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Tamah, a Wronged Woman

READING: Gen 38.1-30

The most memorable women are the bad ones or beautiful ones
- the meek ones, good ones, or just plain nice ones are forgotten
- especially in the old world when they did not have professions like men
- they cope with everything life throws at them, without complaining
- providing food, clothing, a home and warmth without enough resources
- they bring up a family, teaching them morals, how to love and live
- they do far more for the next generation than any architect or philosopher

For the next few weeks we will be looking at heroines of the OT
- some of these are women of war or other deeds which men call heroic
- but some, like Tamar, are heroic in ways which men cannot match
- because Tamar was a heroic mother.

I will be dealing with the four women mentioned in the family tree of Jesus
- Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba, though of course there were others
- for some reason, Matthew chose to mention only these four women
- of course, most of the names of the women have been lost completely
- because the OT doesn't bother to record many womens' names

- but Matthew could have mentioned Rebekah, or Sarah, or Lear
- women who were more important, better known, and, well, BETTER
- because the women he chose were all a little or a lot suspect

Ruth and Rahab were both foreigners, a Moabitess and a Caananitess
Bathsheba and Ruth both had sexual relations before marriage
Tamar was accused of prostitution, and Rahab was a prostitute
- it would be hard to find a more tainted  bunch of women in the OT
- and Matthew needn't have mentioned them in Jesus' family tree
- in fact it wasn't normal to mention women at all in a family tree
- and he doesn't mention the good, important and worthy women
- but instead he mentions these four

It's not that they were disreputable women - they were all heroines
- they had all made their mark for their bravery and strength
- they earned their place in the Old Testament in spite of what they were
- and perhaps that is what Matthew wanted to point out
- Jesus' family history was tainted - VERY tainted
- he was conceived out of wedlock, and not by his legal father
- and everyone knew it, because they knew that pregnancy took 9 months
- as I've said before, that is why Jesus didn't get married
- no-one would marry their daughter to someone as tainted as Jesus
- and he is the only unmarried Jewish man who we know from that time
- because they regarded "Go forth and multiply" as an OT commandment

Jesus was regarded as disreputable by the Jews in ancient Jewish literature
- and by the Jews of his generation
- so when Matthew came to write his genealogies, he added a few women
- women who were respected for what they had done, but tainted as well
- tainted by their birth outside Israel, by their former behaviour or profession
- tainted in the same ways that some of us  are, and that Jesus was
- it's a dramatic way of saying that God doesn't care where we come from
- he cares what we do with our lives and what our aims are
- he doesn't care what we were, but what we are, and what he makes us

Tamar was the least tainted by her background
- she was a girl from a good family: not a Gentile idol worshipper
- well, not as far as we know, so what was wrong about her?
- the problem was that her husbands had the habit of dying
- and so Judah was reluctant to let another son marry her

Judah originally married her to his eldest son, Er, but he soon died
- so she was given to his second son, Onan, who was probably married
- she wasn't his main wife, but his Levirate wife, because she was childless
- if your husband died before giving you a child, his brother stepped in
- but Onan knew that he would have to bring up a child which wasn't his
- so he used what we delicately call coitus interruptus to prevent pregnancy
- and then he died. That's two men dead. Very suspicious.
- Judah said: Well, I guess you should marry my youngest son
- but he wasn't keen, because he was afraid he might lose him too
- so he told Tamar to wait till the boy was older, and sent her away to wait

By the way, many people have used the story of Onan in strange ways
- some people use it to teach that all contraception is wrong
- they say that this shows that sex is only for procreation
- and that God will punish anyone who tries to prevent conception
- but I can't see that. Onan's crime wasn't the use of contraception
- it was his refusal to support his brother's wife, socially and financially
- he didn't want to help with the upkeep of a child who wouldn't be his
- this child wouldn't support Onan in his old age, but would support Tamar
- so he didn't feel like wasting his own resources and bringing up the child

 Some people have even used the story to teach that masturbation is evil
- well, whatever you believe on that subject, this story is entirely different
- and I can't find any other passage in scripture on that subject
- which is the perfect excuse to avoid the embarrassment of dealing with it

- though I was very impressed by an interview with Chad Varah
- he's the man who founded the Samaritans, helping thousands of sad people
- by now, his organisation has saved the lives of millions
- he found a way of telling people that depression doesn't last, and things do get better, so they should wait it out instead of killing themselves
- but in this interview he said that wasn't his most important message
- he was also the first to teach publicly that masturbation was normal
- as normal as going to the toilet, or picking your nose
- but, the Bible says nothing about picking your nose either, so nor will I
After many years, it was obvious that Judah wouldn't fulfil his promise
- and Tamar's biological clock, as we call it, was ticking away
- in those days, if you didn't have a husband or a son, you were helpless
- in fact that the definition of a "widow" wasn't 'husbandless' but 'manless'
- you weren't considered a real widow if you had a son to look after you
- she decided some drastic action was needed, so she dressed as a prostitute
- then she fluttered her eyelashes at Judah over the top of her face veil
- and she reeled in the line and extracted the pledge instead of payment
- prostitution wasn't illegal for men, but it was for a decent family girl
- so when she was pregnant, they planned to burn the unfaithful slut
- till she produced Judah's staff and ring, and Judah crumpled in guilt

