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Redeemed & Redefined. Part 1 Tamar

Have you ever been verbally maligned? Gossiped about, ostracized or marginalized?

Many stories in the scriptures show individuals dealing with similar scenarios.

In the weeks ahead, we will examine a few women who were famously on the outside looking in and how God redefined and redeemed them.

Our first example is Tamar.

She was seen as Widowed, Rejected, Abandoned, & Marginalized, perhaps even a curse upon the family she married into.

Genesis 38:6-30

Tamar, a lovely young bride, married one of the 12 ruling clan heads’ firstborn sons. What an inheritance her children would eventually have. The prominence of her children’s future would be secured. We don’t know her family background, but we know her name, which means palm tree. It was one of the most valuable trees in the region. It was a fruitful tree that generated products for everyday living, from building materials to medicinal elixirs. Every part of the tree was valued and useful. It was considered a staple and necessary for life itself. So, being named Tamar by her parents meant they saw her as a tremendous blessing to whomever she would marry and their family. What a great bride for a future ruler. Unfortunately, her husband, Er, was considered evil in the sight of the Lord, and God killed him. Imagine the grief this young bride would have experienced. We know that the Ruler of all Israel would come from the line of Judah, and that would be then from his firstborn son. Er is now dead, and she has no child yet.

In fulfilling the cultural laws of the time, Mosaic law, Judah is responsible for her needs now. He must arrange a new marriage with his next son so that she can have an heir, which will not only memorialize the memory of the dead son but also provide her with an inheritance so she doesn’t go homeless. During this time, the family a woman married into was responsible for providing for the rest of her life. Her family receives a dowry to purchase her from them, creating an alliance and releasing them of any future need to help her. It was the groom’s family’s responsibility for her from this time forward. These were the customs and laws of the culture. This was before the Mosiac law. Laws were given to Moses on Mount Sinai but were written by Hammurabi, ruler of Babylon and a contemporary of Abraham and others. This was a provisionary custom and law that helped to shape society. It was to prevent a young woman from becoming a homeless woman. Though Tamar lived before Moses, this was widely practiced. It was compassionate, both honoring the memory of the lost son and providing an inheritance for his widow with a child of the father’s bloodline. If a family didn’t do this, the elders would shame them, and they were considered shoeless (poor or morally bankrupt) and despised by leaders. It was unethical to leave a widow impoverished, and the shame was put on the family if they did not care for their own.

The arrangements were made, but the second son, also being evil, refused to finish the task. God was pretty upset, and this son also died. She is once again a childless widow. What a devastating situation. Imagine the gossip. She was strategically wise; she didn’t receive payment. If she did, that would have made her a prostitute. Legally, she could have been stoned to death. Instead, she took his signet ring and staff as a promise of his obligation to her. Now pregnant, Judah’s responsibility to the child would be that of a father. This is a greater responsibility than had she birthed a child to one of his sons. Her actions seem to indicate that she was expecting these cultural practices to justify and defend her. In trusting God’s word, she was provided for and HONORED with the tribe's authority going to her children.

She relied on the righteousness of the laws to protect and provide for her. Now, let’s flip the tables. Imagine Judah. What was going on in his heart? Traumatized by the death of his two sons. There was one more, but he was too young to marry.

What would Judah do? Turn him over to this woman who seems to be killing off his heirs? It was expected to be a cultural norm/law… What could he do?

God honors her because she is seen as more righteous than Judah, the ruling family in Israel through whom the Messiah would eventually come forth. Just a few generations later, in Ruth 4:11-12, the leaders bless Naomi, “May your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring which the LORD will give you from this young woman.” Tamar is the first woman mentioned in the Lineage of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1 linking her forever to the Messiah and redefining her by the association.

The drama that plays out in this story is worthy of a Hollywood script. Tamar’s identity went from being the hopeful wife in the ruling tribe of Israel to being a burden to her father’s house and the dread of her in-laws. She was abandoned, lied to, neglected, and probably wrongfully blamed for the death of two men. What a desperate situation and bleak future. Judah tried desperately to rid himself of his responsibility. He may have indirectly blamed her for both his son’s deaths. It seems he turned a blind eye to the evil of his sons. She patiently waited for what was rightfully hers—always holding her tongue. She didn’t advocate for herself to Judah or pressure the elders to make him accountable to keep the custom. Her strategic actions created a crisis for Judah. This would require him to be accountable before the city elders and force his hand. She set actions in motion and then waited to present all the proof until she was before the elders at the city gate. His neglect of the customary laws was on full display before the elders of the city rulers. He finds himself publicly shamed and now responsible for her life and that of their children. It was now required of him to take her as his wife. She utilized the laws and practices of the culture to provide her an inheritance in the line of Judah. It shifted the birthright and inheritance to her son giving them a larger portion of the whole.

Have you ever felt marginalized overlooked, or neglected as Tamar was?

How have you reacted to being mistreated, mislabeled, or misunderstood?

Do we look for revenge or righteousness in bad situations?

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