Who was Tamar in the Bible? | Story and Importance

Tamar’s story shows God’s purpose and plans working out perfectly despite the injustice and unrighteousness of men.

The Bible is filled with many narratives. Beautiful tales fill our hearts with hope, but some stories are challenging to read; Tamar’s story is one of them. There are three stories of Tamar in the Bible and two experienced injustices within the family. Both are unpleasant tales, yet were given the privilege of being Jesus’ ancestor. Let’s take a look at how their stories unfolded.

Who was Tamar in the Bible?

Tamar in the Bible

Tamar, Absalom’s Daughter

There are three people with the same name in the Old Testament. The first Tamar appeared as Absalom’s daughter and was only mentioned in passing in 2 Samuel 14:27. It says in the verse that she was a beautiful young woman with three brothers. This Tamar also became Queen Maaacah’s mother. She married King Rehoboam.

Judah’s Daughter-in-law, Tamar

Judah is the fourth-born son of Jacob. He left his father and brothers and stayed with a man of Adullam named Hirah. There, Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married a Canaanite woman named Shua and became pregnant with her eldest son, named Er.

When Er came of age, Judah and Shua, found him a wife named Tamar. According to the Holy Bible, in the Lord’s sight, Er was evil (Genesis 38:7), thus, He took Judah’s oldest son Er. Since Judah had three sons, Onan needed to take his brother’s wife as a surrogate for his brother’s lineage to continue according to the levirate marriage. However, God also took Onan’s life, making Tamar a widow again.

Now alone and childless, Judah refused to marry off his youngest son Shelah, telling Tamar to remain in her father’s house until Shelah grows up. After a long time, Judah’s wife, Shua, died. In the latter Bible verses of Genesis chapter 38, we learned that Tamar disguised herself as a temple prostitute and tricked Judah.

Fast forward three months and a rumor about Tamar’s pregnancy and infidelity begins. Enraged and determined to restore honor to his household, Judah decided to have her burnt to death. However, she knew about the repercussions of her plan when she tricked Judah, so she showed him the staff, seal, and cord Judah gave her that night.

When it finally dawns on him what truly happened, Judah confessed to neglecting his responsibilities of caring for his daughter-in-law (Genesis 38:26). His guilt caused Judah to confess his sin publicly and made him strive to be a better father-in-law for Tamar and care for the children she was carrying.

Tamar, daughter of King David

The third Tamar also had a tragic story. This Tamar was the beautiful daughter of David and Maacah, the daughter of King Talmai. She is said to be undeniably beautiful, and her looks stand out amongst her other siblings.

Tamar and her brothers

Tamar had a brother, Absalom, and a half-brother named Amnon. When she reached puberty, Amnon grew an unnatural obsession with her. Amnon was a wicked man and fell in love with his sister Tamar. He also became obsessed with his sister and was consumed with lust for her.

When Amnon saw that he had no chance of getting Tamar for himself, he pours out his frustration to his cunning and manipulative adviser named Jonadab. Jonadab gave Amnon the idea of pretending to be ill so that he could ask his father, David, to tell Tamar to care for him. David did not know of Amnon’s obsession and sent his daughter to care for Amnon.

As an obedient daughter of the king, she obeys David’s command and brings food to her sick brother. Unaware of her brother’s sick intentions, Tamar enters the room with her servants only for her brother to petulantly send them away so that he could be alone with his sister. With only the two of them in the room, Amnon grabs his sister and proceeds to molest and sexually abuse her despite her struggles to get away.

Tamar as a desolate woman

After he was done with his horrible deed, Amnon’s feelings for Tamar change. He was now disgusted by the sight of her and casts her out of his room. Tamar wept loudly as she tore the ornate robe she wore, the kind of garment virgin daughters of the king wore. She also moved to the harem where she lived as a desolate woman.

When Absalom found out what happened to his sister, Absalom moved her out of the harem and into his home, where he tried to comfort Tamar, but she was inconsolable. When Absalom told King David what had happened, David was furious but did not punish Amnon nor seek justice for Tamar.

Enraged, Absalom hated Amnon and waited for two years before taking justice himself. At the height of the festivities, when Amnon was powerless, Absalom killed him before fleeing for sanctuary.

Does Tamar fit into Jesus’ Genealogy?

Yes, she does. Judah came from Abraham’s bloodline, so when Tamar bore twins with Judah, she became a part of Jesus’ genealogy. King David and Jesus Christ came from one of Tamar’s twin boys, named Perez.

Tamar in the Bible

Story of Tamar in the Bible

Tamar’s marriage to Judah’s firstborn son Er

Tamar married Judah’s firstborn son, Er, but became a widow very early and was childless. After Er’s death, she married her brother-in-law, Onan. However, her brother-in-law Onan did not give Tamar children out of spite for his brother and to ensure that he would get a bigger percentage of his father’s inheritance.

