When Tamar posed as a prostitute in order to get Judah to sleep with her, he promised to pay her a goat. Tamar wanted some assurance. She didn’t care about the payment; if she got pregnant she would need to show that her pregnancy fell under the duty Judah’s family had to carry on the line of her deceased husband. Otherwise, she would be regarded as a harlot.
As proof that he would pay, Judah gave Tamar his signet ring, his cord (by which the signet ring hung around his neck), and his staff. Signet rings functioned like signatures today: they proved the identity of the one who used them; documents sealed with a person’s ring were legitimized and carried legal authority. Signet rings often hung from a man’s neck by a cord; the cord kept the ring safe and close—to the heart, if you will. The staff, in this case, showed tribal identity and headship. The staff was, in effect, Judah’s scepter. Judah left valuable guaranties for sure. These were among his most important and vital possessions. Without them, he couldn’t function in his social roles.
Later, when Tamar was found pregnant out of wedlock, Judah said she should be put to death. Tamar saved her life by presenting the signet ring, cord, and staff—unmistakeable tokens of Judah’s identity.
It is easy to write this story off as a shady payment for quick and dirty pleasure. But viewed from the Spirit’s perspective, there is hardly a greater picture of Jesus’s tenderness and selflessness.
Jesus is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. We are His bride. But when Jesus found us we were all in the guise of harlots, like Tamar; we were in bed with the world, the devil, and ourselves and condemned to death.
But Jesus desired us. He desired us with His whole heart. To have us, He gave all that He is and has. Like Judah, He gave what was important and vital.
What is the signet ring of Jesus? Ephesians says we are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). In Revelation 7, those that are His are sealed. We are Christ’s letter, legitimized, and carrying His authority (2 Cor. 3:3). We are the wax which has received His ring—His very identity—and have conformed to it. We bear the image of His seal in ourselves. This legitimizes us. By His image we represent Jesus in transactions between the human and divine.
This image is no barren resemblance. Christ’s signet—hung by a divine cord—lays near His heart, so to speak. What seals us, what legitimizes us as His letters, what shapes us is from His very heart. We are the image of His core affections and motivations.
Christ’s staff, his scepter, is also part of our deposit. We sit with Jesus on His throne (Rev. 3:21). We reign with Him (2 Tim. 2:12). Christ’s heart is not to rule over but to come under and lift us up (Mark 10:42-45).
It would be a mistake to see Judah’s signet ring, cord, and staff as mere tools or objects. Consider the enormity of what Judah left Tamar: his ability to transact business; the staff that showed his family history, identity, and responsibility as leader. These were items invested with his very heart and being.
This is the real message to us. Jesus didn’t give us things like authority, image, and legitimacy to make transactions for Him. Jesus gave us Himself, all that was vitally Him. It was not about utility but union. The heart of Jesus wasn’t, “Here are all these things so you can go off and minister in my name, with my likeness and authority.” His heart was, “Here is me. Here is everything that is most vital to me, without which I cannot function.” That is the enormity of His gift; that, the enormity of His love.