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.

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