Today marks the beginning of Advent – the time of year in which Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus. In Matthew chapter 1 we can find a geneology of Jesus’ ancestors starting with Abraham. In the culture of the time, only male ancestors were included in geneologies. Matthew broke with this tradition by including five women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary). This was clearly deliberate. If Matthew thought it important to include these women, then perhaps we should pay attention to their stories.
I plan to publish one poem for each Sunday of Advent, and then a final poem on Christmas day to highlight each of these five women – most of whom seem that they should have never been included.
I’m starting with Tamar. Tamar’s lineage is not known, but it is speculated that she was a Canaanite. A foreigner. She was married (by arrangement) to Er (Judah’s eldest son). Er was “a wicked man in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord took his life. ” (Genesis 38:7 NLT). For the complete context of this poem, I would encourage you to read Gen.38. If you are unfamiliar with Tamar’s story, my poem will make much more sense if you read her story before reading the poem. I’ll include a few more notes after the poem to try to explain a bit of the historical context.
Twice wretched wife of Judah’s eldest heirs
Twice wed and widowed by his oldest sons
Two times denied the chance to bear a child
And thus for offspring you were left with none
To Judah’s youngest son you were betrothed
And promised that you’d get one final chance
But even he was as stolen from your life
You thought you’d never twirl a mother’s dance
Seducing him who stole your chance away
You fin’ly had a child in your womb
And though condemned to death for harlotry
You proved that you’d been wronged and staved your doom
Deceived deceiver, pregnant by a tryst
God’s grace made you an ancestor of Christ
In our modern Western mindset, the idea of a childless widow marrying her dead husband’s brother may seem somewhat odd, but during the time of Tamar, it was not merely common, it was practically a necessity. As people aged, they relied on their children to take care of them. Children were, for all intents and purposes, a form of “old age security”. No children, especially for a woman, meant no means of supporting oneself in old age. If a woman was widowed prior to having children, it was the duty of the closest male relative of the deceased (usually a brother), to provide an heir for his brother (so that his brother’s estate would be passed down to his own child, rather than being dispersed elsewhere). The first child of this male relative (also known as a “kinsman redeemer”) would be considered the heir of the deceased, while all subsequent children would be the heir(s) of the kinsman redeemer. When Onan refused to provide an heir for his brother, he was condemning Tamar to a life of poverty. When Judah refused to allow Tamar to marry Shelah, he was not only denying Tamar the security that children would bring, but he was also cutting off his own family line!
Tamar may have acted in a way abhorrent to modern readers, but she was providing for her future in the only way she could think of to do…and even benefiting Judah by providing him with an heir.
Jesus came to earth, not to provide us with earthly financial security, but to provide something much greater: eternal life. I can’t say this with certainty, but perhaps it was partly for this reason of future hope that Tamar was included in Jesus’ lineage.