As we’re thinking about the birth of Jesus Christ, it’s fitting to dwell on His family tree and what God intends for us to glean from this genealogy.
One thing that stands out is the fact that 4 women are mentioned. Tamar in verse 3, Rahab and Ruth in verse 5, and Bathsheba in verse 6 (although she is simply referred to as “the wife of Uriah”). It was not the custom to include any women in genealogies, so Matthew is breaking out of his cultural mold as he mentions these 4 women. So it’s surprising to see women named here. It’s even more shocking when we learn about the stories of these women. These were shameful women, immoral women. They were notorious sinners. Ruth is the exception. She was morally upright, but even her reputation was questionable because she was a Moabite woman, and in Deuteronomy 23 there is a curse on the Moabites.
The story of Tamar is from Genesis 38. The story is about Judah and Tamar. Judah was the fourth son of Jacob. He married a Canaanite woman and had three sons. Their names were Er, Onan, and Shelah. When the oldest son, Er, was ready to marry, Judah found a wife for him, and her name was Tamar. But the Lord killed Er, because he was wicked. So, as was the custom, Judah told the second son, Onan, to marry Tamar. But the Lord killed Onan as well for his wickedness. That left Judah with only one son—Shelah. And Judah was afraid to give Shelah to Tamar in marriage, because he feared that Shelah would have the same fate as his brothers.
When Tamar realized that she was being overlooked, she took matters into her own hands. She knew of Judah’s moral depravity, and so she dressed up as a prostitute, and put a veil over her face, and sat at the entrance to Enaim, where she knew Judah would pass by. Exactly as she planned, Judah passed by and requested to sleep with her. It was from that sin that Perez and Zerah were conceived. And as we see in the genealogy, Matthew 1:2 lists “Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, etc.” So it was from this adulterous union that the Messianic line was preserved. The Messiah would be a descendant of Judah, and it was through these depraved events that Perez was born, and it was Perez who was next in Jesus’ genealogy.
That’s the story of Tamar, the first woman mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy.