Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Judah and Tamar, or how to distinguish your daughter-in-law from a prostitute…

In the middle of Joseph’s struggles and triumphs as a slave in Egypt, the Bible takes a scenic bypass to explore the family life of his brother Judah. (You may remember Judah as the brother who suggested the sale of Joseph. Or the progenitor of the line of David.)

Judah marries a foreign woman and they have three sons. The first son marries a foreign woman named Tamar. He manages to piss off God for reasons that remain a mystery, and he gets struck down. Since no one has lower status than a childless widow, Judah gives her to his second son to produce an heir. This was according to the customs of the day.

The second son, Onan (from whom we get the term Onanism), is not receptive to this plan. He is willing to have sex with Tamar, but refuses to father a child. The implication is that he is reluctant to father a child that would lessen his own inheritance. In order to avoid getting her pregnant, he “spills his seed” on the ground. And as we all learned from Monty Python, “If a sperm gets wasted, God gets quite irate.” So Onan is also struck down by the wrath of God.

Judah’s youngest son is too young to father a child, and Judah is a little worried about Tamar’s effect at this point, so he sends her back to her father until the youngest comes of age. And then fails to make good on the deal when the time comes.

At some point, Tamar hears that Judah will be travelling in the area. She does what any good woman would do—namely, disguise herself as a prostitute in order to trick her father-in-law into impregnating her. And the best part is: her plan totally works. Of course, since Judah failed to recognize her, he orders her to be put to death when he hears she is pregnant.

Tamar, sensible as she is, managed to extract a payment from Judah that would confirm his identity. She sends word to him, he realizes that she is in the right and brings her back into his household. From this union, we get the forbearers of the Davidic line.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Babel, where God decides human cooperation is a bad idea...

As we move into the eleventh chapter of Genesis, we find that humanity has not yet divided into different nations/peoples. People had spread throughout the earth, but as of yet, only have one shared language. This is another story that reinforces the idea that at some point we were utterly unified as a species.

And what did we do with this unity? Well, tradition suggests that we used it to try and usurp God's power and authority. But I'm not sure the text entirely supports that analysis. Yes, the people do say they want to make a name for themselves to avoid being wiped from the face of the earth, but considering how recently the earth was destroyed in a flood, perhaps they ere just trying to ensure survival if it happened again.

And when God witnesses this joint endeavor, it really makes him nervous. He worries that if humanity works together that we can accomplish anything: "Nothing they propose to do will now be impossible for them."

And so he confuses the channels of communication, so that we are unable to understand each other. This is done to prevent us from accomplishing whatever we put are mind to. Thus making us all the more reliant on the divine figure, and tempering our destructive aims.

But the people of Babel were not destroying. They were building a community together-- one that had the potential to include the world. One in which people were apparently living in harmony. And God decided to prevent this from happening.

Now I recognize that this is a fable, and that it most likely sought to explain why we have so many different tongues, but as I look over my own life and realize how many arguments have their beginnings in communication failures, I wonder what the world would be like if we did have the ability to know what someone else meant-- even when we do speak the same language.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Servant Cannot Serve Two Masters

Jesus tells us that "No one can serve two masters; for a servant will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other." He ends with stating that one cannot serve God and wealth, but much has been explored on that topic and it is not what catches my attention today.
Today I am interested in the question of trying to serve two masters. Or two priorities that each want all of my attention. Especially in an age when multitasking is such a marketable skill.
I'm beginning to notice that what happens when I try to serve competing priorities is that I manage to serve neither adequately. I don't necessarily hate one and love the other, but instead, each thinks I am giving the other priority my better effort. No one is happy and I am all the more frustrated that no one appreciates the effort I am making.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I've been away awhile. Oops

Didn't realize it's been so long since I posted. I will try to do better and post something within the week.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Noah and his sons....

