Friday, September 24, 2010

Tamar Plays the Harlot - Genesis 38:12-19

Now after a considerable time Shua's daughter, the wife of Judah, died; and when the time of mourning was ended, Judah went up to his sheepshearers at Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. It was told to Tamar, "Behold, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep." So she removed her widow's garments and covered herself with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the gateway of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah had grown up, and she had not been given to him as a wife. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, for she had covered her face. So he turned aside to her by the road, and said, "Here now, let me come in to you"; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. And she said, "What will you give me, that you may come in to me?" He said, therefore, "I will send you a young goat from the flock." She said, moreover, "Will you give a pledge until you send it?" He said, "What pledge shall I give you?" And she said, "Your seal and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand." So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. Then she arose and departed, and removed her veil and put on her widow's garments.

We only know Judah’s wife by her father’s name, thus “Shua’s daughter”. When she dies Judah mourns the appropriate amount of time and then takes off to visit those that were or would be shearing his flocks at Timnah. Timnah is a small town, in the hill country, bordering on the land eventually given to Judah and the land given to Dan. If I read the sentence structure correctly, Judah went with his friend Hirah the Adullamite who you may remember had possibly introduced him to Shua whose daughter he married. So, with all those people knowing about Judah’s visit to Timnah, it was not long before Tamar, now staying with her father, was told about it as well.

Tamar had not forgotten how Judah had set her aside after her own husband died and how he did not demand that his other sons give her children in accordance with the common practice at the time, but rather sent her home to her father’s until his youngest son got older. So, is it time to pay him back? Maybe yes, maybe not. You see Judah had not kept his promise of giving her his youngest son Shelah to provide children for her as he had promised and Shelah had grown up by now. So what does she do? She takes off her mourning clothes which indicated she was a widow, veiled her face, wrapped herself in plain clothes, and went and sat in from of the gate of Enaim, a small city in the lowlands of the land of Judah, on the way to Timnah.

So Judah comes along, sees her, and, as her faced was covered, mistakes her for a prostitute sitting at the gate of the city waiting for customers. Being a widower and seeking sexual pleasure strictly to meet his physical needs, he propositions her. The thought of this being his daughter-in-law never entered his mind.

Tamar of course had a plan that she continued to implement. She asks Judah how he intended to pay her for her services. Judah tells her he will send her a young animal from his flock. In all likelihood, that was very good compensation for the services of a harlot in those days. But Tamar wanted to know what proof of promise she would have until such a payment would be made later. It is not clear whether or he was a bit taken aback by her demand for such proof or whether he repeated her question sincerely asking her to name what she wanted as that proof. In any case, she asked that Judah give her his seal, cord, and staff that he was carrying until the goat he promised had been brought to her. The seal was most likely a signet ring. The cord was likely the fancy twisted thread, which attached the seal or signet ring to his person. The staff was a rod or walking stick that he carried.

Judah quickly (we know not how willingly) agrees to give Tamar who was posing as a prostitute what she requested in order to avail himself of her services and sexual intercourse takes place. The text is very interesting here as it indicates, “she conceived by Judah” prior to even getting up from the actual sex act she had been involved in with Judah. The long-term evident consequences of sin waste no time in starting to appear in one’s life and complicating matters – even if the sinner is not aware of it.

Having delivered her services and having fulfilled her desire to get back at Judah for his failure to deliver on an earlier promise, Tamar now gets up and leaves him. It is later on that she removes her veil and once again dons her widow’s outfit. And she didn’t even know that by having sex with Judah she also met her need for having a child.

So what are we to take from all this? Well for starters, we need to think about any responsibilities to others that we have failed to carry out in our lives. They may well come back to thwart our plans for our own future. Secondly, be sure you know whom you are really dealing with at all times. In my career as a civil servant I was taught early never to say or do anything that I would not be prepared to see in the headlines of the national media the next day. I think that all Christians should live their lives like that. It’s sound advice. Finally, there is a lesson that clearly suggests we would be wise to meet our physical sexual needs in the way that God intended us to. Even for those that are single or widowed, we are to seek God’s will as to whether or not He may want you to marry or remarry as the case may be, and if not, to seek His help and strength in living a life of celibacy, relying on Him for companionship and spiritual intimacy. God bless you today as you live for Him.

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