Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Sordid Affair & The Levirate Law Of Proverbs 20:16

There are many sordid story's with many shocking facts shared in the Scriptures about God's people. One such story is the twisted account of Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar? (Genesis 38:7-26) The story of Judah and Tamar is certainly not the most pleasant story in the Bible. In fact, most commentaries on the book of Genesis don’t spend much time on this chapter. After all, the story of Joseph (Genesis chapters 37-38), has a lot more preaching material and great spiritual lessons!

Customs at the time of the Patriarchs were obviously much different than today. In some ways they may seem archaic, yet when it came to caring for women, the custom of the ancients was that that women were to be cared for, not used and discarded at the will of men. Tamar was one such woman. Through no fault of her own, Tamar was left to fend for herself because her father-in-law refused to follow the custom. In the end of this saga, Tamar would end up becoming one of just four women mentioned in the genealogy of Christ. (Matthew 1:2)

At the beginning of this chapter, we learn about the custom that would eventually become known as the “Levirate Law” of marriage. The word “levirate” has nothing to do with Jacob’s son Levi. It comes from the Latin word for “brother-in-law.” This law stated that if a married man died without an heir, his next-in-line eligible brother was to marry the widow in order to produce an heir who would receive his brother’s inheritance and carry on his brother’s name. The widow would have the joy of motherhood, and have a child who could care for her in the future. God approved of this practice, because it was later included in the Mosaic Law.(Deuteronomy 25:5-10)

Now Jacob's 4th eldest son, Judah, had three sons. The first son, Er, married a woman named Tamar. The Lord took Er’s life because he was “wicked in the Lord’s sight.” We don’t know what Er’s sin was, but it must have been very serious. After Er died, Judah gave his next eldest son, Onan, to Tamar to fulfill his duty to his older brother by producing an heir with her.  Onan, however, didn’t want to raise up an heir for his older brother. His thinking was most likely that the child born to his brother's wife would then get the greater share of the inheritance that he would believe goes to him since he is now the oldest, but the son would be the heir of Er's inheritance instead of him.

So Onan deliberately “spilled his seed” on the ground so that Tamar would not become pregnant. The Hebrew language used here makes it clear that this was not a one-time event. He did so each and every time he was with Tamar. Well, God disapproved of Onan’s attitude, and He took his life also. After Onan’s death, Judah promised Tamar that if she waited until he was old enough, that his youngest son, Shelah, would become her husband. However, Judah didn’t keep his promise. He reasoned in his heart that Tamar was the “kiss of death,” since two of his sons had already died while married to her. With only one son left, he didn't want his youngest to be another one of her victims.
As an aside, Genesis 38:9-10 of the story has nothing to do with God’s approval or disapproval of birth control. While I believe God is against all birth control, to use this part of the story as evidence for it would be “bad hermeneutics!” God took Onan's life because he refused to do as was instructed. I also believe God knew Onan was a wicked man in his heart and would never change but maybe even get worse, and sometimes God would rather eliminate the wicked if they serve no use for His glory, as in the case of Pharaoh when Moses brought God's people out of Egypt. (Romans 9:17)
Now since Judah was not faithful to his promise, Tamar decided to take matters into her own hands. Her goal was to rightly preserve the line of Judah so the inheritance and blessings of the covenant could continue, but she went about it the wrong way. After Judah’s wife died and his period of mourning was ended, Judah went to shear sheep with his friends. Sheep-shearing was a happy time, with a party-like atmosphere, and during this time Tamar was able to seduce Judah by pretending to be as prostitute.

“Religious” or shrine prostitution and fornication were part of the worship of the pagan Canaanite fertility gods, so in that time and culture it was not unusual for a prostitute to sit by the roadside. However, just because this type of sin was culturally acceptable does not mean that Tamar was justified in using this method to attain her goal of having a child. And just because prostitution was culturally acceptable does not mean that Judah was justified in using a prostitute for his lustful desires. Although this passage of Scripture does not appear to condemn Judah or Tamar for their sinful behavior, God certainly does not take sexual sin lightly. Throughout Scripture, God condemns adultery and fornication as serious sins.

Now Judah had no money on him, so in return for sex, he promised to send the “prostitute” a young goat as payment for her services, but Tamar insisted that Judah give her his seal and his staff as a pledge that he would fulfill his promise to pay. So Judah gave her his seal (or signet), cord, and staff. The seal was probably what is known as a cylinder seal, which was worn around the neck on a cord in ancient times. This seal was a small stone cylinder that was engraved with the owner’s distinctive design, like a signet ring. When it was rolled over wet clay or wax, it was almost as good as a fingerprint as the identifying mark of its owner. Tamar wanted Judah’s distinctive seal as proof of his identity. Judah’s staff would also have his own identifying markings. So when Tamar was found to be pregnant, there would be no mistake – Judah was the man who was responsible. This is where you can tie the story in with Proverb 20:16. Solomon would obviously know of the story since he is a direct descendant form Tamar and Judah.
Take the garment of one who is surety for a stranger
And hold it as a pledge when it is for a seductress.
Proverb 20:16)
Tamar did not wait for Judah to pay her, so he figured it was his benefit. A few Months later he was told that his daughter-in-law became pregnant though harlotry, he demanded she be burned alive for shaming his family name. Then when Tamar sent the seal and staff, as proof that the owner of them is the father, Judah realized it was he who had shamed his family name, not her. He readily admitted publicly that she was more righteous than he. Judah took her in and thus she and her child would be cared for.

