After a long time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Judah had recovered from his grief, he went up to Timnah, to the men who were shearing his sheep, and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went with him.

This verse reveals a great deal to the ancient audience. Enough time has passed so that Judah’s wife has died, and his time of grieving has also passed. Judah has been a widower for some time. And it mentions that he is going up to Timnah, where his sheep were being sheared.

Shearing of sheep is an ancient special trade, going back, yes, at least 2000 years before Christ. Sheep shearing was the first big event after the passing of winter. To this day, those who keep sheep prefer to have them sheared early, before lambing time. Thus it was in Judah’s day.

At the location where the shearing took place, there would be wool buyers and other merchants. The owners of the flocks could sell their wool, and buy needed goods from other merchants there. It was a general time of feasting and celebration. So, for Judah, we have the end of a long winter, both in terms of weather and, emotionally, in terms of ending the period of grieving. He will be prepared to sell the wool and celebrate.

The slighted Tamar hears that Judah will go to shearing and formulates her strategy: When Tamar was told,

“Your father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,” she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife.

The narrator wants us to know that, despite all the time that has passed, Tamar has remained faithful to her (deceased and potential future) husbands. She still wears “widow’s clothes,” even though “a long time,” had passed.

The narrator could have said that “Judah was on his way,” but he uses the term “father-in-law,” to emphasize the relationship between the two. Upon hearing that he is headed to the sheep shearers, and realizing that his wife has died, she resolves to act. After removing her widow’s clothes, she disguises herself with a veil and stations herself at a strategic point along the road from Judah’s home to the sheep shearers at Timnah. And we are told specifically that she did this because she realized that Judah’s third son had grown up, but had not been given to her as her husband, as Judah had implied that he would do.

It has become clear to Tamar that Judah is not going to risk his third son, that no matter what he said before he has effectively abandoned her. She also knows that as a widower he could remarry without dishonor because his grieving time had come to an end. He will have no more sons, at least not by his first wife. In addition she knows that since he’s going to the sheep shearing he will anticipate receiving some money and may well be in the mood to celebrate.

She also reasoned that, with his wife having been dead for some time and Judah being a man of normal male appetites, he would be open to seeking  physical gratification. But she positions herself on the road to Timnah. Apparently, she intends to encounter him before he has sold his wool, before he has collected the money. In fact, this is key to her whole plan.

For her plan to succeed, she needs to intercept Judah before he reaches Timnah. Once he has sold the wool from his sheep, he will have abundant coin to spend. She does not want money. She wants justice, she wants what is owed her: she wants a son, and legitimacy for that son as an heir to Judah. To succeed in that, she must intercept Judah and carry out her plan before he has money. Since he will not give her a husband to impregnate her, she will trick him into doing it himself, and do it in such a way that he cannot deny paternity. If he pays her and goes on his way, she will fail. But if he leaves something identifiable with her, she can succeed.

For now we must leave her at Enaim. The ambush is laid. The trap is set. Now we wait.

Read other posts in the “Matriarchs and Prophets” series.