My Favorite Books From 2019

favorite books 2019My goal in 2019 was to read 2 books per month. I came in just slightly above my goal, with 30 books for the year. Not all of them were a hit, but here were my favorites. The term favorite is a relative one. I judge favorite by either how enjoyable the book was, how profound it was, or how impactful it was. Here’s the list, in no particular order.

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The Jesus Centered Life 

I actually kicked off 2019 with this book, and I needed it.  This book invites you into wonder as you explore the magnetic force of the real Jesus, frees you from a “trying harder to get better” lifestyle, so you can follow Jesus instead, and walks you through one-of-a-kind practices that lead you into actual encounters with Jesus.

 

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The Boy Who Cried Lone Wolf

I’ve only written one Amazon review in my life, and it was for this book. I’ll let it speak for itself.

“I’d like to say upfront that I am a “friend” of the author. However, don’t assume that this makes my review biased. Andrew would be the first person to tell you that I take any and every opportunity to publicly criticize him. Therefore, I would not go out of my way to take the time to write a positive review of this book on Amazon unless I felt it truly deserved it.

Andrew’s writing is clever, imaginative, and vulnerable. It also caused me to laugh out loud multiple times. The book was so engaging, and flowed so well, that I read it cover to cover in one sitting. For anyone who is trying to navigate singleness, leaving home, or struggling to find their place in life, this book will speak to you on a deep level. But even if that doesn’t describe your current situation, don’t pass up on the experience this secret treasure has to offer. This book allows you a glimpse into the soul of another human being, and only a true work of art can do that.”

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Between Two Trees

Shane Wood is one of my all time favorite teachers and this book did not disappoint. This book gives us hope in this life lived between two trees. If you’re considering reading it, do yourself a favor and listen to the audiobook version…you’ll thank me later.

 

 

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Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria?

One of my goals in 2020 is to focus on what I’m calling “perspective books.” These are books that help us gain perspective from disadvantaged and oppressed people groups. This book got me started on that journey, and there’s a reason why many point to it as THE book to begin with for understanding race relations.

 

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The Sacred Enneagram

Understanding the enneagram has been life changing for me. Although I would not recommend this book as your entryway into the enneagram (in my opinion it’s written for people who already have a foundational understanding of it), it’s the best resource I’ve encountered for helping me see how the enneagram fits into my faith in Jesus.

 

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Comedy, Sex, God

Pete Holmes grew up in a conservative Christian home…and became a comedian. He also hosts one of the most listened to podcasts out there. The book tells his story of navigating comedy, relationships, and belief in God. LANGUAGE WARNING!

 

 

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Paul and Gender

John MacArthur caused quite a stir this year. This book is not easy to read. Coming in at over 300 pages, extensive use of the Greek language, and LOTS of footnotes, it took me some time to get through. However, if you’re wanting to dig into the conversation on what the Bible says about women, this is one of the best resources out there.

 

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The Future of Humanity

Humanity is going places…literally. This book blew my mind on just about every page.

 

 

 

 

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The Institute

By the end of the year, I needed a break and read some fiction. Stephen King’s latest release was by far my favorite. This was a thrilling page turner, and it’s already been picked up to get turned into a movie/limited series.

HERspective Part 10 – It’s Time to Speak

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(Women at the empty tomb – Fra Angelico, cell 9 San Marco)

This is the Final part of HERspective. Read previous parts here

 

“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent”  ― Madeleine K. Albright

I once read a blog about reading books (yes, I’m that lame) where the author said, “I’m the kind of nerd who does not consider myself having read a book if I did not also read the footnotes.” 

When I first read that, I rolled my eyes…HARD. But the more I’ve read books since, the more I’ve paid attention to the footnotes, because they often contain some very important information. 

The Bible has some important footnotes as well. One of the most interesting ones comes at the end of the Gospel of Mark. Maybe you’ve noticed it before. If you open up your Bible to Mark 16, there is a footnote at the end of verse 8. When you go to the bottom of the page, the note says,

“The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.”

What does that mean? In the world of Biblical Scholarship, the original document of a Biblical book is called an “autograph”. At this point in history, we have zero autographs. This means that the versions of the Bible we use are created from analyzing the many copies that were made. Sometimes these copies don’t agree. It is typically assumed that, the earlier a copy was written, the higher the likelihood that it’s closer to the original. Whether or not this is a good assumption is for a different blog, but this is the dominant view. Which brings us to our footnote. The earliest copies have the Gospel of Mark ending after verse 8, and verses 9-20 appear in later copies of the book. So what does the ending of Mark look like if we stop at verse 8?

By the end of chapter 15, Jesus has died and been buried. As we get to the beginning of chapter 16, several of the women followers of Jesus go to visit his tomb. Remember how, in the Gospel of Mark, the women followers of Jesus are shown to “get it” in a way the male disciples never do? Well, notice how none of the male disciples are there…even though Jesus literally told them he would die and then rise 3 days later (Mark 9:31).

When the women get to the tomb, they notice that the giant boulder door has been opened. Inside the tomb, there is no Jesus, but there is some young guy hanging out. Understandably, they are alarmed. The man inside tells them that Jesus isn’t there, he has risen, and to go tell the disciples what has happened. The fact that the women followers are being sent to announce the resurrection of Jesus to the male disciples is pretty unheard of. But Jesus doesn’t play by the rules. Remember how he also sends the woman at the well to announce Jesus to the men in her village?

At this point we are ready for a dramatic ending, and this is the one we get in the earliest copies of Mark.

Mark 16:8 – Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

THE END

Huh? If this was really the original ending, why would Mark leave it there? What could that ending possibly have to say to us?

In the Bible, many books seem to have an abrupt ending. The Book of Acts also comes to mind, as well as Jonah. The authors often do this as a way for the readers to understand that they are supposed to continue the story. If that’s what is happening here, what does Mark want us to know?

These women just had an experience, but they keep it to themselves. Why? Because they are afraid. Why were they afraid? Maybe they thought no one would believe them. Maybe they feared they would be silenced. Maybe they felt their voice didn’t matter. 

I think the message of Mark’s abrupt ending is clear. It’s time to speak! We need your voice. We need your story. Your experience is valuable. Don’t be afraid. Speak up!

So many women keep their experience to themselves. No one will believe me. People will try to silence me. My voice doesn’t matter. I know as a male, it’s easy for me to say that. I don’t have to fear these same things when I choose to speak up. But that lack of understanding is even more reason why we need the women around us to share. I cannot put into words how valuable it has been in my life to learn from the female perspective. We need your voice. We need your story. We need your experience. We have so much to learn from you. 

Please don’t be silent. It’s time to speak. 

 

HERspective Part 9 – I’ll Take the Check

 

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(Mary Magdalene, Susanna and Joanna – Painted by Mary McKenzie)

Previous Parts

 

 

I truly believe that women should be financially independent from their men. And let’s face it, money gives men the power to run the show. – Beyonce

If you’ve ever been on a dinner date before, there’s that brief awkward moment when the bill comes at the end. How are we going to do this? Are we splitting it? Should I pay for all of it? Are you paying for all of it? 

Well…I never had one of these awkward moments because I was given the message that the man should pay for everything when he goes out with a woman. Apparently Jesus didn’t get that memo.

In Luke 8, we are given this tiny little detail that’s easy to miss. Check this out,

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After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

So many things are going on here. First, how would you like to be known for all history moving forward as the one “from whom 7 demons had come out”? Thanks a lot Luke!

Second, the twelve disciples get the most exposure, but Jesus had MANY female disciples following him as well. 

Third, those women were using their own money to fund the ministry of Jesus. 

Please don’t miss this! In Jesus, the Kingdom of God had come and that ministry was preached and spread because the female disciples were making it rain. But it gets even crazier!

Where did they get this money? We don’t necessarily know, but one detail is important. One of the women, Joanna, was “the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household”. 

Who was Herod? Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee during the life of Jesus. Although this is not the same Herod that ordered many babies to be killed after the birth of Jesus, he still was not a supporter of the cause. You may remember him as the one who ordered the execution of John the Baptist, and if you’re not quite sure how he felt about Jesus, just flip a few more pages to Luke 13.

Luke 13: 31 – At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

So let’s work backwards. Herod has already killed John the Baptist, and wants to kill Jesus. Herod is a powerful ruler who is rich. He uses that power and money to hire employees to manage his assets. One of those employees he is paying is Chuza, who is married to Joanna. Joanna is then taking that money from Herod, and using it to fund the very person Herod is trying to stop. I hope you’re smirking right now.

That’s a bold move.

Jesus didn’t graciously allow women to stand in the back and watch his ministry happen, his ministry happened BECAUSE OF the women. They funded Jesus then, and they still fund him today. Check out this study on how women fund charitable causes over men on a regular basis. 

When it came to the things Jesus was doing, there was no question about who was taking the check. The female disciples said, “we got this!” I’m thankful they made things happen then, and I’m thankful they make things happen now.

 

HERspective Part 8 – The Woman at the Well

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(Samaritan Woman at the Well – Painted by He Qi)

Read Previous Parts

 

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39)

(Note: this post is adapted from a much longer, and more boring, paper that I wrote. But if you are weird, and want to read that instead, knock yourself out here)

The Woman at the Well (John 4: 1-42) is the Tamar of the New Testament. If you recall from Part 4, I pointed out the way Tamar’s story is always preached as her being this terrible sinner that God has grace on, which completely misses the point. The same is true with the woman at the well. Of this woman, Kenneth Gangel wrote, “here was a woman who lived outside the boundaries of any religious or cultural standards of her day. A string of five husbands followed by a lover is certainly not unknown in the twenty-first century, but it is hardly common even in our permissive society with its twisted tolerance for evil. In first-century Samaria, such a domestic arrangement was unthinkable.” Likewise, Paul Duke famously described her as “a five-time loser … currently committed to an illicit affair.” But are we missing the significance of this woman? To answer this question, we’ll have to look at why she has so often been read this way, and what a better reading might look like.

The Typical Reading

If you’ve heard the typical ways the woman at the well is preached, you know the drill. We know she is an immoral outcast for two main reasons. The first is that she comes to get water at noon. Apparently, all the women get water at the beginning and end of the day, so she must be trying to avoid the other women. The second reason is because Jesus later tells her that she has had 5 husbands, and is currently living with a man who is not her husband. But do these assumptions make sense?

In regards to the time, there is just not the evidence that women only went to the well at certain times of the day. The assumption that going at noon would help her avoid other women is unfounded. As for her husbands, this again makes no sense when we consider how women functioned in ancient times. If this woman has had five husbands, there are only two possibilities. One is death and the other is divorce. Neither of those things are her fault. Unless we are to assume she is a mass murderer, she can’t take the blame for husbands dying. And divorce? Women in ancient times did not have the power to divorce their husbands. Therefore, if some of her husbands had left her, it would have been their decision, not hers. What about the man she is living with? Well…what else is she supposed to do? As a widow or divorcee, she would need a man to support her. If that man refused to marry her, or took her as a concubine, what could she do about it? People who condemn this woman are reading their modern context into the text. 

It’s also important to consider what the text does not say. In John 8, Jesus interacts with a woman caught in adultery. At the end of the interaction Jesus explicitly says to her, “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” However, no similar command is given to this Samaritan woman. Also, after meeting Jesus, the woman goes back to her town and invites the men and women to come and see Jesus. At her invitation, they follow to witness what she spoke of. It is very unlikely that if this woman was a sexually immoral outcast, who could not even fetch water near other women of the town, that the men and women of Samaria would openly follow her to meet Jesus.

A Better Reading

So if the point of this passage is not about Jesus making time for some low life outcast, what is it? To answer this question, we must flip back a page and look at John chapter 3 in comparison with John chapter 4. At the beginning of John 3, a Pharisee named Nicodemus comes to Jesus. He is described as a leader of the Jews. John adds the detail that he came to Jesus at night because he wants to remain hidden. The Samaritan woman is not ashamed of meeting Jesus. She meets him at noon, when the sun is the brightest. 

Nicodemus, an educated Pharisee, is unable to grasp what Jesus is saying. He is a leader of the people of God, yet does not respond to Jesus. Jesus criticizes him saying, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” (3:10). However, the Samaritan woman does begin to understand what Jesus is talking about and, though she is not religious leader, enters into the longest theological discussion recorded in the gospels. 

The Nicodemus narrative continues with Jesus stating “Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (3:18). Nicodemus is clearly the one who did not believe, while the Samaritan woman did. 

