Scripture Reading: Genesis 38 (NRSV)
In this particular tale, we see the strange custom of brothers raising up heirs on behalf of the deceased. If a brother died without a son to carry on his name, it was the duty of the next eldest brother to marry the widow and the first male born to her would be considered the son of the deceased. This son would inherit in the place of the deceased brother. This is known as a levirate marriage and is later mandated in Mosaic law in Deuteronomy 25:6-7.
As Tamar has already been wife to two of Judah’s sons, he wonders if she may be cursed in some way and fears for the life of his third son. He uses the excuse of Shelah’s youth to avoid a third marriage.
The use of veils continues today. Tamar
chose one veil because she was denied another.
Tamar sees that the marriage is still avoided after he is grown and so takes matters of justice into her own hands. She woos Judah while masquerading as a prostitute. For his payment, Judah claims that he will send a kid from his own flock. This is reminiscent of him sending his son to her in marriage. She keeps his signet, cord and staff as a pledge. These would mark Judah to keep his word.
When she becomes pregnant and Judah hears of it, he is ready to execute Tamar for her unfaithfulness. Then he discovers that he is the culprit and recognizes his own lack of duty to Tamar and to his son. Twins are born, one male child for each of the dead husbands. Justice for the lineage has been achieved. We are left to assume that Tamar is taken care of by the family. This shows the limitations that women had to work with in seeking what was theirs. Tamar’s wit allows her to utilize what she can to make things right.
As Jesus incorporated this story into his ministry, we remember the woman caught in adultery. Just as Judah is ready to kill Tamar, the crowd wants Jesus to declare the same judgment. But as we see the Tamar story has more than meets the eye, Jesus also moves the crowd to consider their own guilt. Just as Tamar had no one left to condemn her, this woman is also excused. While she may not have had the rationale of Tamar for her sin, Jesus considers mercy and a new start to be her due.
How might we seek out a mirror when gazing on the sin of others? Where have we broken covenant? This is certainly a theme worthy of the Lenten season.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you will be our hiding place whatever happens. Amen.
Prayer by Corrie ten Boom, Netherlands, Holocaust survivor, 20th Century
Photo by Chris Blakeley via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.