Today we will explore a little known but fascinating mystery in the Holy Bible, and learn a great deal about our Creator through one of the most interesting and overlooked stories. This is the story of Judah, son of Jacob (Israel), and his daughter-in-law, Tamar. It is a rather sordid story, but within it we will find one of the most amazing examples of God’s mysterious ways, great power, amazing grace, and divine redemptive plan. To begin, we must remember the story of Judah and Tamar. We find this story in Genesis chapter 38. It is sandwiched in the middle of the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, and his ultimate coming to power in Egypt. It seems rather odd that God would want a story of sin, adultery and prostitution right in the middle of a great lesson of faith and redemption, but that is exactly where we find it. This chapter vividly contrasts Judah’s immoral character with the moral character of Joseph. As it begins, we must first remember that Joseph’s brothers had plotted to kill him, but Judah, one of the brothers, convinced his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery instead. Shortly after this, Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes of Israel, is completely heartbroken, for he thinks his son Joseph is dead. It is within this context that we begin the story of Judah and Tamar.
Genesis 38:1-5, “At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah. There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and lay with her; she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was named Er. She conceived again and gave birth to a son and named him Onan. She gave birth to still another son and named him Shelah. It was at Kezib that she gave birth to him.”
There is much to learn within this story, but we will focus on several of the redemptive aspects. In the first part, Judah is said to leave his brothers and go to live with the Canaanites, where he met a woman and married her. Judah’s guilt was great, as he was the one who betrayed his father and sold his brother into slavery. To compound matters, he marries the daughter of a Canaanite man, whose people, the Canaanites, were idolatrous and evil in the sight of the Lord. In the Holy Bible, after God made Abraham’s descendants numerous and delivered His people out of Egypt, He specifically instructs His people to destroy the Canaanites and other idolatrous peoples, including their alters, idols, and places of worship. Also, God specifically instructs the children of Israel not to marry them. (Deuteronomy 7:1-5).
Genesis 38:6-10, “Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his seed on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death also.”
Despite Judah’s great sin, God, in His great mercy, blesses Judah with not one, but three sons. The first son, Er marries a woman named Tamar. Er is “wicked in the LORD’s sight” and dies before having a heir (interestingly “Er” pronounced and spelled backward in Hebrew, “Rah”, is the word for evil). As the usual custom during this time period, and later codified in Levirite Law, the responsibility of carrying on the family lineage falls to the next eldest son, Onan (Deut 25:5-10). Onan is also wicked and dies before conceiving a child with Tamar, so the responsibility now falls on Shelah. While we may view this as “unfair,” keep in mind that the Lord had a much greater plan, and He is sovereign over all creation. We do not get to judge Him based on what we think is “fair” or “right.” The Lord’s plan included Judah becoming the royal lineage seed by which He would bring about the greatest King of Israel, David, and ultimately the Savior of the world, Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ).
Genesis 38:11-23, “Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s household until my son Shelah grows up.” For he thought, “He may die too, just like his brothers.” So Tamar went to live in her father’s household. After a long time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Judah had recovered from his grief, he went up to Timnah, to the men who were shearing his sheep, and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went with him. When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,” she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.” “And what will you give me to sleep with you?” she asked. “I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” he said. “Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?” she asked. He said, “What pledge should I give you?” “Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,” she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow’s clothes again. Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back from the woman, but he did not find her. He asked the men who lived there, “Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?” “There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here,” they said. So he went back to Judah and said, “I didn’t find her. Besides, the men who lived there said, ‘There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here.’ ” Then Judah said, “Let her keep what she has, or we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you didn’t find her.”
