“Grandmothers Of Jesus—Tamar”                                        December 7, 2014

Genesis 38:1-30


SI:  Eleven years ago I preached a Christmas sermon series

   on the grandmothers of Jesus. 

I figured that was so long ago that those of you who heard it have mostly forgotten.

   And there are lots of you who have joined the church since then,

   so I’m going to preach these sermons again this season. 


In Christ’s genealogy in Matthew chapter one,

   amongst that long list of his forefathers are mentioned four women—

   Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, although she is referred to as the woman

   who had been Uriah’s wife.

Scholars have long pointed out that the inclusion of these names is highly unusual.

   First, because in patriarchal society, women didn’t have a place in genealogies.

But even more unusual, these four women are like skeletons in the closet of the

   Messiah.  Their backgrounds, their histories are all wrong.


Two of these women were Canaanites—Tamar and Rahab.

   God had cursed the Canaanites for their idolatry and gross immorality.

   He warned the Israelites never to marry them, but two got into the line of Christ.

One of these women was a Moabite—that’s Ruth.

   She was a good woman, but the Moabites were also pagans.

   Not allowed by law of Moses to come into the Temple.

And one of these women, Bathsheba, was an Israelite,

   but she was at the center of the greatest scandal in King David’s reign.

All grandmothers of Jesus.


If Matthew was trying to write a genealogy of Jesus Christ that promoted him

   as the Messiah and Son of God, then why did he include these women?

Why didn’t he leave these skeletons in the closet?

   The short answer is God’s grace.


Matthew writes:

A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:   Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar.


Let’s read about Tamar, the first grandmother of our Lord.

INTRO:  One of the most heartwarming Christmas stories of all time is

   Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  The poor but happy Cratchit family.

   Ebenezer Scrooge becoming a kinder and gentler man.

   And Tiny Tim on his crutches saying, “God bless us, everyone!”

It warms the cockles.  It’s what a Christmas story ought to be about—

   happy children, the family circle, kindness, generosity.


The story of Tamar is about none of those things.

   It’s full of deception, abuse, and immorality—but it’s a Christmas story.

Tamar is one of only four grandmothers of Jesus who are mentioned

   in His genealogy in Matthew 1, and this genealogy serves as an immediate

   introduction to the story of His birth.


The Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to include her name,

   because he obviously wanted God’s people to remember

   the story of Tamar before reading the story of Jesus’ birth.

Why?  What is it about Tamar’s story that connects it to Jesus’ birth?


There is verse in the Gospels in which Jesus himself summarizes

   why He came to earth at Christmas:

   “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.

   I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Jesus meant that there are two basic self-perceptions.


There are those people who see themselves as righteous.

   “I may have done some bad things, deep down I’m a good person.  I’d give shirt off back.”

Jesus says—I didn’t come into the world for those people.

   They can’t truly celebrate Christmas, because they don’t think they need me. 

   They think that deep down they’re ok.


Then there are those people who see themselves not as righteous, but as sinners.

   “I may have done a few good things, but deep down I’m a bad person.

   My motives are selfish, I love myself more than God or other people.”

Jesus says—Those are the people I came into the world to save.

   Those are the people who can really celebrate Christmas.

   They know they need me, know need to be forgiven and changed.

They have come to the end of trying to justify their actions,

   because know that in themselves there is nothing righteous.


That’s the point of this story.

   It’s the story of a man who spent a lifetime believing he was righteous,

   justifying his action, blaming other people—and it almost destroyed him.

   It almost sent him straight to hell.


But by God’s grace, he saw himself clearly for the first time,

   a sinner, in need of God’s forgiveness, and he was saved.

And the human instrument God used to bring about that spiritual awakening

   and radical change was this young Canaanite woman Tamar.


And unless you have the same spiritual awakening and see yourself clearly,

   then you have nothing to celebrate at Christmas, because you don’t need Jesus.


Let’s look at this story under two headings:


1.  The self-righteous life.

2.  The repentant life.


MP#1  The Self-Righteous Life

When Jesus said, I did not come to call the righteous—meant, those people

   who think they are righteous, who justify themselves and their actions.

   That is a good description of Judah.  Let’s look at his life.


If we were going to talk about Judah in our church lingo—

   would say, “He was born in a Christian home.”

   There were three generations of believers in his family tree.

He was the son of Jacob, the grandson of Isaac, and the great-grandson of Abraham.

   But Judah’s spiritual heritage and faith of fathers meant nothing to him.


Before this story starts, you may remember that Judah was the brother

   who came up with the plan to sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt.

   Killed a goat, dipped Joseph’s coat in blood, asked father Jacob if recognized it.

   Remember, Jacob was convinced Joseph was dead, grieved 22 years.

Right after that despicable act, Judah left the family circle,

   and he went to live near his best friend Hiram, who was a Canaanite,

   a pagan, an unbeliever.  And Judah practically became a Canaanite himself.

He even married one. 

   The Lord had forbidden this, marrying an unbeliever. 

   To deliberately marry an unbeliever was, and is, a rejection of God’s covenant. 

