Posts Tagged With: judah

The Story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38

tamarIs also the story about family dynamics and a prerequisite story for understanding the specific Laws of Moses about family life. The story should also include three other key figures. The sons of Judah and Tamar’s rightful husbands; Er the firstborn, Onan the second, and Shelah the third.

The problem begins when the first born dies and leaves Tamar without a husband. The duty of the second son was then to go and provided offspring for Tamar and for the dead brother and the children of Tamar would inherit their rightful portion or blessings of the firstborn son. This displeased Onan and he refused to have proper sexual intercourse with Tamar thus; “emptying his semen on the ground” (v9).

So then comes the death of Onan as it says ‘because of his wickedness’. Judah then sends Tamar back to live with her father until Shelah is of age, he was afraid of Shelah dying and leaving himself without an heir. Next we see that Judah’s wife dies and he wants to go hang out with his good friend. Tamar hears of this, and also hears of Shelah being old enough but not given in marriage. Judah is in a predicament because his wife is now gone, and only has one son left.

Tamar then takes matters into her own hands as she probably does not want to be a widow the rest of her life. She changes from a widows garments to some prostitute garb and goes to hang out somewhere she will be seen by lonely Judah. (For ancient wifeless men a prostitute would be a potential option for producing a son, not just a opportunity for pleasure. However, he was under the impression probably based on where she was hanging out that she was a cult prostitute and not just a women looking for a man.) Anyway, she and Judah do the deed and she convinces him to leave with her some collateral until other means of payment can be made.

Later Judah learns of Tamar’s pregnancy and assumes that she has been immoral and has rebelled against her rightful household and played the whore. Once she proves that it was with Judah himself that she conceived a child he realized that it was actually himself that was immoral and wrong for not given his rightful son to. In Judah’s mind and everyone else she had not acted immoral or whorish but that she actually did what was right. Its just that she had to do it in a sneaky way. In the end because she was cleaver, she pulled it off and revealed that she had done what was within her right. To bear a child within her rightful place in Judah’s family.

The original question on the passage had to do with the “wasting of semen”. Onan in particular acted wickedly because he refused to acknowledge the right of Tamar and his dead older brothers heritage to go on and claim their inheritance. The story acts as a reminder to the later people of God that the family of God is a special thing. That each member has a special part to play in the story of Gods people. That they are to work as a family honoring the place of women within the family dynamic as well as the common tradition of honoring the first born.
The story is a reminder for Israel that women and not only men have the responsibility to be the people of God and take pride in their place in the family of God, not despising it or despising the place of others within it.
The passage therefore is not originally intended to be about ‘birth control’ as we may read it in our 21st century way of thinking. However, birth control is a 21st century social issue. Perhaps the passage in a timeless way reminds us at least that we are not to have selfish motives when it comes to child bearing. We do it out of a recognition that it is Gods divine plan for us to bear and raise children for Gods glory, to occupy his creation, and accomplish his goals. We should do it willingly, and remember that relationships are not about what we can get out of it but about what we can give and what we are passing on. Onan was selfish and wanted blessing for himself. Judah was lonely and may have simply wanted pleasure and company. Tamar wanted a place in the family of God, and to be faithful to her commitment, and to pass on to the next generation another child of God to accomplish his will on the earth. That is why she is the real hero here. Lets follow her example in our own relationships and future families. Lets adopt her selfless attitude and create and nurture life that brings glory to God.

This timeless principle is all throughout the book of Genesis. We are reminded that God created man and women in order to continue to create new life in order to occupy his world and accomplish his goals on the earth. Onan’s is unwilling to do this because he will not get the goods he wants and they will pass to his children receiving the blessing of Er the oldest brother. Onan takes control of new life and wastes it, for that God takes his life. Seems harsh but the lesson is clear. That said, I don’t think it is best to use this as a passage directly dealing with the debate on birth control today but it should at least inform our sense of why we do it and why we don’t. What are our motives? Are we willing to play a part in Gods original design for co-creation?

