WEEK 43 — October 28, 2015



week 43


Tamar’s Defense


Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.” Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!” As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.” Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I.” Genesis 38:24-26a

There are some stories in Scripture that are totally unsuitable for inclusion in a series of Sunday School lessons or a Bible story book for children. One such story is the lurid tale of Tamar, daughter-in-law of Judah.

Jesus was once asked a trick question about seven short-lived brothers who each married the same woman, one after the other. To the Hebrew mind-set, that question would not have seemed strange at all: Ancient law and custom dictated that a widow should indeed marry her late husband’s younger brother.

Tamar first married Judah’s eldest son. When he died young, she was supposed to marry Judah’s second son, but he died as well. So Tamar settled down to wait for the third son to grow old enough. But the years passed and nothing happened, except that her mother-in-law also died, leaving Judah a widower.

Tamar then took matters into her own hands. Dressing and posing as a prostitute, she lured her father-in-law into a sexual tryst. Judah left with her certain tokens of his name and rank, as a guarantee that he would later pay for her services. But when he sent the promised kid from his flock of goats, the “prostitute” who had set up her tent beside the road to Timnah seemed to have vanished.

When the widowed Tamar turned up three months pregnant, Judah was all for carrying out the penalty prescribed in the Law of the Lord: He called for her to be brought out and burned at the stake.

Let the following poetic meditation, imaginatively placed in the mouth of Tamar herself, take up the story at that point. It’s not an edifying story, . . . but it is a story that reminds us of the sort of people who became the earthly ancestors of our sinless Lord Jesus.

It turned out that Tamar had not one but two babies in her womb. Both of these twin boys, and their father and mother as well, are mentioned by name in the genealogy of Jesus with which the New Testament begins. (See “From Such As These Christ Jesus Came,” week 1 in this series.)

Considering the human line of descent he had, no wonder our loving Lord Jesus showed such sympathy toward sinners!

Me? Burned at the stake? Well, we’ll see about that.
There’s too many deaths in this family, I’d say:
My husband, his brother, my mother-in-law.
I’ll not add my death to that total today.

Now, here is a staff, and a seal on a string.
Go show them to those who would judge me today.
“I’m carrying seed from the man who owns these.
Who’ll claim his possessions?” That’s what you must say.

I do what I must to be claimed as a wife.
My first husband’s age was the same as my own.
He died, and they said I must wait for awhile
and marry the youngest when he was full grown.

I didn’t mind having a husband who’s young,
but nobody honored that promise to me.
So now I will take a new husband who’s old,
yet able to father a new family.

Who knows what may come from the life in my womb?
Perhaps there are two lives instead of just one.
Who knows who’ll be born, once I’ve started this line –
the line of descent when I bear Judah’s son?

“O Thou who hear’st when sinners cry,
though all my crimes before Thee lie,
behold them not with angry look,
but blot their mem’ry from Thy Book!” Amen.

[Isaac Watts, “Psalm 51” in The Psalms of David Imitated, 1719; in the public domain}

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 42 — October 21, 2015



week 42


Old Rebekah’s Defense


His mother [Rebekah] said to him [Jacob], “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say.” Genesis 27:13ab

Sometimes when we read the stories of people in the Bible, everything seems to be set forth in black and white. Right is always right. Wrong is always wrong. Yet from our own experience we know that there’s usually more than one way to look at things.

As a young woman, Rebekah comes across as an appealing Bible character. Remember that time when a dusty caravan turned up near her flocks and herds? Rebekah was the youthful shepherdess who offered to draw even more water than she had been asked for. As an ultimate result of that kind deed, Rebekah became the wife of Isaac and the mother of Esau and Jacob. (See week 17 in these MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS.)

In her middle years and later years, Rebekah doesn’t appear in quite so favorable a light. She plays a negative role as a devious, conniving wife and mother, determined at all costs to get special favors for her favorite son.

What do you suppose Rebekah herself would have to say about it, if we could interview her today? The following poetic meditation makes the logical assumption that Rebekah must have felt she had a real and pressing need for each of the actions that she took.

Her husband was old. Sometimes old men do foolish things. What if Isaac had disinherited her, along with her favorite son?

Old Isaac made no secret about his preference for Esau. Yet as Rebekah compared their two sons, she must have sensed that Jacob was the twin who had more potential for long-term stability and growth.

There’s no way to disguise the fact that Rebekah resorted to shameful trickery, disguising Jacob to resemble Esau when he went into the presence of his visually-impaired father. Yet . . . is Rebekah the only one among the People of God who has ever been tricked into thinking that the end justifies the means?

When the twice-defrauded Esau made furious threats against his twin, Rebekah must have searched desperately for a way to shelter her favorite. She found it in the fact that Esau had married outside the Covenant People, thereby bringing bitterness into Isaac’s family. So she persuaded her aged husband to send Jacob far away, to a place where he could find a wife among his clan cousins.

When Jacob quite reasonably expressed the fear that he might receive a curse rather than a blessing from his deceived father, his overly fond mother Rebekah generously offered to take the curse upon herself. And so she did: As far as we can tell from the Biblical account, Rebekah died without ever seeing her beloved son again.

Perhaps Rebekah is not the only person who has ever tried too hard to arrange things in the family exactly as she thought best. Think about that as you read this Bible-based poetic meditation:

Isaac my husband grew old.
I needed to be reassured
that Isaac would never be lured
by young flesh or promise of gold.

Isaac made Esau his pet.
I needed to balance his view
that Esau should get all that’s due.
Then what’s left for Jacob to get?

