As we continue our Advent journey I thought it might be interesting if we took the opportunity this week to reflect on the lives of the four women who are mentioned in Chapter 1 of Mathew’s Gospel where we find the genealogy of Christ in verses 1-17
The presence of these women is not accidental, nor incidental; and as we consider their stories, we will see striking illustrations of God’s way of salvation. We may be familiar with the gospels written according to four men, now we have the chance to see it through the lives of four women!
We begin by exploring the life of Tamar, who is perhaps the least well known. In Chapter 38 of Genesis, we have an interlude in Joseph’s story, at the point where the unfortunate owner of the coat of many colours has been sold off as a slave in Egypt! Instead we hear the story of Judah, one of Joseph’s brothers, who has settled, married and had three sons. His first son, called Er married Tamar. Er died, leaving Tamar childless. The custom in these times was that it was then the duty of the brother in law to take on his brother’s widow, and her firstborn son would then take the name of her deceased husband.
So Judah’s next son, Onan, takes on Tamar. However, Onan doesn’t want to make her pregnant, because the offspring would be considered his brothers, not his, and so he too fails in his duties. Onan then also dies, leaving Tamar childless. Judah then says that Tamar will be able to marry his third son, Shelah, when he grows up.
However, Judah does not fulfil this promise, and thus dishonours Tamar. Tamar then finds out that Judah is going to visit the temple, and so she dresses up as a temple prostitute, covering her face, and Judah lies with her at the temple, making her pregnant. Whilst still in disguise, she gets a pledge from him.
When Judah finds out that his daughter in law is pregnant (he still doesn’t know that it was him), he is outraged, and wants her to be brought out and burned, for bringing shame on the family.
Tamar produces the evidence to Judah that he is in fact the father, and he realises that Tamar was more right than he was, because he had withheld his son.
Tamar starts the story as the grieving widow, at the mercy of the family. But when it becomes clear that the family are not following through on their obligations to her, she takes huge steps outside of what is expected of her, acting out of honour, to perpetuate her husband’s line; she deceives Judah, pretending to be a temple prostitute (I’m not sure what that also says about Judah, who was visiting a prostitute!); but through this relationship she has twins Perez and Zerah, and it is through Perez that the genealogical line to Jesus is continued.
Now it has to be said that Tamar’s story does sound a bit like the plot of a bad soap opera but in fact it because of Tamar’s determination to call her family to account that the perpetuation of the line is achieved.
In a time where women had virtually no rights at all, Tamar shows courage and tenacity, despite the danger this cold have placed her in.
When we read her story we may view it as outdated but throughout the world there are women who are fighting for their rights as equal members of society, whose lives can be changed in the instance at the whim of those with power who are often men.
Tamar is an example of a woman who knew what it was to be abused and wronged but she kept her faith in God who saw her plight and upheld her in her struggle.
As we continue our Advent journey let us remember and pray for all families whose lives are blighted by abuse and far and ask God to place on our hearts the actions He would wish us to take in order to alleviate their suffering.
God of Tamar
and all unlikely grandmothers,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
As you made Tamar righteous through her distress,
we bring before you all widows,
all those in abusive families,
all those struggling to see the way ahead,
give them your peace and your comfort,
and grant them the courage of Tamar.
We ask this through Jesus Christ,
the light who is coming into the world. Amen