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Categories: Ancient Near East, Bible, Context, CSBS, Culture, Genesis, History, Old Testament, Society/Culture, Theology, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Juicy Sequence of Ezekiel’s Compilation

So what was the point of how the compiler of Ezekiel laid out the book? It is likely an intentional chiastic structure. A common style of structuring Hebrew literature to place emphasis on the central event. For Ezekiel that central event is the exile itself. Though 24 is not necessarily the point in the book when Ezekiel hears of the actual fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. That takes place in chapter 33 not 24. The book is built upon the three visions of the presence of God, the presence leaving the temple, and the presence returning to a new and altogether different Jerusalem. Though it is never called Jerusalem or Zion, rather YAHWEH SHEMAH, The Lord is there. Aside from these major visions and including the vision of the valley of dry bones there is perhaps a far more interesting point to draw from looking at the flow of the book as a whole. Starting the the initial portion of Judgement (as most prophetic books begin and tend to carry on in that way for a while) on Judah, Israel, and the nations including the tribal peoples including Edom, Tyre, and Sidon. What are we to make of these potions of judgement on the nations. Well, first we start with the fact that Israel and Judah is judged first. They are in the wrong. Then there is consolation for Judah to know that the other nations and tribes are also in the wrong. They will be judged to for their injustice and violence done. Some make a point to see that this point is emphasized well. Because the Original people of Judah needed to have some hope that other nations were being judged to. But I say you can only take that so far before you end up completely missing the point. So if your going through you see all the passages on the judgement of nations. Three whole chapters on Tyre and Sidon. Then in chapter 35 it all ends with judgement on Edom. The big brother of Israel that took part in unnecessary humiliation and injustice done to Judah. They will be judged. Perhaps this is more consolation for Judah. Yes perhaps, but that’s not all. Chapters 35 and 36 are a contrast of the future blessing that will be poured out on the ‘Mountains of Israel’ and the destruction poured out on the “Mountains of Edom. However, the passage about Israel’s future blessing and restoration is for a very clear purpose outlined in chapter 36. “The whole point”, God says, (and I paraphrase) is that I chose this land as a place where Israel would be a blessing to nations. When I give it all back you need to remember that this is not given so that you will go on abusing the nations when they come to you. You need to welcome them into the family of God. I am not so much concerned about Israel as I am about my own name. Formerly you, Oh Israel, have defiled and profaned it among the Gentiles. So when I bring you back from the dead (moving on to the famous chapter 37) and I call you forth from your graves to again bear fruit as people who are alive and not dead, please, know that I AM GOD, and you are my special people with a calling. The two sticks prophecy at the end of 37 are a curious reminder that this special people of God will include members of the family of Israel that have since been lost and assimilated into the greater Gentile world. The future Elected people of God will no longer be a people of purely Hebrew ethnicity but Gods gathering of his family will be a mixed group and they will begin to accomplish his plan of making its way throughout all the families of the earth. This then leads the eye up to perhaps some of the most tricky two passages of the OT in chapters 38-39. The infamous Gog and Magog passages that are repeated by John in the book of Revelation. My own relative clarity about these passages comes by placing it in the sequence of events already tracking with as we follow the flow of the compiler of Ezekiel’s prophecies. We are talking about a mixed group of Gods people and the resurrection itself all no doubt pointing us to the resurrection of Christ himself, and the beginning of his church. Thus, a mixed group who have been raised to life bringing together the lost tribes, the true Israel of the house of Israel. These two chapters speak of a very distant enemy. Certainly an enemy that they are currently unaware of but in the future the new and more diverse people of God will be painfully aware of. Israel has had a lot of enemies but they did not know this one. They were to far off. But in the future Ezekiel speaks of the painful reality of this enemy and offers the hope that when this day comes there will be no need to worry. God will have an emphatic victory. Weapons will provide wood for fire for seven years. In plane language 38-39 speak of the persecutors and enemies of the church worldwide. This is not I believe a merely spiritualization nor a Figurative reading of the text as we move into more heavy ground with passages 40-48. Am i just going to go on then saying that the rest of the book is of a purely spiritual or figurative language. No because that is not what the Original Readers would have done by a long shot. They would go on reading as if it were all about literal though future enemies, literal new temples, and literal new land allotments. However, as they read it literally they would have seen the challenge and perhaps impossibilities of a temple without any measurement for height, temple with spring flowing from the inside going out to the nations and getting deeper and deeper as it went. Or perhaps they would scratch their head over the massive acreage needed to even build such a temple. Maybe they also would wonder about the strange new dimensions  of the tribal allotments and the lost tribes that were to inhabit each one of them. The point here is not that they perhaps would have doubted Gods power but maybe doubt their own understanding of the message he was giving. Maybe this temple is really about what it says here in 47 about the new temple being a place that blesses the nations, and is not merely secluded within and solely for Israel. But that the presence of God is meant as it has been throughout the book moving all about, and providing healing for the rest of the nations as well as our own here in Israel. Again, in plane language 40-48 is possibly about three main things. Israel’s return and the temple they would eventually rebuild under Zerubbabal, and second about they day when, as Jesus said, the temple water would flow out of the believers heart, and third a day in the future when from the throne of God all nations would be healed by the waters. In plane language that would make 40-48 simultaneously about the hope of the age to come and the practice here and now of that kingdom life. Not merely putting 40-48 about some distant utopia but about Gods vision for the people of God to clarify the whole point of their Election, MAKE THE NAME OF GOD KNOWN AND BLESS THE NATIONS.

