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Archive for February, 2018

 

A Note About God’s Sovereignty:

Our story this week demonstrates God’s great sovereignty over history. The writers of the Old Testament, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit were giving us not only the details of the history of Israel but also of God’s larger plan of redemption.

God sovereignly chose the women who would be the ancestresses of His Son, including– Eve, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.

Several of these women would seem to be most unlikely for God to choose to bless in such a tremendous way. Rahab was a harlot. Bathsheba has been called a temptress. Ruth was a Gentile. Rachel was Jacob’s favored wife, not Leah. But God is the One in charge and He chose the women He wanted for His plan of redemption.

Tamar has been accused by historians of being a prostitute because of the means that she used to get Judah to obey the Levirate law. But we will see in our story that Tamar was not a practicing harlot. She was just a human sinner like all of us. Tamar simply trusted and obeyed God. Truly if God is going to work through people to accomplish His purposes, He only has sinful people to use. We should be encouraged that our sovereign God is merciful and wise as He works in the lives of His children.

Tamar –Ancestress of the Lord Jesus Christ

Tamar could not possibly have known that she would become an important part of history as ancestress of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This current series began with an introduction to women in the Bible (January 9, 2018). Since then we have talked about Eve, the first woman in creation (January 23, 2018), and Sarah, the mother of all of the descendants of Abraham. We saw that God promised a Savior after Adam and Eve sinned. Later, we learned that God promised Abraham that “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). This meant, among other things, that the Lord Jesus would come through the line of Abraham.

Abraham’s son, Isaac was the next patriarch and Rebekah his wife was the next mother in the line of patriarchs. Their son Jacob and his wife Leah would be the parents of Judah who was chosen by God to carry on the ancestry of Christ. Of course, none of these people knew that they were ancestors of Christ. They just lived their lives in the land of Canaan as ordinary people.

Now let’s take a quick tour through the rest of the book of Genesis. It is very important to get the context for the story of Tamar.

We begin the story at Genesis 37:1,2 – “Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan. This is the account of Jacob’s family line.”

Most Christians are very familiar with Joseph’s story and he is regarded as a great man of God. Joseph’s story is one of courage and faith even under trying circumstances. The rest of the book of Genesis, from chapters 37 through 50 take up Joseph’s story.

Jacob, now called Israel, loved his son Joseph more than the other sons. He showed Joseph many favors. The other brothers were jealous and thought they would kill him but instead they sold him to a caravan of Ishmaelites from Gilead. Eventually the traders took Joseph to Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s officer, the captain of the bodyguard. Meanwhile the brothers took Joseph’s tunic and smeared goat’s blood on it. They had decided to tell their father Israel that a wild animal had killed Joseph.

So, at the end of Genesis 37, we have Israel at home, grieving because he thinks that Joseph is dead. The brothers are just living out their lives, happy that the hated Joseph is no longer there to annoy them with his dreams.

Meanwhile in Egypt, Joseph is working in Potiphar’s household. We know from reading ahead in chapter 39 and following that he would get falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of trying to assault her and be thrown into prison. God helped Joseph get out of prison when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams. Joseph was given leadership in Egypt, wisely guiding that country through seven years of tremendous harvests and then seven years of famine.

The famine was in Canaan too. When Jacob heard that there was food in Egypt he sent his sons there to purchase some grain. The brothers visit several times. Joseph invited the whole family to come and live in Egypt so they can have food to eat. And eventually all of the Israelites would end up in Egypt.

At the end of the book of Genesis we have the account of Joseph’s death and his extraction of a promise from his family to take his bones back to Canaan when they return. Of course they don’t get to the Promised Land for four hundred years, but we will save that part of the story for when we get to Rahab.

Genesis 38 is a “time out” in the story of Joseph and Egypt and how the Israelites eventually went there during the time of the famine.

Why do we have a whole chapter, chapter 38, in the middle of the story of the Israelites in Canaan and Egypt? What is the Bible doing suddenly taking time out for the story of just two people, Judah and Tamar? Judah is not the first born, so why aren’t we talking about the person we would expect to carry on the line of the patriarchs from Abraham forward?