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob been very careful to marry believers


But Judah just did what he wanted.  He saw this woman and married her.

   Then he raised sons so evil that God killed two of them while still young men.

But what I want to focus on is a particular aspect of Judah’s character—

   that was the need he had to justify himself and shift the blame.

For Judah that blame-shifting and self-justification became focused on Tamar.

   She became, in his mind, the cause of his sons’ deaths.

It didn’t occur to him that their deaths were caused by their evil behavior.

   And it certainly didn’t occur to him that he bore responsibility for their deaths

   because of his complete failure to raise them in the faith.


Just a minute, going to talk about why Tamar married bro-in-law Onan,

   and why she had a right to marry the last brother Shelah.

But let’s just say at this point that Judah was obligated by law and custom

   to give Tamar to youngest son Shelah.

This business about waiting for him to grow up was just a ploy.

   He had no intention of ever having anything to do with Tamar.

Furthermore, it was Judah’s responsibility to provide for Tamar.

   She was still part of his family.  But he sent her back to father

   and told her, don’t call us, we’ll call you. 

The reason was Judah thought that Tamar was bad news.

   Shelah will die just like his brothers if he marries this woman—she’s the problem.

   Once again, Judah had no clue that he was the problem, sons were the problem.


This explains Judah’s response when he heard the news that Tamar was pregnant.

   He had to believe something bad about her.

   Suddenly he had the proof.  She’s a whore, I knew it all along.

Judah suddenly reasserted his authority as father-in-law and patriarch of family,

   since she was technically engaged to Shelah.

   (Even though Judah had no intention of ever letting that marriage happen)

He was indignant.  I’ve been wronged.  My son has been wronged.

   He ordered that Tamar be burned to death.

   He would finally get rid of her and come out feeling very self-righteous

   and smelling like a rose.


Do you see where his blame-shifting and self-justification brought him?

   It brought him to the edge of hell.  He was just about to step off into the pit.

His conscience had become so seared by a lifetime of justifying himself,

   he was about to have a woman killed for the very thing that he himself had

   done over and over without a twinge of guilt.

He was going to burn her to death for prostitution

   but he was a man who visited prostitutes. 

This was certainly Judah’s lowest point.  He was almost lost eternally.


Judah’s life is sobering because this drive to justify yourself,

   and to look for excuses when bad things happen, and shift the blame,

   is engraved in every human heart, it’s engraved on your heart and mine.

We inherit it from Adam.  God said, Adam, have you eaten fruit told not to eat?

   First words out of Adam’s mouth were, “The woman you gave me, she . . . !”


Excuses take a thousand different forms:

   I’ve had a bad day.  I couldn’t help it.  I’m not as bad as so and so.

   It’s not a big deal.  It’s my parents’ fault.  It’s the teacher’s fault.

   It’s psychological, it’s sociological, it’s chemical.

Over a lifetime, a person’s conscience become seared.

   He becomes hardened against God, Christ, and Holy Spirit.

Don’t let Judah’s example make you think that self-justification always leads

   to same kinds of gross sins he indulged in.

This drive of the sinful nature is perfectly compatible with a very moralistic life.

   There are religious people who wouldn’t be caught dead doing certain things,

   because such a big part of their self-justification involves comparing themselves

   with other people—who commit those really bad sins.


In Luke 18 Jesus told a parable

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself:  ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  But the tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me a sinner.’  I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”


Whether your life is characterized by wild living or prudish moralism,

   self-justification and blame shifting will send you to hell.

Jesus Christ did not come at Christmas to save the self-righteous.


That brings us to second heading:  The repentant life.

   Jesus said, “I have come to call sinners to repentance.”


MP#2  The Repentant Life

Let’s back up and look at Tamar.  She was a Canaanite, probably a teenager.

   She was married to Er, Judah’s oldest son, who would carry on the family name,

   and inherit the estate.

When God put Er to death for wickedness,

   Judah told next son Onan to fulfill his duties as brother-in-law.


This practice is called Leverite marriage (Latin for brother in law).

   It was a good custom in that culture, years later law of Moses established it.

Served two purposes: 

   First, a childless widow was economically and socially vulnerable.

   She had no standing and was without income or protection. 

   She often did become a prostitute.  This was the way of taking care of her.

Second, by this custom the family line did no die out.

   First son born to woman would be considered the son of first husband,

   and would inherit the estate.  His mother have position as matriarch of family.


Now you can see the nature of Onan’s sin. 

   He knew if he got Tamar pregnant, and she had son, the boy would inherit

   Judah’s estate.  But if she didn’t, then Onan, as second son would get it all.

So he thought, I can have my cake and eat it too.  He used Tamar as a sex object,

   but denied her the rights and protection that this law and custom gave her.

This also shows he didn’t care one bit for his older brother’s name and line.


And Judah’s refusal to give his third son Shelah to Tamar was essentially the same.

   If Tamar never had a son by Shelah, then Er’s line would be wiped out.

   But Tamar was determined that was not going to happen.

