Genesis 38 - Judah marries Shua (a Canaanite) and has three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah. When he grows up, Er is married to a woman named Tamar but dies with no heir; so Onan is asked to fill his role (with Tamar) and give Er sons, but he dies too after “wasting” his seed in his intercourse with her. The section ends with this – “[T]he Lord considered it evil for Onan to deny a child to his dead brother. So the Lord took Onan’s life, too” (38:10).
To me this is really good proof that the writers of the biblical narrative are not just writing “from the Spirit of God” but from their own particular culture and time. This practice of a widow marrying her deceased husband’s brother was a “Levirate” custom – the term comes from the Latin word levir (“husband’s brother”). The custom is still apparently still practiced in the world today in places where secure passage of land from generation to generation of a patriarchal clan is important. In Hebrew history, the practice was mandated by Deuteronomy 25:5-6. There were other parts of the law that prohibited a man from marrying his brother’s wife (Leviticus 18:16).
Judah wants Tamar to “remain a widow until my son Shelah is old enough to marry” her (38:11). A sentence is added to the text here indicating that Judah didn’ t REALLY intend to marry his last surviving son to Tamar. His failure to go ahead with the custom will be the engine behind what happens later in the story.
When the time comes (and goes) that Shelah is old enough to be married to Tamar, she plots to bring havoc down on Judah. She pretends to be a cult prostitute and sits herself by the road; when Judah comes along one day, she conceals her identity and convinces him to have intercourse with her, and this time, she does get impregnated.
When Judah learns that Tamar has “acted like a prostitute” and become pregnant, he sets out to have her burned (38:24). But she communicates that it was he who made her pregnant and because she has proof, Judah acknowledges that she is “more righteous than [he] is” (38:26). He should have gone ahead with the last marriage she was entitled to, but he had not.
Tamar gives birth to twins: Perez and Zerah and the story of their birth also is given is some detail. “While she was in labor, one of the babies reached out his hand. The midwife grabbed it and tied a scarlet string around the child’s wrist, announcing, ‘This one came out first.’ But then he pulled back his hand, and out came his brother! ‘What!’ the midwife exclaimed. ‘How did you break out first?’ So he was named Perez. Then the baby with the scarlet string on his wrist was born, and he was named Zerah” (38:28-30).
The reason the story is important is because Perez is part of the genealogy of King David. Tamar is one of three women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy too (Matt 1). Also Judah’s repentance to Tamar is part of his rehabilitation.
The Epistles of Ignatius
7 – But “there are some people who persistently bandy the Name about with the grossest hypocrisy, besides behaving in a number of other ways that do no credit to God. You must keep away from these men as you would from a pack of savage animals; they are rabid curs who snap at people unawares, and you need to be on your guard against their bites, because they are by no means easy to heal” (63).
“There is only one Physician – Very Flesh, yet Spirit too; Uncreated, and yet born; God-and-Man in One agreed, Very-Life-in-Death indeed, Fruit of God and Mary’s seed; at once impassible and torn by pain and suffering here below: Jesus Christ, whom as our Lord we know” (63). A note here indicates that this passage’s rhythmic qualities may have been part of an early Christian hymn.
8 – “So long as there are no deep-seated differences among you, of a kind that could do serious harm, your manner of life is just as God would have it. . . .with you, even what you do in the flesh is spiritual, for your actions are all done in Jesus Christ” (63).
9 – He does worry, however, for he’s heard that men have visited them from elsewhere and that the teaching of these men is “pernicious” (63). But they did not open their ears to what it was these men taught. He describes their deafness to the pernicious teachings as a great thing:
“Deaf as stones you were: yes, stones for the Father’s Temple, stones trimmed ready for God to build with, hoisted up by the derrick of Jesus Christ (the Cross) with the Holy Spirit for a cable; your faith being the winch that draws you to God, up the ramp of love” (63). Great imagery in this man’s writing – first the “symphony of minds” he discussed earlier and now the Holy Spirit as a “cable” and faith the “winch that draws you to God, up the ramp of love.”
They are all pilgrims carrying “sacred treasures on your shoulders” and you are “arrayed in the festal garments of the commandments of Jesus Christ” (64). Here, the editor notes that Ignatius is referring to and co-opting an image that would have been very familiar to Ephesians of that time. Pagan worshippers used to parade in such fancy garments along the streets carrying statues of the god and “precious objects” from the temple of Artemis (67). Now the precious objects carried must be “your God and your shrine and your Christ” and the “sacred treasures” of Jesus’ words that we carry in our hearts (63-64). Ignatius says he joins them in their “jubilations” (64).