READ GENESIS THIRTY-EIGHT
verses one through thirty-eight
Over the next two days, we are going to consider two characters in a very messy story of God’s grace. If you’re not familiar with the story of Judah and Tamar, let’s just say it is not one often taught from the pulpit on a proper Sunday morning, and you won’t find a flannel graph version of this narrative in most Sunday School classrooms. But this story is dripping with the grace of God, and it is one we will not want to miss.
Judah is Jacob (the trickster’s) son. And Judah has three sons, one of whom is married to a woman named Tamar. We don’t know what Er did to displease the Lord, but we do know that the Lord put him to death, leaving Tamar a widow. In the surrounding culture of the ancient near east, widows were the bottom rung of society. They were often neglected, poor, and desolate with no one to provide for them. But this was not to be the case among God’s people. Throughout the Old Testament, the Lord set up religious and legal provisions for orphans and widows to ensure that every member of the household of God was cared for. One of these provisions was that when a man died, if he had an unmarried brother, that brother would marry his widow. This not only provided for the widow in her youth, but provided an heir that would care for her in her old age and continue the family line.
Tamar is given to Er’s brother, Onan. But Onan, selfish for his own possessions and inheritance, intentionally avoids impregnating Tamar. Just for a moment, let yourself consider Tamar’s situation: she has lost a husband, and the brother who is now responsible for her (and responsible to give her an heir) turns what should be an intimate moment into a moment of utter shame. This goes against the provisions of the Lord, against His commands, and against His character. And the Lord sees it fit to put Onan to death as well.
There is one remaining brother, Shelah. Judah, likely tired of losing children to this woman, tells Tamar to return to her father’s house with an empty promise to give her as a bride to Shelah when he is grown. Tamar is sent on a walk of profound cultural shame as she returns to her father house childless, husbandless, and likely penniless.
I wonder if Tamar sat in her father’s household and asked herself, “Is this really the way of God? Does He really provide for the orphan and the widow? Is He really good?”
When we are in the middle of a chapter in life – when the freshness of the beginning has faded and we are yet far from seeing how the story is going to end – it is easy to doubt the goodness of the Lord. It is easy to wonder if His will is sovereign, if His Word is good, and if His ways are just. In these moments we must remember that, like Tamar, the story isn’t finished yet. God is just getting started.
PRAY & REFLECT
Consider Tamar’s story – her grief, loss, and shame. Thank God that even when we are in the middle of the story – that when our stories don’t yet have an ending – that He is still at work. Ask Him for the faith necessary to trust Him in the middle of your own story.