It says in Genesis 38:13-18 NKJV

13 And it was told Tamar, saying, “Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 14 So she took off her widow’s garments, covered herself with a veil and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place which was on the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given to him as a wife. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, because she had covered her face. 16 Then he turned to her by the way, and said, “Please let me come in to you”; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law.

So she said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?”

17 And he said, “I will send a young goat from the flock.”

So she said, “Will you give me a pledge till you send it?”

18 Then he said, “What pledge shall I give you?”

So she said, “Your signet and cord, and your staff that is in your hand.” Then he gave them to her, and went in to her, and she conceived by him.

For modern society this is pretty crazy. So, I'm curious: why did Tamar go to such lengths to sleep with her father-in-law? Why not another man? I also figure there was no guarantee that she would get pregnant, right? Additionally, she was acting the harlot in an open place so any man could have approached her not just Judah, or is my assumption wrong? Since Judah approached her as she planned it would make sense that she could have gone with a different man!

  • To get pregnant!!!
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 13 at 11:19
  • @Dottard That makes sense, but why not another man? I also figure there was no guarantee that she would get pregnant, right?
    – Jason_
    Commented Jan 13 at 17:46
  • @Dottard I'll edit the question so it's less foolish!
    – Jason_
    Commented Jan 13 at 17:57
  • The answer is in V11 & 12.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 13 at 20:40

4 Answers 4


First the personal reason, than the providential motive:

A childless woman in those days faced a hopeless future. The Bible is replete with the stories of such women:

  • Sarah was so desperate to conceive that she gave her slave to her husband in the hope that "I may have children through her." (Genesis 16:2)

  • Rebekah too suffered from "barrenness." (Genesis 25:21)

  • Like Tamar, Leah - in danger of not finding a husband - disguised herself in order sleep with Jacob. (Genesis 29:23)

  • Hannah, the mother of Samuel, faced years of terrible grief and persecution because she was barren. (1 Samuel 1)

  • Elizabeth, when she finally conceived, declared “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.” (Luke 1:25)

Beside the disgrace of being childless, what all of these women had in common was that they were chosen to give birth to providential sons or descendants. In the case of Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Tamar, it was absolutely essential that they conceive a son to continue the messianic line.

Whether Tamar had an inkling about this is not known. But she surely knew that she faced a shameful future, having been sent back to her father's home as "used goods" - a barren, aging widow twice over. Out of her desperation she resorted to a life-risking measure. Is it possible that an angel directed her? We do not know. But like Mary, the mother of Jesus, she risked condemnation as an adulteress in order to bear the messianic lineage.

Conclusion: on a personal level, Tamar slept with Judah to avoid the shameful fate of a barren widow. On a providential level, she slept with him to perpetuate the chosen lineage that would result in King David and his descendants (for Jews) and Jesus (for Christians). She deserves to be seen as one of the great women of the Bible.

  • I'll edit the question so it's less foolish! Thank you for this answer! +1
    – Jason_
    Commented Jan 13 at 18:01
  • @Jason_ It wasn't foolish. But to answer your follow-up with Dottard, she chose Judah (on the personal level) she was still contracted to his family (38.11). Providentially, it was all about the chosen lineage. Commented Jan 13 at 19:01

The reason for the choice of Judah is that she was trying to enforce the practice later laid down in Deuteronomy ch25 vv5-9, thus fulfilling the family's duty to her late husband.

"If brothers dwell together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside the family to a stranger..." {in which case, I presume, his land would have been inherited by his widow and then by the children of her new husband, thus passing outside the family}

Instead "her husband's brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. And the first son she bears shall succeed to the name of his brother who is dead". In this way, the deceased man would have at least nominal descendants, and his "name" would not die out.

Tamar was in precisely that situation, as the widow of Judah's son Er. The previous episode in the story was that Er's brother Onan was told to carry out the prescribed duty and refused to co-operate. He deliberately "spilled his seed" to prevent conception, and for this he was punished by God. Their father Judah put off sending in the next brother, for fear that he would also die, so Tamar was left without a husband and her late husband was left without a nominal heir.

So Tamar's approach to Judah was a last-resort attempt to force Er's family to fulfil their duty to him. Someone in Judah's family was legally and morally obliged to do it. If nobody else would come forward, then Judah must be made to do it himself.


It was God’s plan , sometimes God uses foolish things in life to accomplish his plan . Like pool of Bethside where he used mud

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    Commented Jan 13 at 17:55
  • Could you please explain your train of thought? Commented Jan 13 at 18:45

Tamar married one of Judah’s three sons but he was evil and so GOD killed him. So Judah gave Tamar another one of his sons, to carry on the family line, but this son was also evil and so he died.

After some time Tamar saw that Judah was never going to giver her his third son, so she became desperate and wanted to keep her family line going. So she had sex with Judah himself.

Conclusion: Tamar did a desperate thing by having sex with her father-in-law so that her family line wouldn’t die out when she died but instead continue for a very long time.

  • I'll edit the question so it's less foolish!
    – Jason_
    Commented Jan 13 at 18:01

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