It is because the writers of the Old Testament, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit were giving us not only the details of the history of Israel but also of God’s larger plan of redemption. For we find out that Tamar is an ancestress of King David and then of Jesus.

So, the story in Genesis 38 gives us the background to how Judah and Tamar came to be the great, great, ever-so-great grandparents of Jesus. It is important for us to see how God was faithful to His covenant promises.

Let’s look at this amazing story. Turn to Genesis 38:1-11:

At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah. There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and made love to her; she conceived again and became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was named Er. She conceived again and gave birth to a son and named him Onan. She gave birth to still another son and named him Shelah. It was at Kezib that she gave birth to him.

Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.

Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.

Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s household until my son Shelah grows up.” For he thought “He may die too, just like his brothers.” So Tamar went to live in her father’s household.

Tamar was married into Judah’s family. Judah was the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. Isaac was his grandfather and Abraham was his great-grandfather, so she married into the family of the Patriarchs.

First, Tamar had married Judah’s eldest son, Er. Er had displeased God in some way, so God took his life. Then Judah asked Onan to do the duty of a brother-in-law and raise up a child for his older brother. Later this practice will be codified in the Levirate Law which is found in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. A brother could try and give a child to the widowed sister-in law so that his dead brother would have an heir. In the book of Ruth, we will see that it can extend to a near kinsman.

Onan, Er’s brother, married Tamar but “wasted his seed” instead of giving Tamar a child. He was disobeying God’s law by doing this and so God took his life too. Why did he do this? Because his inheritance would be substantially less if he had to share it with Tamar’s son. In fact, since Er was the firstborn the birthright inheritance, which was usually double, would go to Tamar’s son.

Apparently Shelah was not quite old enough to marry, so Judah sent Tamar home to her father. Judah was afraid to give Tamar to his third son, Shelah, after watching the first two sons die. We’re not sure if Judah understood at this time that God took their lives or if they died of natural causes. Perhaps he even thought Tamar was some kind of a curse for them. He sent Tamar away. Tamar remained with her family wearing her widow’s garments until she had an opportune moment to talk to Judah again.

Time went by and Judah’s wife died, after which he observed a period of mourning. Then he went back to work caring for his sheep. Someone told Tamar that Judah was going to be nearby soon for the shearing of his sheep. Tamar decided on a plan. She would deceive Judah into thinking she was a prostitute and thereby get the child by him that she had been promised.

Let’s see what she did. Turn to Genesis 38:14:

She took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife.

It is hard to put ourselves into Tamar’s shoes and think about why she would take such a drastic measure to get what she saw was justice for herself. Wasn’t she taking things into her own hands? Why didn’t she just trust God? What did she think would come of this? This story reminds us of Sarah, who gave her maid to Abraham, and Rebekah, who tricked Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing.

Let’s discuss the meaning of sex in the Old Testament compared to now. We have the examples of Abraham and Jacob to show that love or lust need not have been the only motive for sex. We have seen how important it is for men to get an heir. Abraham listened to Sarah and went into her maid in order to get an heir. It apparently seemed ok for Jacob to have 4 wives to get heirs. No one suggests that there was any sin involved.

So what shall we say about Tamar? Tamar chose this method to get an heir for her first husband as promised in the Levirate Law. Tamar did not think of it as incest with her father-in-law. A father-in-law may not sleep with his daughter-in-law (Lev 18:15), just as a brother-in-law may not sleep with his sister-in-law (Lev 18:16), but in-law incest rules are suspended for the purpose of the levirate law. The levir is, after all, only a surrogate for the dead husband. So here we have a surrogate husband instead of a surrogate wife like Hagar.

Back to the story. So Judah came along and saw a women that he mistook for a shrine prostitute sitting in a place on the road that signals that she is available and decided to take advantage of the situation.

Apparently Judah did not have the money to pay for her services. He offered instead to send Tamar a goat from his flock. In the meantime, he left his tribal leader’s staff and his personal seal and cord as a pledge. The seal, cord and staff had a person’s emblem carved on them, and were items of great personal worth.  Judah said he would send a payment later. Tamar was wise enough to get his seal and cord and staff as a pledge for payment. She also surmised that she would need proofs later when and if she got pregnant. She was so right.

So Judah took Tamar and slept with her. He sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back. The Adullamite could not find her. In fact, we see now further proof that Tamar was not a harlot.

Turn to Genesis 38:21,22:

The Adullamite “asked the men who live there, “Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the rad at Enaim?” “There hasn’t’ been any shrine prostitute here,” they said. So he went back to Judah and said, I didn’t find her. Besides, the men who lived there said, ‘There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here.’”

Note that the men who lived there said that there were no prostitutes in their area. If Tamar had been going out and sitting in a prominent place by the side of the road, everyone would have noticed. Tamar only made this desperate move once and she managed to keep it a secret from everyone until she couldn’t any longer.

Sure enough it was discovered that Tamar was pregnant a few months later. Since Tamar was a widow and unmarried, everyone assumed she had acted immorally. When Judah heard about her his judgment was severe and to the point: “Bring her out and have her burned to death!” (38:24).

Judah was told that Tamar was pregnant by harlotry and he believed their story. After all, Tamar was an unmarried widow. But, Tamar was also his daughter-in- law and he needed to uphold the family honor, so Judah demanded that she be brought out and punished according to the law at that time – she was to be burned.

While they were bringing Tamar out, Tamar sent word to her father-in-law that she was pregnant by the man who owned the seal and cord and staff that she possessed. Judah recognized them and was humbled. He said, “She is more righteous than I since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” (Genesis 38:26)

Judah had no more relations with Tamar. He had unwittingly fulfilled the levirate law himself and there was no need. Judah himself had produced the heir that would continue his line.

God blessed Tamar with not one but two sons. She had twins, Perez and Zerah. In fact, the name of Perez became great in Israel and was later used as an example of blessing in the book of Ruth: “And all the people who were in the gate, and the elders, said, … ‘let thy house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore unto Judah’” (Ruth 4:11-12). It was through the line of Perez that Jesus would come.

What can we learn from Tamar’s life? A woman in her place and time had very few options. We cannot just dismiss her as a terrible sinner. Judah did not. He said that she was more righteous than he was. He knew that his sin in not giving her to Shelah as he had promised led her into desperate means. If not for Tamar, Judah’s line would not continue. It was his responsibility and he neglected it.

Tamar, like Ruth was deeply loyal to the family she married into. Both women would preserve the line of ancestry for Christ by firmly obeying God’s calling on their lives.

Another lesson for us is the incredible love and mercy of God. God did not reject Tamar either. He made her an ancestress of the Savior, His Son. God works out good even from our mistakes (Romans 8:28).

But this does not mean that we can presume on God.  We must always strive to obey Him without sinning. While the method that Tamar used seems wrong, we live in a sinful world and we should not judge her too harshly. Tamar was truly one of the exceptional women in Patriarchal times. God blessed her even as He does all of us sinners!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jesus Christ is central to the Scriptures. The stories in the Old Testament show us how God dealt with His covenant people leading up to the coming of the promised Savior. The genealogy of Christ’s ancestry includes the patriarchs including Terah, Abram, Isaac, and Jacob.

Genesis 11: 26-32 – After Terah had lived 70 years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran…. Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai … Now Sarai was childless because she as not able to conceive. … Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter –in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there.

Terah was a great and wealthy patriarch. In this passage of the Scriptures we are told that he had three sons. We do not learn that Terah had a daughter until later when Abram reveals why he lied to Abimelek about his wife, Sarah.

Terah named his daughter “Sarai” which means “princess”. Sarai truly was a princess as the daughter of the patriarch. Sarai grew up in privileged surroundings and then married her half-brother, Abram. Terah’s family grew and expanded and they traveled to the land of Canaan. But this was a time of sadness for Sarai because she was barren.

