Friday, July 27, 2012

XXII - Chapter 38 - Judah and Tamar

Chapter 38 seems to interrupt our study of Joseph, but the account given in this chapter takes place at the time when Joseph is being taken to Egypt by his new "owners", a caravan of Ishmaelite merchants.

The Bible is a frank and honest accounting of History.  It does not spare anyone of a complete expose' of the person's character.  We see an accurate picture if we study and learn the Bible in its entirety.  This chapter is one of the startling revelations of the low levels to which even Bible heroes could sink.

Judah, Leah's fourth son visited a Canaanite town Adullam, about twelve miles northeast of Hebron.  He made friends with a man named Hirah.  Judah also took a Canaanite woman named Shua as his wife (will they never learn?).  There near Adullam,  Shua gave birth to two sons, Er and Onan.  Then she .gave birth to a third son named Shelah.

When it was time for Judah's oldest son Er to be married, Judah found him a wife.  (this was not uncommon for the parents to choose whom their offspring would marry.)  Judah chose a Canaanite woman named Tamar for Er to marry.  But not too long after Er married Tamar, God put Er do death because he was so evil.  We'll see here what is to become an established custom among Israelites:  The brother of a man who died leaving a childless widow was obliged to marry the widow and rear a family by her in the name of the deceased brother (Dueteronomy 25).  So Judah commands his second son Onan to marry his older brother's widow.  Onan resented the fact that the children born to him and Tamar would not be his legal heirs.  He therefore withheld himself, making it impossible for Tamar to concieve.  On top of Onan's refusal to do the right thing by his family, he, like his brother, was considered evil by God, and God brought Onan to an early death, just like He did with Er.

This story begs the question of how it could happen that two of Judah's sons would grow up to be evil men.  Choosing a Canaanite wife for his eldest son didn't help.  This is not the last we'll see righteous men having evil offspring (Book of Judges plus many more).  I've often wondered about this, but I realize we all have weaknesses and our children are still exposed to the evil influences that become constants in their lives.

So now Judah has lost two sons who died before they sired any grandchildren for Judah.  Tamar is a woman who has lost two husbands but remains childless.  But Judah knows what the right thing was for him to do.  He told Tamar to depart, live like a widow, and when his third son Shelah is old enough, he will become her husband.  It's clear to me, as it was clear to Tamar that Judah had no intentions of honoring his part of this agreement.  Perhaps Judah considered his sons' deaths to be Tamar's fault, and did not want his only remaining son Shelah to suffer the same fate.  Perhaps Judah hoped that if enough time passed, Tamar would find someone else to marry.  One clue to this is that vs 12 says "after a long time".

Vss 13-->  After Judah got over his grief from his wife dieing, he went to visit his old friend Hirah, which happened to be the area where Tamar had gone to wait for Judah to keep his promise.  Vs 14 tells that Judah's third son Shelah had been grown up by this time. So, realizing that Judah was not going to honor his commitment, Tamar felt like she had to take matters into her own hands.  She changed out of her widows garments and put on a veil to disguise herself, and waited by the road on which she knew Judah would be traveling.

Vs 15 - When Judah saw her he thought she was a prostitute and approached her.  As payment for her services he offered to send her a young goat from his flock.  But Tamar insisted on him giving her a pledge token until he sent her the goat.  He agreed to give her in ernest his seal with its cord and his staff.  So Judah had sex with who he thought was a faceless prostitute, and unwittingly impregnated her with the bloodline into which she originally married.  Vs 19 says when she returned home she put back on her widow's clothes.  {I guess Tamar is more of a principled woman than we're inclined to consider her to be earlier in the chapter.}  Vs 20 tells that Judah sent the goat to her by a friend, but of course he couldn't find her because that woman dressed like a prostitute did not exist any more.  So the messenger reported back to Judah that the prostitute was nowhere to be found.

Vs 24 says that about three months later, it was reported to Judah that Tamar, his son's widow was pregnant  This could only have happed if Tamar had prostituted herself.  Judah then demanded satisfaction by having her burned (seems rather harsh).  Vs 25 When called before Judah,Tamar reveals to Judah his own seal, cord, and staff, stating that she is pregnent by the owner of these.  And the most decent thing Judah does in this story is in vs 26 when he acknowledges that she is a better person than he.

Vss 27-30 - When Tamar delivers, she has twins, Perez and Zerah, who are direct descendents of Judah, actually his sons.

In the next posting, we will resume our study of Joseph.

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