Tamar was a young Hebrew woman who married into the family of Judah. As far as we know, she was a conservative, well-behaved young women.
But her first husband died, punished by God for a crime. What crime? We don’t know.
Now the story gets interesting. Under the Law of that time, she should then have had sexual intercourse with her husband’s younger brother.
Why? To save her from poverty. If she could produce a male child, she and her son would receive a share in the tribal wealth, just as if he were the son of her first husband.
Worth noting about Tamar
she marries twice but remains childless because her first husband was punished for an unnamed crime and her second husband masturbated
she waits and waits for justice, but finally accepts that it will not be done unless she takes matters into her own hands; her own father seems unable to help her
she is ready to take a terrible risk to get what she is entitled to; she has great courage
she also has great anger locked inside her; it is probably this anger at the injustice of her situation that propels her into action
she wants a son to inherit her first husband’s share of the inheritance; God gives her not one son but two, emphasising her right to act as she has
Who was Judah?
Judah was Tamar’s father-in-law. He was the son of Jacob and Leah. He could have helped her, and had a duty to do so, but did not.
He was prepared to burn her alive for a transgression against family honor. Adultery was punished by death.
Worth noting about Judah
keep in mind that Judah is the son of Jacob, who had some good qualitites (he saved his brother Joseph from death, persuading his other brothers to sell Joseph to slave traders rather than kill him) but was also deceitful
Judah was suffering from profound grief: he has recently lost his wife Shua, and his two sons Er and Onan
people suffering profound grief often act out of character, doing things they would not normally do
there is no way of knowing if he knew what his son Onan was doing, but as tribal leader he was responsible for his son’s actions
it seems as if he never planned to use a prostitute, since he had no money to pay Tamar for her services
Who was Er?
Er was the husband of Tamar and eldest son of Judah, and his heir
Worth noting about Er
little is known about him, but he apparently committed some crime that offended God so much that He put Er to death.
Who was Onan?
Onan was the second son of Judah, with a duty to have sexual intercourse with Tamar until she had a son.
But of course if she had a son, Onan’s own inheritance would be greatly lessened. He ‘spilled his seed’, using coitus interruptus as a form on contraception, so that she could not conceive.
Worth noting about Onan
he refused to give Tamar a child
he flouted ancient tribal laws that protected widows from poverty; this was a serious crime against the woman Tamar and against his own tribe
he chose property rather than justice, and was punished by God
he was probably already married at the time – important men were allowed several wives
Who was Shua?
Shua was the wife of Judah and the mother of his three sons
Worth noting about Shua
having born three sons to the tribal leader Judah, Shua was an honored woman in the tribe
we do not know what sort of relationship existed between Shua and Tamar – good or bad; it was only after Shua’s death that Tamar decided to act; perhaps Tamar hoped that Shua would eventually send Shelah to fulfil the Levirate Law
Who was Hirah the Adullamite?
A friend of Judah, who would play a ‘side-kick’ or ‘go-for’ in the movies
Who were Perez and Zerah?
The long awaited twin sons of Tamar and Judah. They play very little part in the story, but are integral to the ‘happy ending’, and to subsequent stories in the Bible.