Thursday, July 23, 2015

"You saw her bathing on the roof..."

Bathsheba was the daughter of one of King David’s advisors and the wife of Uriah, a Hittite. She is not named directly in Matthew's genelogy of Jesus, but it is pointed out that Solomon is the son of the woman who had been Uriah's wife. One night David saw Bathsheba bathing on the roof of the palace. This bath was most likely a post-menstrual mikvah, meaning 1. she was not already pregnant and 2. she was in her most fertile time of the month.  David pursued his lust of Bathsheba. They slept together and she became pregnant. To try to cover up the affair, David called Uriah home from the army hoping that it would appear that the child was Uriah’s. However, Uriah followed the protocol for active-duty soldiers and stayed in the palace barracks instead of reuniting with his wife. Unable to convince Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba, David sent Uriah to the front lines, where he would surely die. After Uriah died, David married the widowed Bathsheba. [2 Samuel 11]

God sent the prophet Nathan to rebuke David’s actions. David confessed his sins and repented. He and Bathsheba’s child died shortly after birth. Later, Bathsheba gave birth to Solomon, who would succeed his father. Bathsheba helped secure the throne for Solomon, even though he had an older brother. She also served as one of his advisors. [1 Kings 1:28] She became the first woman in Israel’s history to hold the title Queen Mother. This is foreshadowing of Mary’s title Queen of Heaven.

The story of Bathsheba really focuses on the faults of David. He remained home when his men were at war, he stole a friend’s wife, he tried to cover up his sin, and he sent his friend to an assured death. While there is debate about who seduced whom (was Bathsheba displaying herself on the roof or was David a peeping Tom), it is generally agreed that both parties participated in the affair willingly. Bathsheba went to the king when he called for her, without any mention of trying to get out of the situation. Both are guilty. Unlike other women like Tamar or Rahab who do questionable things for good reasons/good faith, Bathsheba cheats on her husbands, maybe for lust, maybe for political ambitions, but certainly not for any noble reason. While David is usually heralded as Israel’s great king, this event is the low point of his morality. And yet, from his low point of sin arises the lineage through which Jesus arrives.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

I Will Follow

Ruth is probably the most well-known woman in Jesus’ line after Mary. She even has her own book! She was a Moabite married to a Hebrew. After her husband died, her mother-in-law Naomi sent her back to Moab so she could be with her family and because Moab had plenty of food. But Ruth stayed with Naomi, saying that Naomi’s people were now her people and Naomi’s God was now her God. (Ruth 1:16) (Cueing U2).

Back in Bethlehem, Naomi’s hometown, Ruth meets Boaz. He takes care of her and Naomi by giving them barley and then purchasing Naomi’s husband’s land. He marries Ruth and they have Obed. (Ruth 4:13-17). Naomi is a widow, the bottom of the social totem pole, yet she offers her daughters-in-law a chance to leave her and go home to a better life. She’s selfless. Orpah is obedient and goes home. Fortunately, Ruth is loyal and stays. So it becomes two women looking after each other. 

Like Rahab, Ruth is a faithful outsider. While the Hebrews are constantly spoken of as the chosen people, they are made up of a lot of converts, pathing the way for Gentiles to be included in Christianity. Ruth’s story starts unhappily, the death of the male family members, and ends with a storybook ending, a happy marriage. That’s probably why it’s still so popular, but I think all the family dynamics—Ruth and Naomi, Naomi and Orpah, Boaz and Naomi, Ruth and Boaz—are important.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Doing the Wrong Thing for the Right Reason

Ever since talking about Rahab, I've been thinking about the other women in Jesus' family tree. All of them are marginalized in some way (beyond just being a woman), but they rise above their situations through their virtue and earn their place in history, being listed in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus. So I'm starting with Tamar, because her story is first chronologically, and because much like Rahab, she was a woman I knew little about.

Tamar first married Er, the son of Judah. Er was killed by God for wickedness. Because she had not had children with him, Tamar then married his brother Onan so that she could produce children for the family line. Onan, however, pulled out during intercourse, showing that he was willing to have sex with Tamar but unwilling to perform his duty of producing children for the family. Like his brother, he is killed by God for his disobedience. Judah decided that Tamar was cursed and refused to let her marry his youngest son. (Gen. 38:1-11)

When Judah went on a trip, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute with the intention to over herself to Judah and become pregnant with his child. Judah, not recognizing Tamar, accepted her as a prostitute, paying her with his staff and seal as a security deposit until he could send her a goat. A few months later, when it is clear that Tamar is pregnant, she is accused of indecency, and Judah orders her to be killed. Tamar sends him his own staff and seal saying that the owner of these items is the father of her child. Judah stops the killing and restores her to the family. She gives birth to Perez and Zerah. (Gen. 38:12-30)

It’s one of those bizarre Old Testament stories of divine punishment, hidden identities, and sexual immorality. At first, Tamar seems to be in the wrong, lying about who she is to trick her father-in-law into impregnating her. However, the story is favorable to Tamar’s actions, showing how she claimed her rights despite the men in her life acting inappropriately. Both Er and Onan fail to provide a child. They are punished by God for wickedness and disobedience. Judah blames Tamar and denies her the right she has to marry again. Then he goes off with who he thinks is a prostitute. The twice-widow who lies and seduces her father-in-law actually comes out on top. It’s one of many stories where power is taken back by the weak. And like the other women in Jesus’ genealogy, Tamar is a marginalized member of society who plays a significant role in the coming Incarnation.