Genesis 38:20-26 (ESV)
When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite to take back the pledge from the woman's hand, he did not find her. And he asked the men of the place, “Where is the cult prostitute who was at Enaim at the roadside?” And they said, “No cult prostitute has been here.” So he returned to Judah and said, “I have not found her. Also, the men of the place said, ‘No cult prostitute has been here.’” And Judah replied, “Let her keep the things as her own, or we shall be laughed at. You see, I sent this young goat, and you did not find her.”
About three months later Judah was told, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has been immoral. Moreover, she is pregnant by immorality.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” And she said, “Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.
Tamar doesn’t trust Judah any farther than she can throw him. Yet she delivers all the evidence to him in a way that gives him a perfect opportunity for a cover-up. He’s threatening to burn her and yet she implements a high risk defense strategy. Frankly, it looks stupid.
But it’s both smart and one of the greatest examples of faith in the entire Bible. Yes, it’s a high risk strategy, but high risk of what? If Tamar’s goal is to “look out for number one,” then her strategy is stupidly risky. But if her goal is to glorify God and advance his kingdom, then her strategy is brilliant.
Tamar’s willingness to lay everything on the altar is a signal event. And notice that Judah’s reaction is totally out of character. In an instant, his attitude reverses. This looks supernatural. God blessed Tamar’s plan, but her plan gave the Spirit plenty of room to maneuver.
The shock of seeing his own signet and staff hurt Judah. Tamar was wise to have this moment not be a public confrontation. Even if Judah was not alone when he saw the evidence, all the action was in private – inside his head. Repentance is almost always a private moment. People keep their guard up in public, and a public challenge can lead to a hardened heart.
God and Tamar make a uniquely great team here, and Tamar’s obedient heart is the secret sauce.
Tamar displayed a pure heart of grace. She stuck her neck out, making God’s agenda her agenda. Pray that God will grow that kind of heart of grace in us. Pray that he will give us the courage to model the gospel of grace to even the most unlovable of our neighbors. But Tamar’s greatness wasn’t just courage; she cleverly depended on God. She took necessary risks, not unnecessary ones.
One of the great challenges in following Christ is separating obedience from recklessness. Sometimes God wants us to do things that look stupid from a secular point of view. How can we know?
There’s no easy answer. Pray (obviously). Seek the advice of others. Be willing to make mistakes.
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