Judah and Tamar

by Deborah Horscroft

Judah and Tamar are one of the Bible’s most unlikely couples. Judah’s story starts in the middle of Joseph’s story in the book of Genesis. Judah sold his father’s favourite son (Joseph of the techni-coloured coat and unpopular dreams) into slavery, left home and married a Canaanite woman. They had three sons, at least two of whom turned out so badly that God killed them for their sinfulness.

Both sons had been married to a much-wronged young woman called Tamar, who was probably also a Canaanite. Neither brother had any children. According to ancient customs, later made law by God through Moses, Judah owed Tamar a roof over her head and the opportunity to bear children. Instead he sent her home in disgrace. When Tamar tricked Judah into giving her twins (read Genesis 38 for the details), Judah admitted that she had been more righteous than he.

Righteousness in the book of Genesis is not related to keeping the ten commandments (they haven’t arrived yet) but in believing in God’s incredible promises and acting upon that trust. Judah and his family were told they would become a great nation and inherit the promised land. All they had to do was raise lots of children to know and follow God and He would do the rest. Judah started badly by selling his own brother into slavery, marrying an idolatrous foreigner and raising evil sons. When Tamar forced him to do right by her, his life changed for the better.

By the time Judah faced Joseph in Egypt he had learned about self-sacrifice; he risked his life and liberty to save his brother Benjamin and to honour a promise to his father.

Tamar’s “righteousness” is hard to fathom, and Tamar and Judah’s twins Perez and Zerah were born in scandalous circumstances, yet Perez became the forefather of Boaz (Ruth’s husband), King David and ultimately of Jesus Christ.

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