My first impression of her was her admirable strength and wit. For a young girl of fourteen, Tamar appeared mature; wise beyond her years, virtuous. Note, she was Canaanite, from a family deeply rooted in pagan worship, one of her sisters had been given up to serve as a priestess in one of their temples (Temple of Timnah)
“Once, during a visit to Timnah during a festival, she’d seen her older sister on an altar platform having sexual intercourse with a priest.”
But Tamar had been disgusted by it. The faith she had been raised in felt empty to her.
“The gods made no sense to her. All her efforts to worship them filled her with a strange sense of repugnance and shame.”
It seemed for no reason she yearned for something greater, something she felt existed,
“If the gods of Canaan were so powerful, why hadn’t they been able to save…the people of Sodom and Gomorrah? …perhaps there was no true god. Her heart rebelled at the thought…the world around her….said there was something. Perhaps the God of Judah was that something.”
This felt very significant to me and it reminded me of a verse from a hymn written by James Ashcroft Noble, which is about Jesus’ appearance to two of his disciples who did not recognize him but begged him to come in and eat with them (Luke 24:13 – 31);
“Perchance we have not always wist (known)
Who has been with us by the way;
Amid day’s uproar we have missed
Some word that Thou hast had to say
In silent night, O Saviour dear,
We would not fail Thy voice to hear.”
It got me thinking that perhaps God had been trying to speak to this Canaanite girl for a long while, the presence of the saviour made her uncomfortable in her pagan temples, made her see the emptiness in the wood carvings and stone sculptures that her family were worshiping. And as another part of the same hymn I mentioned states, the presence was strange but she yearned for more;
“Did not their hearts within them burn?
And though their Lord they failed to know,
Did not their spirits inly yearn?
They could not let the stranger go…”
It enlightened me on the possibility of it and how many today might be experiencing this feeling but not know it. It might be God – Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, walking with you and so you find yourself in the world (not acknowledging God and living by his word) but you are not able to fully be for the world because the things you see do not fully attract you. It is also so for Christians who have, in many ways left loopholes in their faith and are trailing on a center line, neither here, nor there, a grey area that leaves the believer lukewarm. This person, at a point feels that strong insistent presence to step back into right.
In this story however, it is not until Tamar is back in her father’s home, waiting for Judah to honour his promise and give her hand in marriage to his last son, that we hear her pray an actual prayer, wholly sincere and from her heart, in hope she prayed;
“When she was alone in the fields, Tamar lifted her eyes to the heavens, tears streaking down her face. ‘How long before justice is done? Oh, God of Judah, help me. When will this son of yours see that I can give his household the children he needs so that the name of Judah will not die? God, change his heart.’ Having prayed to Judah’s unseen God, Tamar did the only thing left to her. She waited…”
This prayer she prayed went far beyond what she thought she was asking for. She had wanted God to change Judah’s heart so he comes for her, but we all see what Tamar had to do to finally get back into that household. What God did instead, was to change Judah’s heart so thoroughly, from the bitterness he had haboured inside, the guilt that was gnawing away at him, the weight of sin that had settled over him, preventing him from letting go of the past and learning to love God fully again. God did this through none other but Tamar. I had goose bumps when I got to that part where Tamar had sent her nurse Acsah to go show Judah his staff and seal after Judah had sent word that they burn her for the adultery that she had committed. When Judah saw the items and realized what it was he had done…he said the one thing he hadn’t said in true humility since he sold his brother Joseph into slavery and lied to Jacob his father, that a wild animal had devoured him, leaving his ageing father stuck in grief for the loss of his most beloved son. He prayed, amidst heartthrobs, necessary thoughts, he prayed, while running to go stop a possible murder;
“‘Oh, God, forgive me!’ He pushed himself harder, running faster than he’d ever run in his life. ‘Let this sin be upon my head!’ Why hadn’t he run like this after the Ishmaelites? Why hadn’t he rescued his brother from their hands? It was too late now to undo what he’d done then. ‘Oh, God have mercy, God of my father, Israel! Give me strength! Let her life be spared, and the child with her.’”
When he met them and stopped them from killing Tamar, he was further touched by the girl’s silence, her loyalty to him and his household even after all he had done to her. She kept her mouth shut and did not tell exactly what she did to in order to get pregnant. She forced him to look at his own life, he who claimed to be a descendant of Israel, God’s race had failed to love his brother Joseph like he should have, had plotted with his brothers to sell him into slavery, had lied to his father, had married a pagan woman and allowed her to raise all his sons in pagan worship and tradition, he had in many ways, failed. And it was Tamar, a Canaanite girl, a pagan girl, a foreign girl, who had caused him to see his shortcomings,and showed him what having God in you truly meant.
“Tears filled his eyes. His throat closed. She stood before him, battered and bleeding, head bowed, uttering not a word of self-defense, waiting, still waiting, as she’d always waited for him to be the man he should be.”
The transformation in Judah’s home when Tamar entered it again was amazing. Unlike his first wife, who had died, Tamar made sure, that she, and her house, served the God of Judah, even her servants. Finally, when Tamar delivered the twins, the very last piece fell in place, Judah felt at peace. He knew, as unworthy as he was, he had been forgiven.
“Judah couldn’t speak when he saw Tamar with two babies in her arms. His emotions were so powerful they choked him. Despite his sins, God had given him a double blessing through the courageous young Canaanite woman…When Judah had brought her home to Er(his first son), he’d never realized how God would use her to bring him to repentance , to change his heart, to change the direction of his life. Tamar was a woman of excellence, a woman worthy of praise!”
This change that Tamar caused did not end there. Through her, God further blessed the line of Judah. That line led to the birth of the Messiah. (Gen. 49: 8 – 12)
“On his death bed, Jacob-Israel gathered his sons around him and gave them each a blessing. Judah received the greatest one of all. The scepter would never leave his hands. From him and the sons Tamar had borne to him would come the Promised One, God’s anointed – the Messiah!”
And so we find in the line of Judah, great kings…David, Solomon…and the King of kings, Christ Jesus.
What I learned from the woman Tamar;
- Fear of God
(You can read about Tamar in Genesis 38.)
Stay tuned for the review of the story of Rahab.