Like other women in Sarai’s day her main desire was to give her husband a male heir. We need to understand how important that was for women in patriarchal times or else we won’t understand why Sarai went to such great lengths to give Abram a son.

Let’s continue reading from Genesis 12:1, 4:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. … So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.

Imagine living all of your life with your family and friends in one place and having to pack up everything and move when you are over sixty years old. Yes, Abram was seventy-five. That means Sarai was over sixty years old! God told Abram to leave the city and his family and move to a place that was totally unknown to him. As a woman, Sarai must have had many anxieties about this, but she left her familiar surroundings to follow her husband in obedience to God.

That may not seem so bad in our day, but sixty was considered really old in 2100 BC. God must have been blessing Sarai with very good health, because she followed her husband Abram around for most of the rest of her life as he wandered from place to place. We don’t have any record that Sarai complained every time Abram decided to move on.

Many people are surprised when they realize how old Sarai was. That is because we know the story of how Abraham lied, twice, about her relationship to him when they traveled to other places. Sarai was so beautiful that Abram was afraid that the leaders in the countries that they traveled to would kill him so that they could take Sarai for a wife. The first time was when they traveled to Egypt.

Let’s turn to Genesis 12:10-13:

Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

Imagine at age sixty-five, Sarai was still one of the most beautiful women in the world! She would still be so beautiful at age ninety that Abraham would lie again, that time to King Abimelech. To this day, Sarai’s beauty is legendary.

But I wonder if during this incident Sarai saw her beauty as a curse instead of a blessing. After all, her husband was asking her to take the risk that Pharaoh would put her in his harem, which meant sleeping with her. Still Sarai trusted Abram, calling him lord, and obeying him in his every command. God saved Sarai by inflicting disease on the Egyptians. When Pharaoh realized the cause of the sickness of his people he called Abram to him and rebuked him for lying to him. He sent Abram and Sarai away.

Through all of these years of wandering Sarai desired one thing above everything else. She wanted to have children. She also knew about God’s promise to Abram. She knew that they would be the founders of many nations. God had promised her and her husband that they would have as many descendants as there were stars in the sky. Sarai must have been wondering when God would help them start their family.

The story of how Sarai took things into her own hands and asked Abram to give her a child by using her maid, Hagar, is well known. It is a sad and tragic story. Mostly what is sad about it is that Sarai’s faith wavered here. She concluded that God Himself was restraining her from having children and maybe He wanted her to get children another way.

Look on ahead to Genesis 16:1,2.

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

By this time Sarai was seventy-six years old. She must have been feeling desperate. Abram listened to her and slept with Hagar. Hagar conceived a child. Immediately, Sarai’s relationship with her maid changed. Hagar now despised Sarai. Sarai began to treat Hagar harshly. Hagar even ran away for a time. An angel of the Lord met Hagar and told her to return home and submit herself to Sarai’s authority. Hagar did so and bore Abram a son. Abram called him Ishmael. Hagar and Ishmael lived with Abraham and Sarai.

For over thirteen years Sarai would see the daily reminder of her own childlessness. What agony she must have been in. The pain and humiliation of seeing her husband’s child by another woman must have been unbearable. But I think that Sarai must have also suffered much agony wondering why the Lord would seem to be forgetting her. It was painful enough to think that she had not fulfilled her husband’s desire, but how much worse is the thought that she must have been displeasing God.

But finally the day came when God would demonstrate His faithfulness to His covenant with His people in His own way.

Turn to Genesis 17:1; 15-19:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

God changed Abram’s name to Abraham – father of many nations. Then God changed Sarai’s name to Sarah – mother of many nations.

 … God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

 At this point, Abraham responded in a way that Sarah did later; he laughed. He thought that surely he and Sarah were too old. Abraham suggested that maybe God could just bless him through Ishmael. But God told Abraham that Sarah would bear him a son and that he should call his name Isaac. Isaac would be the heir that God would establish His covenant with.

