Judah, one of Jacob’s sons marries an unnamed woman. With her he has 3 sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er marries Tamar, but he greatly offended God, so God killed him. Judah then gives Tamar to Onan saying,
“Have intercourse with your brother’s wife, in fulfillment of your duty as brother-in-law, and thus preserve your brother’s line.”
Onan knew that any child conceived with Tamar would be considered his brothers, so every time they had sex, he pulled out. This made God angry, and God killed him. Judah then sent Tamar back to her father’s house, telling her to wait until Shelah grows up. Time passes, and Judah’s wife dies. After he mourns he goes to visit the people who shear his sheep. Tamar is told of his journey, and she takes off her widow’s clothes and wraps herself in a shawl, and waits for Judah to pass. At this point Shelah has grown up, but Tamar has not been given to him. When Judah passes her, he thinks she is a prostitute, and does not recognize her as his daughter-in-law. For the price of a young goat he has sex with Tamar. After, Tamar goes home and back to being a widow. When Judah becomes aware that Tamar is pregnant, she is accused of being a prostitute. Tamar then reveals that it is Judah’s child she is carrying, and he says that she is in the right, because he did not give her to Shelah. Tamar is not burned to death, and has twins.
This chapter is just a gold mine of WTF. It gets off to a great start by not even mentioning the name of Judah’s wife. She isn’t that important evidently, except that she makes babies for Judah. This is a great message to young women reading the bible, your name isn’t as important as the fact that you make babies.
Now God is killing people for being offensive? I think that is a bit overreactive, don’t you? Not a good standard for morality, is it? That brings up a bit of a double standard though, doesn’t it? Why does God get to kill people, but man isn’t supposed to? Or is that not a rule yet, as in the story we haven’t gotten the 10 commandments. Either way, I think Ricky Gervais is a better person to listen to when it comes to how to deal with being offensive:
“You have the right to be offended, and I have the right to offend you. But no one has the right to never be offended”
Freedom of speech is one of those things I think is very important, and in fact is a right that everyone should enjoy. Just because you are offended doesn’t mean you get to go off and kill that person. God is not setting a good example here.
So Er gets knocked off by God, and Tamar has to get with Onan, because of some strange rule. I am tempted to add this to the list of non-“traditional” marriages, but as it is just one man and one woman, I think I will leave it unless a reader can convince me otherwise. In this relationship God is offended by Onan because he keeps pulling out. Onan does this because any children conceived of this relationship will be considered his dead brothers, a very strange custom, and shows an ignorance of genetics that I will forgive. But why is God so interested in what Onan does with his semen? Is it because this seems to be in defiance of the “be fruitful and multiply” thing? On a different tangent, I was taught that this was why masturbation is wrong. Because Onan wasted his seed. What a horrible thing to tell a child. In essence, “don’t waste your cum, or God will kill you!” Must be traumatizing when some poor kid starts having wet dreams.
The the story gets really weird. Tamar pretends to be a prostitute in order to get pregnant by Judah. I generally do not have a problem with a woman choosing to do what she wants with her body, so long as it doesn’t bring harm to anyone else, but I don’t think that was the point here. I don’t really know what the point was, actually. I feel as though I am missing some bit of cultural information. At least I hope I am. But just going off the text, this is a very bad example to young women. Again, it makes it seem as though the main purpose of a woman is only to have children. In this case it seems that Tamar’s purpose is to continue Judah’s lineage, and she does whatever it takes to do so. I would like to think that we have surpassed such a view of women in modern day. There is a subtler message being presented in this little bit of the story, of just taking action instead of communicating. I wonder what would have happened if Tamar had just talked to Judah, instead of seducing him. That would have be something I would rather teach today.
About three months later, Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has acted like a harlot and now she is pregnant from her harlotry.” Judah said, “Bring her out; let her be burned.” (Genesis 38:24)
Burning? This really is not something I would want to teach today. This woman is a widow, twice over. This cannot be right by any modern standard. Like I said earlier, she has a right to do what she wants with her body, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. But no, the bible teaches us to kill both her and the child. Funny thing is though, when Judah finds out that the kid is his, suddenly it was ok for her to do what she did. Kind of a double standard there Judah.
Lessons I Learned:
- If your brother dies, you are supposed to marry his wife and have children in his place.
- Burn a prostitute, unless she is carrying your baby, in which case, don’t.
- God will kill you for pulling out.