By the end of John 3, Nicodemus has disappeared from the story. However, the Samaritan woman returns to Jesus, bringing her entire town. Her town comes to know Jesus as the Messiah. The Pharisees demand a sign, yet this woman and her village do not demand one in order to embrace Jesus. This text does not paint the Samaritan woman as shameful, sexually immoral, or as an outcast who requires pity. Instead, the text raises her even above a well respected male religious leader.

Do you see how we’ve missed it? The point of this story is not that Jesus has mercy on a sinner. The point of the story is “Be like this woman!” This story breaks the boundaries of public and private as, not only does Jesus talk with a woman in public space during male time, but then sends her to go speak with the men in her village. The story breaks ritual boundaries as Jesus asks to share a drinking container with a Samaritan woman. The story even provides a role reversal as the male asking for a drink from the female, becomes the one serving water to her.

All of these boundary breaking components are lost when this woman is confined to the boundary of sexual stereotype. She is a model of the ones who truly worship in Spirit and truth, an example to be followed. She becomes a representative disciple of Jesus, a witness through her invitation and her words. 

“Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39).

 

HERspective Part 7 – The Unnamed Women

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(The Syrophoenician Woman – Painted by Consilia Karli)

Read Previous parts

If you want to know the best people in [the Gospel of Mark] other than Jesus, to look to for the kind of life that we should live, the nameless women are the ones – Daniel Kirk

If you’ve been in Church very long, you’ve probably heard plenty of sermons on the disciples. Have faith to step out of the boat like Peter. Invite people to Jesus like Andrew. It’s true, sometimes the twelve did some pretty cool things, and no one can deny the huge part they played in the formation of the early Church. However, throughout the Gospels, they actually spend most of their time getting it wrong. Jesus is constantly have to correct and rebuke, and even gets fed up with them at times. We spend so much time focusing on the men that followed Jesus, but when was the last time you heard a sermon on the women?

Recently, I was listening to a scholar speak on the Gospel of Mark and he said, “The nameless women in the gospel [of Mark] come off as ideal disciples in a way that the 12 never end up living up to.” I was surprised because I had literally never heard this before. Aren’t the men in the Gospels supposed to be the ideal followers of Jesus? So I started digging in, and here’s what I found.

1. Peter’s Mother in Law (Mark 1:29-31)

Simon/Peter’s mother-in-law is sick and Jesus comes and heals her. Immediately, without being prompted, she gets up and begins to serve Jesus and the people around her. Yet, Jesus is constantly harping on the twelve that the Kingdom is about serving others while they are arguing about who is the greatest.

2. The Bleeding Woman (Mark 5: 24 – 34) 

A woman who has been subject to bleeding for twelve years goes up to Jesus with so much faith, she knows that just touching his cloak will heal her. When it works, Jesus tells this woman that her faith has healed her. In the chapter right before this, Jesus calms the storm while yelling at the twelve saying, “do you still have no faith?”

3. The Syrophoenician Woman (Mark 7: 24-30)

Jesus had just fed 5,000 people from 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. However, the twelve still didn’t get what was going on with Jesus. Then the Syrophoenician woman comes onto the scene. First, she is the only person in the Gospel to ever win an argument with Jesus. More importantly, she gets it. She is the only one who can see that, with Jesus, there is enough bread to go around.

4. The Widow with an Offering (Mark 12: 41-44)

Jesus watches this widow give an offering worth only a few cents, however, he says that she put in everything. The Greek here literally means she “put in her whole life.” This woman understands that the cost of discipleship is one’s entire life. Just a few chapters prior, Jesus calls Peter “Satan” for refusing to accept this very notion.

5. The Woman who Anoints Jesus (Mark 14: 1-9)

This woman pours oil on Jesus’ head, which is what is done for a King. She recognizes who Jesus is. Jesus points out that she did this to prepare for his burial. She understands what is going to happen to Jesus, even though the disciples still don’t get it. Jesus tells her that her story would continue to be told.

When it comes to following Jesus, I want to be like these women. I want to serve others. I want to have bold faith. I want to be on board with what Jesus is doing around me. I want this Jesus thing to encompass my whole life, and I want to keep Jesus in his rightful place. We may not know the names of these women, and they may not get much play in sermons, but their example is powerful. And it doesn’t stop there. I have so many strong women around me today that I also want to be like in the way I follow Jesus. I’m thankful for their courage, their teaching, their faith, their service, their impact, and so much more. May we follow their example.

