Genesis 38: sometimes God kills people

In the middle of Joseph’s story, there is a detour that is chapter 38, about one of his brothers, Judah. He had a son named Er, who married a woman named Tamar. Er died, and then his other brother died, leaving only Judah’s youngest son, not of marrying age.

Tamar. She could teach us girls a thing or two about survival in a harsh world. She had strategy instead of self-pity. She took a risk because it was necessary, not trendy. She was strong and she was bold. It wasn’t a cause or a headline, it was who she was and what she had to do.

Her father-in-law, Judah, had promised her his youngest son, with no intention of keeping that promise. He left her as a widow in her father’s house out of fear that his last son would die as the first two did.

Those first two sons were evil, and God killed them, but perhaps it was easier to think it had something to do with their proximity to Tamar.

{Maybe we would all like to think that bad things happen because of someone else.}

Tamar waited. For a long time, she remained in her father’s house, waiting for a promise to be kept. And then she took a risk. Did something scandalous. Pretended to be a prostitute and slept with her father-in-law, unrecognized by him. He promised her a goat in return. Overwhelming generosity was not his strong suit, apparently.

She demanded security until the goat came. Not because she was excited to get a goat, but because she was a smart chick with a plan. He gave up his signet ring, his cord, and his staff. Bad move, Judah, bad move. It will come with a hard lesson.

Tamar is now pregnant by her father-in-law. When he finds out she’s pregnant, not knowing that he is the father, he orders her to be burned to death. And then Tamar delivers the coup de grâce – the signet ring, cord, and staff of the man who got her pregnant. He repents in shame, and the story concludes with Tamar giving birth to twins.

I don’t know about you, but I am left wondering why this story was given to us. What did God want us to know from it? I don’t know those answers, all I can do is share what I learned from it –

First, women can be scrappy. We have a limit to how far we can be pushed before we come out swinging, and if it means survival, we will dig deep. We will risk and be scandalous and we will beat you at your own game if you give us half a chance. And in a world where women have been treated as property, used and discarded, oppressed and dismissed…this instinct for survival is often our ace-in-the-hole. But my point in all of those words is this: we are God’s creation and this ability to rise up and come back, to be strong and courageous and fierce did not develop over time. This is how we are made.

We cannot use it as a source of pride, nor should we pretend it’s not there. It isn’t feminism. We are not better than men, and in many ways, we are not even equal. We cannot do everything they can do, and they cannot do everything we can do. That’s not how God set it up. But we are also not less than. We are not things to be owned, traded, or sold. We are co-heirs with Christ. We are part of the whole that is the image of God. We are strong and we do hard things and we will fight hard, for our own survival, but also for our families and our communities, because that is how God created us. On purpose. We don’t have to insist the world acknowledge it for us, we can simply walk it out.

Second, sometimes, God kills people, and we need to stop pretending that He doesn’t. Both of Judah’s sons were evil in God’s eyes, but perhaps not in anyone else’s eyes. Judah may not have been able to see the evil in his own sons’ hearts, but God could, and the scriptures tell us God killed them for it.

Can we be ok with that? And if we can’t, then can we acknowledge that our inability to be ok with it doesn’t really change anything? I know the need to explain it all is strong, but honestly, sometimes the best explanation is simply that God is God and we are not. We can either trust that He is good and right and just and merciful, or we can choose to believe that our own sense of right and wrong and justice is where the bar rests.

I choose the former. And I choose to let it reaffirm that I serve an all-powerful God who is the God of both heaven and earth, who sees all and knows all and does what is right whether I understand it or not.

A God who has created me to fight when I need to, for myself and for those I love.

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