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Monday, November 25, 2019

#1 The Tale of Tamar


Introduction
2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”

All Scripture is inspired by God.  Even the parts we tend to skip like the genealogies or the weird and disturbing stories in the Old Testament.  In this blog, I'm going to focus on a couple of those passages people tend to skip over.  I'm not going to skip these passages today, because they are inspired by God and they have much to teach us if we listen closely.


Matthew 1:1-16
This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham[a]:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac.
Isaac was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.
3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar).
Perez was the father of Hezron.
Hezron was the father of Ram.[b]
4 Ram was the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab was the father of Nahshon.
Nahshon was the father of Salmon.
5 Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).
Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
Obed was the father of Jesse.
6 Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).
7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam.
Rehoboam was the father of Abijah.
Abijah was the father of Asa.[c]
8 Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat.
Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram.[d]
Jehoram was the father[e] of Uzziah.
9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham.
Jotham was the father of Ahaz.
Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.
10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh.
Manasseh was the father of Amon.[f]
Amon was the father of Josiah.
11 Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin[g] and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).
12 After the Babylonian exile:
Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
14 Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Akim.
Akim was the father of Eliud.
15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
16 Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.

5 Christmas Maidens
Do you keep up with your own genealogy?  Some people are fascinated by their own ancestry.  There are even shows on television now where experts trace the ancestry of famous celebrities.  We tend to skip over the genealogy of Christ, though, the most famous person who ever lived.  And if you skip over Christ’s inspired genealogy, you will miss some important facts.  

Like this:  There are 40 men listed in Jesus genealogy, which makes sense because Jewish genealogies from the first century listed lineage through the male ancestors.  The people the Bible records were a mostly a male dominated, patriarchal culture.  You don’t have to like it.  God didn’t, but it is the reality and you must understand the role of patriarchy in the biblical text or you might miss some very important clues, like this:  There are 40 men listed in Jesus’ genealogy and only 5 women. 

But the fact that there are 5 women listed in a genealogy written in a male dominated, patriarchal society is huge!  Why did the men who kept track of all this stuff and write it down even care about these 5 women—the 5 Christmas maidens?   You might think they are some pretty special women who really deserved the recognition.  They are special, but maybe not in the way you think.  Their stories may challenge your preconceived notions of holiness.

Apparently, God inspired the writer of Matthew 1:1-16 to record the names of these 5 women, without whom Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Lord and Savior of all would not have been born into the world that first Christmas day.  So, between now and Christmas, we are going to hear the stories of each of these 5 Christmas maidens between now and Christmas.

Tamar
The first Christmas maiden is Tamar and her tale comes from Genesis 38.  Tamar was a Canaanite woman.  The Canaanites—as a whole—were evil in God’s site.  They were evil because they had twisted religion so much that it had nothing to do with the One True God who made them anymore.  Canaanite religion was a way to make God into their own image through idolatry.  They worshiped through sexual orgies in order to arouse their gods so they would do favors for them.  They even hired temple prostitutes to have sex with the worshipers.  (I’m not making this stuff up. This was the Canaanite religion.)  Furthermore, the Canaanites even sacrificed their own children as part of their wicked religious ceremonies.  God rejected the Canaanites’ wicked religion and determined to drive them out of Canaan and give their land to Abraham’s descendants.  Tamar (the great, great… grandmother of Jesus) was a despised Canaanite.  (If you ever feel like there’s no hope for you, remember Tamar.)

The name Tamar means date palm.  The date palm is a tree in Israel that produces a most amazing fruit called a date that is dried to make something like a raisin, but a raisin the size of your thumb!  You can buy dates at Kroger, but they don’t even come close to the amazing Medjool dates you get in Israel, their native land.  I have been to Israel and enjoyed the dates their near Jericho and they are to die for.  Tamar means date.  And apparently, Tamar was to die for too.  Her story is found in Genesis 38.

Genesis 38:6-10
In the course of time, Judah arranged for his firstborn son, Er, to marry a young woman named Tamar. But Er was a wicked man in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord took his life. Then Judah said to Er’s brother Onan, “Go and marry Tamar, as our law requires of the brother of a man who has died. You must produce an heir for your brother.”