Isaac my husband went blind.
I needed to mask what he’d smell,
he’d taste, and he’d touch, lest he tell
which son brought the feast he’d assigned.

Isaac my husband grew weak.
I needed to guard Jacob’s life
against Esau’s murderous knife,
or else all the future looked bleak.

Isaac my husband and I –
we’ve lost both our sons, so it seems;
we see them now only in dreams.
O Jacob, come home ere I die!

Hold me back, Lord, from projecting plans for my family that are not of your making. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 41 — October 14, 2015



week 41


Lot’s Wife


Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Genesis 19:26

One day when our sons were teenagers, our family went hiking down into a volcano crater on the Indonesian island of Java. Steaming fumaroles, boiling mud-pots, noisy blow-holes, and lumps of raw yellow sulfur reminded us that the volcano, though long dormant, was by no means dead.

Among the many strange formations of rock and lava we saw that day, we found something that especially attracted our attention. One of the volcano’s blowholes had built up so much sulfur that it had grown into a column as tall as a human being. At the top the column bent slightly, as if the person’s head had been turned a bit to the side. And through the steamy blowhole came gurgling and bubbling noises as if the tall yellow specter were indeed alive and speaking to us.

Of course we named it “Lot’s Wife.”

I can’t remember when I didn’t know about the sad end of Lot’s wife. The Biblical record gives no details, only the stark statement in the Scripture verse quoted above.

Why did Lot’s wife look back?

A more logical question might be: Why didn’t Lot and his daughters look back? After all, the city of Sodom had been their home long enough for the girls to be born and to grow up to such an age that they had already been promised in marriage. Who wouldn’t have had feelings of nostalgia and regret about leaving a place that had been your home for such a long time?

Yet familiarity, besides breeding contempt, can also breed complacency. When we become too much at home in this world, we tend to take on protective coloration. We begin to mimic the behavior of godless people we see all around us, . . . as near as the flat TV screen in the family room.

In the Bible-based poetic meditation that follows, imagination has put into the mouth of Lot’s wife some of the arguments she may have flung at her husband. Perhaps you will detect a twinge of sympathy for her, along with a bit of wry humor, in the very last line.

I don’t know why Lot’s wife was the only member of the family who looked back. I don’t know why she was punished so severely for doing so. But I do know that my wife and I and our children and our grandchildren – all of us need to be careful about becoming too much attached to the society in which we live. After all, our citizenship is in heaven.

Why should we leave Sodom?
We’ve all been happy here.
Our daughters know no other home.
Why should we force them now to roam
from places they hold dear?

Why should we leave Sodom?
We’ve prospered here, that’s plain.
We’ve all enjoyed abundant health.
We’ve all worked hard to gain this wealth,
with hand and heart and brain.

Why should we leave Sodom?
The life-style we’ve achieved
is better far than when we drove
our flocks and herds from field to grove.
Why waste what we’ve received?

Why should we leave Sodom?
Our daughters are bespoke.
Those fine young men they’ve pledged to wed
would think it strange to find we’ve fled;
they’d call us fickle folk.

Why should we leave Sodom?
Who says it’s filled with fault?
Who gave the order that we must
go tramping now through sand and dust?
I’d sooner turn to . . .

Help me, O Lord, to live in the world, yet keep my eyes turned toward heaven. Guide every member of the family of faith to do the same. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 40 — October 7, 2015



week 40


More Blessed Than Mary


As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
Luke 11:27-28

The relationship between Jesus and his mother Mary has been a matter of contention and controversy through the centuries.

Many Christians have put the Virgin Mary on a par with Jesus, or even above him in the heavenly hierarchy. Witness the many hymns and prayers addressed to Mary, the many likenesses of her in churches and art museums all over the world.

Many other Christians have over-reacted against this glorification of Mary by almost ignoring her unique role in the divine plan of salvation. After all, it was Mary whom God in his omniscience chose to become the mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Surely God knew what he was doing.

Yet . . . even during his earthly life there seems to have been a strange ambivalence in Jesus’ relationship with his mother.

• On the one hand, as a twelve-year-old boy in Jerusalem Jesus accepted Mary’s gentle rebuke and went back home to Nazareth, continuing to live in obedience to his mother. On the cross Jesus made special provision for Mary’s future, entrusting her to the care of John the beloved disciple.
• Yet on the other hand, Jesus seemed to distance himself from Mary. At the marriage in Cana of Galilee, he rebuffed at first her suggestion that he ought to help out in an embarrassing emergency. He did not respond favorably when Mary and his brothers tried to hinder his public ministry because they thought he was beside himself. Even as a twelve-year-old in the Temple, Jesus reminded his mother that his heavenly Father had first claim on his life.

There is no doubt about the fact that Mary holds a unique place in the drama of redemption. She also holds a unique place in Christian history, worship, and tradition. Yet her divine-human Son neatly summed up the limitations of the divine blessing upon Mary in the verses quoted above.

As you prayerfully read the following poetic meditation, give thanks for the new way he has opened up, so that you and I and all other obedient believers may indeed become even more blessed than the Blessed Virgin Mary!

More blessed than Mary!
Now, how can that be?
We everyday people
more blessed than she?

More blessed than she who bore Jesus our Lord?
It must be, for Jesus himself gave the word.

A woman spoke blessing on her who gave birth
to Him who had come as the Savior of earth.

But Jesus said, “Others are more blessed still:
All those who will listen and follow God’s will.”

More blessed than Mary!
This gift is for all
who heed our Lord’s teaching
and follow His call.

O Lord, help each one of us to claim Your promised blessing! Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas