Genesis, Chapter 38, is a collection of stories growing out of Leah’s fourth son Judah’s separation from his brothers. Interestingly, it does not mention Joseph, whom you’ll recall has been sold down in Egypt to one of the Pharoah’s officials. It turns out to be one of the most interesting reads in the book of Genesis.
It appears that Judah and his brothers had a falling out… some sources suggesting the disagreement may have had something to do with their mistreatment of Joseph, but this is guesswork. Anyway, Judah went to live with a man from Adullam named Hirah where he met and married a Canaanite woman. This is a rather odd turn of events, since heretofore the sons of Abraham and Isaac had been forbidden to marry into the Canaanites, and the one previous example had caused Esau added alienation from the family. In this case, it does not seem to have mattered. This suggests that at this time in Israel’s history, for whatever reason, intermarriage was no longer forbidden in principle.
The firstborn son of Judah was named Er. Judah arranged a marriage between his son Er and a woman named Tamar, following which we learn Er “was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.” (Genesis 38:6-7) Er’s death, obviously, left Tamar a widow.
A longstanding practice decreed that the brother of the deceased go into his widow, provide for her needs, and perpetuate the line of the deceased brother. In this case, Er’s brother was a man named Onan, the second son of Judah. The events that follow made Onan one of the most memorable men in Israel’s history.
Realizing (as a surrogate) that the offspring he would father with his brother’s wife would not be his, Onan had sex with Tamar, his sister-in-law, but to prevent impregnating her, he allowed his semen to spill on the ground. “What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so he put him to death also.” (Genesis 38:10)
In Er’s case, we are not told what was “wicked in the Lord’s sight,” but in Onan’s case it was, obviously, either failing to fulfill his obligation to his brother, or, allowing his semen to spill on the ground. Likely the latter, as “onanism” became a synonym for masturbation, and generations of young boys, having discovered masturbation feared the worst, praying, “Please don’t strike me dead!” Fortunately, Onan’s calamity was not continued in perpetuity!
I find it intriguing that, whatever the true causes of their deaths, Er and Onan were judged “wicked in the Lord’s sight” by the storyteller (possibly because they died as young men in a time when men seemed to live very long lives) and that “the Lord put [them] to death.” (Genesis 38:6-7; 10) The storyteller clearly uses these phrases to emphasize how important it was to observe the tribal customs.
Next, Judah told his daughter-in-law Tamar to return home to her father and stay there until his next son Shelah was old enough to take her as his wife.
In time Judah got over the grief of losing his two older sons and, incidentally, his wife, and resumed his daily activities. It was sheep-shearing time, so he decided to go up with his friend Hirah the Abdullamite to see how the shearing was progressing.
By this time, Judah’s third son Shelah was old enough to take Tamar to wife, but Judah did not carry through on his promise to Tamar, and Tamar took note of this. So, she decided to rectify the situation. Taking off her widow’s clothes, she dressed as a “shrine” prostitute, veiled herself, and sat near the entrance to the city of Enaim waiting for Judah to pass by on his way to Timnah.
By way of explanation, “shrine prostitutes,” according to some sources, “were used in the fertility cults of the ancient Middle East. These cults believed that harvests and flocks were increased by ritual intercourse with the prostitute of certain goddesses such as Asherah, Astarte and Anath.” You might want to look up Deuteronomy 23:17 and I Kings 14:24.
When Judah saw the prostitute, not knowing that she was Tamar, he propositioned for her services. He agreed that he would give her a young goat from his flock for her favors. Tamar agreed, but, remembering that Judah did not always carry through on his promises, she extracted a pledge, or a guarantee, for the payment. Tamar told Judah he would need to give her his seal and its cord and his staff as a pledge that he would pay her. Judah agreed to do so. According to Genesis 38:18, Tamar became pregnant as a result of her tryst with her father-in-law.
After Judah left, Tamar changed back into her widow’s clothes. This seems like an excessive time for mourning, but it is possible that a widow, in those ancient times, continued to be in mourning until redeemed by her dead husband’s brother.
Judah kept his promise and sent the goat to the “prostitute,” requesting the return of his pledge; however, no one in the vicinity could recall a shrine prostitute operating in the neighborhood. Judah would have been suitably anguished due to the fact that his pledge; that is, his seal, its cord, and his staff were important to his identification…somewhat akin to one of us giving our passport or driver’s license as a surety. Judah had no way to retrieve his pledge without bringing derision upon himself and his family. He said, “Let her keep what she has, or we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you didn’t find her.” (Genesis 38:23)
Soon thereafter (three months later) Judah was informed that his daughter-in-law Tamar was guilty of prostitution and that she had become pregnant in the process. Judah showed no mercy, but said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”
“As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law, “I am pregnant by the man who owns these. And she added, See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.” Naturally, Judah recognized his items, and he responded, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah,” but neither did he take her to wife nor sleep with her again! (Genesis 38:26)
Interestingly, all of these characters–Judah, Tamar, and the sons (yes, she had twins) born to her, Perez and Zerah–show up in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. (Matthew 1:2-3) So, this is how a “prostitute” showed up in the lineage of Jesus of Nazareth!
