Tamar sat by the cave where her mother was recently buried and cried her heart out. The one who had loved and cared for her was dead. The doors of the only home she had, seemed to be closing in on her.
Her dreams of a happy marriage with Er the son of Judah had crashed when he suddenly died. Then in accordance with the Jewish Levirate marriage laws she was married to Er’s brother, Onan to produce an heir for Er’s name (Deut.25:5). Onan had other thoughts and deliberately deceived Tamar in not giving her a child. He was punished for this sin and he had also died.
Judah had one more son, Shelah, who was only a boy. Tamar had wondered about her future. Would Judah get her married to someone else or would she have to wait till Shelah grew up? Then one night she overheard Judah and his wife, Shua, talking about her. Judah’s words spelled her future in clear words.
“I do not know what to do, Shua. Tamar is our responsibility. I have tried to find a husband for her, but no man in the village wants to marry her. They think that she is a harbinger of death, since her two husbands died suddenly. I am scared of that too. That is why I do not want Shelah to marry her. I have decided to send her to her father’s house, under the pretext that she should wait there till Shelah is grown up.”
And that is how she had ended up in her father’s house. According to Jewish custom after her marriage a girl became the responsibility of her husband’s house, where she remained till she died. However, Tamar was well treated in her father’s house as long as her mother was alive.
After her death, her sisters- in -law made it clear by word and action that she was not welcome in their house. Despised in her father’s house and disowned by her husband’s house, Tamar was condemned to a life of humiliation and disgrace.
Tamar dried her tears and decided that she had to take matters into her own hands and shape her destiny. She had to win her rightful place in Judah’s house. If Judah would not do it, then she had to do it herself. If no one would help her, Adonai, the God she worshipped would help her. Having made her decision she waited for the right time.
Some time later Shua died of an illness. Judah grieved for her. After the period of mourning was over, Judah went to Timnah to attend the sheepshearer’s festival. It was a Canaanite celebration involving cultic worship and sympathetic magic. They would indulge in acts of prostitution to encourage their gods to give them a fertile year.
This was the break Tamar was waiting for. It would be her rendezvous with destiny. She panned her strategy with meticulous care. She disguised herself as a temple prostitute, covering her face with a heavy veil; she waited for Judah on the way from Timnah.
She knew she was taking a terrible risk. If Judah discovered her disguise, he had every right to have her stoned to death. If she did succeed in deceiving him and became pregnant and if Judah denied his responsibility she would still be stoned to death. Tamar preferred death to a life of pain and disgrace. On the other hand if her plan worked she would regain her status in Judah’s home as the mother of his child.
Returning from the celebrations, in high spirits and possibly drunk, Judah saw Tamar as a wayside prostitute and went to her. Tamar was smart and demanded payment. Judah offered a lamb that would be delivered the next day. Tamar asked for a pledge and received his ring and staff.
Afterwards Judah left and Tamar went back to her father’s home.
Three months later the villagers found out that Tamar was pregnant and wanted to stone her for her sin. But she produced the ring and the staff and claimed that it belonged to the man who was responsible. Judah had to acknowledge his responsibility.
Tamar bore twin sons to Judah and was accepted in Judah’s house. But she had forced Judah to break the Mosaic Law for incest (Lev.18:15), and for this sin she lost the privilege of being Judah’s wife.
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