 

HERspective Part 6 – You Don’t Own Me

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(Queen Vashti – Painted by Elysium Creations)

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 here

Read Part 3 here

Read Part 4 here

Read Part 5 here

 

Don’t tell me what to do, Don’t tell me what to say                                                                             And please, when I go out with you                                                                                            Don’t put me on display, ‘cause                                                                                                       You don’t own me

-Lesley Gore

The above lyrics first appeared in a song by Lesley Gore in 1963, and the song has been covered by artists many times over. Shortly after it’s release, You Don’t Own Me became an anthem for women. Although it was performed by Gore, surprisingly, the song was actually written by two men; David White and John Madara. Madara explains that much of the song was shaped out of his involvement with the Civil Rights movement. With this in mind, the two decided they were tired of how many songs written for women in the 1960s centered around the women obsessing over men. They decided to try something new stating, “Let’s write a song about a woman telling a guy off.”

However, this 1960s song of female empowerment could have just as easily been taken straight from a story in the Old Testament…the story of Esther.

At the opening of the story of Esther, we are introduced to King Xerxes. This King is extremely wealthy and powerful. To celebrate this wealth, he decides to throw a 7 day long party, because why not? This party was for every person in the kingdom, which shows how much money and power we’re talking here. Although we aren’t given lots of details on this rave, we can get a pretty good idea from this verse:

Esther 1:8 –  “By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.”

Seven days of “all you can drink” wine…you get the picture. To add to it, we get told that the Queen, Vashti, has a separate party for the women. If you’re wondering whether or not it was typical for the women to party separate from the men, it wasn’t. My guess is that the men did not want their wives seeing what they were doing during this week long drunkfest.

During the party, King Xerxes decides that, in addition to showing off his wealth, he also wants to show off his Queen. We read,

When King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine (aka, drunk) he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him… to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at. – Esther 1: 10-11

What exactly does it mean that he wanted to “display her beauty to the people”? The text doesn’t say. But considering how this party has been going so far, I can imagine that he didn’t want to honor and respect her in front of the people.

Like many women in Biblical times, and throughout history, Vashti finds herself in a situation where the men in power want to use and abuse her. What choice does she have?

But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger. – Esther 1: 12

The opening of Esther goes out of its way to let us know that this King is the richest, most powerful person in the known world, and Vashti just straight up gives him the middle finger.

As most people in power do when someone stands up to them, the King and his associates freak out. Now that Vashti has taken a stand, they fear that the rest of the women will follow suit.

Esther 1: 16-18 – “Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, ‘King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.’ This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord.

The men get together and realize that, if one woman won’t let the men walk all over her, the rest of them might band together and really wreak havoc. They can’t have that. So what do they do? They pass law…for real

Esther 1:20 – Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.

If women won’t just do what the men tell them to do, we will make it their legal obligation. Do you see the humor here? Rather than, you know, just treating women with respect, dignity, and equality, they pass a law that all women are required to “respect” their husbands.

They’re scared.

Then comes the second thing that those in power do to “threats”. They neutralize her. What exactly happens to Vashti? We don’t know, but suddenly the King needs a new Queen. He hopes to get it right this time, but the joke’s on him. Enter Esther…

Esther has a relative named Mordecai who has been taking care of her since she has no father or mother. For some reason, Mordecai gets Esther to participate in this “sex competition” the King is holding to find a replacement Queen. Yes, that’s correct. Read Esther 2:12. What else did you think it meant that each contestant had a turn to “go in to” King Xerxes?

For the first half of the story, Esther seems to follow this law of doing whatever the men tell her. Here’s how that goes…

  • Mordecai tells her to participate in the competition – Esther is forced to have sex with a foreign King (that’s a big no no for the Jews)
  • Mordecai tells Esther not to reveal to the King that she is a Jew – The King allows for an edict to be passed to murder all of Esther’s people.
  • Mordecai gets himself into a mess with Haman, then tells Esther to go talk to the King about it, even though that could get Esther killed.
  • When Esther hesitates to go to the King, Mordecai threatens her – Esther 4:13

At this point, Esther has had enough of listening to the men. So far, that has caused everything to erupt into chaos. She embraces her inner Vashti and the story completely changes its tone with one line.

