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  • Writer's pictureAllison Wilcox

Tamar & Women

It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and settled near a certain Adullamite whose name was Hirah. There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; he married her and went in to her.She conceived and bore a son; and he named him Er. Again she conceived and bore a son whom she named Onan. Yet again she bore a son, and she named him Shelah. She was in Chezib when she bore him. Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn; her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her; raise up offspring for your brother.” But since Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, he spilled his semen on the ground whenever he went in to his brother’s wife, so that he would not give offspring to his brother. What he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also. Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up”—for he feared that he too would die, like his brothers. So Tamar went to live in her father’s house.

In course of time the wife of Judah, Shua’s daughter, died; when Judah’s time of mourning was over, he went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,” she put off her widow’s garments, put on a veil, wrapped herself up, and sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. She saw that Shelah was grown up, yet she had not been given to him in marriage. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a prostitute, for she had covered her face. He went over to her at the roadside, and said, “Come, let me come in to you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” He answered, “I will send you a kid from the flock.” And she said, “Only if you give me a pledge, until you send it.” He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” She replied, “Your signet and your cord, and the staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her, and went in to her, and she conceived by him. Then she got up and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood. ~ Genesis 38:1-19

Three tragic stories of women surround and run through the story of Jacob.  Here, we have the story of Tamar.  Tamar was married to Jacob's grandson, Er, and in her story we learn the fate of widows.  Widows could be given to the brother of her husband to ensure that the family continued for him.  Tamar here is well aware that bearing a child is her only way to ensure security.  We might see her plot as mercenary.  Or we might see it as survival.  

Tamar gave birth to twins after her encounter with Judah, and the end of her story perhaps has something of a happy ending.  She has her sons and in a sense her freedom.  She is no longer passed to another man, and Judah, feeling shame for what he has done, lets her be.  There is the sense that she has gotten what she needed for herself:  the protection of her children.

Preceding Tamar, are the stories of Judah's own mother and sister.  Leah, Jacob's first wife, was considered blessed by all the sons she gave Jacob, but never got to know the love of him.

And Dinah, Judah's sister, appears briefly in one chapter, to serve as the centerpiece of a story of violence and tragedy.  Raped by a prince of the region her family has settled in, Dinah is then sought by the man as his wife.  In an elaborate plot involving weakening all the men of the area by circumcision, two of Dinah's brother's take their revenge by slaughtering each and every man.

Jacob isn't pleased.

What do we make of stories of women like this in the Bible? 

In the first story from Genesis of Adam and Eve we see that God's intention originally was for man and woman to be partners, working together.  Through Abraham, we learn that God's intention was for the nations of the world to be blessed through Abraham and his tribe.  

Here we see how far from God's intent the tribe still was.  Rather than be a blessing, they are still tied up with the cycle of violence that is not of God.  Noah's flood had not wiped out brokenness and sin, and woman continue to be victims of that brokenness even since God's covenant with Abraham.

But that does not mean that subjugation of these women was God's desire.  Through each of these stories, the writer's commentary includes hints as to God's continued activity in wiping out the injustice to these and other women.  God gave many children to Leah as a balm for the lack of love from her husband.  Tamar is finally, after having children, given a sense of independence and freedom.  Only with Dinah are we left wondering what happened.  Her fate is not mentioned.

The story is still unfolding.  The story of these women strikes me when I think of the many, many women who are victims of human trafficking. Millions of women today are still treated with violence and/or used as property and pawns.

This was not God's plan.

God of all people, help us to remember that so many women are still treated like second class citizens in this world.  We pray especially today for the victims of human trafficking, domestic violence and subjugation.  Lord, bring them home.  Amen.

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