After the death of Er and Onan, Judah is understandably disappointed and upset. Judah promises his son Shelah to Tamar. After Shelah became of age, Judah fails to live up to his commitment to Tamar by not giving her to him. Again, in modern times, this may seem completely ridiculous, but we must understand that the custom at that time was to keep the family lineage intact. According to Levirate Law, not only did Tamar marry Er, but she had married into the household of Judah and Jacob. It was a great honor for Tamar to be part of the family of Judah, Jacob, and ultimately Abraham, as we know that this was an extremely prominent and blessed family throughout world history (Genesis 12:3,Genesis 15:5). Tamar, who had been waiting for Shelah, realizes that Judah has deceived her by withholding Shelah and she will likely die an heirless widow. Again, we find Judah sinning and going against the divine plan of God. Despite this insult and deception, Tamar decides to take matters into her own hands and remains faithful to the tribe of Judah. Using methods that we may find ethically questionable in modern times, God uses Tamar to redeem the House of Judah and provide the heir that would produce the Kingly and Messianic lineage.
Genesis 38:24-30, “About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.” Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!” As she was being brought out, 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, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again. When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.” But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, “So this is how you have broken out!” And he was named Perez. Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out. And he was named Zerah.”
As a result of her actions, Tamar becomes pregnant with Judah’s twins! So, despite the repeated sin and wickedness of Judah and his son’s, God provides not just one, but two heirs to Judah’s house. How great is His mercy! The Lord’s sovereign divine plan will not be stopped by any scheme of man or force of nature. The story of the twin’s birth is reflected in their names: Perez (Pharez) and Zerah. Here is where the mystery is unveiled.
In Hebrew “Zerah” means “rising, dawning, shining” (Strongs H2225). In it we can see the light of the Lord shining through and rising above the darkness and depth of man’s sin. In Hebrew “Perez” means “breach, gap, bursting forth” (Strongs H6556). It has a much deeper meaning and is associated with one of the great mysteries of the ancient Hebrew Tenakh (Old Testament). We see this mystery at the beginning of creation in Genesis.
Genesis 2:4-5, “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, and every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.”
In these verses, the phrase “are the generations” is the Hebrew word תוֹלדוֹת pronounced “toledot,” the plural form of “toledah,” and refers to the “generations” of perfect creation before the sin of Adam and Eve and the fall of man. It also means “descent, family, history” (Strongs H8435). The second and fifth characters of this phrase, וֹ , is the Hebrew letter “vav” and is the pictographic representation of man, as well as a nail or fastener. It is associated with the first man (Adam before the fall) and the last man (Yeshua the Messiah) in Genesis 1:1 (in the original Hebrew there is the Aleph and the Tav: First and Last. Hebrew is read from right to left). “Vav” also has the associated numeric value of 6, which is the number of man, as man was created on the sixth day, works six days (rests on the Sabbath), there are six millennium of man before the Messiah comes for His millennial reign, and the number of the beast is 666, which is the number of man.
However, after the fall, whenever the phrase “are the generations” appear in the original Hebrew text, it is spelled with only one of the “vav’s, and the other “vav” is missing. It is a defective word, with a pictographic representation of man and nail missing from the spelling. This is the “lost” vav.” However, when we come to Ruth 4:18 a mysterious thing happens:
Ruth 4:18-22, “Now these are the generations of Pharez (Perez): Pharez begat Hezron, and Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab, and Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat Salmon, and Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed, and Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David.”
In the original Hebrew text, the phrase “are the generations” is “toledot” and is spelled תּוֹלְדוֹת. The missing vav is restored! Amazing! Therefore, in the original order of creation the “generations” are perfect, but after the fall of mankind the generations had become “defective” and were missing the perfect man. This is until the “generations” of Perez. As we learned earlier, the name Perez means “to breach, gap, burst forth.” God was going to “breach, gap, burst forth” from the lineage of Judah to restore mankind and creation to it’s original intent. The lost “vav” is a picture of Adam, fallen because of sin, and the restored “vav” is a picture of the Mashiach, Yeshua (Jesus the Messiah), the second Adam and perfect man, who would restore creation to its’ Creator. Wow! What an amazing picture as God used a sinful man, with a sinful family, in what would appear to be a “no win” situation, to not only restore the honor of a family, but bring about the salvation of the world, Messiah Jesus! This story and mystery is just a small picture of God’s awesome and mysterious power! Amen!