Happy Cinco de Mayo! I may or may not be on my 4th margarita of the evening– you can decide after you read today’s post.
Chapter 38- Judah departs from the family and marries a Canaanite woman maned Shua. She has 3 sons: Er, Onan and Shelah. Er marries Tamar, then gets killed by God. Judah tells Onan to get Tamar pregnant, but Onan doesn’t want to, so he pulls out, spills his seed on the ground, and gets killed by God. Judah tells Tamar to remain a virgin until Shelah is old enough to take her. Except Judah doesn’t keep his promise once Shelah is old enough. So Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute, and makes a deal with Judah that she’ll sleep with him in exchange for a goat. Before he can send the goat, though, he gives her his signet cord and staff. She gets pregnant from the encounter. Judah goes back later to give her the goat and get his stuff back, but the prostitute can no longer be found. He hears that Tamar is pregnant by prostitution, and decides that the they should burn her! But she brings out his signet cord and staff as proof he is the father, so she gets to live. She has twins, who come out of the womb in a weird order.
This is not the “rape of Tamar” story that you may have heard about. I was reading this going, “Wait, this is definitely not rape. Why do they call it that?” So I Google’d it, as I am wont to do, and it turns out that a different Tamar gets raped in 2 Samuel. We’ll get there around the end of July.
Now that we’ve cleared that up…this chapter is strange. If you’ve been around Christianity for very long, you’ve probably heard of the “sin of Onan.” Apparently, if a man and wife never had kids, it was proper for a younger brother to sleep with the widow to provide an heir for the older brother’s estate. Here, Er was “wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord killed him” (whatever that’s all about…) so the duty fell on Onan, who didn’t want to do it, so he “emitted on the ground” which displeased God, who then killed Onan for it.
If you’ve been keeping track with me, add this to the ridiculous, growing list of what is and is not considered sin. Engaging in prostitution with your widowed daughter-in-law is a survivable offense, but pulling out during sex will get you smitten by God. Crazy.
There is also some debate about what the sin of Onan really was. Some people use it as a condemnation of masturbation and/or coitus interruptus since spilling the seed on the ground was the sin. I’m of the mind that not following through with the expectation of impregnating Tamar was the sin here. But ultimately, I’m of the mind that this passage is ridiculous, and one we would do well to ignore. A man reproducing with their dead brother’s widow is weird in today’s society. Since we reject that tradition, why worry about the seed-spilling part?
(Because I’m weird, I was discussing this over dinner with some friends, and we decided that this passage just means you should be really careful not to get any on the ground. Use a tissue, fellas!)
I’m mostly going to pass over the whole prostitution part here- I think it stands pretty well on its own. Briefly though, I would like to point out that Judah refers to Tamar as “more righteous” than he was. So, before you get any grand ideas about using this passage as a condemnation of prostitution, keep that in mind.
Then there’s the wacky business about Tamar’s babies. She has twins, and during labor one sticks it’s hand out. The midwife puts red thread around his hand to mark that he is the eldest. But then he pulls his hand back in and the other one gets born first. Seriously? According to Wikipedia, only 0.5% of babies are “transverse lie”- meaning they are situated to come out the birth canal shoulder first, although multiple pregnancies (more than one baby at a time) can be a cause. So, I guess it’s possible. It sounds like nasty business though, and I suspect that back in ye olde ancient times it wouldn’t have gone so calmly as it is described here.
Chapter 39- Back to the story of Joseph. He was sold to Potiphar, an Egyptian captain of Pharaoh’s guard. God was with Joseph, and he prospered in Potiphar’s house. Potiphar made Joe the overseer of the whole household. Potiphar’s wife wanted to sleep with Joseph, but he refused. One time, she grabbed his garment and he ran off, leaving his clothes with her. She used this as proof that he came on to her, and got Potiphar to throw Joe into prison. He prospered there as well, and ended up running the prison.
I know this story is supposed to give the message that sometimes bad things happen, but it’s all part of God’s plan. I mostly got “damned if you, damned if you don’t” out of it.
Chapter 40- Pharaoh’s butler and baker displease him, so they get thrown in prison. There, they both have dreams they don’t understand, so Joseph interprets them. The butler’s dream means that he will be restored to his position within 3 days. Joe asks the butler to speak well of him to Pharaoh. The baker’s dream means that in 3 days he will be hanged by Pharaoh. The 3rd day is Pharaoh’s birthday, and things come to pass as Joe foresaw. The butler forgets Joseph.
I would like to take this moment to say that I have a hard time spelling “Joseph” when I’m stone cold sober. So, my apologies if this whole post says “Joesph” instead.
The only thing that really stands out to me here is that in modern times, most people don’t put much stock in dream interpretation. In the church in which I was raised, I got the impression that it was just silly nonsense at best, and the work of satan at worst. Maybe it’s just the remnants of my childhood coming through here- but dream interpretation as God’s doing is weird to me.