But Onan was not willing to have a child who would not be his own heir. So whenever he had intercourse with his brother’s wife, he spilled the semen on the ground. This prevented her from having a child who would belong to his brother. 10 But the Lord considered it evil for Onan to deny a child to his dead brother. So the Lord took Onan’s life, too.

Levirate Marriage and Wickedness
Now here’s a weird passage (and a bit gross and explicit).  It’s no wonder you don’t hear this story that much in church.  But, it is part of the God’s inspired story of the redemption of all humanity so we’re not going to skip it today.  What’s going on here?

The ancient Israelites had a custom called Levirate marriage.  It seems strange to us, but it had an important purpose for them.  The people of the Old Testament lived in a patriarchal society.  Men dominated everything.  Women had very little status and no way to provide for or protect themselves without the men in their lives.  I don't think that's the way God intended life to be, but sin was part of the world and that's the way people lived.  Thankfully, we have grown to a place in the 21st century in America, where women are finally getting the respect they are due because women are equal with men and should be treated fairly.  But 4,000 years ago when Tamar lived in the middle east, women were not treated equally.  When they were young, their father protected and cared for them.  When they were married, their husband protected and cared for them.  When they were old, their grown male children protected and cared for them.  So it was devastating if a wife's husband died and she had no grown male children to care for her.  Levirate marriage provided for widows.  When Tamar's husband died, she became their dead brother's responsibility to protect and care for her.

Levirate marriage addressed another pressing problem for the Bible's patriarchal society.  The greatest curse for ancient Israelites was for your family name to die out.  Therefore, if a wife's husband died before he was able to produce a male child to carry on the family name, the dead husband's brother was obligated to produce a male child with his wife for him.  I know that seems really weird to us today, but that was very important to the ancient Israelites like Judah's family.  And it may not be as far fetched as you think.  Today, if a husband and wife can't conceive a child, they might go to a fertility clinic and pursue artificial insemination.  Levirate marriage was the way the ancients solved the problem long before fertility clinics were available.

Unfortunately, Judah and his sons were wicked. Judah’s first son, Ere, married Tamar, “But Er was a wicked man in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord took his life.” We don’t know why Er was wicked; the passage doesn't say. You might infer one reason though. This is reading into the text a bit, but maybe Er was more interested in the "tasty date" Tamar than he was in the Lord's plan for the Israelites.  You see, the Israelites were the people God chose to represent God to the whole world.  As such, they were to reject all other gods and false religions, like that of the Canaanites.  But Er seems to be more interested in tasty Tamar than the religion of the One True God.  Whatever the reason, Er was so wicked to God that he died.  

So, levirate marriage kicks in.  Er’s brother, Onan, is supposed to take Tamar as his own wife, protect her, care for her, and it was Onan's absolute obligation to make sure Tamar got pregnant and produced an heir to carry on his dead brother's name.  Now Onan, being a man, was perfectly willng to enjoy “pleasure” with Tamar, but he refused to produce children.  Sexual pleasure is great but children are a costly responsibility Onan didn't want, even though it was the law of his own people.  Verse 10 says, “the Lord considered it evil for Onan to deny a child to his dead brother. So the Lord took Onan’s life, too.”

Genesis 38:11
11 Then Judah said to Tamar, his daughter-in-law, “Go back to your parents’ home and remain a widow until my son Shelah is old enough to marry you.” (But Judah didn’t really intend to do this because he was afraid Shelah would also die, like his two brothers.) So Tamar went back to live in her father’s home.

Used, Abused, and Forgotten
Tamar has now been used, abused, and forgotten.  Have you ever felt used, abused and forgotten?
Judah has a responsibility.  As the patriarch of the family, it is his responsibility to take care of everyone in his household; and this includes Tamar.  If his third son is too young to marry, then it is Judah's duty to take care of his daughter-in-law himself or until his youngest son is grown enough to do it.  Judah has no intention of doing the right thing.  His first two sons died because they were both wicked, but all Judah can think is it was Tamar fault.  Instead of seeing his son’s wickedness, send Tamar away.

God holds each of us accountable for our own sins.  It isn’t your lineage that makes you righteous or gains you favor in God’s eyes.  It is those who repent of their sins and turn to God through Jesus Christ His Son who enjoy the Lord’s favor.  In Tamar's story, we see taht Tamar hasn’t done anything wrong even though she is a Canaanite.  It is Judah and his sons--who are supposed to be God's chosen people--who are doing all the evil!  

Genesis 38:12-19
12 Some years later Judah’s wife died. After the time of mourning was over, Judah and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went up to Timnah to supervise the shearing of his sheep. 13 Someone told Tamar, “Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.”
14 Tamar was aware that Shelah had grown up, but no arrangements had been made for her to come and marry him. [Judah has no intentions of doing the right thing for Tamar.]
So she changed out of her widow’s clothing and covered herself with a veil to disguise herself. Then she sat beside the road at the entrance to the village of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. 15 Judah noticed her and thought she was a prostitute, since she had covered her face. 
[Now notice, it doesn’t say Tamar dressed up like a prostitute.  It says Judah thought she was a prostitute.  What does that tell you was on Judah's mind?  It seems to me, Judah is not acting or thinking the way God wants His chosen people to act.]
16 So he stopped and propositioned her. “Let me have sex with you,” he said, not realizing that she was his own daughter-in-law.
“How much will you pay to have sex with me?” Tamar asked.
[Tamar is a smart woman.  She plays along to see where it might get her.  Tamar recognizes God’s purposes in Judah’s family.  Even though Judah’s family was not living the way they should, they were still the family God chose for His great plan to save the world.  Somehow, Tamar sensed God’s hand at work in Judah’s people--despite their wickedness--and she was determined to be part of it.  Are you determined to be part of God’s family even if His children—the people you see in Church on Sunday—don’t always live they way they should.  Can you recognize that God has a plan for everyone and that God is saving the whole world, even through a broken church?]
17 “I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” Judah promised.
“But what will you give me to guarantee that you will send the goat?” she asked.
18 “What kind of guarantee do you want?” he replied.
She answered, “Leave me your identification seal and its cord and the walking stick you are carrying.” So Judah gave them to her. Then he had intercourse with her, and she became pregnant. 19 Afterward she went back home, took off her veil, and put on her widow’s clothing as usual.
Genesis 38:24-26
24 About three months later, Judah was told, “Tamar, your daughter-in-law, has acted like a prostitute. And now, because of this, she’s pregnant.”
“Bring her out, and let her be burned!” Judah demanded. 
[This was the typical punishment.  It's definitely a double standard.  Men were obviously getting away with all kinds of sexual promiscuity and sleeping with prostitutes, but the women were being burned when they were unfaithful.  I don't think God was happy about it, but that's the broken world Tamar and Judah lived in.]
25 But as they were taking her out to kill her, she sent this message to her father-in-law: “The man who owns these things made me pregnant. Look closely. Whose seal and cord and walking stick are these?”  [Busted!]
26 Judah recognized them immediately and said, “She is more righteous than I am, because I didn’t arrange for her to marry my son Shelah.” And Judah never slept with Tamar again.

Closing Points
Tamar's story (and others like it) are one of the major reasons I believe the Bible is the reliable account of God's salvation work throughout history.  If I were going to make up a fictional story of God's people, I definitely would not include all this dirty laundry.  Would you?  The Bible doesn't try to sugar coat anything.  The story of how God saved humanity includes a lot of ugly, embarrassing stuff.  It's just to messy to be made up!  Do you have any skeletons in your family closet? So does Jesus.  

None of the people in Jesus family tree were there because they deserved it. They were only there because of God's grace and their faith to be a part of God's great plan—a plan that they didn’t even fully understand.  They just knew if it was God’s plan, it must be worth more than any thing else in the whole world!  God is looking for people like Tamar--people who have the faith to see that God is at work even when His people are not doing the right thing.  People who are willing to give up everything to be part of God's great Kingdom plan.  Are you willing to give up everything to be part of God’s Kingdom?  Do you have the faith to see it is worth it?

Next week, we will hear the story of Rahab the prostitute.

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