Esther 4:15 – Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai…

Now Esther is calling the shots. She tells Mordecai what to do. She tells the Jews what to do. In fact, she even tells the King what to do. She takes charge. She’s the leader. And guess what happens? All of her people are saved, Haman is removed, Mordecai gets promoted, and the kingdom prospers.

For some reason, even after reading this story, we want to become the Persian King Xerxes (who the text does not view positively) and pass laws that subordinate women to men. So often the Bible is used to limit what women are capable of and silence their voices. But the story of Vashti and Esther is one of many female empowerment songs throughout Scripture.

Esther 4: 16 – When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.

 

 

HERspective Part 5 – It’s Always Her Fault

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(Judah’s Daughter in Law – Painted by Marc Chagall)

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 here

Read Part 3 here

Read Part 4 here

 

Joseph Campbell once said, “Your life is the fruit of your own doing. You have no one to blame but yourself.” Clearly he hasn’t focused much on the stories of the women in the Bible.

From the very beginning, we see a theme of men who refuse to take ownership of their actions and, instead, deflect blame onto women. Remember Adam, who was right there with Eve during the entire incident with the Serpent? He then tells God, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” It’s all HER fault. Well, when it comes to the women in Scripture, the men seem to think it’s always HER fault. This is perhaps most true in the story of Tamar.

I haven’t heard lots of sermons on the story of Tamar, but each one that I have heard goes exactly like the first hit on my google search. Here are some quotes from the first page I clicked on.

So what did Tamar do? She disguised herself as a prostitute and waited for Judah to come by. Judah falls for the ruse and in that encounter, Tamar gets pregnant.”

Then, the website addresses the fact that Tamar shows up in the genealogy of Jesus recorded in Matthew.

“that a person of shame is used in the account can show the way of God in using that which is shameful regularly to fulfill His purposes. Many people wonder how God could use them, and the genealogy can indicate to us that anyone can be used. Also, not only can we be used, but our sinful actions can be.”

The moral of the story (and of any sermon I’ve heard on Tamar) is that she is a dirty, shameful sinner who tricked her father-in-law into sleeping with her. DISGUSTING! Yet, Jesus can take this rotten low life and still use her for something. Because, of course, it’s all HER fault.

But is that actually how the story is told?

First, a little background. 

At the beginning of this story, in Genesis 38, we read about Judah. Judah is one of the 12 sons of Jacob. His little brother is Joseph, the one with the technicolor dreamcoat. Previously, in Genesis 37, Judah conspires with his other brothers to sell Joseph into slavery, and then lie to their father that he was eaten by a ferocious animal. This is a real stand up guy.

As we get to chapter 38, while Joseph is enslaved, and his father is mourning the loss of a son, Judah moves away, gets married, and has three sons of his own.

His oldest son, Er, gets married to a woman named Tamar, but suddenly, our story takes a dark turn.

Genesis 38: 7 – “But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.”

What?! I have a lot of questions here. What was he doing that was so wicked? Put to death how? Unfortunately, none of those questions are answered for us.

A little more background:

In that time, the Israelites practiced something called Levirate marriage. If a woman’s husband died without leaving behind a son, that man’s brother was to take in the widow as his wife and provide a son for her. In this way, the woman would have someone to take care of her (this was not a culture where a single woman could just get a job and provide for herself) and her dead husband would have a way for his name to be carried on. Once the woman conceived, this child would be viewed as her dead husband’s son, not as the son of dead husband’s brother. Did you follow all of that?

This is why, after Er dies, Judah goes to his next oldest son, Onan, and says

Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” (Genesis 38:8)

So Judah is a guy that would sell his own brother and then make his father falsely grieve a death. His first son was so wicked the Lord put him death. And when it comes to Onan, it seems that bad dudes just run in the family. Onan knows that if he gives a son to Tamar, the largest part of the inheritance (which belongs to his dead older brother) will be given to the son. Onan doesn’t want that. He wants to keep the inheritance for himself. So what does he do?

Genesis 38:9 – so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother

Onan is more than willing to receive sexual pleasure from Tamar, but he’s not willing to take on the responsibility of fathering a child, and he definitely isn’t going to foot the bill for this kid. This sounds like some guys I know today. So what happens?

