Last week In our "No Matter What" series, we looked at Jacob, grandson of Abraham, son of Isaac who, after some wrestling, took his place in the patriarchal line. Jacob had many children, 12 of which were boys. Jacobs favorite son was not his first- it was his 11th son- Joseph (coat of many colors, Joseph) You might remember there was a plot to kill Joseph- but at the last minute, one of Jacob's son's, Judah, stopped the killing, and instead suggested Joseph be sold to the Egyptians. After the sale, the brothers took Josephs famous cloak, smeared it with goats blood, and took it to old Jacob. They said, in the Hebrew, "recognize please" and Jacob did, and grieved. After that episode, maybe because it was too much to see his father's grief in losing a child, Judah leaves home. And that's where our story picks up today.
Genesis 38(NRSV) It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and settled near a certain Adullamite whose name was Hirah. There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; he married her and went in to her. She conceived and bore a son; and he named him Er. Again she conceived and bore a son whom she named Onan. Yet again she bore a son, and she named him Shelah. She[a] was in Chezib when she bore him. Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn; her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her; raise up offspring for your brother.” (To moderns this sounds ridiculous, but the ancients believed that a person lived on through their heirs; with no heir, no children, it was like the person who died was written out of existence. We talked about this a few months ago when we were talking about the person asking Jesus about the 7 brothers who died, and all married one after the other to the same woman- and they asked, in heaven, whose wife will she be? So that younger brother bore the responsibility of bringing an heir into the world for his older brother to insure his brother's line. Now as no small aside, the brother's heir would be the one to collect the inheritance from the family- not the second brother.) But since Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, he spilled his semen on the ground whenever he went in to his brother’s wife, so that he would not give offspring to his brother. What he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death also. Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up”—for he feared that he too would die, like his brothers. So Tamar went to live in her father’s house.
In course of time the wife of Judah, Shua’s daughter, died; when Judah’s time of mourning was over, he went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,” she put off her widow’s garments, put on a veil, wrapped herself up, and sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. She saw that Shelah was grown up, yet she had not been given to him in marriage. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a prostitute, for she had covered her face. He went over to her at the roadside, and said, “Come, let me come in to you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” He answered, “I will send you a kid (goat) from the flock.” And she said, “Only if you give me a pledge, until you send it.” He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” She replied, “Your signet and your cord, and the staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her, and went in to her, and she conceived by him. Then she got up and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood.
(recap-Tamar has Judah's promise of payment; she has no intention of being paid, but what she has in her possession is everything that identifies him- in our day, his birth certificate, his wallet, and his phone.)
When Judah sent the kid (goat) by his friend the Adullamite, to recover the pledge from the woman, he could not find her. He asked the townspeople, “Where is the temple prostitute who was at Enaim by the wayside?” But they said, “No prostitute has been here.” So he returned to Judah, and said, “I have not found her; moreover the townspeople said, ‘No prostitute has been here.’” Judah replied, “Let her keep the things as her own, otherwise we will be laughed at; you see, I sent this kid, and you could not find her.”
Now Judah is in a pickle. He can't keep looking because he will loose his reputation, but he is also without his identification and everything that identifies his family line. We don't know what he did or how he felt, or even if he told anyone, however-
About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the whore; moreover she is pregnant as a result of whoredom.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “It was the owner of these who made me pregnant.” And she said, “Take note, please, whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” Then Judah, acknowledged them and said, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not lie with her again.
What a scene! Judah finds out Tamar is pregnant- doesn't think, doesn't ask her about it, just jumps at the chance to finally be rid of bad luck Tamar for good- “Whore! Bring her out, and let her be burned.” And on her way to the stake at the top of the pile of wood, she puls out the signest and cord and staff and says to Judah, “It was the owner of these who made me pregnant.” And she said the same words to Judah, in Hebrew, "recognize, please, whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” Then Judah, (as his father did hearing the same words when he brought Jacob Joseph's coat covered in goats blood) acknowledged them and said, “She is more (righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.”
Go Judah, right? He's called out- and instead of making excuses, he admits it, in front of everyone- you're right- you are more right than me. Judah recognizes, not just his signet and cord and staff- he recognizes much more.
First, what he has done to Tamar. Falsely accused, he sees that he has misjudged her, has not done right by her as a father in law by withholding his youngest son, and treating her like a burden instead of a gift. And no kidding, don't we all have a few people, or even people groups, that if given the chance, we would just want to see gone- out of our hair, no more thinking bout them, no more feeling threatened, or helpless, get rid of that deep down nagging in us to 'do the right thing... reach out to them, take care of them, make peace with them, give our third and only son for them... Who are the Tamar's in your life...
The most prominent example I can give was In the news this week at the state of the union address. In a heat breaking scene, our top political leaders wished, on public television, the other didn't exist- from the president refusing to recognize speaker of the house, to the speaker of the house tearing up the transcript of the presidents words. It was glaringly obvious just how polarized we have become- and over the next few days the rise in anger and anxiety is clear in our nation... our "one nation under God... I wept for us. Not because of hurt feelings or political alignment, and not out of of fear or futility. I wept because in acting like the other doesn't exist, we are handing over our signet, our cords, and our staff... we are trading the identity of all we are as a country, and all we wish to be. I wept because we trade that identity for a quick fix, a reaction, a statement, to send a message. And meanwhile Tamar stands in the crossfire; we have not done right by her. Judah was big enough to see it, and though he was surely humbled and even embarrassed by his former actions- he did what was right, what was just, what was Holy.
The second thing Judah recognized was what he had done to his first son, Er. In holding back his third son, he was ignoring, or blotting out, the life of Er. And this was not the first time he had tried to erase a brother- he did the same with Joseph when he lied to Jacob about his death. He realized his father had done the same thing with his own brother, Esau, when he tricked him out of his inheritance... Judah recognized the repeated patterns that had brought him to this place- and Judah said, no more. My friends, what will it take for us to stop the patterns that have brought us to this place? What will it take for us to say no more to our own sin, and the sins of those who have gone before us?
And I get It- I realize that we need to work toward what is right, we need to be a voice for truth, strive toward peace, stand up for Tamar! But we need to look at how we treat one another as we do. When someone does something abhorrent, how do we respond, as Christians? Surely not with applause- (hahaha did you see that? YES! Fight back!!) surely not with sarcasm, or jokes- surely not with retaliation and the further spreading of hate and adding fuel to the fire on facebook and twitter...
The psalm Pastor Jen read for us is a psalm of vindication...
Actually, what he recognized is what he had done to his son Er. When the time of her delivery came, there were twins in her womb. While she was in labor, one put out a hand; and the midwife took and bound on his hand a crimson thread, saying, “This one came out first.” But just then he drew back his hand, and out came his brother; and she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” Therefore he was named Perez. Afterward his brother came out with the crimson thread on his hand; and he was named Zerah.