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Biblical People

Bible People: Tamar (1)

Tamar’s a victim who takes extreme action to vindicate herself. She’s the daughter-in-law of Judah, suffers at his hand, responds with guile, and has twins with him. Talk about a messed-up situation. But she’s also one of four women mentioned in Jesus’s family tree. Here’s her story:

Tamar marries Judah’s oldest son. He’s evil, and God kills him. As is the custom of the day, she’s passed on to his brother, her brother-in-law, so she can have kids through him. In this way he will produce children in his dead brother’s place and perpetuate his brother’s line as a surrogate husband. But the brother doesn’t cooperate and with selfish intent refuses to impregnate her. This displeases God, and he kills the second brother too. As customary, Judah promises Tamar his third son when he’s old enough and sends her back to her parents to wait. But Judah has no intention of following through, for he fears this son may die too. 

Once Tamar realizes Judah will not do as he promised, she disguises herself as a prostitute. She waits where she knows Judah will pass. Not realizing who she is, he solicits her, leaving his seal and its cord, along with his staff as his pledge of payment. Tamar gets pregnant. 

When Judah sends a friend to pay the prostitute and reclaim his pledge, the friend can’t find her and no one in the area knows of a prostitute working there. Judah doesn’t pursue the matter further.

Three months later Judah learns his daughter-in-law is expecting a child conceived out of wedlock, from an act of prostitution. With self-righteous indignation, he condemns her to die. Then she reveals he’s the father and offers proof, by showing his seal, cord, and staff. Judah confesses his role, and he declares Tamar as more righteous than he. 

Tamar has twins: Perez and Zerah. Judah, Tamar, and Perez are all ancestors of Jesus, and Matthew lists her in the genealogy of Jesus, one of only four women so honored.

Judah does Tamar wrong, first for promising his third son to her and not following through, then for using her as a prostitute, and last for condemning her to die. Yet Tamar also does wrong, posing as a harlot and soliciting her father-in-law to trap him. Nevertheless, Tamar’s drastic steps ensure she has a family to care for her when she gets old. And God ensures she has a legacy.

Do two wrongs make a right? When we are wronged, may we have the wisdom to know the right answer.

[Discover more about Tamar in Genesis 38:6–30, Ruth 4:12, and Matthew 1:3.]


Read about other biblical women in Women of the Bible, available in audiobook, e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 700-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and numerous books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.