Tamar, The 1st Levirate Marriage

In the gospels of Mark 12:18-27, Matthew 22:23-34 and Luke 20:27-40 the Sadducees approach Jesus with an unusual question considering they didn’t believe in life after death. The Sadducees refused to go beyond the written Torah (first five books of the Bible). Unlike the Pharisees they denied the immortality of the soul, bodily resurrection after death, and the existence of angelic spirits. For the Sadducees, the Oral Law, the post-biblical Jewish legal traditions meant next to nothing. They were the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” believers.

Matthew 22:23-33 The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, 24 saying: “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. 25 Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. 26 Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. 27 Last of all the woman died also. 28 Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.”

29 Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. 31 But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.

The first mention of “Levirate Marriage” mentioned in the Bible is a twisted kind of narrative. Of course it involves death but it seems to include incest and harlotry as well. It introduces one of the so called “bad girls” of the Bible, Tamar.

God’s Word tells us that if we seek, we will find. Sometimes seeking gets kinda sticky and will mess up your Bible theology. It’s like picking wild blackberries. You have to be willing to get stuck by the thorns a little to get to the good stuff. As this story begins you will notice that Tamar is “chosen” and not in control.

Genesis 38:1-6 It came to pass at that time that Judah departed from his brothers, and visited a certain Adullamite whose name was Hirah. 2 And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shuah, and he married her and went in to her. 3 So she conceived and bore a son, and he called his name Er. 4 She conceived again and bore a son, and she called his name Onan. 5 And she conceived yet again and bore a son, and called his name Shelah. He was at Chezib when she bore him. 6 Then Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar.

If you are paying attention there are a few red flags already in this story.
1. Judah has gone against Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s example by marrying a Canaanite.
2. She is nameless, only known as the “daughter of Shuah.” Shua H7770 (BDB- “wealth”)
3. Tamar’s name is revealed without saying who’s her father. Tamar H8559 (BDB- “palm-tree”)

For whatever reason we aren’t told much about Judah’s firstborn son except that he was “wicked.” Perhaps Er was a momma’s boy and followed the Canaanite ways that weren’t pleasing to God. We are told why Judah’s second born son is killed, maybe he’s a momma’s boy too.

Genesis 38:7-10 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord killed him. 8 And Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and marry her, and raise up an heir to your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the heir would not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in to his brother’s wife, that he emitted on the ground, lest he should give an heir to his brother. 10 And the thing which he did displeased the Lord; therefore He killed him also.

In my seeking I learned that this “Levirate Marriage” thing wasn’t something new even though this is the first time it’s mentioned in the Bible. Wikipedia has a large article that details it’s history through cultures all over the world. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levirate_marriage

Levirate Marriage is addressed in the “Middle Assyrian Laws,” a collection of laws that were put together for the people of Mesopotamia. These codes of law were originally written in Akkadian, one of the earliest Semitic languages. Excerpts from the Code the Assyrians dating back to 1075 BCE were found in the twentieth century in ancient Assur (currently Northern Iraq).

When Abraham was too old to go himself sent his servant to get a wife for his son Isaac. Why???

Genesis 24:3,10 and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; 4 but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”
10 Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, for all his master’s goods were in his hand. And he arose and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor.

Getting back to our not so pleasant story of Judah and Tamar, we are seeing a picture of Judah being in rebellion by marrying a Canaanite woman. He knew better. What else did he probably know better and wasn’t doing. First of all Judah tells Tamar wait for Shelah to grow up, then he can be your husband.

Genesis 38:11 Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow in your father’s house till my son Shelah is grown.” For he said, “Lest he also die like his brothers.” And Tamar went and dwelt in her father’s house.

As we read further along in the story we see that Judah didn’t really want to give Shelah as a husband to Tamar because he figured God will kill him too. This is where the story takes a turn and seems to paint Tamar as an evil or vindictive woman, even a harlot. Like maybe she is going to get even with Judah for not giving Shelah as he said. This is where some seeking for truth starts to pay off in my search for the “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey use to say.

