There are two women named Tamar  mentioned in Scripture. Both are tragic figures, women who were ruined by the  neglect and abuse of close family members. Their stories seem to be included in  Scripture for the purpose of providing historical and spiritual information  about the Messianic line.

Jacob’s son Judah (patriarch of the line of  Judah) had three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah. A woman named Tamar married Er, but  then Er died, leaving her a widow. Since it was required that the next of kin  care for a brother’s widow, Tamar was given to Onan, but he also died. Shelah  was still a boy and could not marry Tamar, so Judah asked her to return to her  father’s house and wait until Shelah was grown up. However, once Shelah was old  enough, Judah did not honor his promise. Tamar then went into town disguised as  a prostitute, tricked Judah, and got him to sleep with her. She then became  pregnant and bore twin sons named Perez and Zerah.

The other Tamar was  King David’s daughter. She had a brother, Absalom, and a half-brother, Amnon.  Amnon had an obsessive desire for his half-sister Tamar, and one day he  pretended to be sick and called for her to come to him in his bedroom to help  him. When she was there alone with him, he raped her. Unfortunately, though  David was angry, he did not punish Amnon or require him to marry Tamar, so  Absalom took it upon himself to murder Amnon in revenge (2 Sam. 13:1-22).  Absalom’s anger and bitterness towards his father because of these events  eventually led to his attempt to usurp his throne and to disgrace David by  committing public immorality with his father’s concubines.

We would  expect the twin sons of Judah’s incestuous union with his daughter-in-law to be  outcasts, hidden away, or perhaps not even mentioned. However, surprisingly, the  Messianic line continues through Tamar’s son Perez. God did not provide a  “cleaner” way to continue the line that would eventually include His Son. Perez  was the ancestor of Jesus of Nazereth.

It is the same with King David.  Absalom’s anger and rejection of his father’s rule seems to have been born out  of a festering bitterness towards David. Though Absalom was clearly in the wrong  for the murder of Amnon, we sympathize with him, and we sympathize with his  disgraced sister. Considering David’s own immorality and the murder he  committed, it is easy to see why Absalom thought himself the better man. But  despite David’s faults, God still chose to continue the line of the Messiah  through David rather than through Absalom.

Why are these unpleasant  stories included in Scripture, and why are the people involved – people who hurt  others, even their own family members – granted the privilege of being included  in the Messianic line?  It may be simply to show us that God’s purpose is  accomplished despite man’s unrighteousness. In Hebrews 11 there is a long list  of Old Testament people who are commended for their faith, and among them are  many sinful people who did dreadful things. But because they believed God, their  faith was credited to them as righteousness (Genesis  15:6).

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