Tamar

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What do you know about Tamar?  What comes to mind when I mention her name?  Maybe you’ve never heard of her.  Or maybe you think:  Crazy, deceitful woman, dressed up like a prostitute to trick her father-in-law into having sex with her!  Yuck!  Or maybe you’re like many of us who come across her story and think “What was that all about?!” and then you go on reading and don’t think much more about her.  One commentary I read called her story “One of the top 10 passages pastors avoid preaching on” and you can imagine why.  Let’s take another look at Tamar.

 Tamar’s story is found in Genesis 38 – neatly sandwiched between the sale of Joseph to slave traders and Joseph’s success in Poiphar’s household.  The historical context is important, as always, because the other main character in Tamar’s story is Judah.  Remember that it was Judah’s idea to sell Joseph to the traders and he witnessed, day in and day out, his father’s grief and it must have made him feel terribly guilty.  So Judah leaves Jacob’s family and makes a life for himself among the Canaanites, marries a local, raises some boys, and blends right in.  A bit of a loner and a prodigal – and certainly an example of how we can be negatively influenced by those we choose to spend our time with!

 Now Judah’s oldest son marries a local girl named Tamar – meaning “palm tree” like a date palm that bears fruit in the desert.  And what a desert she entered!  Her husband Er was so awful that God struck him dead!  How often does that happen?!  He must have been absolutely terrible, worse than we can imagine!  And poor Tamar – what horrific circumstances she encountered in Judah’s household.  So then she’s given to the 2nd son Onan and he uses her for sex but refuses to give her an heir.  (Some translations indicate that, based on verb tenses, he continued to use her and deny her an heir.)  And God is displeased with Onan and kills him too.  Yikes!   Tamar might have been happy to be free of her awful husbands, but I’m certain the whole household thought she was cursed and had brought nothing but death and disaster to the family.  How in the world did she endure?

 Allow me for a moment to comment on the Inheritance Law – a little bit of math for you, but it helps us understand Onan better.  When there were 3 sons, the inheritance pie was divided in 4 pieces.  The oldest got a double portion (50%) and the other sons got 25% each.  Once Er died and there were only two sons, then Onan would have gotten the double portion (60%) and the other brother only 30%.  If Tamar had born a son with Onan, the son would have taken the inheritance portion of his dead father.  Do you see how much was at stake for Onan and why he refused Tamar?

 And a word about the Levitical law regarding sons and inheritance too – we find in Deut 25:5-10 that the priority is for the family name, line, and wealth to continue.  The brother of a dead man is to raise up a son for the sake of the family line and inheritance.  Granted that this law had not yet been given by God, but it was already the practice at the time.  In fact, some ancient texts show that it was the father-in-law’s responsibility to bring about an heir if no other male was available.  Tamar wasn’t necessarily desperate for a child, she was concerned about the family line… more concerned than Judah apparently.

 So Tamar is returned to her family in shame, suspected of bringing a curse on Judah’s family, and as the years go by it is clear that Judah intends to leave her a widow.  There is no future for Tamar and no heir for Judah’s line.  She dresses up like a temple prostitute, a common sight in that time, and recently-widowed Judah falls for her.  He sacrifices so much (all his important identity papers and signs of authority!) for so little.  Why did Tamar think this might work?

And out of this one encounter God grants her twins!  Interesting that she never bore children with her other husband(s)… but God chooses this moment to grant her sons, sons that will be the line of kings and the lineage of Christ.  It’s interesting to note that there’s no judgment passed on Tamar in the text – she is not “wicked in God’s sight”.

 When Judah finds out that she’s pregnant there’s quite a drama and he wants her burned to death, until he learns that it’s his child.  Shocker!  (This would be a great movie or a Shakespearean tragedy.)  Judah has seen so much death – the “death” of Joseph, his two wicked sons, his wife… and now the death of Tamar is almost on his shoulders too. 