In the “Middle Assyrian Laws” there is a clear age given for a child to fall under Levirate Marriage and other important information. http://jewishchristianlit.com/Texts/ANElaws/midAssyrLaws.html

Tablet A – A43 If a man poured oil on the head of a girl of status or brought betrothal-gifts, but the son for whom he was seeking betrothal has either died or disappeared, he may give her to whichever of his remaining sons that he prefers, from the eldest to the youngest as long as he is at least ten years old; he is to marry her.

“He is to marry her.” In an article from Jewish Women’s Archive, the “he” is the father in law, Judah.
According to Near Eastern custom, known from Middle Assyrian laws, if a man has no son over ten years old, he could perform the levirate obligation himself; if he does not, the woman is declared a “widow,” free to marry again. https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/tamar-bible

This article sheds more light of Tamar’s problem and how she fells lead to address it. It also addresses what future relations are to be between Judah and Tamar.

Tamar is only waiting for Shelah to grow up and mate with her. But after time passes, she realizes that Judah is not going to effect that union. She therefore devises a plan to secure her own future by tricking her father-in-law into having sex with her. She is not planning incest. A father-in-law may not sleep with his daughter-in-law (Lev 18:15), just as a brother-in-law may not sleep with his sister-in-law (Lev 18:16), but in-law incest rules are suspended for the purpose of the levirate. The levir is, after all, only a surrogate for the dead husband.

Realizing what has happened, Judah publicly announces Tamar’s innocence. His cryptic phrase, zadekah mimmeni, is often translated “she is more in the right than I” (Gen 38:26), a recognition not only of her innocence, but also of his wrongdoing in not freeing her or performing the levirate. Another possible translation is “she is innocent—it [the child] is from me.” Judah has now performed the levirate (despite himself) and never cohabits with Tamar again. Once she is pregnant, future sex with a late son’s wife would be incestuous.

Tamar’s place in the family and Judah’s posterity are secured. She gives birth to twins, Perez and Zerah (Gen 38:29–30; 1 Chr 2:4), thus restoring two sons to Judah, who has lost two. Their birth is reminiscent of the birth of Rebekah’s twin sons, at which Jacob came out holding Esau’s heel (Gen 25:24–26). Perez does him one better. The midwife marks Zerah’s hand with a scarlet cord when it emerges from the womb first, but Perez (whose name means “barrier-breach”) edges his way through. From his line would come David.

Tamar was assertive of her rights and subversive of convention. She was also deeply loyal to Judah’s family. These qualities also show up in Ruth, who appears later in the lineage of Perez and preserves Boaz’s part of that line. The blessing at Ruth’s wedding underscores the similarity in its hope that Boaz’s house “be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah” (Ruth 4:12). Tamar’s (and Ruth’s) traits of assertiveness in action, willingness to be unconventional, and deep loyalty to family are the very qualities that distinguish their descendant, King David.

Jesus Is The Aleph & The Tav, The Alpha & The Omega, The First & The Last
א ת Jesus Α Ω א ת Jesus Α Ω א ת Jesus Α Ω א ת Jesus Α Ω א ת Jesus Α Ω א ת Jesus Α Ω

In Judah’s confession of his fault he asserts a high character trait to Tamar.

Genesis 38:26 So Judah acknowledged them and said, “She has been more righteous (H6663 – just, righteous) than I, because I did not give her to Shelah my son.” And he never knew her again.

While the names of people in the Bible don’t always reflect their character often times it does. Tamar H8559 bring with it the meaning “palm-tree.” Has God something to say concerning “palm trees” in His Holy Spirit inspired Word? You Bet He Does!!!

