“Sit with me, lads! You are nearly men. You must hear my story before you embark on your own lives.
“The sun hung low in the west. Although the heat of summer still lay ahead, I was weary enough having walked all day along the rocky path. The dust lay thick in my beard and clogged my throat. I longed to reach the town and to drink the cool water from the well.
“Suddenly there she was at the roadside. Her youthful figure beneath the mysterious veil immediately awakened my interest. She arose as I approached, proffering a skin of goat's milk. I drank and returned the skin, my fingers stroking against hers.
“When I was young, my father – your grandfather – warned me about loose women. Oh that I had heeded his words! Instead I went to her like a gazelle stepping into a noose. I'd been a widower for so long that I'd almost forgotten the delight of touching a woman's body. 'Besides', I reasoned, 'I'm far from home; who will ever know?'
“I left her room with a big smile on my face, not knowing I was all but ruined. Oh, mark my words; we men will never understand women! They are complex, cunning creatures, and wield power over us while feigning weakness. We satisfy our desires and walk away, not giving a second thought to their wily ways. Had I but known who she was -”
“So, who was she Dad? You still haven't told us!”
“Patience, son! You'll know soon enough.
“I had nothing appropriate as payment for her services, so I left her a pledge, my staff and my seal. I later looked for her, intending to give her a young goat, but she had disappeared. I never dreamed she might value the pledge more highly than my entire flock!”
“But you got them back later? They were in Tamar's tent when we were little!”
“And they're still in Tamar's tent. She never returned them.”
The wind eddied around the tent curtains. Flies buzzed around their sun-browned faces. The bleating of sheep drifted on the gentle breeze.
At length Zerah broke the silence with a long whistle and, “Then Tamar is... not our nurse?”
“Tamar is your mother.”
“You brought home a common prostitute?” Perez spluttered. “You should have left her to rot in her own filth!”
“Aye, son, you're just like me; we both jump to conclusions before we've heard the whole story!
“Long ago, Tamar was married to my first-born, Er. When he died without an heir, I gave her his brother, Onan. But when he died too, I concluded she was a witch and sent her back to her father's house. I lied to her, saying that when Shelah grew up she could marry him. It was disgraceful behaviour! I shirked my duty as her father-in-law and left Tamar empty-handed.
“Around three moons after my tryst with the veiled woman, I heard the news: 'Your daughter-in-law is guilty of prostitution. She's pregnant.' Full of self-righteous indignation I condemned her to be burned to death.
“She sent a maidservant to me bearing this message – 'I am pregnant by the man who owns these.' In the servant's hand were my seal and my staff.
“Thus were my callous deceit and bald-faced immorality laid bare. For long moments I sat curling and uncurling my toes in the sand, as the truth settled upon my soul. Through the whirlwind of thoughts and emotions I grasped three irrefutable realities. My guilt was greater than hers. Punishing her would never eradicate my shame. If she were to die, my child would perish too.
“So I brought her home. When she gave birth to you twins, I praised God Almighty for giving me more sons in place of Er and Onan. But Tamar had been wife to each of them and, despite what had happened, it was not right for me to have her. I gave her a tent of her own and taught you to call her 'nurse'.
“Here ends my story. So will it be told throughout the generations. I have much cause for shame, but the Almighty is able to bring great blessing from even our vilest deeds.”
The story of Judah and Tamar is found in Genesis chapter 38. Perez was the ancestor of King David and of our Lord Jesus.
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