We are all fairly familiar with the story of Noah and the Flood. God, thinking creation was a mistake, decides to wipe out the whole world and begin again. God could find nothing good in humanity, yet somehow Noah found favor with the Lord. He and his family were spared the end of the world. After the waters subside, and Noah and his family return to land, God establishes His first covenant with humanity.
So let's take a close look at this righteous man-- the only one of his time. He doesn't utter a word of protest about what God is planning. He seems to have no regard for his friends, or neighbors. He simply builds his boat, gathering the animals. And all the rest of world is destroyed. One has to wonder, if as the waters rose, those around Noah begged for passage on his ark. Was Noah troubled by this?
Perhaps that is why, in the part of the story we don't read in church, turned to drinking. Or maybe, being the first to plant a vineyard, he didn't know the full effects of alcohol. But Noah does find himself thoroughly hammered and gets naked in his tent. And his youngest son walks in on him. It's a little unclear as to what Ham walked in on, as is Ham's response to his father. What is clear is that whatever happened was inappropriate. Ham extends the impropriaty by telling his brothers what happened. They respond, according to the text, more maturely: they cover their father, backs toward him to preserve his dignity. And then they told their father.
Noah is angry, but does not punish Ham. Instead he curses Ham's son Canaan to slavery at the hands of his uncles. He cannot curse Ham directly, because God has already blessed him.
And thus ends the tale of the only man, in his time, to have found favor with the Lord.

Friday, March 6, 2009

What did Cain say to Abel anyway?

This story begins with Eve giving birth Cain, quickly followed by the birth of Abel. Little is said about the two brothers-- we are not given much insight into their personalities. All we are told is that one became a farmer and one became a shepherd. At some point, both brothers bring an offering to God. This may have been part of a ritual, or the boys may have come to the decision to bring offerings to God independently. They boys bring from what they have to give-- Cain offering the fruit of his labor and Abel offering the best firstling of his flock. Tradition holds that Cain's sacrifice was lesser than Abel's in some way-- perhaps he gave what he had left over rather than the best of his grain. Perhaps he gave from his excess while Abel gave what was most precious. The text on this matter is silent. We are only told that God noticed, or prefered, Abel's offering, while He ignored, or rejected, Cain's gift.
God does take notice, however, of Cain's reaction to divine rejection-- and He is surprisingly puzzled by it. He actually chastises Cain for feeling badly about going to the effort of preparing an offering, only to have said effort be ignored. Cain's disappointment suggests to me that he had done his best to present an offering pleasing to the Lord. It strikes me that one might not be disappointed if one had put together a half-assed sacrifice, because one could tell himself that he could put for a better effort in the future. I really think Cain did the best he could and it simply wasn't good enough. And that is a disappointing moment in anyone's life-- the moment one realizes that whatever he or she has to offer will never be good enough and will never be acceptable.
And God cannot even bring himself to acknowledge Cain's pain as legitimate. He basically tells him to cheer and that if he does well, he will be rewarded, suggesting that whatever effort Cain put into his harvest offering was not right, because the reward was silence. It seems to me that God is simply telling Cain that He prefers Abel and Cain should just get over it. And how can Cain bring his pain to God-- now that God refuses to recognize his grief.
And in my modern perspective, I have to wonder why God prefers the bloody sacrifices. Abel had to kill his offering and that was pleasing to the Lord. Much more so than the offering of bloodless grains. What is it about blood that God seems to require in gifts and sacrifices?
So Cain speaks to his brother, and what is said has been lost forever. The end of the conversation is Abel's death. I've read legends that Cain, having realized he failed to give God what he loved the most, determined to give his baby brother out his love for his brother-- giving up what was most precious to him. They are interesting legends, but I do think Cain probably killed his brother out of anger and jealousy. Out of his feelings of being replaced.
Perhaps he should have spoken sooner. After his brother's murder, he does argue with God-- protesting his punishment. And I have to wonder, if Cain had protested the favoritism, would he have vented his anger before rising against his brother? Why does the taking of a life suddenly render him brave enough to argue with God?
And out of his exile, civilization comes into being. He founds a city. His descendents create music and technology. Yet years later, he is killed by one of his grandchildren in a moment of impulsive violence. Maybe that is the lesson-- that we will always compete. and only some will make the grade, and we have control our reactions to our failures, even when we're not sure why we failed.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Entering the Blogsphere

The Bible is a powerful book. It tells us about who we are, it tries to tell us who we should be, and it reveals some the ways in which people have understood God. It is not an easy book. Some of the stories are quite hard to read, hard to understand as being part of a holy document. But this is precisely why I find it so fascinating. This blog hopes to explore these stories, many of which one will not encounter in his or her average Sunday School. And just for the record, I really believe the Bible has a profound truth to teach us that has nothing to do with factual accuracy.