Tamar and Judah – Genesis 38 Update

Then Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord killed him.

This woman, Tamr or Tamar defied widowhood and infertility by sleeping with her father-in-law without his knowledge and conceiving twin boys.

We will see next why the Bible recounts the details of this pregnancy even though it was an indecent story.



The meaning of the name Tamar: תמר

In Arabic and Hebrew, the name means dates; a fruit that grows on palm trees. The dates are a symbol of a lush life; of water and oases.

There is a contradiction between her name; the symbol for a lush life, and the period of non-conception that she went through. 

Tamar was born with a plan to conceive, like a fruitful palm tree. Nevertheless, something stood in her way and prevented her from achieving what the Lord wanted for her life.


Tamar’s first husband Er, who was 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 that Judas, who stood alone in the defence of his brother Joseph, and who received Jacob’s full blessing, gave birth to a wicked son. But this is a reminder that personality is not necessarily inherited from the parents.

The second issue: The Bible does not tell us how Er was an evil man.

  The third issue: Evildoing has not always led to the wrath of God and his immediate revenge, from the time of Cain until now. So, why did Er deserved to die?

In order to answer any of these questions, we need more information about Er. However, we don’t know any other things about him in the Bible. The only additional element we can rely on is the name of the man.  Names in Scriptures are very symbolic since they either reflect current qualities or promised ones, as it was the case for Abraham, Sarah and Jacob.


Er; the name: The first letter represents a consonant sound that does not exist in Latin languages and the nearest to it is the sound of the vowel -a- if uttered from the deeper areas of the throat. 

Past tense [aa.ra] – present+future tenses [ya.iiru] – Imperative mood [ir] – 

The noun: [ayrun] or [ay.ra.n] – the subject: [aa.i.r] – or [aay.yar]

The object: [ma.e:r]

Meaning: [aa.r]: to criticise, speak ill of someone, to reveal embarrassing or immoral things about the person.

To go somewhere reluctantly or nervously. – 

to [i:r] a group of people is to gossip and spread disagreement or wars between them. 

The [ee:r] is a caravan of camels or donkeys used to carry/transport food.

Idiom: someone not good at [ee:r} or [na.feer] (=war): this means someone with very little honour and significance. 

Verb [aa.ya.r], noun [ta.ayeer] also means that someone is acting impudently towards someone else on the basis of an act of mischief done by the victim or his/her family. In this case, the person who first committed the scandalous behaviour is regarded as the source of ridicule or humiliation. The two words used in this context can be translated to one single Aramaic word: [aa:r] which is the same as [Er]  but written differently in European phonetics.


Although we see throughout the Bible that God used many people who were of humble background or were introverts, lacking in self-confidence (as in the case of Gideon in the Book of Judges 6), we note that He rejected many arrogant, violent people who were not prepared to change. Er was the kind of person who insisted on his own way. Like Nabal in the Book of Samuel I, he was an unteachable man, so God gave up on him and he died.


And Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and marry her, and raise up an heir to your brother.” But Onan knew that the heir would not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in to his brother’s wife, that he emitted on the ground, lest he should give an heir to his brother. 10 And the thing which he did displeased the Lord; therefore He killed him also.


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 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 his tradition.

The second interpretation: Onan was never approved by God to become the required ancestor in the first place. As a result, the enemy was permitted to tempt him not to cooperate, and he, too, passed away early.


11 Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow in your father’s house till my son Shelah is grown.” For he said, “Lest he also die like his brothers.” And Tamar went and dwelt in her father’s house.


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 main root in David’s family tree. However, if this was the case, why did Tamar not marry Judah instead of his son Er?

There are many natural reasons among them the fact that Tamar was of Er’s age, and not his father’s. Also, Judah was not described to be a womaniser (except for when he felt a sudden desire to use a prostitute who happened to be his son’s widow). In fact, since he married the daughter of the Canaanite man; the mother of his children, he has never married again after her death, which was very unusual in this polygamous society.

Nevertheless, given the fact that God had in his power, if He wished, to change all of these factors to orchestrate a more traditional chain of events, we can say that a more ordinary union between Tamar and Judah could have been possible.  Therefore, the more realistic explanation of 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. As in many other books, such as Isaiah 7 and 8, or Hosea 1, God builds His symbols through tales from the very core of reality.




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 played the role of a prostitute in order to answer the call of motherhood that was growing strong within her.  Several generations later, a young woman might have been called the same name for bearing a child conceived through the Holy Spirit.  

God the Father created Jesus without the intervention of people or angels. He created him in Heaven, through the Holy Spirit alone. Even Mary was only the womb that gave Christ the human experience necessary for the act of redemption and salvation. 

But all in all, Tamar and Mary were both the symbol of the nation of Israel getting pregnant with the promise of God, and bearing Jesus-Christ himself. 

The parable of Judah and Tamar was that of God and the nation of Israel. Although God often commissions his Sons to do his work, in some situations, the Sons cannot replace the Father. God commissioned many prophets to save the nation, including Moses. But to bring about the second covenant, there was no other than God himself who could fulfil the promise.


تَمَر و يهودا – ﺗﻜﻮﻳﻦ ٣٨-٦


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