Friday, October 2, 2015

All Things New: Judah, the Guilty Road, Part 2

Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

Now comes the bit in Judah's story that is not often discussed or taught.

It's a rather awkward chain of events to discuss in a church setting,  to be sure. But  it brings Judah to his first place of recognizing and confessing an error; perhaps this is the preparation for what comes later?

The story is recorded in Genesis 38;  you can go and read the details.  Judah got a bride for his firstborn son, Er, named Tamar.  We do not know her nationality or ethnic background, but she was a remarkable young woman who was determined to have a place in the family lineage.

Judah, however, does not seem to have raised his boys to honor God.  At least his first two had some real issues.  Er's error is not recorded...just that he was 'wicked in the LORD's sight'.

I checked the Lexical Aids and found that the word translated 'wicked' is ra, meaning bad, of inferior quality, wicked, evil (thoughts, actions), mischievous, severe, malignant, noxious, injurious, hurtful,unpleasant (giving pain or causing unhappiness) hideous, fierce, wild; a wrong, a moral deficiency, ...a bad thing which someone does...  Turns out that is the same word used in Genesis 6:5...The LORD saw how great man's wickedness [ra] on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.  God had basically wiped out all of humanity for the ra they were pursuing; how could He allow the lineage of the coming king to be tainted with such?  Er died very young, having fathered no children.

Onan, to whom Tamar was given as wife to raise up a son to inherit Er's portion, was little better.  He refused...and you can read for yourself the details of his engender a child that would be counted as his dead brother's.  What he did was wrong in God's sight...and Onan died.

Judah  was suspicious that something Tamar did was causing his son's deaths, and feared that Shelah would also die.  He stated that Shelah was too young for marriage so Tamar was sent back to her father's house to live until  the boy grew up and could fulfill the duty of the brother to give a son to his widowed sister-in-law.

Time passed; Shelah grew up but Tamar was not given to him.

Then Judah's wife also died, and he apparently spent some time mourning her.  But when it was time to shear the sheep, he left his mourning and headed out to oversee the shearing with his buddy Hirah.

Somehow, Tamar got word that Judah was headed to Timnah to the sheep-shearing, and she decided to take her future into her own hands.  She put away her widow's clothing and disguised herself and sat by the road where Judah would pass by.

In perhaps what is one of the most pathetic accounts of one of God's people, the newly widowed Judah spotted the young lady by the road and, assuming she was a prostitute (probably with reason, owing to her dress and location) immediately went over to avail himself of her services.  She bargained with him to receive his staff and seal  as a pledge for the young goat that would be her pay, and then fulfilled her side of the deal.

Immediately afterward, Tamar took the staff and seal and left, returning to her widow's attire in her father's house.  When Judah's buddy Hirah returned to the place to trade the goat for the items left as pledge, she was gone and no one around knew anything about her, stating that there was no such person in the area.

Judah decided to write off his staff and seal, trying to keep his one-night-stand from becoming discussed by local gossips.  And, as he heard no more from anyone, he no doubt thought it was not significant.

But, three months later someone came to him with news.  His widowed daughter-in-law was pregnant.  She had not maintained her purity in her widowhood;  now she was an affront to his family.  The rumor was that she had engaged in prostitution.  Prostitution!  Judah was furious.  But...and he may even have thought he had reason to have her killed.  It didn't matter if she was guilty of any wrongdoing with his two older sons; he was no longer obligated to risk his third son.  She was pregnant and obviously guilty...and she deserved to die. He had her brought from her father's house to his tents, telling his servants to burn her.

Do you suppose what happened next looked anything like this...

As they were building the pyre on which to burn her, one of Tamar's father's servants came to Judah, with a bundle and a message.  'Your daughter-in-law Tamar sends word to you identifying the father of her child.  She says it is the man to whom these items you know whose they are?'  He handed Judah the long, linen-wrapped bundle.  Judah tore the wrappings off, looking for the other guilty party...and saw his own staff and seal.  Suddenly, he knew what she had done.  The child was his.  Tamar had merely been trying to fulfill her duty to raise up a son to inherit his portion. Feeling nauseous, he picked up his staff and seal and went out to the almost completed judgement pyre.

"Stop!"  He bellowed. Stunned, his servants halted in their tracks and looked at him. He turned to the two servants who were holding her closely, where she could see the fire prepared. Tamar simply looked at him, knowing that her life was in his hands.  "Don't hurt her." She drew a deep, shuddering breath and closed her eyes, sagging against her captors.

Judah fumbled for words. "She is more righteous than I....I would not give her what she has taken as her right."  He took a breath and looked around him.  Most of his household was there...good, he would only have to say this once. "She should have been given to Shelah as wife, so that she could have a son and an inheritance.  I withheld that, so she has risked everything to make sure that the son will be born in spite of my actions."  He paused, making sure they all heard.  This would have to be  public, so the child's legitimacy would not be questioned.  He held up his staff and seal. "The father of her child is the man to whom these items belong.  I acknowledge in front of you all that these items are mine and that the child is my child."  A surprised murmur ran through all assembled, and he walked over to Tamar, who had recovered from her momentary swoon and stood with her head bowed, tears dripping slowly into the dust at her feet.

Judah was overwhelmed with her simple courage. He put one hand on her shoulder and, with the other, raised her chin so that she was looking into his face. 'Daughter, ' he said, his voice cracking, 'You have done what is right.  I promise you that your child shall be reckoned as firstborn, and inherit Er's portion.  You may have your own tent in my household, and no one will harm you.'  He nodded at the female servants nearby, and they came and escorted her, one on either side, to the women's tent  until her place could be prepared.

He watched as they threaded their way through the compound and had a sudden, surprising thought. 'It's a shame none of my sons were worthy of her.'  Well,  he could, perhaps, do better with her son.

Maybe it was time to return to his father and his brothers and face his mistakes there, too.  Perhaps the youngest of his sons could still grow up to be a person of courage and honor.  Like his mother.

Judah's journey to chagrined repentance is also Tamar's journey to historical significance.  We tend to think that what happens to us is all about us...forgetting that our lives also impact others.  The value Tamar placed on the inheritance may have reminded Judah of his inheritance, that he seems to have left behind. This story is not placed in a chronological flow with the rest of the narrative, but it is apparent that Judah had rejoined his brothers and father by the time the famine in the land reached the point that they felt it necessary to go to Egypt, where there was grain stored and available. 

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