The story of the twin’s births in Genesis 38:27-30 is somewhat reminiscent of the story of Jacob and Esau and certainly foreshadows a likely, future conflict. It goes like this: When the first boy made his appearance, the midwife tied a ribbon around his wrist to identify him as the firstborn. Unfortunately, he withdrew his arm and his brother passed him during the birth process.
In the meantime, down in Egypt, Joseph had made a name for himself. According to Genesis 39:2, “the Lord was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master,” Potiphar.
It seems that Joseph was intelligent, trustworthy and diligent about his duties, but his undoing was that he was an extremely handsome (and apparently, sexy) young man. Potiphar’s wife took every opportunity to “come on to” Joseph. (Genesis 39:6-7) The more Joseph clung to his chastity, the more she desired him. According to Genesis 39:11 “One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and one of the household servants was inside. [Potiphar’s wife] caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.”
As the British playwright William Congreve penned in his play The Mourning Bride, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.” Potiphar’s wife told her husband “This is how your slave treated me,” so Potiphar had Joseph thrown into “the place where the king’s prisoners [the Pharoah?] were confined.” (Genesis 39:19-20)
While he was in prison, however, Joseph won the respect of his guards and the warden. As a result, Joseph was put in charge of all the prisoners, and we are told “The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” (Genesis 39:22-23).
In actuality, the prisons of Egypt were little more than forced labor camps. Most of the prisoners were involved with the construction of the Pharoah’s pyramids, or tombs, which sometimes took as long as fifty years to complete. The king’s prisoners, on the other hand, were treated better overall. They were generally awaiting trial, and they had considerable freedom to move about. Sometimes they were given perfunctory administrative tasks.
It has always seemed strange to me that “the Lord” was never around to protect Joseph from the disasters that befell him, but “the Lord” was always given credit for Joseph’s successes. Be that as it may, Joseph seems to have been the sort of man who was able, through his virtues and morals, to triumph over adversity.
Trees in the Woods
A grandfather and his young grandson walked through the woods.
“Grandfather,” the boy asked, “Why do trees only talk when the wind blows?”
The Grandfather replied, “The trees are always talking, but it is only when the wind blows that we can hear them. Long ago the trees were as loud as you and I, but nothing save the mountains and oceans can remember that long ago. The trees were chatty and often rude to every creature on earth, so a powerful group of magic-workers cursed them into silence.
“As a result, for many years, the wisdom of the earth was lost to human beings. Since the trees had served as envoys, men were no longer able to seek the earth’s counsel on great matters. You see, trees could speak to humans and the earth alike; but a time came when magic-workers, men and women, were hunted because their powers were feared.
“The last Great Wizard knew he must seek the tree’s wisdom to save the magic of the world from man’s corruption. Unable to undo the spell of the mighty group, he decided to relieve it, so he breathed in great breaths for a hundred years; then, after swelling to the size of the moon, he let them all go. Sadly, this killed the Great Wizard. His final spell–the spell to learn the tree’s wisdom–was named after him. The Great Wizard’s name was Wind.
“So, until this day, when you are walking through the woods, if you listen carefully you may hear the earth’s wisdom. Or, just a rude joke about how you are dressed!”
Although most readers who know me, either personally or through my writing, will find it hard to believe, I was a Republican before President Bill Clinton’s second term. Most of my relatives are Republicans. So were my in-laws; I married into a Republican family. So, what happened?
Having always had a consuming interest in politics, I am among the few people I know who actually get involved in presidential politics and elections, studies up on the candidates, sends donations and, in some cases, works in the local party headquarters.
During the campaign of 1992, I proudly stood with George H. W. Bush and was not particularly happy when he, partly (maybe mostly) owing to the imposition of Ross Perot, was defeated by Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas.
Four years later, after having observed Bill Clinton’s first term, I switched parties and voted for him for his second term. About that time, I realized the Republican Party was subtly changing in ways I did not feel were good for our country.
Today, the party is a totally different breed from the one I knew when I met Barry Goldwater on the campaign trail in Charleston, West Virginia, during his 1964 campaign against Lyndon B. Johnson. I was thrilled to meet the man for whom I would cast my first vote for the presidency.
I recall his campaign slogan so well–“In Your Heart You Know He’s Right!” Apparently, America didn’t, because he lost the election. Most likely because of a political campaign ad featuring a mushroom cloud! But, I digress….
I became a Democrat because I believed the Democrats were doing what was best for America. I’ve never looked back. I’m still a believer!
When I think of comparing Barry Goldwater, who was Arizona’s conservative senator, with any one of today’s conservative right-wing Republican candidates for the presidency, I am at a loss for areas of reasonable, objective comparison.
In the past twenty years or so, I have watched Republican candidates become increasingly nasty campaigners and politically, socially and morally irresponsible, while claiming the mantle of “family values” and responsible stewardship of the public trust. In office they have proven, too often, to be negligent, obstructionist warmongers.
In my opinion, businessman Donald Trump exemplifies the depths to which Republicans will sink to appeal to our basest natures.