 Judah intervenes saying, “She is more righteous than I” or sometimes translated “She is righteous, not I.”  Judah takes full blame for everything that has happened.  Tamar is released and taken back into Judah’s house hold and he never touches her again.  This incident was a turning point in Judah’s life – he changes and develops real character, he returns to his father Jacob’s house, and to God.  In fact later, he offers his life in exchange for Benjamin – what maturity he has developed.

 “Tamar is the best example we have of an ‘ezer (a strong and mighty defender, a helpmate) we have in Genesis” writes one commentary.  Interesting proposition – and certainly not how I was thinking of Tamar when we started this study!  She is strong, courageous, patient when wronged, longsuffering, righteous, and persistent.  Later when Boaz goes to the city elders to request permission to marry Ruth they say yes and bless him saying, “May your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah.” (Ruth 4:12).  King David named his daughter Tamar, and Absalom also named his daughter Tamar.  The legacy of Tamar endured and she was revered by elders and kings for many generations.

 There are so many more lessons we can draw from this story:

The influence of the world is strong and can cause us to compromise our faith;

How we can and should respond when wronged by others;

That God is just and will bring judgment in His own timing;

That Nothing is hidden from the Lord, your sins will find you out (Num 32:23);

The sin cycle is powerful, we are drawn away by temptation and it brings forth death (Jam 1:14);

We should not judge others until we have heard the whole story;

Jesus is interested in restoration, not condemnation (Jn 8:1-11); and

God uses imperfect people to accomplish His work.  Amen!

Dinah

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One of the hardest Bible study classes I have ever taught.  I should’ve seen it coming.  More than half the women in my class have been sexually violated at some point in their lives.  The emotions were so raw, the heartache and tragedy unspeakable.  It’s not something we can gloss over… and I couldn’t decide if we should stop class and all dissolve into a prayerful, sobbing mess – or go ahead and look at Genesis 34 in detail.  Sigh.  We have so much in common with Dinah. 

Scripture does not reveal much about Dinah – why she went out to visit the women of the land or what kind of a young girl she was.  In the end, we discover that the silence of scripture speaks volumes.  She could be any of us.  What was done to her was wrong and all the events leading up to the incident do not matter in the end. 

 God values women and we can see this in the Levitical law, which was very contrary to the “women are property” culture of that day.  For the violated woman God’s law provided protection, care, and economic security for her for the rest of her life (Ex 22:16).  Rape was akin to murder – “you have taken her life” – and the man received the death penalty (Deut 22:26).  Innocent women were not punished, but were precious in the eyes of God.  God seeks restoration and redemption – not the cycle of shame, blame, and reproach.  “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1).

 We talked about Jacob’s failure to lead, how he was passive and lost control of his family.

 We talked about Simeon and Levi, whose righteous anger (justified, wish Jacob had the same response!) became a point of sin for them.  “In your anger, do not sin.” (Ps 4:4)  We talked about how God hates lies and deceit and the treachery of the brothers’ promise of a covenant which they had no intention of fulfilling.  We looked ahead to Genesis 49 where Simeon and Levi lose their inheritance for this act of treachery and violence.

 We talked about “abduction marriages” which occasionally occur in some countries still today.  Many thanks to an Ethiopian seminary professor who pointed this out!

 And we talked about leaving the desire for justice and revenge in the hands of the Lord.  For “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay.” (Rom 12:19-20) 

 In the end, Dinah’s story is still a tragedy.  There is no happy ending.

 You can curse God and die, or trust God and live. – Jill Briscoe, ref. Job 2:9-10

Rachel and Leah

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This classic tale of love and deception reveals new truths about God’s character and His ways with us.  (Genesis 28-29)

We see that Jacob had some issues with deceit in his heart… as evidenced by his efforts to steal Esau’s birthright over a pot of stew and tricking Isaac into blessing him instead of Esau.  It’s not a surprise that he fled Canaan under a death threat.  At that point in his life, he was far from being a stellar model of character and faith.  But (I love the word “but” in scripture – something very interesting is always about to happen!)… But God met him at Bethel, gave him the vision of angels on the ladder to heaven, and confirmed that ALL the covenant promises belonged to Jacob.  Jacob – the trickster who has made such a mess of his life and family relationships that he is fleeing – Jacob is the one to inherit the covenant.  He surely did not deserve it!