Since Judah had three sons, according to inheritance customs, Judah had to divide his estate into four equal parts among his three sons. One half has to be given to Er as the eldest, and the others would get one-fourth of Judah’s estate. If Onan were to continue Er’s lineage, the child born would get one-fourth plus half of Er’s inheritance. But if Er remained childless, Onan would inherit two-thirds of his father’s household. So when God found out about Onan’s plan, He punished Onan with death in Genesis 38:10.

Tamar’s plan to claim her rights

After God punished Onan, Tamar became a widow once again. By law, Tamar had the right to marry Judah’s third son Shelah. So Tamar waits until Judah’s son Shelah grows old enough for her to marry. But Judah deprived her of that right because he believed that Tamar was the reason for the death of his two sons.

When she caught on, Tamar thought of a plan to get what was rightfully hers. After Judah’s wife dies, Tamar changes from her widow’s clothes and wears a veil to conceal her identity. She then sits and waits by the roadside where one could get a shrine prostitute. Judah met Tamar dressed differently, and a veil concealed her face from Judah so that she could deceive her father-in-law into having sex with her so that she could have a child. So, Judah propositions her, offering her his staff, seal, and cord as a pledge for her services.

Without revealing Judah’s private life, his friend Hirah helped him find the sacred prostitute and get all his things back.

Judah’s judgment on Tamar

When her pregnancy was made known, it was assumed that Tamar was promiscuous because she did not name the father of her child. Judah ordered Tamar to be burned to death as a punishment. As head of the tribe, Judah had the power to pass that judgment on Tamar. However, Tamar brought out the seal, cord, and staff Judah gave her that night in retaliation. Doing so proves that Judah was the father of her child. Confronted with the evidence, Judah was overcome with guilt, confessed his sins, and made it right with Tamar.

The birth of Tamar’s twin sons

Because of Tamar’s patience and insistence on her rights, God rewarded her with twin sons, Perez and Zerah. Later, it became known that Perez was the ancestor of King David and Jesus Christ. Through her son Perez, David and Jesus Christ became the descendants of Tamar.

Lessons from Tamar in the Bible

Always be patient.

Though she knew what her rights were, Tamar remained patient and waited for Judah’s third son to be of age to marry. Tamar did not act on her emotions and waited patiently despite being hurt. In doing so, Tamar could think of a plan that ultimately gave her the children she wanted. 

So like Tamar, we should also be patient and wait for God’s instruction and guidance. Do not take matters into your own hands and act upon your emotions. Let the Lord take care of it, and trust His timing and leading.

Be courageous.

There are many stories of courageous women in the Bible. Famous examples are Ruth, Deborah, and Esther, who were brave in the face of danger and took a stand during a problematic situation. Tamar is also of the same caliber as those women. For Tamar’s plan to succeed, she needed to take the courage to grab the opportunity. Though it was unconventional, Tamar knew what she needed to do. 

The redemptive and compassionate heart of God

Tamar’s story shows that God doesn’t play favorites. Tamar wasn’t part of God’s chosen people; she was a Gentile and a woman. Yet despite all of this, God took care of Tamar and became part of Jesus’ genealogy. Though what she did was unconventional, the Lord did not deprive Tamar of her right to bear children. 

Learn from the ugly stories in the Bible.

All the tales in the Bible have lessons that are significant to us. Although the story of Tamar is unconventional, it still teaches us about patience and perseverance. God killed her two husbands without explanation, making Tamar twice widowed, yet she did not immediately act on her emotions.

Instead, she patiently waited for an opportunity and took it. Tamar did what she had to secure her right to bear children and gave birth to twin sons.

Tamar in the Bible

In Summary

The story of Tamar deals with fathers’ neglect and men’s cruelty. Both stories aren’t easy to read due to the injustices towards Tamar, but we must accept that life isn’t always beautiful. However, our God is fair and looks out for all of us. Though it wasn’t mentioned in the verses, the Lord was looking out for Tamar. If He weren’t, then Tamar’s plan wouldn’t have worked so well. It was unconventional, yet God still used Tamar so that Judah could see his neglect which deprived Tamar of her right to have a family. 

It shows that God loves you and will use you even if you think you aren’t worthy. Despite the unconventional route of her plan, God used Tamar and even included her in His bloodline. Just remain faithful and trust in God’s guidance. Surrender the pain and hatred you feel towards the people who have wronged you. Let God take care of that, and focus on higher things. The Lord’s rewards and promises are worth more than getting back at the people who hurt you.

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Alex Shute
Alex Shute, MBA
Alex is a family man and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. His passion is to serve the global Church and bring people of diverse backgrounds together to learn & grow.

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