Who Is Tamar in the Bible and Why Is She Important?

There are two significant women named “Tamar” in the Bible. Both appear in the Old Testament. One the daughter of King David, and the other bore a son in the genealogical line of Jesus. It is this woman’s importance we will discover in this article. The most incredible mention of Tamar in the Bible is in Matthew Chapter One of the New Testament, appearing in the genealogical line of Jesus Christ. Her story, however, can be found in Genesis Chapter 38. “Tamar is the sort of ancestor most of us wouldn’t mention when recounting our family history,” writes Jon Bloom, “there’s no denying what a horrible mess it was.” Tamar’s appearance in Christ’s lineage exemplifies God’s compassionate character.

The Story of Judah and Tamar

“Judah said to his brothers, ‘What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelite's and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.’ His brothers agreed.” Genesis 37:26-27

The brother whom Judah suggested he and his other brothers sell instead of kill is Joseph. The infamous Joseph, with the many-colored coat, who went on to gain favor with the king and eventually rescue his brothers and father from famine (Genesis 39:2; 45:4-7). But it isn’t Joseph who shows up in the genealogical line of Jesus Christ, it’s Judah. After selling his brother, Judah chose to separate from his brothers and establish his life among the Canaanites, which God warned against. (Genesis 15:16) There, Judah met his wife and began having children. They had three sons, Er (Tamar’s first husband), Onan (Tamar’s second husband), and Shelah (whom Judah refused to give to Tamar in marriage because his first two sons had died.)

Judah and his Tamar crossed paths again after Judah joined her as a widow. When Tamar heard he was traveling towards her, she tricked him into sleeping with her by disguising herself as a prostitute. (Genesis 38:13-19) When Judah heard of Tamar’s pregnancy as a result of prostitution, he ordered her to be put to death. (Genesis 38:24) But Tamar sent a message to Judah: “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.’” Genesis 38:25

Judah had left his seal, cord and staff with her as collateral until he delivered the goat he had promised. She could not be found to receive the goat, and so Judah decided to let her keep his possessions rather than risk further association with a prostitute. (Genesis 38:16-19; 20-23) Judah and Tamar, his daughter-in-law, had two twin boys, Perez and Zerah (Genesis 38:27-30). It is through the inclusion of Perez in the genealogical line of Jesus that Tamar appears as well.

Who Is Tamar in the Bible?

The literal translation of Tamar’s name is “palm tree.” Tamar’s first husband, Er, “was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death.” (Genesis 38:7) She was then given to her brother-in-law to bare children with, according to the law of levirate marriage (Duet 25:5-6; Mt. 22:24). (Similar to Ruth, also widowed and appearing in the genealogical line of Jesus. But Boaz was her kinsman-redeemer, not brother-in-law (Ruth 3:12, NIVSB).). Her brother-in-law did not want to bear children with her and went to immoral lengths to avoid it, so the LORD “put him to death also.” (Genesis 38:10) The next brother in line, Shelah, was too young at the time, however, Judah had no intention of giving him to Tamar for fear he would die, too. As we learned above, Tamar tricked Judah into sleeping with her by disguising herself as a prostitute, which resulted in her birthing two twin sons. 

How Does She Fit into Jesus' Genealogy?

Tamar fits into the genealogy of Jesus, the same line as King David, through the twin sons she bore with Judah. Judah’s father was Jacob, Jacob’s father was Isaac, and Isaac’s father was Abraham (Matthew 1:1-3). Perez, one of the twin sons of Tamar and Judah, is in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. 

“Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram,” Matthew 1:1-3

Several verses later, as the genealogical list continues on, is verse 16: “and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”

What Can We Learn from Tamar's Story?

Tamar’s story is just one thread woven into the dramatic story of humanity. It reveals the redemptive and compassionate heart of God holding. Tamar, like Ruth, was not one of God’s chosen people. Yet, she is one out of four women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy. She was not only a Gentile but a woman. Though we are made in His image, God does not play favorites, and Jesus came to save us all. Our sinfulness is never a surprise to the Sovereign Father and Savior of the world. We live in a fallen world, and though we are far removed from Tamar and the ancient people in her story, we live through our own drama and bear deep scars from the consequences …  some at our own hands and some at the hands of others. 

Jesus loves us regardless of our dysfunctional messes. He never loves us less, no matter how much of a twisted genealogical line we’ve woven, addictive past we claim, or record littered with crimes we carry. The consequences are painful, but Christ’s love remains pure. We are always forgiven and never loved less. “Jesus takes away the old reputation,” writes Jon Bloom, writer for desiringGod.com, “In Jesus, your past sin or the abuse and injustice you’ve suffered, and the ways you’ve viewed yourself and others have viewed you because of it, is not who you are.”

Tamar is one story of many in Jesus’ earthly family line. He could have chosen any family He wanted, but in a remarkable way He chose to know and understand humanity on every level, He came right into a dysfunctional family line. It shows us we’re all dysfunctional on some level. Whether we know and claim our crazy ancestors or not, we’re all human. God loves us. He created us. He made a way to rescue us. Tamar did not know the full significance of her life on earth, nor do we know ours. But there is a purpose, nothing is wasted, and everything will be made right when Jesus returns.

Bible Verses about Tamar

Genesis 38:1-30 ESV - It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and turned aside to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua. He took her and went in to her, and she conceived and bore a son, and he called his name Er. She conceived again and bore a son, and she called his name Onan. Yet again she bore a son, and she called his name Shelah. Judah was in Chezib when she bore him. ...

2 Samuel 13:1-39 ESV - Now Absalom, David's son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar. And after a time Amnon, David's son, loved her. And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her. But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David's brother. And Jonadab was a very crafty man. And he said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom's sister.” Jonadab said to him, “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be ill. And when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Let my sister Tamar come and give me bread to eat, and prepare the food in my sight, that I may see it and eat it from her hand.’” ...

Image Credit: Public Domain,  Wikipedia.

Meg writes about everyday life within the love of Christ as an author, freelance writer, and blogger at Sunny&80. Her first book, “Friends with Everyone,”  is available on amazon.com. She earned a Marketing/PR degree from Ashland University but stepped out of the business world to stay at home and raise her two daughters. Besides writing, she leads a Bible Study for Women and serves as a Youth Ministry leader in her community. She lives in Northern Ohio with her husband, Jim, and two daughters.

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