(Though this is not well written it roughly captures some of the flow of the more difficult parts of the book. Basically Israel is meant to learn something here before ever we, the 21st century reader was to. They needed to see how God was reminding them of their true identity and calling as well as the true intent or will of God. God wants to be known, and he wants to redeem his creation, humankind being the linchpin of creation. Israel’s true identity and calling were essentially one and the same. Their identity was wrapped up in their unique understanding of two things, the true nature of God as he revealed himself to them, and their understanding that it was their responsibility to be a blessing to nations and bear witness to their God. Ezekiel’s strange visions can be clarified when we understand that he is an agent of these ends.)

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These Dry Bones

bonesThe book of Ezekiel is a really strange book. Outside of Daniel it may be the weirdest book in the OT. The three main visions of the book that act as the pillars of the book are about the presence or absence of God. In chapter 1-3 it is the introductory vision of the glory of God by the river Chebar in Babylon. In chapter 9-10 Ezekiel sees how the presence of God leaves Jerusalem and why. Then in chapters 40-47 he sees the return of the glory of God to Jerusalem or the new Jerusalem. The question for the exiled community in Babylon is about whether or not God is present with them in exile. Is God still powerful and worth devotion if they have been removed from the land? Mid-way through the book the exiled community in Babylon learns of the fall of Jerusalem. Now they realize for the first time that they really are dead and finished as a nation and a people. The destruction of the temple sends a strong signal that they really are done for. Thus Ezekiel’s most famous vision in chapter thirty-seven affirms the feelings and of the exiled community that they are really really dead. But perhaps the most powerful message not only of Ezekiel but of the entire biblical narrative is that death is not the end.

Sin and death entered the world in Genesis chapter three but that was not the end of the story rather the beginning of the redemptive nature of the entire story. And similarly to chapter three of Genesis Israel needs to look outside of themselves for life. Only one source for life exists. Chapter thirty-seven of Ezekiel is meant to remind us of Genesis two when out of the dust of the earth God makes man, and from his own breathe he gives him life. Ezekiel reminds the OR that it is God who does this and that soon he will restore Israel just as he has sought to use Israel to restore life and breathe into all his children.

If nothing else Ezekiel powerfully affirms two things about God and his plans for humanity as a whole as well as Israel. The death and devastation that Israel is going through is not an indicator of Gods absences. This is what the exiled community felt it was. Instead its meant to remind us of our own sin and guilt, or the simple biblical fact of a world that has been seriously infected by the sin of others. Israel desired no doubt to throw God under the buss, so to speak. We also are tempted to continue doing this. However, the second thing that is clear and powerful in Ezekiel’s message is that death is not the end, pain, and suffering are not signs of the end but signs and reminders of the beginning when sin and suffering entered the world through mans rebellion. It can simultaneously remind us of a bright future in which God will restore life and bring the really dead bones back to life.

The theological term here is resurrection. We can ask how the Jewish community thought about the resurrection of the dead. But really it helps just to know it was a topic of discussion for Jews and when Jesus came he spoke of it, he raised people from the dead, he did it himself, and then his apostles were witnesses of it. Actually the first apostles were women, they were the apostles to the apostles. (Women apostles is a topic for another time). Often enough these passages in Ezekiel are thought of in terms of the restoration of Israel as was part of the intended message. But they have a more far reaching fulfillment. First of when we keep in mind the resurrection and redemption narrative beginning in Genesis, and when we recall the importance of the resurrection Christ. In other words the resurrection of Israel after their exile was part of the picture of how God actually intended to bring resurrection to the whole of creation, a theme stretching back to the garden. And when in Romans 8 Paul talks about the revealing of the sons of God he is not speaking merely of Israel but of the church and all of Gods redeemed. The precursor to full restoration and resurrection of Gods creation is the revealing of the sins of God. Which was the whole point of Israels election. A chosen people for the purpose of turning all peoples to the creator. This is a very key element to grasp, it is a true resurrection of Israel when not just ethnic Israelite’s are preserved in the land of Israel, but when Israel has effectively taken part in the purpose for which they were divinely elected when the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.

Categories: Bible, Context, CSBS, Genesis, Old Testament, School of Biblical Studies, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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