Then one day three visitors came to speak with Abraham.

We will read this interesting story in Genesis 18:1-15:

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

Abraham invited the men to stay. He asked Sarah to help him get a meal ready for them. Abraham stood near them while they ate.

Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There in the tent,” he said.

Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”  But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

I don’t think we should be too hard on Sarah. She was way past the age of childbearing. And don’t forget, even her husband laughed when God promised them a son in their old age. It is easy for us looking back to criticize Sarah for not trusting God. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her to go on year after year for so many years before she bore Isaac. It must have been torture for her. She knew that her long years of childlessness meant that God’s promise that she and her husband would be the father and mother of countless descendants was, humanly speaking, becoming less and less likely as she passed the childbearing age. God knows we are weak as humans. He had patience with Sarah even as He did with her husband when he laughed.

In spite of the fact that Abraham was about 100 years old and Sarah was ninety, they moved again. They traveled to Gerar where the people were pagan and Abraham feared for his life. Sarah was still a very beautiful woman and Abraham decided to lie about her again to protect himself.
Let’s continue with this story in Genesis 20:1- 18:

Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.  

Imagine at age ninety, Sarah is still such an astonishingly beautiful woman that Abimelech would take her to be in his harem!

But once again God rescued Sarah. God appeared to Abimelech in a dream and told him the truth. Abimelech remonstrated with Abraham for lying to him and asked for an explanation.

Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife.”

 Abimelek sent Abraham away as a wealthy man. He also gave Sarah’s “brother” a thousand shekels of silver. This was to cover any offense Abimelek made and to vindicate Sarah before everyone.

After this, God fulfilled His promise to Sarah.  Turn to Genesis 21:1-6

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what He had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.  

When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.”

Now Sarah’s laughter is the laughter of joy! She had to wait a long time, but she finally came to know that truly nothing is impossible with God!

God granted Sarah about thirty-seven more years. She was able to watch her son Isaac grow up. However, she died before seeing him get married.

Abraham wanted a special place to bury Sarah. He bought a field in Machpelah near Mamre that had a cave in it. This cave would be the special burying place for Sarah. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Leah were all buried there.

Applications:

God, in His love not only for Abraham and Sarah, but for the whole world planned the events in the way that He did. He had a purpose for calling Abram and Sarai and making a covenant with them. It was all part of His plan for the redemption of His people. Salvation in Jesus Christ would come through Isaac’s line. A tender, loving heavenly Father cared about Sarah and her anguish in waiting for the promise, but in His wisdom, He waited to give her a son until it would glorify Him as the only wise, eternal giver of life.

As sinners ourselves, we can identify with Sarah. Sometimes when we pray for something for a long time and don’t see an answer, we wonder if God is going to answer at all. Sarah’s mistake should be a lesson to us to wait for God to answer.

There really is a God and He really cares about His children. He really loved Sarah and she knew it all along, even though in her humanness she got impatient and made a big mistake. She overcame that and lived the rest of her days in joy and peace with her husband and son. She remains a great example of a courageous, faithful woman for us today. She was beautiful outwardly, but even more inwardly. Modeling ourselves after her, we too can have, “the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (I Peter 3:4).

God always answers our prayers. Sometimes He answers “yes”. Sometimes He answers “no”. And many times He says, “Yes, but in My time.” Sarah had to wait a really long time before God granted her a child. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her to go on year after year for probably seventy years before she bore Isaac. I don’t know if I have that much patience.

We now know why God had her wait so long. We know that God intended for Sarah and Abraham to see that nothing was too hard for Him (Genesis 18:14).  God waited until Abraham was nearly one hundred years old, and Sarah nearly ninety. God did this on purpose. They were so old that people were probably laughing, just as they did themselves, when they were told about the promise of God. God wanted everyone to see that this child was very special because it was all of His doing; there was no mistake about it. Only God could perform the miracle of a baby being born to a woman who was past the age of childbearing.

Truly with God, nothing is impossible.

 

 

 

 

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