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.”

 

HERspective Part 4 – Cut Into Pieces

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(The Levite’s Concubine – painted by Veronica McDonald)

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 here

Read Part 3 here

 

 

In one of her landmark works, Texts of Terror, Phyllis Trible says this of Judges 19. 

“The betrayal, rape, torture, murder, and dismemberment of an unnamed woman is a story we want to forget but are commanded to speak. It depicts the horrors of male power, brutality, and triumphalism; of female helplessness, abuse, and annihilation. To hear this story is to inhabit a world of unrelenting terror that refuses to let us pass by on the other side.”

Our story begins like many of the other stories we’ve looked at. A man TAKES a woman FOR HIMSELF. She is referred to as a concubine, which would be like a “lesser” wife. Imagine a status lower than a regular wife, but semi higher than a slave. Immediately upon taking her we read,

But his concubine became angry with him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah” – Judges 19:2 NRSV

What upset this woman so much that she had to leave and return to her Father’s home? In this culture, there was not much choice for a woman separated from her husband but to go back to her Father’s house. Was her husband abusing her? Was she suffering neglect?

After about four months pass, the Levite decides to try and win her back. The Hebrew literally says that he went “to speak to her heart.” Have we heard this story before? An abusive husband goes to try and get her back. I promise it will never happen again! I’ve changed!

Apparently, for this Levite, “speaking to her heart” actually means spending several days partying with her dad. The two eat, drink, and are merry while the woman is completely removed from the situation. For anyone wondering why I just keep calling her “the woman” it’s because she is never given a name in the story. Nor does she ever speak. I think it’s pretty indicative of how this Levite views her.

After several days of partying, the Levite is ready to go. Not once did we read about him actually speaking to this woman as he intended. Again, he is just going to TAKE her FOR HIMSELF. It’s starting to get late and the woman’s father pleads with the Levite to stay, and wait to leave until morning. It’s dangerous to be traveling at night. The Levite doesn’t listen of course. He’s ready to leave, so that’s what he does.

The sun goes down and they finally stop in a town called Gibeah. They hang out in the public square because, that’s what you do. Hopefully someone will be nice enough to invite you in for the night. Thankfully, an old man on his way in from work invites them to stay at his house. 

The Levite says to him,

“We your servants have straw and fodder for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and the woman” – Judges 19:19

Basically, the Levite lumps her in with the animals. “Don’t worry nice old man. I’ve got food for my animals, and the woman…”

Inside, the men begin enjoying themselves (presumably without “the woman”) when they hear a pounding on the door. A group from the city saw the Levite, and now they want to have sex with him. The man of the house confronts them and tells them he will not allow this wicked thing to be done. Right about now, we are really starting to like this old man. He took in these strangers when no one else would, and now he’s standing up to these people trying to attack his guests. Then, he suddenly says, 

“Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.” – Judges 19:24

What?! It’s that “Good ole Boys” club. Men will protect other men at whatever cost.

Unfortunately, the angry mob is not pleased with this counter offer, and the Levite’s eyes are probably bugging out of his head about now. So what does he do? Does he stand with the old man in protecting the household? Does he say, “do whatever you want to me, just don’t hurt anyone else”?

The Levite “took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go” – Judges 19:25

Our friends over at the NIV translate this as “sent her outside” as if she went out on her own. The word there literally means “to bring” or “to carry.” He forcibly tossed her out to them and shut the door behind him. They raped and tortured her ALL. NIGHT. LONG.

How terrifying must that have been? How many different people raped her? What sort of abuse was she forced to endure? 

At dawn they let her go, and she crawls back to the porch of the house and collapses. In the morning, we read that the Levite got up to continue on his way. The story reads as if he has just assumed the woman is gone for good and he can’t do anything about it. As he steps outside, he sees her lying there and seems surprised. What does he do? Does he rush to her aid? Does he comfort her? Does he beg for forgiveness? Does he go out to bring justice to the people who harmed her?

