Why Is Tamar Listed in Jesus’ Genealogy?

Today’s Reading: Genesis 36-38

Genesis 38 is the story of Judah sleeping with his daughter-in-law Tamar. We know this is an important story because Tamar is the first woman listed in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1:3, which says, “and Judah the father of Perez by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron.”

I don’t want to focus on how Tamar became pregnant by Judah, but I do want to look at the result of the relationship. Genesis 38:27-30 says, “When the time of her labor came, there were twins in her womb. And when she was in labor, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, ‘This one came out first.’ But as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out. And she said, ‘What a breach you have made for yourself!’ Therefore his name was called Perez. Afterward his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah.”

In yesterday’s post, we looked a little bit at the story of another pair of twins – Esau and Jacob. In that story, we saw that the older shall serve the younger. And, we saw that in 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 the first is natural but the second spiritual. This principle is found throughout scripture and applies to Perez and Zerah.

In Genesis 38, we see that Zerah actually stuck his hand out first and the midwife tied a scarlet thread on his hand. But, Zerah pulled back his hand and Perez was born first. Zerah, the one with the scarlet thread on his hand, was born second.

Perez and Zerah’s birth order becomes more enlightening when we look at the meaning of their names. Perez means to make a split, to make a breach, to break down/through/out. Perez means to divide.

Zerah means to rise, to shine, to come out, to appear. Zerah is a shortened form of the name Zerahiah. The “iah” in a Hebrew name indicates that God’s name, Yahweh, is part of the person’s name. So, Zerah’s full name means something like “the Lord will rise” or “the appearing of the Lord.”

In Matthew 10:34, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Why did Jesus say this? What does a sword do? It divides. It separates. Recall from last week’s teaching Creation: A Witness to Jesus, we saw that God creates by separating. God separates light from darkness, or truth from lies, and so on. Perez, as the firstborn, is symbolic of Jesus’ first coming. Jesus didn’t come to kill with a sword and was not advocating that. He came with a sword to separate the spiritual from the natural, life from death, love from fear, etc.

Zerah, as the second born, is symbolic of Jesus after the resurrection and/or his second coming. Notice that after Zerah was born he still had the scarlet thread on his hand. This speaks to the blood that ran down from Jesus’ hand after he was nailed to the cross and the wound that is forever in his hand. It was after the resurrection, and will be even more so at his second coming, that the full glory of Jesus was seen. It was then that Jesus rose and appeared, which is the meaning of Zerah’s name. And, what was almost always the first word Jesus spoke to his disciples every time he appeared to them after the resurrection? “Peace.” (See John 20:19 and Luke 24:36 as just two examples.)

Therefore, isn’t it interesting that Perez, instead of Zerah, is the one listed in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:3. Perez, the natural first born, the one that divides, is listed in Jesus’ earthly genealogy from Abraham that legally made him king. But, Zerah, the second born, represents Jesus as the firstborn of all creation, the only begotten son of God, the Lord to whom every knee shall bow, that appears as a life-giving spirit after the resurrection. The older shall serve the younger.

But, it is not just Perez that is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. Tamar is mentioned as well. It was extremely unusual to mention women in genealogies in Jesus’ day. So, why does Matthew say “Judah the father of Perez by Tamar”?

Tamar’s name means date palm or palm tree. In the Bible, women are often symbolized by palm trees. The palm tree is determined to grow even when it is loaded down with weight. The palm tree is an endogen, which means that its trunk grows from the deposits made on the inside. It grows from within instead of without. Psalm 92:12 says “the righteous flourish like a palm tree.” Are you starting to see Tamar as a picture of the believer, the church, the bride of Christ?

Perez came by Tamar. Division came by the palm tree. How so? John 12:13, “So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!'” Division comes by what you believe about Jesus. Do you believe he is King and Lord? If so, then you will be separated from the world and wave the branches of the palm tree.

However, Zerah came by Tamar too. The Jews used palm fronds as a symbol of victory and peace. Victory and peace occur at the cross and Jesus’ resurrection. Revelation 7:9-10 says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” Victory and peace come when the Lamb rises and takes his place on the throne. And, those who have been saved will have palm branches in their hand.

Why is Tamar listed in Jesus’ geneaology?

Tamar is a witness that Jesus is Lord.

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