Tamar – Gospel in Life


Tim Keller |  December 2, 2001

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  • Mercy & Justice
  • Redemption
Genesis 38:11-19, 24-30
RS 142-1


Near the beginning of Matthew’s genealogy we see Tamar – a most unlikely ancestor of Jesus. Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and had sex with her father-in-law Judah. But this is a tale of two sinners. Judah neglected to materially provide for Tamar despite the fact that she was a helpless widow, driving her to desperate measures. This story shows that the Bible is not a book about moral people who lived perfect lives worthy of emulation. Instead, we see how God uses broken people to bring about the only righteous person who has ever lived – Jesus.

Genesis 38:11–19, 24–30

The story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38 shows us that being good alone isn’t enough to save us. Both characters, even with their important roles and family ties, fail to live up to standards of fairness, peace, truth, and goodness, showing us that God’s grace often steps in to help imperfect and flawed people. The story gives us three major breakthroughs – those of Tamar, Judah, and the promised son – each teaching us a valuable lesson.

1. The breakthrough of Tamar

Tamar’s story, a widow seeking fair treatment from Judah, her father-in-law, highlights the difficulties and risks faced by widows in olden times, including a law called levirate marriage designed to protect them. Tamar’s disguise as a prostitute questions societal norms and points out the unfairness in sexual standards, while also showing the importance of looking after those in need. The story also talks about people who can’t read or write and the unfair treatment faced by people on the fringes of society, encouraging us to seek fairness and help those who are less privileged.

2. The breakthrough of Judah

The story of Judah and Tamar shows how people often try to justify their actions by blaming others, as seen in Judah’s unfair anger towards Tamar. It highlights the universal need for spiritual awakening, even for those in privileged positions, to overcome selfishness. This awakening often comes when people realize they’re no better than those they used to look down upon, regardless of their beliefs.

3. The breakthrough of the son of the promise

Tamar’s story in Matthew 1 is a message of redemption, as she was declared righteous by her father-in-law, Judah, despite her mistakes. This story foreshadows Jesus Christ, the ultimate Judah, who offers acceptance and love by taking on the punishment for our mistakes. This deep acceptance and freedom open the way for fairness and self-discovery.



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