Everyone around me appears so sure that the Bible is a clear exposition of right and wrong, but I say it is also full “gray areas.” Tamar, betrayed by her husband’s father and brothers, tricks the father into sleeping with her. She conceives a child by him and when she is found out is called a harlot until Judah fesses up to the deed. Then she is proclaimed righteous.
As she was being brought out [to be burned to death], she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.” Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I . . .
I understand the concept since the law of that era proclaimed that the brothers should sleep with the widow to procure children in the dead brother’s name and provide a future for the widow. Without sons to protect her, she would be cast out into the street. She would be homeless unless her own family would take her in. It was a complex solution to a societal problem — widows.
Tamar did not have many–or perhaps I should say ANY–resources to repair the damage done by Judah’s offspring. Those brothers intentionally withheld from her what she needed: the seed to create a man-child who would care for her in her old age. They, by not participating honestly in the practice, condemned her. For this, they were undoubtedly killed. They were violating basic human rights, and worse, female rights, of which there were few.
Judah withheld the third and youngest son for fear he would be killed, since he didn’t really know why, only that relations with Tamar brought death. Oh, he promised her the boy when he came of age, but it never happened.
So, Tamar pretends to be a temple prostitute.
In today’s world, this is just another soap opera or bodice ripper romance. This is the clever woman making the man own up to his responsibilities. All true. But in her world? She was taking a huge risk. All that Judah had to do, in the moment of reveal, was deny the “pledge” he gave her belonged to him. This was the same Judah, remember, who just participated in the sale of his brother Joseph.
Judah did the right thing, despite himself.
And this is the message for me then. I can always choose rightly today, even if I chose poorly yesterday and the day before that and the day before that. I can do a reversal. I can do the right thing.
In that act of bravery, God can show up. God can make the switch. God is in the now.