She was determined to assert her rightful place as matriarch of family,

   and to carry on the line of Judah and Er. 

She cared more about future of family than Judah, showed greater understanding

   of the importance of covenant family, even though she was a Canaanite.


So she when she heard that Judah had gone to the sheep shearing festival,

   she came up with her bold plan to disguise herself and wait for Judah.

   She must have known enough about Judah’s character to know it would work.

   She knew he couldn’t walk past a prostitute without propositioning her.

That’s exactly what happened, and she started bargaining. 

   He promised a young goat, but since didn’t have one she made him give her

   his seal, cord, staff—the equivalent to wallet with drivers license and credit cards.

You can see how stupid his sin had made him. 

After Tamar’s pregnancy was discovered, they were bringing her out to be killed,

   she said, “I am pregnant by the man who owns these.”

Of course this was immediate public humiliation for Judah.

   Not only had he committed incest and everyone knew about it,

   but his hypocritical double standard exposed.


But Tamar didn’t stop, she addressed Judah again:

   “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”

This question was not just, Do you recognize these objects?

   The seal, cord, and staff were a man’s identifying documents.

   The thrust of the question was:  Do you recognize this man?

What kind of man is he who would do this.


They were piercing words. 

   And the Lord used them to force Judah for the first time to recognize

   that he was a hard hearted, cruel, immoral man. 

Isn’t it interesting that many years earlier, after Judah had helped sell his brother

   Joseph into slavery, and when they and brought that blood-stained coat to their

   father to fool him into thinking his favorite son was dead . . .

Isn’t it interesting that they said:  Father, do you recognize this coat?


It’s almost the same words.  Do you recognize this?

   You have to wonder if Judah remembered saying that to his father,

   and how it had crushed his father with grief.

Now the Lord was using those words to crush Judah. 


By God’s grace he did recognize himself for the first time and he said:

   “She is more righteous than I.”

   In saying that, delivered Tamar from death and took the load of guilt on himself.

It’s a remarkable confession. 

   It’s exactly what Jesus was talking about when he said,

   I have come to call sinners to repentance.


Two qualities of Judah’s repentance that must be present in your heart too—

   or you haven’t really repented.

1.  All blame shifting and self justification is gone.

“She is more righteous than I.”  May sound like saying—I’m still little righteous.

   No.  The meaning is:  She’s right and I’m wrong.

Judah was talking about the woman who only moments before he had blamed for

   his sons’ deaths.  He doesn’t say:  She tricked me.  This was sexual entrapment.  He takes the blame fully.  This is evidence of true repentance.  A true view of self.

   Paul:  “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance,

   Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worse.”


Paul was not trying to sound pious. 

He was saying, No matter what bad things I may see other people doing, I can’t see

   their hearts.  But I see my own heart, and it’s vile.  I can’t condemn them to make

   myself feel better.  I have a depth of sin and wickedness that needs God’s grace.

Have you come to that point?


2.  The second quality is that your life begins to change.

It says, “He did not sleep with her again.”  That’s big.

   All his life Judah had done what he wanted sexually.  The fact that he and Tamar

   had already had relations, this would be an excuse to carry on with her.

But something had happened in his heart.  His repentance was real, he changed.

   He had been born again and the Lord was making him into a holy person.

   Sin became sin t him once again. 

Is your life changing? 

   Do you hate sins more and more, love God and people,  more and more?


Judah needed an incredibly painful spiritual awakening to bring

   him from self-righteousness to repentance and change.

   He had to be publicly humiliated, the hypocrisy of his life exposed.

   But the Lord was unwilling to lose him, so he sought that wandering sheep.

God used young woman Tamar, as his instrument to awaken Judah and save him.

   This young woman is forever honored as a grandmother of Jesus.



CONC:  Christmas is upon us once again.

As you celebrate this season, don’t forget the story of Judah and Tamar.

   It will remind you of why Jesus was born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.

   “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.

   I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”


Martin Luther said that the story of Tamar is in the Bible for two reasons:


1.  To rebuke your presumption and

2.  To challenge your despair.


Don’t presume for a minute that your heart is any better than Judah’s.

   Don’t presume you are any less capable blind self-justification.

   You are by nature blind to your worst sins.


But don’t despair over those sins when you start to see them—

   because Jesus came to call sinners.

And where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.


What can come of a life of selfishness, hypocrisy, and immorality?

   Jesus Christ can come from a life like that.


When Jacob was giving his final blessings to his 12 sons—who received greatest?

   Was it Joseph, most faithful and successful son?

No—it was Judah, the son who had fallen so far, and who God, in grace

   through Tamar, brought back to the fold


Jacob said—Judah, your descendants will be the kingly tribe of nation of Israel.

   And one day a Lion will come from your tribe, nations will give obedience.

That Lion of the Tribe of Judah is the one whose birth we celebrate—

   the Lord Jesus Christ.


Good old Martin Luther had it right—don’t despair, Judah’s Lord is your Lord,

   cling to Christ and he will cause good to come from your life too.