God is full of grace – unmerited favor, granting us what we do not deserve and cannot earn.  Jacob is changed by this personal encounter with God at Bethel.  He begins a journey of spiritual growth.

God is also just, and has a sense of humor.  Part of Jacob’s character development comes in the form of Laban’s trickery and the whole wife-switching mess.  I love the irony of the deceiver being deceived. “Do not be deceived, God will not be mocked; for what a man sows, that he will also reap.” Gal 6:7

God has compassion on us, He is Lahai Roi as Hagar named Him, “the God who sees me”.  Leah had a tough life – she was not beautiful, under-valued by her family, and unloved by her husband.  She did not have a lot of choices in life – I cannot imagine what she was thinking when Laban told her that she would be clothed in the bridal garb instead of Rachel!?!  And where was Rachel that day anyway?  Leah carried with her a broken heart and undoubtedly a poor self-esteem… but in her tears (and I am sure they were many) she choose not to be bitter, she chose to cling to God.  We see the evolution of her relationship with God in the names of her sons… and we see that she finds peace in her soul with the birth of Judah, her fourth son.

God is patient, desiring that we grow in maturity and depth of character.  Rachel seemed to have it all – she was young, beautiful, deeply loved by her husband, and probably a bit of a social butterfly.  Yet God chooses infertility for her, a challenge that will bring her much heartache.   It is her opportunity for her character development and for her to deepen her relationship with God.

Surely God’s ways are not our ways!  Yet I draw comfort from a truth that is overwhelmingly evident in this passage – God’s purposes will be accomplished. “The Lord of hosts has sworn, saying, “Surely just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand…”  For the Lord of hosts has planned and who can frustrate it?  His hand is stretched out, who can turn it back?” Is 14:23,27

Isn’t that how God works with all of us?  God meets us in the proverbial wilderness and reveals Himself to us personally, calling us to a relationship with Himself.  After the wilderness God propels us forward to the next phase in our spiritual walk.  -Live Relationally, p. 184

Rebekah

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Abraham – who believed God would fulfill his covenant promises and sent Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac.  Isaac – who did not marry a local girl but waited (40 years!) for the right one.  Eliezer – who went about his master’s business, loaded up camels, trekked across the desert for weeks, arrived at a well, prayed specific prayers, and waited patiently as God provided the exactly the right woman for Isaac.  Laban and clan – who saw God’s hand and agreed to let Rebekah leave.

And Rebekah – who was nice to a dusty guy with a bunch of camels at a well and had her life turned upside down overnight.  Rebekah who said “I will go” and willingly entered into the marriage covenant, seeing it as a gift from the Lord.  She bravely set out for a land she had never seen, to be permanently linked to a man she had never met.  The Lord blessed her.  She trusted God and when she followed His plan for her life, she discovered that He had chosen perfectly.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see… And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”  Hebrews 11:1,6

This story, told in Genesis 24, is a perfect picture of God’s lovingkindness, His hesed (covenant faithfulness and love) toward us.  His perfect plan unfolds, piece by piece, in perfect timing.  He has provided everything we need for life and godliness.  We have only to trust Him, wait patiently, pray specifically, embrace what He has revealed, and be faithful (like Eliezer) to carry out the master’s plan.

Oh Lord, help me to trust in Your plan and purpose for my life.  as I seek to be the woman you have called me to be, give me the strength to wait patiently on You and the revelation of your plan.

