The story of Judah and Tamar is found in Genesis 38 but why was Tamar more righteous than Judah despite deceiving Judah?
For context, Judah had left his brothers and married a Canaanite woman named Shua. He had 3 sons by her: Er, Onan and Shelah.
Judah got a wife for Er, named Tamar. Er died because he was wicked in God’s sight. Judah asked Onan to fulfil his duty as brother-in-law and provide Tamar with a child to carry on his brother’s lineage and inheritance . Onan didn’t want to do this and so would spill his semen when he slept with Tamar. God put him to death also. Judah sent Tamar away to live as a widow and said when Shelah grows he will fulfil his duty to her.
After some time, Tamar heard that Judah her father in law was shearing his sheep near Timnah, near where she was staying. She disguised herself as a prostitute and slept with Judah. When news of Tamar being pregnant was heard by Judah he wanted her punished. Burned! Tamar tactfully kept Judah’s seal and possessions and she disclosed that she had been impregnated by the man who owned those items, which was Judah. At this Judah credited Tamar as being “more righteous than I”.
Why was Tamar act of deception seen as being righteous?
Tamar was the wife or Judah’s eldest son, Er that died. According to levirate practice, the closest male relative is required to fulfil his duty and provide child to the wife-in-law to continue the line and inheritance of the deceased. Tamar was within her rights to claim her husband’s birth right that would continue through her offspring.
Also, Onan was being very selfish he took Tamar as a wife, slept with her but would not fulfil his duty as husband to provide her with children. He probably wanted the inheritance for himself because he knew the birthright would go to the child Tamar bore. The Lord swiftly judged him and he died.
The only son now left of Judah’s was Shelah and he was not of age to fulfil his duty, and although Judah suggested Tamar should wait till he was of age for him to fulfil his duty, covertly Judah sent Tamar away knowing he would not give his last son to Tamar. Judah was probably afraid that Tamar was a harbinger of death and he surely didn’t want his third son to die. But sending her off knowing that she had no children or anyone to support her and live as a widow with no income was very selfish and a perversion of justice on his part.
So not wanting to be deceived or cast out of the blessings that was to be passed down through her child, she ceased the opportunity when she heard Judah was near shearing sheep, dressed as prostitute and slept with Judah, not selling her body for money as a real prostitute but mimicking a prostitute so that Judah would fulfil his duty and provide her with children. Its sad that Tamar had to go to this extent for the birth right. The fault was not on her but really on Judah and his sons for ignoring the significance of the birth right, she had to debase herself by acting as a prostitute to get Judah to take the birthright seriously. This is similar to Jacob, Judah’s father who stole the promise from his brother Esau by deception.
Also in the grand schemes of God’s plan, whether Tamar knew the spiritual significance of the birthright or not she through her bold, and strategic actions she preserved the lineage that Jesus would descend from.
Tamar was more righteous than Judah, as she valued the importance of the “Promised Seed” of the Abrahamic Covenant and God blessed her with twin boys.
Tamar was righteous indeed!