The Trump candidacy is a quest for raw power–nothing else! He doesn’t need more “beautiful” people, money, notoriety, the lifestyle of the rich and famous–he has all of these things. It’s pure, raw power he wants. I haven’t seen the like in any presidential candidate before–Democrat, Republican or Independent.
It’s frightening, frankly. We are seeing what kind of person and what kind of politician Trump is. What we cannot see–only speculate about–is what kind of president he would be.
What happened to the Grand Old Party? I don’t know. But, I do know I don’t like the looks of this Brand New Party, and I’m glad I’m not part of it. I made the right decision in 1995.
Several years ago I called a local print shop to order some brochures and the guy gave me a quote for the job. I emailed him the file and stopped in there a week later to pick them up.
The phone guy was not there but my brochures were, without an invoice. The boss had me take the printed brochures, saying he would send an invoice.
Three months went by, no invoice. I stopped back in and prepared to pay. Still no phone guy and the boss man still had not prepared the invoice. I told him what the quote was and he had me pay that. But he marvelled that I had come back in, saying most people would not.
I said that was sad. I then said that I try to live by the Golden Rule.
“Oh yeah,” he sneered, “screw them before they screw you.”
“No, wrong attitude, ” I reminded him I HAD come back in. “Treat people the way you want to be treated,” I reminded him. He laughed, not a happy sound.
Today I saw a meme on Facebook where Elizabeth Warren challenges us Americans to consider where we are as a society. If most of us have the attitude that the printing shop owner has, we are in big trouble.
So, why have we become a very selfish, self-centered, I need I need I need I don’t care about you society? This is not because Black men don’t stay with their families. This is not because today’s music undermines the morality of our children. This is because most of us are hurting and resentful and above all, it is because most of us want what we want and many have forgotten that you need to work for it.
Many people are unhappy with the way things are. Many people, like me, have passion for one or two issues but never move beyond them to consider the common good in choosing a candidate.
If you abhor abortion, and you’re a woman, don’t get one. If you’re a man, don’t get a woman in a position to need to consider one. Support widespread education about how to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. And then, be responsible not just angry.
If you are terrified that any Muslim is going to kill you, get educated. Believe it or not, Harvard offers FREE online courses. You have a computer, after all you are reading this. So, take advantage and learn more in a way that will not be slanted to one political ideology. Here is the link for the free courses offered about religion. Xenophobia is not attractive and your fear means the terrorists are winning. They may not have to kill you to show they control you.
If you believe the poor are sitting back and taking advantage of social programs so they don’t have to work and you believe they are the cause of our national deficit, time to realize that the most expensive welfare program in our country is to corporations in the misguided effort to keep big business here at home, hiring our workforce. Large corporations despite huge profits are eligible for huge tax incentives and other programs that put money in their corporate pockets. They take advantage of the laws and STILL move offshore with their manufacturing plants, also taking advantage of the law. In the effort to keep food commodity prices low, large corporate factory farms are given money NOT to grow food. Your tax dollar, in other words, is NOT being abused by the poor. The programs may not be effective but don’t cut services without offering a better alternative.
If you notice a recurring theme, it is get educated. If you are angry about something, dig in more, using all sources, not just the ones that make you happy when you read them.
And then, get back to considering my first question. Are you your brother’s keeper?
We are part of a nation with vast differences. Those differences have made us what we are. We have different heritages, different living situations, different educational experience, different work experiences. The people who seem to be most upset are those stuck in the past when the White majority had all the power, and those on the edges who are trying to gain their equal place in the sun. We should not have different attitudes about everyone living in peace, everyone living in a safe place, everyone having access to education to improve their world and the world around them, everyone doing their best at their chosen work.
If we don’t lose this “me versus the rest of the world” attitude, we are in for more divisiveness, more anger, more home-grown people choosing to use their legally acquired guns to exhibit their anger.
It starts with YOU and how you raise YOUR children. Work it. Be responsible and educated.
If this blog irritates you….there she goes again with more liberal ranting….please take the time to respond and explain why wanting all us of to work together is against your sensitivities. If you agree with the concepts here, please comment and explain why and, if you are willing, go a step further and explain how you put those feelings into action. After all, some people need a road map. Let’s build one together.
An old man, a boy and a donkey were going to town.
The boy rode on the donkey, and the old man walked.
As they went along they passed some people who remarked “What a shame, the old man is walking, the boy is riding.”
The man and boy thought maybe the critics were right, so they changed positions.
Later they passed some people who remarked “What a shame, he makes that little boy walk”.
So they decided they’d both walk.
Soon they passed some more people who remarked “They’re really stupid to walk when they have a decent donkey to ride.”
So they both decided to ride the donkey.
They passed some people who shamed them by saying “How awful to put such a load on a poor donkey.”
The boy and the man figured they were probably right, so they decide to carry the donkey.
As they crossed the rickety bridge, they lost their grip on the donkey, the donkey fell into the river in the gorge and drowned.
The moral of the story: If you try to please everyone, you might as well kiss your ass goodbye.