Who is it?

Ah, that’s an easy one. Mary? No. Elizabeth? No. Anna? No. It’s Tamar, a woman whose life was full of scandal, betrayal and ultimate triumph. As the first woman named in the New Testament — and for good reason — she is a power not to be denied.

Persistent and wonderfully determined, Tamar is the first of four women Matthew names as Jesus’ ancestors (Matthew 1). Sit back and read Genesis 38, as her story is unforgettable. Here’s a summary:

Back in ancient Israel, Tamar marries a man named Er. (Strange name aside, Er is the son of Judah, one of Joseph’s no-good brothers, who sold their younger brother to Egyptian slave traders.) She wanted children badly, as most women did in those days, for their lives were, unfortunately, worth little if they did not bear sons. But soon after her marriage, Er dies and Tamar is is given to Judah’s next son, Omar. (In those days the next brother was required to take the widow as wife to ensure that the legacy of children might be carried on.) Unfortunately, Omar also dies prematurely. God has a hand in that. So Tamar is promised the third brother, Shelah, but he is apparently too young to marry. So she waits. And waits, as women have always done.

Problem: when Shelah is finally of marriageable age, Judah refuses to give him to Tamar, (apparently believing that marriage to Tamar is not particularly healthy for his sons). As far as Judah is concerned, she can just grow old and wither away. But Tamar believes she is due children because of the marriage contract, so she disguises herself as a prostitute, offers herself to Judah, and gets pregnant — as was her hope.

When Tamar, undisguised, is dragged before Judah, a town elder, he promises to burn her to death for adultery. But she then produces proof that HE was the man who fathered her unborn child — or in this case, twins!

What’s the point? Tamar rises above what seemed like an extraordinary sad fate by figuring a way out of her tragic situation. Seemingly confined on all sides by a patriarchal strait jacket, she worked within the system to attain her one goal: giving birth.

By doing so, she, like the other women named in Jesus’ genealogy, brought the direct connection of strong and proud women to Jesus’ very self. In his family tree, they are like bright lights shining in the darkness.

Quite a connection. Quite a woman.


Note: Thanks to the “Wednesday Women” of Trinity Church of Excelsior, Minnesota, who are always an inspiration and a great sense of encouragement.