Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Three Tamars

I can't quite let Tamar go yet. I preached about David's daughter, Absalom's sister, last Sunday, but I keep thinking about her: and her name.

Names are important.

There are three women in the Bible named Tamar. The first one is Judah's daughter-in-law. You can read about her in Genesis 38. She was first married to Judah's oldest son Er, but he did not find favor with God, and he died, leaving Tamar childless. According to the custom of the day, she was next given to Judah's son, Onan, who did not want to bear a child for his brother. He died too. Next Tamar was supposed to marry Judah's youngest son, Shelah. But Judah was afraid his youngest son would die too, so he withheld his son from Tamar.

So she needed to find a way to fulfill the custom, and have a child. To make a long story short, with Judah's unwitting help, she did. At the end of the whole soap-opera-style story, Judah says of Tamar, "She is more right than I am." By the way, she is named as an ancestor of Jesus by the gospel writer Matthew.

It occurs to me, thinking about this story, that the same could be said about David's daughter, Tamar. She is more right, or more righteous than any of the male characters in the story. She is more righteous than Amnon, who deceives and rapes her. She is more righteous than David, who is angry but does not punish his first-born son. And she is more righteous than Absalom, her brother, who avenges the crime against her by killing Amnon, but then goes ahead in trying to usurp the throne from his father.

She is more righteous than any of them, but what does she get for her righteousness?

She becomes a desolate woman in her brother's house: a woman of sorrows, despised and rejected.

Does she remind you of anyone?

I don't want to take this analogy too far, because too often in the past abused women have been urged to go back and "bear their cross". Somehow, they have been told, they can redeem their husbands by their obedient suffering. That is protecting the strong at the expense of the weak, and it's exactly the opposite of what Jesus did.

Oh yes, and the third Tamar? The daughter of Absalom.

Absalom had three sons. We know none of their names. He had one daughter, and named her Tamar.

Perhaps Tamar wasn't totally desolate. Even though she could never marry, she did have a namesake.

I didn't want to leave her without saying these things.


FranIAm said...

Oh Diane, so beautiful.

Presbyterian Gal said...

This is a very cool story that I have forgotten. It resonates with me a bit.


Hot Cup Lutheran said...

always gravitated toward Tamar myself... mystery lies in her heart. dreams not recorded. hopes not seen. a life lived in shadows.

Barbara B. said...

lots to think about there!

altar ego said...

It's amazing how people in a story can sink into us like a marinade, penetrating with their flavor long enough for us not to ignore. Thank goodness our beings can be porous enough to receive them. You honor Tamar with remembering her, and then you were gracious to share her with us.
Thank you.

Lauralew said...

Thank you, Diane. Like Presbyterian Gal, it resonates with me. I've been in churches that have urged women to put up with totally unspeakable things to redeem the husbands. And I've walked out as fast as I could go.

Rev SS said...

I agree with all these comments ... especially like the way altar ego expressed the appreciation I feel too.

Rev SS said...

I agree with all these comments ... especially like the way altar ego expressed the appreciation I feel too.

Crimson Rambler said...

i guess we could hope that her little niece was a comfort to her!

BTW I told the story of the Genesis Tamar just off the cuff recently in a book-study group that was about something quite different...the dropped jaws around the room were most gratifying!

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I'd forgotten all about the third Tamar.

I hope she had a better life than the first two.