Burn Her at the Stake! Genesis 38

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Last week, we learned about Onan. He was ordered to marry his dead brother’s wife, Tamar. But he refused to get her pregnant, so God killed him.

“Shirlee, what happened to Tamar?”

Shirlee set her bag on the desk. “Goodness, child! Let me get my coat off, at least.” Unbuttoning her coat, she added, “If you were that interested, why didn’t you just read ahead? You had the whole week, dear.”

“I, um . . . I left my Bible here last week.”

Mark and John stumbled in, playfully shoving each other. “Hi, Shirlee!” exclaimed John. “Great day, isn’t it? We should do Sunday School outside!”

Shirlee would have liked nothing better than to take class outside, out of that musty, decaying old building. She glanced out the window, part of her hoping that the dark clouds hovering over the church just minutes ago had broken up.

No such luck; a few fat drops hit the wavy glass. A distant rumble told her the worst was yet to come; a late season storm was rolling in.

“Sorry, boys, looks like we will be staying in today. It’s cold and wet out. Just the kind of day Tamar would have hoped for!”

Ginny and the boys sat down as Tom ambled into the room. “Glad you could make it, Tom,” grumbled Shirlee. Who knows what outburst would be forthcoming from him today?

“Why would Tamar have liked a cold, wet day?” asked John. That seemed to him a very odd thing to say.

Shirlee sat at the old oak desk and opened her Bible. “You’ll see, John. You’ll see.”

After Onan’s untimely demise, Judah promised Tamar that he would have her marry his younger son, Shelah, once he was grown up. He sent her back to her father’s house, to wait there as a widow. (Genesis 38:11)

Ginny was aghast. “Wait, so Judah told her she had to stay unmarried and wait for a kid to be old enough to marry her? And she had to obey him?”

“Ginny,” said Mark, “You should know better than to be upset by this stuff. You know that women were considered property back then. Judah had probably bought her for Er with a few goats or something, and so he had control over her.”

“Ugh,” Ginny groaned.

“He’s right, Ginny,” added Shirlee. “That’s how it was.”

Tamar stayed in her father’s house for a time, wearing a widow’s garment, and waiting for Shelah to hit puberty so she could get married again and have his babies.

Years went by, and Shelah grew up. Judah never sent for Tamar to give her to his son.

One day, Tamar learned that Judah was traveling to Timnath to shear his sheep. So, she took off her widow’s garment, and covered herself with a veil, and waited on the road to Timnath.

Judah saw her as he was traveling. He could not see her face, so didn’t recognize her. Assuming she was a prostitute, he asked her to let him have sex with her. (Genesis 38:12-17)

Shirlee glanced up from the book. “See how well-mannered the men were in those days, boys? Your generation could learn a thing or two . . .”

“About hiring hookers, Shirlee?” laughed Mark. “Yes, I’ll be sure to tell my mother that today we learned how to pick up a streetwalker in true Biblical style!”

“But . . . I, not what I meant,” stammered Shirlee, seeing her small weekly salary disappearing from her pocketbook.

“Relax, Shirlee. I’m just kidding.”

“Not funny,” grunted Shirlee, turning back to the book.

Hey baby, I'll give you a baby . . . sheep! Image: Horace Vernet

Tamar, being an enterprising young lady, asked her father in law what he would pay her for sex. He offered to send her a kid from the flock.

Apparently, in those days, prostitutes accepted credit.

Tamar, being a clever young lady, was not willing to offer credit to a man who had already cheated her, and asked what he would give as a pledge, to hold until the kid was delivered.

Judah asked what she would want, and she asked for his signet (a ring with a seal in it), his bracelet, and his staff. Judah, being very eager at the moment, agreed. So, he had sex with his daughter-in-law, and she got pregnant. (Genesis 38:16-18)

“EWWWW!” yelled Ginny. “That’s disgusting! He’s old enough to be her father!”

“At least,” added John. “Remember, she’d married both of his older sons, and Shelah had been a child back then.”

“GAAAH!” she wailed. “Grampa sex!”

“Oh, calm down, Ginny,” snapped Shirlee. “It’s not like you had to do it.”

Tamar went back to her father’s house, and put on her widow’s garment.

Judah sent a friend of his with the kid to find the woman, but couldn’t find her. The friend asked the men around the area where the hooker who worked that spot might be, and they said there was no hooker there. So, he went back to Judah and told him what he’d learned. (Genesis 38:19-22)

“Ghost hooker!” intoned Mark in an ominous voice, as lightning lit up the sky and a deep rumble shook the church.

“What?” Shirlee glanced out the window, half expecting to spy a scantily-clad woman floating about in the rain. No such apparition met her gaze; just a plastic bag caught in an updraft.

“No, no, not outside,” Mark laughed. “It just sounds like that old ghost story, you know, the people who pick up the hitchhiker who disappears from the back seat . . . but the hitchhiker died 20 years before?”

“Mark, this is the Bible, not some silly story! There are no ghost hookers in the Bible, only real people!”

“Fine, if you say so . . .”

Three months later, some busybody told Judah that Tamar had slept around and gotten pregnant! Judah, being a Godly man, commanded that she be brought forth . . . and burned alive. (Genesis 38:24)

The class was silent.

“Did you hear what I said? He wanted them to burn her alive. Because she was a harlot.”

“So, the guy who practically begged a strange prostitute whose face he couldn’t see to let him get his end in, then wanted to burn his daughter-in-law alive for doing pretty much the same thing?” Ginny was puzzled. “Why the double standard? And why not just cut her loose?”

“Because he’d made an investment in her, Ginny, and she was his property.”

“Now I see why you thought Tamar would like a cold, rainy day,” said Mark.

“Well, I do have a sense of humor, Mark.”

“You just keep it hidden so well!”

Shirlee, in an uncharacteristically playful moment, stuck her tongue out at Mark. Then, regaining her composure, she turned back to the Bible.

When Tamar was brought to Judah, she said that she was pregnant by the man whose ring, and bracelet, and staff she had. She asked Judah whose they were.

Judah admitted that they were hers, and realized that Tamar had been more righteous than he, as he’d not given her to his son.

And Judah never had sex with her again. (Genesis 38:25-26)

“So, Shirlee . . .”

“Yes, John?”

“What’s the moral of that story, exactly?”

“Women aren’t as stupid as you boys think!” crowed Ginny, laughing.

“Well said, Ginny,” said Shirlee. “But there’s another important point here.”

Mark raised his hand. “Is their baby someone important?”

“Indeed, Mark. Tamar has twins, one of whom is named Phares. He’s one of the ancestors listed in Jesus’ genealogy, both in Matthew 1 and Luke 4!”

“So Jesus had incest in his family tree,” said John, slowly.

“SIN SIN SIN!” Tom started hollering. Shirlee clenched her fists under the desk; so close to the end of class without an outburst. “MOSES SAY BAD SIN!”

“Not yet, he hadn’t, Tom. Moses wasn’t born yet,” soothed Ginny.

“Never understood that myself,” said Mark. “How could Jesus have any genealogy on his father’s side, from Adam down the generations to Joseph, when His father is God, not Joseph?”

Shirlee paused. “That’s a lesson for another day, Mark. And I think it’s about time to call it a day, service should be just about over.” The lightning flashed and the church bell clanked. “I’ll see you next week!” Shirlee grabbed her coat and bag and fled into the hallway.

“Convenient how she always manages to duck the tough questions,” Mark mumbled to John.

“You’re just giving her time to prepare, you know,” replied John. “You should ask the tough ones at the beginning instead.”

“Yeah, if only I thought of them then.”

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