The Significance of the Palm Trees – W. Clarkson
Ezekiel 41:18-20, 25 And it was made with cherubim and palm trees, so that a palm tree was between a cherub and a cherub; and every cherub had two faces;…

The cherubim and the palm trees were closely associated; both were largely represented, and they were found in close conjunction: “a palm tree was between a cherub and a cherub.” Both of them pictured the righteous man in the sanctuary of God, but while the cherub signified the good man at his best bringing himself and all that he had as an offering to God, the palm tree stood for the good man as one who had been made what he was by the services of the sanctuary; the one was enlarged and ennobled humanity brining its offering to God, the other was that same humanity gaining its goodness and worth from God and from his house. “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree,” said the psalmist (Psalm 92:12). And there is very good reason why that tree should be taken as a type or picture of the righteous man; there is also excellent reason why the prominence of the palm tree in the prophet’s vision should picture the truth that man’s goodness is the fair and excellent result of much communion with God. Among the resemblances are these –

I. ITS UPRIGHTNESS. Some trees are irregular, they are twisted and tortuous in their growth; some hug the ground before they rise; but the palm rises straight toward heaven, it stands upright among the trees. “Like some tall palm the noiseless fabric grew.” The good man is well figured here; he is the man who does not stoop, who does not bend and bow earthward, who stands erect, who moves in one heavenward direction, who is governed constantly by true and abiding principles. And these he gains from God and from his house. There, in the sanctuary, he is sustained in his principles, is reminded of them, gains fresh inspiration to illustrate and adorn them.

II. ITS FRUITFULNESS. The palm, as a fruit-bearing tree, bearing a fruit which is remarkably nutritious – for the date will sustain life for a long time, without any other kind of food – is an admirable picture of the righteous man. He bears fruit; he is expected to “bear much fruit,” and fruit of many kinds: excellency of spirit, – love, joy, peace, long-suffering, etc.; worthiness of life, – consistency, blamelessness, practical kindness, etc.; earnest effort to do good, – patient, prayerful endeavor to awaken the slumbering, to elevate the fallen, to comfort the sorrowful, to encourage the feeble, etc. And if he does this, it can only be by having much to do with Jesus Christ his Lord. He must be a branch abiding in the vine; he must maintain a very close spiritual connection with Christ; and how shall he do this without the ordinances of his house?

III. ITS BEAUTY. The palm tree lends a great charm to the landscape when seen standing in clusters upon the heights against the sky; and its evergreen foliage makes each particular tree an object of beauty. The righteous man is he whose character is fair, excellent, admirable. When he is what his Master calls on him to be, and what he actually becomes when he seeks the strength and refreshment to be found in communion with God, then the more he is observed the more he is admired. Those qualities are found in him which are “lovely and of good report;” he is unselfish, pure, considerate, open-handed, patient, brave, loyal, loving. His goodness, like the foliage of the palm, grows not near the ground, where it can easily be soiled and lost, but high up, where lower things cannot damage or destroy it.

IV. ITS ELASTICITY. The fiber of the palm is so elastic that, even when loaded with considerable weights, it still grows determinately upwards (see Smith’s ‘Dictionary of the Bible’). The good man may have much to depress him and to hamper his growth, but if he “dwells in the house of the Lord,” he will rise, notwithstanding all that would otherwise check him, to a noble height of virtue and of piety.

V. ITS ULTIMATE TRIUMPH. It does not promise much at the beginning. “It is rough to the touch and enveloped in dry bark, but above it is adorned with fruit… so is the life of the elect, despised below, beautiful above;… down below straitened by innumerable afflictions, but on high it is expanded into a foliage… of beautiful greenness” (see 2 Corinthians 4:17; Hebrews 12:11). – C.

Jesus Is The Aleph & The Tav, The Alpha & The Omega, The First & The Last
א ת Jesus Α Ω א ת Jesus Α Ω א ת Jesus Α Ω א ת Jesus Α Ω א ת Jesus Α Ω א ת Jesus Α Ω

I hope and pray this post helps others to look at Tamar and Judah in a new light. God’s Word is so deep and rich with the truths of how our Heavenly Father looks on His children. When we might be quick to condemn, He reveals the good purposes He has for us apart from just His Wonderful Forgiveness. Even though Judah has messed up a lot in recent chapters, God will name an important tribe and a nation after him. As for Tamar who many would label as a low life in God’s Eyes, His Word says NO, she is one of my Righteous and Upright Ones. Through her womb will come my servant David, a man who chased after My Heart with all his mind, soul and strength.

Greatest of All, through descendants of her womb will be born my LORD and Savior Yeshua, Jesus Christ!!!

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