Per Fidem Intrepidus means "Fearless Through Faith". My courage isn't my own, it comes from the Holy Spirit, it's my faith in God and my personal savior Christ Jesus that calms my fears and allows me to move forward in this fallen world. Personally I'm afraid of a lot of stuff, but having the faith that Jesus adopted me as his little, sin filled, brother keeps me going.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

OT Tuesday: Tamar, Woman of Action

You're reading along in Genesis, and starting to delve into the story of Joseph in Chapter 37. You read of his brother's jealousy and how they leave Joseph in the pit to die, when Joseph's older brother Judah says "Hey - let's not kill him, let's just sell him into slavery where he'll have a miserable life and die in bondage." to which his brothers say "Cool!" and return to the pit only to find Joseph gone. Then suddenly the narrative in the bible veers so sharply to the side that you can hear the tires squealing.

In Chapter 38 the focus now shifts to highlight Judah, and Joseph is forgotten for a time. (Don't worry, Joseph is doing fine and living in Chapter 39) Judah starts chapter 38 by departing from his brothers having dispatched Joseph, and he settles down for a bit of family life. He married a Canaanite woman named Shua and with her he had three sons; Er, Onan, and Shelah. Judah found a wife for his oldest son Er who's name spelled backwards in Hebrew means "Evil". And evil he was, for is verse 7 the Lord gets rid of him:
 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord took his life.

And that's it for Er, barely 15 seconds of fame. And when Er left this mortal plain he left his wife, Tamar, without a child. Children are very important at this time, for one thing, children are a symbol of a woman's value. A barren woman is looked upon with scorn as being unfit. But most importantly, a son is a retirement plan for women of this time. This is an age when men worked hard and died young, and since women weren't allowed to work the only one who would care for a widow would be a new husband, and lacking that, a son. The bible is full of stories and admonitions to be kind to widows with no sons because they had no means of support. So Tamar needed a child. And, most importantly, God wanted her to have a child.

In this age was a custom called a levirate marriage where a dead mans brother marries his widow and the first child born of that union would be considered the dead brothers child to carry on his name and receive his material inheritance. This custom was son important that it actually became part of Mosaic Law. So in accordance with custom Judah's second son, Onan, took Tamar as his wife. However Onan didn't want to raise Er's child, but he did want sex with Er's wife so he hatched a plan that didn't work out so well...
Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother. 10 But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord; so He took his life also. (Genesis 38: 8-10)
So the honor of marrying and impregnating Tamar fell to Shela but Judah wouldn't let Shela marry Tamar because Judah was afraid of losing Shela like he lost Er and Onan. So Tamar moved in with her father-in-law as the custom allows and when her period of mourning ended Judah went off with The Boys to shear some sheep. 

Sheep shearing is a time of hard work where the men come together and round up the sheep to be sheared, shear the sheep, then haul all that wool off to market. There's hard work, camaraderie, and not a small amount of wine to be drank. Think: 1500 BC Budweiser commercial. After a long hard day of working and drinking, Judah went into town where he found a prostitute and proceeded to have a good time. In return she demanded payment, and Judah promised the prostitute a goat but he must have left his goat in his other pants. So she demanded that he leave his signet ring, his cord and his staff and he would get them back when he 'fessed up with a goat. This was the 1500 BC version of leaving your drivers license behind as a deposit.

Back at home Judah sent one of his buddies off with a goat to pay the hooker but his friend couldn't find her, in fact he was told that there never was a prostitute in that town. And to top matters off Tamar turns up pregnant, she's finally carrying the child that God wants her to carry. Judah was furious, he demanded that she be put to death and he demanded to know who the father was. In reply Tamar gave Judah back his signet ring, his cords and his staff. Oooops.
 Judah recognized them, and said, “She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not have relations with her again. (Genesis 38:27)
Yep, it was Judah that was in the wrong, because by the custom of the time if the widow can't have the brother of her dead husband give her a child, she's entitled to have a child by the father-in-law. Tamar had to disguise herself and use Judah by subterfuge to get the baby that God wanted her to have. But wait! There's more!

Tamar was pregnant with twins! And when it came time to give birth one baby stuck its hand out and the midwife tied a red thread around his hand to mark which one came out first. The baby withdrew it's hand and the second one came out first. The first baby born was named Perez, and the second baby, the one with the red thread, was named Zerah. And now we return you to the story of Joseph where he's living in Egypt. Thank you for your patience. 

Why is this important? Why did the bible sudden stop the really awesome story of Joseph just as it was getting good and go on about his older brother and a bunch of really weird situations that turn Genesis 38 into an R rated version of I Love Lucy? Because in 35 generations, after the evacuation into Egypt, then the exodus out of Egypt, after judges and kings and Mesopotamian rule, after return from exile and rebuilding the temple, after decades of silence from God, a young Jewish girl, the direct descendant of Perez, son of Judah and Tamar, would give birth to our Lord and Savior; Jesus Christ.

No comments:

Post a Comment