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the new year, “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”  And he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.  That shall be to you better than a light and safer than a known way.” -M. Louise Haskins, The Desert, 1908

Lot’s Wife

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I have so many questions about Lot and his wife.  Why is Lot living in Sodom?  If it’s so awful, why didn’t he leave? How did he go from being a part of Abraham’s family to an “elder at the gate” of a city worthy of hellfire and brimstone?  And what was he thinking when he offered the raging mob of townsmen his two virgin daughters?!  I am disturbed – that made me sick to my stomach!

Oh wait.  I guess I could become calloused to certain evils around us.  I guess I could also become settled, engaged with the world, unable to leave.

But then, after a night of serious drama in Sodom, the angels tell Lot that destruction is coming at dawn.  Judgment is coming and it’s time is NOW.  And Lot lingers?!  And the angels have to take him by the hand and lead him out.  He cannot overcome his attachments to the city and has to be practically dragged to safety.  And then Lot wants to negotiate with God about where he’s running to?!  Honestly?

Oh wait.  How seriously do I take God’s warnings about sin and judgment?  How quick am I to obey?  Surely I have also lingered, questionned, hesitated, and been reluctant.  Certainly I have been afraid of going into unknown territory… and preferred the place that I was familiar with, even if it wasn’t that wonderful.  And sometimes I look back.

And then Lot is called “righteous, oppressed and tormented in his righteous heart” (2 Pet 2:7-10).  That’s amazing!

 How merciful God is to us – not turning us into pillars of salt for every hesitation, every longing for things past, every attachment to the things of this world (this world that is not our home).  How merciful God is to us – taking us by the hand and leading us out of bondage and places we feel trapped.

“Oh, remember Lot’s wife!  Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” Lk 17:32 

It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away,

It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray,

Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid,

When you give yourself away,

People never crumble in a day

The journey from your mind to your hands,

Is shorter than you’re thinking

Be careful if you think you stand, You just might be sinking

 It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away

– Casting Crowns

Hagar

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Hagar – a young, gentile girl, far from her homeland, with no rights and no identity other than that as Sarah’s maid.  Hagar – who obediently bore Abraham’s first child, whether she wanted to or not.  Hagar – with few choices, except her attitude (and she did not choose well).  Hagar – mistreated, frightened, alone, and pregnant.

She flees into the wilderness and God finds her there.  She gives God a name – El Roi, “The God who sees”.  She is amazed that the God of the universe cares about her.  She is so changed by this encounter that she obeys the difficult command “Go back to your master.”

“I sought the Lord and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4

 Approximately 15 years later she flees into the wilderness again.  Again she despairs for her life and the life of her son.  Again God sees her, provides for her, and offers her promises for the future.

“Before they call I will answer, and while they are speaking I will hear.” Isa 65:24

What a wonderful picture we have of El Roi – the God who sees us!  The God who knows all our troubles and needs.  The God who has a plan for our lives, plans for good and not harm.   

“The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.”  2 Chron 16:9

Sarah aka Mrs. Abraham

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Meet Mrs. Abraham, aka Sarah.  Military wives, you think you’ve moved a lot?  Sarah was a wrap-up-the-tent and pack-it-on-the-camels, country-hopping expert!  And guess what, things did NOT always go so well for her… as you have discovered in your homework.

I have been mulling over two thoughts this past week:

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” -George Santayana (p.83)  Do you remember our theme verse from the first day of class?  Romans 15:4 says “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

Ladies – we need to learn from the past!  From our own past, and from the experiences of others.  When we look back we should be encouraged and have hope – God is faithful.  We will not be abandoned.  He is our ‘ezer – our Helper, a Mighty Warrior, our Strength, and our Refuge!

Secondly, why am I always trying to fix things myself?  Wouldn’t it be a lot easier, less stressful, and turn out better in the end if I just let God do it His way?  Without my meddling?  “Some of us never see God’s miraculous provision because we’re too busy trying to fulfill our own needs through the arm of the flesh.” (p.88)

We’ll talk more about “helping God out” next week, lesson #4 – Hagar.  

“The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.”  George Muller (p.82)