We see that Judah was wrong about Tamar being guilty of his son's deaths, and he was wrong not to keep his promise. Through it all, we see the genesis for Solomon's Proverb 20:16, which says that one needs to be honest when giving a promise to pay a debt. In essence, Judah he entered into a contract with Tamar by offering his youngest son when he was old enough to marry, and then later another contract when he gave his seal and staff as a promise to pay for sex. Both of which he was guilty of breaking.

The story of Judah and Tamar is an excellent example of God's grace. Think about it. This story is loaded with broken promises, deception, immorality, incest, and public shaming. Through it all though, we see the grace of God. His grace is magnified in this story, because regardless of their sin, the Messiah, is a descendant of Judah and Tamar sexual encounter. In his epistle to the Romans, Paul tells us;
Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:20-21
So, you can see how God's grace abounds in this whole story. As I pointed out earlier, Matthew's geneology of Christ, lists Tamar as one of only four women mentioned. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba are all Gentiles, and three of the four were certainly not models of perfection! But God's grace is abundantly clear in the lives if each one. Then there is the case that even though Judah is the one who holds the most shame for his actions, God's grace also covers him. God promised Jacob that Judah's descendants would hold the scepter and be the tribe of which the Messiah would come from. It would take place through one of Tamar's twins fathered by Judah, Perez.

Interestingly, you would think that if the Messiah was coming from any of Jacob's sons, it would be Joseph. God doesn't work the way man would though. So while God did not condone their wrongdoing, this story clearly demonstrates God's amazing grace. Remember Judah publicly confessed that he was the primary wrong-doer in his dealings with Tamar, and again when dealing the governor of Egypt. Who at the time he did not know was his younger brother Joseph. When Joseph made the brother leave Benjamin as a promise to return, Judah offered up his own freedom, and and even his own life!

Many wonder how the book of Proverbs can ever be used as a message of our Lords grace. Well this story of Judah and Tamar are tied into today's chosen Proverb, Proverb 20:16. We learn from the history of Solomon's family that God's grace abounds and that we can all be used for the greater glory of God, and His coming Kingdom.

Proverb 20 (NKJV)

Wine Is a Mocker

01 Wine is a mocker,
00 Strong drink is a brawler,
00 And whoever is led astray by it is not wise.

02 The wrath of a king is like the roaring of a lion;
00 Whoever provokes him to anger sins against his own life.

03 It is honorable for a man to stop striving,
00 Since any fool can start a quarrel.

04 The lazy man will not plow because of winter;
00 He will beg during harvest and have nothing.

05 Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water,
00 But a man of understanding will draw it out.

06 Most men will proclaim each his own goodness,
00 But who can find a faithful man?

07 The righteous man walks in his integrity;
00 His children are blessed after him.

08 A king who sits on the throne of judgment
00 Scatters all evil with his eyes.

09 Who can say, "I have made my heart clean,
00 I am pure from my sin"?

010 Diverse weights and diverse measures,
00 They are both alike, an abomination to the LORD.

11 Even a child is known by his deeds,
00 Whether what he does is pure and right.

12 The hearing ear and the seeing eye,
00 The LORD has made them both.

13 Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty;
00 Open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with bread.

14 "It is good for nothing," cries the buyer;
00 But when he has gone his way, then he boasts.

15 There is gold and a multitude of rubies,
00 But the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.

16 Take the garment of one who is surety for a stranger,
00 And hold it as a pledge when it is for a seductress.

17 Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man,
00 But afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel.

18 Plans are established by counsel;
00 By wise counsel wage war.

19 He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets;
00 Therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips.

20 Whoever curses his father or his mother,
00 His lamp will be put out in deep darkness.

21 An inheritance gained hastily at the beginning
00 Will not be blessed at the end.

22 Do not say, "I will recompense evil";
00 Wait for the LORD, and He will save you.

23 Diverse weights are an abomination to the LORD,
00 And dishonest scales are not good.

24 A man's steps are of the LORD;
00 How then can a man understand his own way?

25 It is a snare for a man to devote rashly something as holy,
00 And afterward to reconsider his vows.

26 A wise king sifts out the wicked,
00 And brings the threshing wheel over them.

27 The spirit of a man is the lamp of the LORD,
00 Searching all the inner depths of his heart.

28 Mercy and truth preserve the king,
00 And by lovingkindness he upholds his throne.

29 The glory of young men is their strength,
00 And the splendor of old men is their gray head.

30 Blows that hurt cleanse away evil,
00 As do stripes the inner depths of the heart.

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