Widows in the Word: Tamar

Rejected, abused, abandoned, yet chosen to be in the lineage of Jesus

Widows play an important role in the Word of God. Their experiences, good and bad, serve as encouragement and challenge for those who come behind them. 

The storyline of Tamar in Genesis 38 was not a happy tale from a Hallmark movie. She was a woman summoned to an arranged marriage, abused, rejected, abandoned, and widowed twice. Thankfully, her story was not only one of tragedy but also one of blessings from God and His great grace.

As we read through the scripture, keep in mind that we are privy to information the people living out the story did not yet know.

Spoiler alert: Through an unimaginable act, she ‘produced seed’ that brought forth Jesus, the Lion from the line of Judah (Matthew 1:1-17).

Marriage #1 for Tamar

Judah took Tamar as a wife for his son, Er: “But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD put him to death” (Genesis 38:7).

Limited details regarding Tamar’s first marriage are given. We do not know how long they were married but only that she was chosen by Judah for his firstborn son. A son who was wicked, so God put him to death, leaving her a widow! Thanks to scripture, we know why Er died, but did Tamar know or understand?


Marriage #2 for Tamar

Upon the death of Er, Tamar’s now father-in-law took action, handing over Tamar to his second son in order to raise offspring for his brother (Genesis 38:8-10). 

Customs were different in the Old Testament times. Believe it or not, what was called a Levirate marriage was ordained by God in the law (Deuteronomy 25) to provide for women who had been left alone (another example in the Bible of a Levirate marriage is the story of Ruth and Boaz). These marriages also provided a way to give the deceased husband an heir. We look at this today and cringe, but Tamar had no say.

Although the traditions of Tamar’s time make us uncomfortable now, God was able to use them to protect His plan for the arrival of the Messiah. 

Tamar’s second husband, Onan, chose a way to avoid the plan to bring forth offspring for his deceased brother, and God put him to death, leaving her widowed a second time! Because of scripture, we know why Onan died, but did Tamar?

Seemingly, Tamar was living a life out of her control and beyond what many of us could imagine. Although Scripture gives insight into the cause of death for Tamar’s husbands–their own wickedness; Judah, her father-in-law, blamed  Tamar for the deaths of his sons. 

In six years, Tamar had experienced an arranged marriage, widowhood (twice), rejection, and abandonment, and was blamed and sent back home.

Then, a third death occurred in the family. Judah’s wife dies, leaving Judah a widower! Desperate times meant desperate measures must be taken, and so dressed as a prostitute, Tamar devised a plan to bring forth an heir, and it worked!

Three months later, at the news of her pregnancy and not knowing who fathered the child, Judah threatened to burn her to death as punishment for her sin (sadly, her own father cheered him on)! Not only was Tamar left as a widow, but she also experienced rejection from both her father and father-in-law.

When she sent word and proof to Judah that he was the father of the expected children, he was humbled and turned his life towards God. In fact, Judah declared that Tamar was “more righteous than I and he did not know her again” (Genesis 38:26).

Tamar was left alone for a third time, but this time blessed with the birth of twins, rivaling each other for first place upon entering the world! She was never loved by a man, but she was loved by God, who allowed her sons, most likely her greatest treasures, to be part of the line of Judah that produced the Savior, the Son of God, the lion of Judah, making her part of the lineage of Christ. Tamar is the first woman named in the line of Jesus.

What a story! What a mystery! What a God who brings glory to His name despite the circumstances! 

The Word of God offers 5 promises of hope for pain, suffering, and the unknowns in life:

  1. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NASB).
  2. “A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, is God in His holy habitation” (Psalm 68:5, NIV).
  3. “…For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Genesis 41:52, NASB).
  4. “Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees” (Genesis 16:13, NASB).
  5. Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).