Why did Judah feel guilty? It was legal for him to visit prostitutes
- legal, yes, just as it is today, but that doesn't mean it is moral or edifying
- in fact it was worse in his day, because prostitutes were attached to idols
- they were part the worship at cult shrines, though not, of course, Jehovah's
- so he was compromising himself with a foreign religion as well
- but I don't think this is what made him feel guilty
- if that was all, he wouldn't have regarded himself as more guilty than her
- what he felt guilty about was the way he had neglected to keep his word

Judah had promised that he would marry Tamar to his youngest son
- but he fobbed her off by saying that he was too young, and sent her away
- it was clear that he had no intention of keeping his word, ever
- so Tamar was alone, and when her parents died, she'd be destitute
- and Judah had made a promise which he had no intention of keeping
- THAT is what he felt so guilty about. A broken promise.

It doesn't sound like much of a crime to us, but it was a huge crime
- our world is completely different from the OT, but it isn't better
- the OT is an insight into read life; life lived in danger, in uncertainty
- we feel that the OT is way back long ago and it doesn't matter any more
- we feel that the NT teaching describes our world much better
- humanity has grown out of the brutish and ugly world of the OT

But the OT is much closer to life in the 2/3 world than the NT
- NT teaching fits with suburban life where people are polite and tolerant
- but the OT describes real life, as in inner cities and the developing world
- there they live with fighting, famines, short and dangerous lives
- there they can't be certain they'll have food and a place to sleep tomorrow
- their wealth is measured in cows or sheep, which get ill or get eaten
- and their most precious commodities are friendship, family and honour

We let money, a house, a car and a nice job outweigh our family
- our jobs split up families, our homes keep us insular, and our money makes us concentrate on looking after ourselves
- we obey the law, and follow the tenets of decency and fairness
- but this doesn't necessarily include supporting our wider family

I'm feeling this particularly keenly at present because of my mother
- I am one of four children and our jobs have removed us all from her home
- now she is getting frail but wants to remain where she has always lived
- so I'm trying to organise one of those wearable emergency pendants
- you press a button, and it automatically phones for help
- but I'm having difficulty knowing who it should phone
- her family have moved away, and her friends are as old as herself
- it makes me see there is something very wrong with society
- I'm starting to think that they had their priorities right in the OT

Judah was feeling guilty about breaking a promise to his daughter-in-law
- this was far more serious than his dalliance with a prostitute
- even when prostitutes were attached to shrines of foreign gods
- and it was much more serious than Tamar acting the role of a prostitute
- this was a terrible crime for a decent girl, and deserved death by burning
- but Judah said he was more guilty than she, for breaking his word
- and really he knew from the start he wouldn't do it, so he was lying to her
- it was her right to be supported by his family, and he swindled her

Actually the NT has a similar kind of emphasis on morality
- the NT condemns sexual immorality and idolatry alongside lying
1Cor.6:9 ... Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders
 10  nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Rev.21:8  But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death."
Rev.21:15  Outside the New Jerusalem are the male prostitutes, those who practise magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practises falsehood.

In the sophistication of modern society, we have forgotten some sins
- our newspapers are full of violent and sexual sins, but what about lies?
- well, newspapers love the little lies, the details which politicians cover up
- but they ignore big lies, which ruin people's lives, like the ones they print
- and they report broken promises from politicians, which are unintentional
- but they don't bother about broken promises by parents or spouses
- these are the big crimes which ruin lives and leave deep unhealing scars

As a society, we don't consider ourselves responsible for family and friends
- friendship means chatting round a dining table, not helping at a deathbed
- loyalty means sticking up for someone, but not mucking in and helping
- keeping a promise becomes unimportant when it becomes difficult
- keeping marriage vows last only as long as the feelings when we marry
- and the cruelest thing of all is the easy way we make a promise to a child
- and then the circumstances change or we forget what we promised
- but the child remembers, and starts to build up a life based on our example

Jesus said: Let your Yes mean yes, and your No mean no. (Mt.5:37)
- the only praise I can think of that he gave to someone was for Nathaniel
- he said: Here is a man in whom there is no falsehood  (Jn.1:47)
- he didn't praise anyone for sexual purity, or keeping other commandments
- and he characterised his heavenly Father the same way:
Mt.7:9  "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?
 10  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?
 11  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
God is like a good father who remembers his promises and give good things
- and we too should regard promises as important, and give real support

Though for us, there is also an even higher priority
- we should also remember that our church family is part of our family
- Jesus was so insistent on this, he even said it was MORE important
- it was more important to follow Jesus than to bury one's father
Mt.8:21  Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."  22  But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."

This was a severe teaching, but a necessary one for us to remember
- as believers, we take on responsibilities for our brothers and sisters
- which are just as important, if not a little more so, than our own families
- but in this age, we have to be reminded of our responsibility for both
- in the days of Jesus, one's commitment to family was already obvious

The Rabbis said that Rahab did what she did for the sake of God
- she knew that God's Messiah would come from that family line
- and she was determined to be part of that, and do her part
- this seems a little far fetched to us, but it is nevertheless illustrative
- everything we do should be for the sake of the Kingdom

- and often the work of the Kingdom is best done in our family
- because as Paul said: (1 Timothy 5:8)
If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

(C) Dr David Instone-Brewer 2001



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