, because of his faithfulness and obedience to Him, all of mankind would be blessed through him (Genesis 22:18). Both Jew and Gentile. He truly is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
New International Version Life Application Study Bible
©1997 Zonderman Publishing; Tyndale Publishing House
Next in the series: Rahab