It’s easy to say…
Genesis 38:9’But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother.
…but when you start looking at the reality Tamar faced, it’s a grim one – to read, to write and to accept. My depiction below is a fictionalized one of the above verse, containing in it a rape scene, but how much truth does it contain? Can you look at the character the same again when you read her story in the Bible?
Click here to read the story from the beginning.
Tamar kneads the dough, happy for a quiet moment. With Ofra at the market and Onan working, Tamar can concentrate on her responsibilities without worry for anyone else. It was the humor of the gods that the husband who did not want her was the one who remained faithful to her, spending his nights in bed with her – but not for her. Certainly, every time he bedded her, he spilled his seed on the floor, refusing to fill her with it. And his attitude remained the same; he ordered her about and spoke down to her, treating her no better than Ofra.
Ofra doesn’t have to sleep with him though, she considers as she punches the dough down, imagining for a moment that it’s Onan. The thought gives her momentary pleasure and she lets her thoughts wander in the silence of the moment.
The door opens behind her. Expecting Ofra to be back with the food she sent her for, Tamar asks, “Did you find what I asked for?” She doesn’t look up, but continues working. Ofra had been with her now for over three years and though she was still young, she was dependable.
“Hardly,” comes the response, but not from Ofra. It’s Onan.
Tamar’s heart stops. She drops the dough and turns around.
“Onan!” she says with surprise in her voice. “Why are you home?”
“Is that anyway to greet your husband?” he asks, walking over to her. She takes a couple steps back as he approaches her. She bumps into the worktable and stops.
“Onan, I… I thought you were with your father working.”
He stops a step shy of the table and looks down at her.
“I came home to see you,” he says, raising a hand to touch her face.
“But…I have work to do,” she argues, pushing back away from him. The thought of him touching her has her reeling and ready to lose her composure.
“You would deny me?”
“No, I…,” she begins, her thoughts in disarray. This was supposed to be her time: when she wasn’t being used by him, when she could pray to her gods and when she could convince herself that her life wasn’t a complete loss. “Ofra…Ofra will return shortly. What will she say if she sees us?”
Onan offers her a smirk.
“That the master of the house is fulfilling his responsibility?”
A tear escapes and Tamar can’t help but respond.
“Then why do you waste your seed every time?”
Her voice is barely audible; and truthfully, she meant to say nothing. But like her tears, she was tired of being captive to her situation.
“What did you say?” Onan’s tone is threatening now, his demeanor changed from the playfulness he exhibited earlier.
Tamar looks back at him. His face is growing red and he is angry.
“Onan, I didn’t mean…”
But she doesn’t get a chance to finish. In the next moment she is on the floor, never having seen the punch that felled her. The pain in her face, her jaw is terrible and her vision so blurred she doesn’t see Onan grab her around the waist. She screams as he turns her over and takes hold of her neck, pinning her down.
“I’ll teach you to disrespect your husband,” he says, pulling her dress up to her waist with his free hand. Tamar cries and tries to fight him, but it’s useless; she is powerless against him.
* * *
How long she had been on the floor, Tamar doesn’t know. Onan had had his way with her, hitting her once more before leaving her dazed and confused where he had taken her. It was only when Ofra returned home that Tamar dared to move. Her whimper is joined in by Ofra’s cry.
“Oh, Mistress,” she whispers, dropping her basket and rushing over to her. “What happened?”
Slowly, Tamar rises to a sitting position, pulling her dress down to her ankles, her body hurting everywhere. Her mouth is dry and she tastes blood.
“Onan…,” she manages to say.
Ofra says nothing, but grabs a wet rag and tries to wipe her face. Tamar cringes and backs up from her. Ofra is persistent, though, her touch gentle. She wipes up the blood with tender strokes, handling her mistress with more care than she had been shown.
“I should have been here,” Ofra laments with tears in her eyes.
Tamar shakes her head.
“No, there was nothing you could’ve done. He would’ve hurt you too.”
Ofra stops helping her for a moment.
“You will have a bruise,” she says solemnly.
Tamar nods her head, understandingly. It wasn’t appearances Ofra was alluding to, but the fact that she would have to eventually go see her in-laws. Would they understand? Would they chastise their eldest son and heir? She knew the answer to that; and worse yet, she knew Onan would find his way home that day, sober or drunk, to abuse her yet again. And neither she nor Ofra could do anything about it.