The first time we hear about Tamar is in Genesis 38: 6And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar.
This woman defied widowhood and barrenness by sleeping with her father-in-law without his knowledge and conceiving twin boys.
Why would the Bible recount what it seems to be an embarrassing and indecent story of conception?
The meaning of the name Tamar: תמר
In Arabic and Hebrew, the name means dates. The dates are a symbol of a lush life, of water and palm trees. It’s the symbol of an oasis.
There is a contradiction between this lush life and bareness. Tamar was born with a plan to conceive, like a good, fruitful palm tree. Nevertheless, something stops her from fulfilling her destiny.
Tamar’s first husband Er, who is Judah’s firstborn, “was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him.”. This part of the verse already raises several issues.
The first issue: It is strange, though not impossible, that Judah who was alone in defending his brother Joseph, to father an evil heir.
The second issue: The Bible doesn’t tell us what Evil has Er done.
The third issue: Evil doing has not always led to death, from the time of Cain till present.
The fourth issue: the Bible said: Er was wicked “in the sight of the LORD“, not just evil in the absolute. Could this detail be relevant?
In my opinion, Er’s death had something to do with the plan that God had for Tamar’s descendants. Probably the reason why the wicked Er had to depart early was the fact that he was not fit to provide the required seed for this conception.
Er’s brother Onan also had a problem. It was put in his heart not to provide his late brother with an heir, going against his father’s wishes and against the tradition of his time. “10And the thing which he did displease the LORD: therefore he slew him also..” This second death has two interpretations:
The first interpretation: Onan was approved by God to become the ancestor of King David and of our Messiah prior to his offence, but the enemy had disrupted God’s plans by filling him with contempt towards their tradition.
The second interpretation: Onan was never approved by God to become the required ancestor from the first place, therefore, the enemy was permitted to tempt him not to cooperate, and he, too, passed away early.
To spare Judah from losing his third child, it was put in his heart not to marry his youngest son to Tamar. Therefore, there was also a possibility that the youngest son Shelah was not the chosen ancestor for the coming King.
In fact, God’s will might have been all along that Tamar would conceive directly from Judah because God needed him to be the direct father of David’s family tree. However, if this was the case, why Tamar didn’t marry Judah instead of his son Er?
There are many superficial reasons among them the fact that Tamar was of Er’s age. Also, Judah was not described to be a womaniser (except for when he used a prostitute who was, in fact, his son’s widow). He married the daughter of the Canaanite man; the mother of his children and never married again after her death, according to Genesis, which was very unusual in this polygamous society.
Nevertheless, given the fact that God could have changed all of these factors to orchestrate a more traditional chain of events that could have led to a more ordinary union between Tamar and Judah, the more realistic explanation to why did the circumstances had to be so unconventional is the fact that God desired to build a symbolic parable communicating more profound spiritual truths to the reader.
Although God often commissions his Sons to do his work, in some situations, the Sons cannot replace the Father. In the case of our Messiah, for example, God the Father created him without the intervention of men or of angels. He created him through the Holy Spirit alone.
The story of Tamar should not be read literally. Tamar in this parabolic, yet real narrative, was the symbol of the good fruit that was ready to birth even better fruit. She played the role of the ‘wayward woman’, but she was in fact decency itself. Her quest was neither selfish pleasure nor vulgar lust, but the eagerness to fulfil God’s plan in her life. She perceived herself, not as a woman, but as a tree; a bearer. She assumed the position of a prostitute in order to answer the call of motherhood that was growing within her. Several generations later, a young woman might have been called the same name for bearing a child conceived through the Holy Spirit.