Tamar’s Scarlet String

Today’s Reading: John 4:1-42

There are five women in the genealogy of Jesus – five women with stained reputations but also five women whom God chose to bless by placing them in this royal lineage. As Jesus was growing up, I am sure his parents taught him the stories of his ancestors. We know that Jesus was well studied in the law and history of the Israelites. He would have known the stories of all those names in his genealogy – both the family lineage of the man who was known as his father, Joseph, and the family lineage of his mother, Mary.

What would Jesus have said regarding Tamar, the first of the women in his paternal genealogy? Let’s look at her story – a story that includes grief, abuse, rejection, abandonment, prostitution, deceit and finally redemption.

In the course of time, Judah arranged for his firstborn son, Er, to marry a young woman named Tamar. But Er was a wicked man in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord took his life. Then Judah said to Er’s brother Onan, “Go and marry Tamar, as our law requires of the brother of a man who has died. You must produce an heir for your brother.” But Onan was not willing to have a child who would not be his own heir…the Lord considered it evil for Onan to deny a child to his dead brother. So the Lord took Onan’s life, too.

Then Judah said to Tamar, his daughter-in-law, “Go back to your parents’ home and remain a widow until my son Shelah is old enough to marry you.” (But Judah didn’t really intend to do this because he was afraid Shelah would also die, like his two brothers.) So Tamar went back to live in her father’s home.

Some years later Judah’s wife died…Someone told Tamar, “Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.”

Tamar was aware that Shelah had grown up, but no arrangements had been made for her to come and marry him. So she changed out of her widow’s clothing and covered herself with a veil to disguise herself. Then she sat beside the road at the entrance of the village of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. Judah noticed her and thought she was a prostitute, since she had covered her face. So he stopped and propositioned her…not realizing that she was his own daughter in law…

About three months later, Judah was told, “Tamar, your daughter-in-law, has acted like a prostitute. And now, because of this, she’s pregnant.”

“Bring her out, and let her be burned!” Judah demanded.

But as they were taking her out to kill her, she sent this message to her father-in-law: “The man who owns these things made me pregnant. Look closely. Whose seal and cord and walking stick are these?”

Judah recognized them immediately and said, “She is more righteous than I am, because I didn’t arrange for her to marry my son Shelah.” And Judah never slept with Tamar again.

When the time came for Tamar to give birth, it was discovered that she was carrying twins. While she was in labor, one of the babies reached out his hand. The midwife grabbed it and tied a scarlet string around the child’s wrist, announcing, “This one came out first.” But then he pulled back his hand, and out came his brother! “What!” the midwife exclaimed. “How did you break out first?” So he was named Perez. Then the baby with the scarlet string on his wrist was born, and he was named Zerah. – Genesis 38:6-16, 24-30

God had a plan – the Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham and a descendant of Judah and a descendant of Perez. But Judah married a Canaanite woman, whose influence on his sons caused them to be evil in the eyes of the Lord. In spite of all of this, God continued to work out his plan. In spite of Judah’s sins of selfishness, God took the unholy union of Judah and Tamar and made a beautiful thing. Tamar was pregnant with twin boys. Zerah began to come out first but God’s plan was for Perez so he caused Zerah to pull back and Perez to be born first.

This is the story of how Tamar came to be in the lineage of Jesus. In this story, Tamar is first a victim of the sinful choices of three men in the lineage of Jacob, but Tamar did not remain innocent in this story. Desperate for love, she devised a plan of deception that included sexual immorality. Instead of trusting God to take care of her, Tamar stepped out of His plan and created her own. What would the young man, Jesus, have to say of this woman in his family story? What would Jesus have to say of the man, Perez, whose birth was the result of a crisis pregnancy?

Perhaps Jesus’ thoughts went to Tamar when he met the Samaritan woman at the well – a well that was near the field that Jacob gave his son Joseph. Perhaps he was thinking of Jacob’s daughter-in-law who would have perhaps drawn water from this same well at one time.

The story of the Samaritan woman had some resemblance to the story of Tamar – multiple husbands and then union with a man who was not her husband. Her story might have included the same elements as Tamar’s – grief, abuse, rejection, abandonment, prostitution, and deceit. What we know is that her story included redemption.

If you have some of these same elements in your story, perhaps these words of Jesus are for you today: “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water…Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” – John 4:10, 13-14

God’s perfect plan for your life probably did not include a lot of the junk that makes up your story but His plan for you has always ended in redemption. He sent His son to be born of a woman pledged to be married to Joseph – whose family story was far from perfect. That same son died on a cross in order to complete your story – to be sure that it can include a story of redemption from sins and eternal life that can be found by accepting the living water that He offers you today. Let us worship the One who was born and died to offer us eternal life. Let’s humbly bow down and offer to Him our past so that we can walk into His future.