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Some observations about the story of Tamar and Judah, recorded in Genesis 38, inspired by a lively discussion of the narrative at the Theopolis Regional Course in Dallas last weekend.
1) The chapter has a chiastic structure:
Structure - Theme - Chapter - Death - Rebirth
The structure reinforces a fundamental theme of the chapter, the death and rebirth of the line of Judah. Judah’s line dies several times at the beginning of the chapter (as it does in the related genealogy in 1 Chronicles 2), but is finally revived.
Importantly, it’s revived by the incorporation of an outsider, Tamar, who is never identified as such but appears to be a Gentile (the same pattern reappears in Ruth and 1 Chronicles). The royal line rises from the dead only when the nations are incorporated.
Tamar - Deception - Rebekah - Deception - Husband
2) Tamar’s deception is parallel to Rebekah’s deception of her husband Isaac. In both cases, a woman deceives an erring man in order to set him on track (see James Jordan’s comments on Rebekah in Primeval Saints).
Judah is a cad throughout the chapter. He separates from his brothers and marries a Canaanite. He mistreats Tamar at multiple levels. He denies Tamar marriage to his youngest son, Shelah. He sends her back to her father’s house, and treats her as if he has no obligation to her. Tamar not only loses husbands and the possibility of children, but the inheritance that should be hers through Judah’s sons. She is excluded from Israel’s line of descent, which seems to have been important to her. Why doesn’t Judah know his own daughter-in-law?...
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