Genesis 38:10 – What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.

At this point, Tamar has lost a husband, has been used sexually, has not been given the protections she is owed by the law, and she still has no one to take care of her. Thankfully, Judah still has one more son who can make this all right. So what does Judah do?

Genesis 38:11 – Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s household until my son Shelah grows up.” For he thought, “He may die too, just like his brothers.”

Instead of fulfilling his legal obligation to Tamar, he sends her back to her father to live as a widow. Why? Because so far he is 2 for 2 on sons dying with Tamar and Judah believes it’s all her fault. Because it’s always HER fault right? Apparently it has nothing to do with the fact that Judah raised two wicked sons. Surely those men couldn’t have been responsible. Clearly Tamar is to blame.

Judah tells Tamar that when his third son is older, he will give that son to Tamar as a husband. However, we will find later in the story that this is a complete lie. So Tamar is cast out, and a long time passes. After awhile, Judah’s wife dies.

Word gets to Tamar that Judah is coming into town. Tamar also finds out that Judah’s third son has grown up, yet has not been given to her as a husband. So Tamar puts on a disguise to confront him. When Judah sees Tamar in disguise, he thinks she is a prostitute, and he says to her

“Come now, let me sleep with you.”

How romantic…

By the way, Judah sure seems to have forgotten about his dead wife real quick. Not only does he proposition prostitution (already a big no no) we will find out later that he thought she was a shrine prostitute. That means, he didn’t just want to have sex with her, but he wanted to have sex with her as a way of participating in pagan idol worship. You can’t make this stuff up.

Judah tells this woman, whom he thinks is a prostitute, that he will pay her a young goat for sex, but he doesn’t have one on him right at the moment. So Tamar takes his staff and his seal and says, “you can have these back when I get my payment.”

They have sex, and she gets pregnant.

Now, before we go any further, let’s take a running count on Judah. He sold his brother into slavery. He lied to his father about Joseph dying. He did nothing to address the wickedness of his sons. He throws out his daughter in law instead of giving her the protections that he legally owes her, and now he worships idols through sex with a prostitute as a way to rebound his wife’s death. Did I forget anything?

Well, word gets back to Judah that Tamar is pregnant, and how does Judah respond? Does he rejoice that she finally will have the child she is owed? Is he thankful that she will finally have someone to care after her? Is he moved to apologize for abandoning her?

Of course not. Because it’s always HER fault. Judah is ticked that she got pregnant with someone who is not his son…EVEN THOUGH HE REFUSED TO GIVE HER HIS SON!

How can Tamar win? It doesn’t matter. It’s HER fault. So Judah says,

Genesis 38: 24 – “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”

Nevermind that Judah has not been punished a single time for any of his wrong doings. Tamar is at fault and she must be punished. What is ironic is that, even though Judah assumes it is Tamar’s fault, who is the one that got her pregnant?

In one of the most dramatic scenes in all of Scripture, Tamar is brought to Judah for this punishment and she pulls out his staff and seal that she’s been keeping. Suddenly, Judah realizes what has happened, and his tune of “it’s all HER fault” changes. 

Genesis 38: 26 – Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I...”

This story reads way different to me than the whole, “Tamar is a dirty, shameful sinner, but thankfully God is still willing to use low lifes like that.” Maybe the reason that Tamar is present in the genealogy of Jesus is not to show how God uses shameful people, but rather because she is the one in the story who was actually righteous. Is that not what Judah says?

But for us to see that, we would have to admit that it’s not HER fault. We would have to admit that, actually, Judah is the one to blame here. Literally everything shameful that happens in this story is the result of Judah and/or his sons. But so many readers are content to say that it must be Tamar’s fault. I mean, she was dressed like a prostitute. She was asking for it right? Judah couldn’t have controlled himself. He only acted that way because of her seduction. It was all HER fault. Good thing stuff like this only happened in Bible times…oh wait

I see too many women who are treated by men similarly to how Tamar is treated by Judah. I see too many men who refuse to take responsibility for their actions and who are quick to place the blame on women. I’m tired of seeing men who only will admit to wrongdoing when the staff and seal that their victims present are so condemning they have no other option.

Maybe we need to learn a new phrase. Instead of saying “it’s HER fault”, let’s also learn to say “She is more righteous than I.”