Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Bible Reading Reflection (Gen 38-41)

Why is chapter 38 here?  What a scandal!  Not sure what the takeaway is here.  I am immediately tempted to focus on Tamar and her sordid activity.  However, the text seems to focus on the unrighteousness of the men in the family.  Judah had left his brothers and became friends with an Adullamite, then took a Canaanite woman for a wife.  The text does not name her, though it does name her father.  Does this indicate disapproval in a subtle way?  Judah had three sons by this Canaanite woman, Er, Onan, and Shelah.  Judah procured a woman by the name of Tamar as a wife for Er.  Before Er and Tamar could have a son, God struck him down because he was wicked.  Onan, the next oldest brother, was to fulfill his duty to his older brother by fathering a child with Tamar that would be considered Er's son.  This strange custom was actually common in that part of the world.  Onan went in to Tamar and would sleep with her, but would spill his seed on the ground so that she would not get pregnant.  The text says it was because he knew the child would not be his.  Interestingly, Onan would have been next in line for the family inheritance, but this would not be the case if he fathered a son for his dead older brother.  Because of Onan's wicked actions, God struck him down as well.  Judah promised his daughter-in-law the remaining son, Shelah, as a husband when he was old enough to marry.  Judah then sent his daughter-in-law away back to her father's house.  In the meantime, Judah's Canaanite wife died.  When Shelah grew up, Judah did not give him to Tamar as a husband.  So, Tamar put on the garments of a cult prostitute, veiling herself, and sat by the road where Judah would be passing by.  She seduced him in disguise, and conceived.  Of course, when Judah found out Tamar was pregnant, he wanted to have her put to death.

Judah, like myself, wanted to condemn Tamar.  Curiously, when Judah found out what had happened, he declared Tamar "more righteous" than himself.  Which are the greater infractions in the story?  Judah had broken his promise and left his daughter-in-law with nothing.  In a world where women depend on husbands and/or sons for safety and survival, Judah left her with nothing at all.  Instead of treating her like a daughter that married into the family, he sent her away back to her father's house.  Out of sight - out of mind.  If he had her put to death, she would definitely be out of sight and out of mind.  Tamar cunningly forced Judah not to dismiss or discard her.

Tamar gave birth to Judah's offspring, twins.  The family line continued not through Shelah, but through the younger of Tamar's twins, Perez.

Maybe the point is not Tamar and whether she was right or wrong.  Maybe the focus in on Judah and his sons as negative examples.  Judah and his sons stand in stark contrast to Joseph, who demonstrated honor and integrity even as a slave and in prison.  Joseph could have given up on God during those years in an Egyptian prison, far from home with no prospects of returning.  But the text says that Yahweh was with Joseph, and showed him steadfast love and favor.  I don't have my Hebrew Bible handy, but I suspect "steadfast love" could be the Hebrew word, "hesed," which means covenant love and loyalty.  Joseph seemed to show love and loyalty to God, living honorably with integrity, even if it got him into trouble.  What a contrast!

Judah and his sons by the Canaanite woman seem to be examples of selfishness, dishonesty, dishonor, wickedness, and buddying up to the Canaanites, whom God had told Abraham he would dispossess from the land due to their ongoing wickedness.  They are also an example of not caring for your own.  The New Testament says that those who do not care for members of their household are worse than an infidel.

Lord, please do not let me focus so much on another's shortcomings that I become blind to my own faults.  Please help me to be an honorable person of my word that takes responsibility, even if it is difficult or dangerous.  Thank you Lord for taking care of us through the cross, and taking responsibility for your creation by carrying out your plan to provide a way of redemption and reformation.  Thank you for your patience and mercy.

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