24 ¶ And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. 25 When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff. 26 And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more. 27 And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb. 28 And it came to pass, when she travailed, that the one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first. 29 And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez. 30 And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah.
Tamar is three months pregnant with Judah’s child. An accusation has been made to Judah that she had done wrong and Judah, who had denied her his youngest son in spite of his promise, wants “justice” to be done and she is to be killed. Clearly, in this culture, as in most on earth, the cards are not dealt in the same manner to men and women. Judah’s use of a harlot is no big deal but Tamar’s supposed indiscretion is worthy of death.
But, Tamar has a surprise for Judah. She brings out the items that he had given her, supposing her to be a harlot, as surety against her payment. It is then that Judah is slapped with the truth of his own egregious behavior. Judah admits about Tamar;
…She hath been more righteous than I…
Judah was not angry at Tamar’s deception but acknowledged that he had been in error in not giving her his son as he had promised. One can only wonder at how many women in this culture paid the price for a powerful man’s behavior. Although Tamar was not raped it is nothing today for a woman in certain Muslim regions who has been raped even to be executed herself by the village for the crime committed against her. The fact that the writer, Moses, was led by the Holy Spirit to include that Judah did not use Tamar again in like manner shows that the possibility of her becoming a plaything or concubine for him was a possibility in this culture.
Travail refers to the process of giving birth in verse 27. For confirmation see;
Jeremiah 4:31 For I have heard a voice as of a woman in travail, and the anguish as of her that bringeth forth her first child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, that bewaileth herself, that spreadeth her hands, saying, Woe is me now! for my soul is wearied because of murderers.
Pharez, spelled Phares in the New Testament, was not the one that was expected to come out first, to be the first born, but he was. He is in the genealogical line of Christ, not Zarah.
Matthew 1:3 And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;
Luke 3:33 Which was the son of Aminadab, which was the son of Aram, which was the son of Esrom, which was the son of Phares, which was the son of Juda,
Zarah stuck his arm out first and a scarlet thread was tied to it, but it was Pharez who actually came out. There are many sermons to be made about this birth and many things can be said about it. For our purposes, in fleshing out the narrative of God’s ministry of reconciliation of mankind to Himself, the old saying goes, “Man proposes, but God disposes.” Christ did not come in the manner the Jews would prefer, as a noble ruler, perhaps a Pharisee, holding court in king’s palaces with the Gentiles coming to Him for His wisdom and approval. He came from a poor background, the physical son of common parents, not aristocrats. What man chooses, indeed, what he holds in high regard, God regards with contempt.
Luke 16:15 And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.
Zarah was chosen by Tamar’s mid-wife but Phares was chosen by God to play the part he played in Christ’s lineage without having any will to choose anything himself.
Notice how God’s ministry of reconciliation starts and works through one man or woman at a time. It is only in the very end that Christ comes to take the kingdoms of the world. Right now, they are under Satan’s, the god of this world, control (2Corinthians 4:4) and His own people rejected Him.
John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
Mark 12:10 And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner:
Tamar says, in surprise, this breach be upon thee which gives us the meaning of his name and points out that Christ did not come to unite mankind but to divide them, the sheep from the goats; those who would trust God and follow Him and those who would worship themselves and the god of this world through their own hearts.
Matthew 10:34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
Luke 12:51 Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: 52 For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. 53 The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
So, now, in Christ’s lineage we have a man who is the product of a sexual liaison between a woman and her father-in-law. Not very appropriate from our perspective but clearly showing that the human side of Christ’s lineage contains imperfect people, sinners like He came to save.
A scarlet thread will also come into play in Joshua, chapter 2, for a much different reason.
The Holy Spirit, through Moses, now takes us back to the narrative about Joseph’s experiences in Egypt.