Tamar, #MeToo, Shame, and the Gospel of Grace

Christ Covenant Church
Rev. Marq Toombs
2 December 2018
First Sunday of Advent

Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d,
Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.
– Perez, The Mourning Bride, Act III, Scene VIII 

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[ sketch notes ]

Grace and peace with you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Introduce New Series on the Mothers of Jesus Christ –

Based on the women mentioned in the Genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:3-6. These women have much more in common than their sex. They have similar experiences of abuse, hardship, and scandal.

Above all, they are the connective links between God’s original promise in Genesis 3:15, Jesus Christ, and us. 

As one Christian counselor puts it:     

Matthew makes it a point to include Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth, embarrassing limbs on the family tree that others might want to prune. One became pregnant by her father-in-law, one was an outsider and prostitute, the other was an outsider who was reduced to nothing. Plus, they were all women, who didn’t have much worth to begin with in those days. (Welch, Edward T.. Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection (Kindle Locations 1307-1312). New Growth Press. Kindle Edition.)

And yet, because of the mystery of God’s providence and mercy, these women are mentioned by name and given a place of honor among the forefathers of Jesus the Christ.

As we will see, they are his fore-mothers. That’s why we call this series The Mothers of Jesus Christ. 


Sermon Text – Genesis 38 (selected) 

And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.”… And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also. Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow in your father’s house, till Shelah my son grows up”—for he feared that he would die, like his brothers. So Tamar went and remained in her father’s house…And when Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,” she took off her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, wrapping herself up, and sat at the entrance to Enaim…When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. He turned to her at the roadside and said, “Come, let me come in to you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” He answered, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” And she said, “If you give me a pledge, until you send it—Your signet and your cord and your staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. Then she arose and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood…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. When the time of her labor came, there were twins in her womb.

STORY – 38:1-11

Tamar = palm tree, tall slender, 

scorn and shame – given to one son, then passed the next, withheld from the other. 

sex object

[On a side note, this is the kind of thing that might have happened to the Samaritan woman at the well.]

From Judah’s point of view, Tamar was somehow to blame for the death of his sons. She was cursed, she was a “black widow”. That’s why he did not give her to his third and last son. 

When I stopped to think about it this week, I was struck by how many “Tamars” I have met over the years inside and outside the church. Women who have been mistreated, used and abused, tossed around and thrown aside by stupid and foolish men.


Judar sent Tamar back to father’s house / cheated out of a husband and child by Judah / this was intended to mark her as an unfit wife, to shame her as an unworthy woman.

PCA pastor Scott Sauls says in a recent blogpost, “Shame is an emotional undercurrent—a low-grade anxiety—that nags and needles at the soul. It is a fever without a temperature, a low-grade and ever-present condition that tells us we are less than, smaller than, and other than what we ought to be.”

He’s not wrong.

But some of you who live with shame know that shame is more than an emotional undercurrent. For some, shame is a poisonous lie that gets pumped into every fiber of your being with every heart-beat. It’s a secret voice in your head that whispers “you’re such a mistake; you don’t matter at all; you deserve much worse” one moment — and then  screams “you’re a total waste of space; you worthless piece of —” the next.

It’s not hard to imagine Tamar living with that kind of shame.

So — “What is shame? Shame is the deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did, something done to you, or something associated with you. You feel exposed and humiliated.”   Welch, Edward T.. Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection (Kindle Locations 142-144). New Growth Press. Kindle Edition.

Connect our Culture with Scripture — Hear what some professing Christian women say about the #MeToo movement, the Bible, and the mothers of Jesus. 

Christian Century: The #MeToo movement took off be­cause it harnessed the power of personal story. Individual stories can point to a societal problem that goes far beyond any individual. The witness of the “silence breakers” who collectively were named “Person of the Year” by Time magazine and the brave statements of people like Rachael Denhollander, who testified against gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, are examples of how the telling of stories can reshape culture. Women, Bible, #MeToo

World Economic Forum: One of the things that #MeToo exposed is the diversity of this experience. Sexual harassers do not discriminate. Women and men…are vulnerable. weforum

New York Times Opinion: Abuse takes place when one person fails to see the humanity of another, taking what he wants in order to experience control, disordered intimacy or power. It is the symptom of an illness that is fundamentally spiritual: a kind of narcissism that allows him to focus only on sating his need, blind to the pain of the victim . . . A shift in the larger culture depends on putting the stories of women front and center. We must create space for them to be heard, not only by women but also by men, who are steeped in a culture that valorizes those behaviors. Seeing women as the rightful owners of their own bodies depends, first, on encountering women as fellow humans. NYT

I don’t know if Tamar would have joined the #MeToo movement, but she certainly qualified as a victim and could have been a vocal advocate for women.

Anyways, she is quite a witness of both the sorrows of shame and the glories of grace.

STORY – 38:12-30

Sheep-shearing Time = festive, “boys will be boys” / not uncommon for the men (away on business) to party hard with feasts and drinking (and prostitutes). 

Tamar knew her father-in-law; the reason she went to the road to the gates of that city and dressed the way she did, in the colors she did, is because she knew Judah so well. This was not a one-off out of the ordinary experience for him.   

Scholars say Tamar was “resourceful” and “enterprising” / compliment? code for took matters into her own hands. 

OT scholar Gerhard von Rad = (paraphrasing) the details of her clothing and veil indicate that Tamar did not play the part of a stereotypical hooker / street walker, rather she played the part of a cult-mistress — a well-to-do married woman who was permitted to sell herself to other men for religious purposes. 

IOW, this was one of the ways people raised funds for the temples of their gods in the Ancient Near East.  

Pledge = DL, credit cards, and SS#

Hope against hope, for the joy set before her, Tamar endured this awful experience with Judah, despising its shame, for the sake of gaining a child.  

The most troubling part of the story?

Not just the mixed marriage between a covenant member and a non-covenant member (Judah and his Canaanite wife) —

Not just the death of wicked husbands,

But the sexual abuse and social shaming of Tamar.

The most comforting part of the story?

God intervened and acted in favor of Tamar one more than one occasion. He rescued her from abusive men and he rewarded her with two sons. 

In retrospect, everyone saw that what Judah intended for evil, God intended for good.  

In the beginning God promised to send a savior into the world to destroy the devil and his works; the seed of woman to crush the serpent’s head. And God kept his promises through Tamar.

At the end of this story, Tamar gives birth to twin boys. Two sons for the two sons the Lord killed.

One of them preserved the seed-line of the Christ.

As we read in Matthew 1: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon by Rahab, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David, and David fathered Solomon by Bathsheba.

God worked by means of Tamar’s quiet faithfulness to preserve the seed-line of the promised savior.

God grows a fruitful tree with withered branches.

God draws straight lines with crooked sticks. 

God works all things together for the good of those who love him.

As Tamar learned by experience, by grace God can take the worst things about us and turn them into wonderful things for his glory and our good. 


Takes the blame
Covers the shame
Removes the stain

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings

Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things (U2/Grace)


I know that some of you — far more than we feel comfortable talking about — struggle and suffer with shame every day. I do not say that to shame you, but to share in your burdens and assure that your sorrow and shame do not go unnoticed.

There is hope for you in the Savior who came through sorrow and shame of Tamar.  

You have heard that it was said: Hell hath no Fury like a Woman scorned; 
But I say to you: Heaven hath no Favor like a Woman saved.

And Tamar was saved. Not by her own righteousness, but the righteousness of Jesus Christ. As we heard in our Scripture Reading before the sermon: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

Like Judah, there are people who would love to burn you at the stake, but Jesus says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to strike a match.”

Tamar was not condemned by the Lord. And there is no need for you to be condemned either. Whether you are victim of circumstance like Tamar, or a vindictive man like Judah, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Like Tamar, and like Judah, you can be rescued, delivered, restored, saved by the power of the truth of the gospel of grace.

If you have ever experienced sexual abuse, sexual harassment, or sexual assault, please understand that we did not pick these stories about the Mothers of Jesus to re-open your old wounds; we picked these stories to show you that you are not alone and you do not need to bear your wounds alone or hide your scars any longer. 

The same goes for all who have sinned sexually or have been sinned against in some way or feel the soul-crushing weight of shame.

It is our hope and prayer that God might use these stories to remind you of Jesus Christ and all that he heal our old wounds. 

As Scott Sauls so beautifully explains

“When Jesus let himself be stripped naked, spit upon, taunted, rejected, and made nothing on the cross—

When Jesus—the perfect one who had nothing to be ashamed of—surrendered to the ruthless, relentless shaming and bullying that led to our redemption and healing,

he neutered our shame and stripped shame of its power.”

This echoes the gospel of grace tells us that

hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For “no one who believes in him will ever be put to shame.”

Pastoral Prayer –

Lighten our darkness, we ask you, O Lord; and by your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of the world, the flesh, and the devil; grant us the grace to turn back to you again as often as we turn away, wipe away our tears, mend our broken hearts, bind up our wounds, for the love of your only Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.