Tamar is a biblical woman that tends to get an unfairly awful reputation. She appears in Genesis as the daughter in law of Israel’s son, Judah. Judah’s eldest two sons, however, die while married to Tamar, and Judah decides that Tamar is cursed. As such, he flouts ancient law by refusing to allow her to marry his third and final son. If his son was unable or unwilling to marry Tamar, by law, Judah himself was supposed to marry her. Tamar knew this well and knew that Judah was breaking both cultural and divine laws. He was also forcing her to live in unearned shame and potential destitution as she had been cast off by the family she married into. Tamar, understandably, did not want to be the one to suffer for Judah’s sins, so she constructed a clever plot. She disguised herself as a prostitute and waited in an area she knew Judah visited. When he propositioned her, she agreed to have sex with him as long as he gave her his seal, cord and staff as a deposit while he fetched a young goat to pay for her time. He agreed, but when he went to get the goat after sleeping with her, Tamar slipped away with Judah’s seal and staff. When Judah found out Tamar was pregnant, he ordered her burned alive. Tamar, however, brought out his seal and staff to prove that he was the one who slept with her and that she had merely forced him to honor his family’s commitment to her. Judah declared that she was more righteous than him.
Tamar certainly deserves better treatment than she typically gets in church. Usually, she is described as nothing more than a temptress, and Judah’s own admission of her righteousness is ignored. That said, Tamar may have acted for the right reasons, but she is one of a number of tricksters in the Bible. She used misdirection, lies and other questionable methods to achieve her goals. She was a sinner, but her cleverness and courage make her a worthy teacher of modern Christians. Tamar knew that if her gambit failed, she would be facing destitution and shame at best and an agonizing death by fire at worst. That said, she knew that someone had to step up and take responsibility for the family. Many people look to authority figures to fix problems or correct issues, but sometimes they refuse to do their duty. When that happens, people need to be like Tamar. They must be the one to take on responsibility themselves and step up. Someone has to do the right thing, someone has to take on the risk, and sometimes the person who will do that resides in the mirror.