He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home. – Judges 19:28

He just looks at her and says “get up, let’s go.” So much for speaking to her heart…

When she doesn’t respond, he throws her over the side of his donkey and goes on his way. If this story isn’t already awful enough, it straight up turns into a scene from a horror film. This Levite decides he’s really gonna “show them.” 

“When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel.” – Judges 19: 29

Now, there are A LOT of problems with this, but one in particular stands out to me. NOWHERE in the story does it say that the woman was dead. That seems like an important detail to leave out. I’m pretty sure this dude cut his still alive concubine into pieces, and sent them out to people Se7en style.

So what do we do with this story? So many women are caught in the cycle of abuse with men. It could be physical abuse, sexual abuse, harassment, assault, or more. When it comes to protecting others, so many men are quick to throw their victims out to the mob rather than face the music. So many men want to protect themselves at all costs. Their image is more important than anything else. This is the story of the #metoo movement, this is the story of child sex abuse cover ups…the story of the unnamed woman in Judges 19 is told over and over again.

If you have experienced abuse at the hands of a Levite, I’m sorry. I wish our world were not this way. Jesus comes to set the example of what it looks like to be truly human, and he is faced with the angry mob in the same way this Levite was. What does he do? Jesus does not throw the vulnerable to the mob to save himself and his image. Instead, Jesus takes the violence of the angry mob upon himself in order to save all of humanity. This is who we should emulate.

Many people believe that there is no redemption to be found in this story, but I disagree. We still have one verse left to read. When the people see what has happened to this woman, they say,

“Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Just imagine! We must do something! So speak up! – Judges 19:30

The call is the same for us today. Levites still exist. The angry mobs still exist. The powerful still use their power to save themselves and their image at the expense of others. I don’t want to be someone who simply stands by while this happens. I don’t want you to be someone who stands by while this happens. This story ends by showing us that we cannot stay silent.

We must do something…so speak up!

 

HERspecitve Part 3 – The Drama and Trauma (Hagar)

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“God wants you to be delivered from what you have done and from what has been done to you – Both are equally important to Him.” 

Joyce Meyer

(Hagar and Ishmael – painted by Alan Jones)

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 here

 

In Part 2, we began to look beyond the drama between Sarah and Hagar, and instead, to focus on the trauma. It is so natural for us to focus on the men in a Biblical story, but it can be powerful to read from the perspective of the women. Honestly, when was the last time you heard a sermon on Sarah or Hagar? Sarah’s story is a rough one and, as we’ll see in Hagar’s story, hurt people…hurt people. In Sarah’s story, we get to the point where she is so devastated from an inability to get pregnant, that she tells her husband to sleep with someone else. This is the first time in the story that we meet this someone else.

Genesis 16: 1-2 – Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

If you weren’t quite sure of Hagar’s status, notice Sarah’s words. She doesn’t even use Hagar’s name. She simply says “go sleep with my slave.”

And Abraham agrees. 

There are no justifications for Sarah’s actions here, but is it possible her trauma influences this? Does she so willingly give her slave as a sexual object to Abraham because she was so willingly given as a sex object by her husband to the Pharaoh? But this story is about Hagar.

The story does not try to flower up the language here. We read that Sarah TOOK Hagar, GAVE her to Abraham, he WENT IN TO HER, and she conceived.

Let’s call this what it is. This is a rape. There is no consent. There is no love. There is no dignity or value of humanity. TOOK…GAVE…WENT IN.

It crushes me to know that so many women have had a similar experience. 

How was Hagar taken? Did she try to fight it? At what point was she forced to accept the inevitable? Was she terrified? Did she shut down? How many times did this have to happen to her before she finally conceived? What could she possibly do? She was a slave. Completely powerless, even over her own body. 

It’s no surprise that this story takes us right back to the very beginning. When was the last time we heard that someone TOOK and GAVE to her husband? Human brokenness is on full display here.

If it isn’t bad enough that Hagar is impregnated by her rape, Sarah decides that, now that Hagar is pregnant, (something Sarah has not been able to do for her husband) she wants the slave gone. 

Surely Abraham will step in. We have to believe that Abraham will be a man and protect this pregnant woman (pregnant with his child by the way), who has no status as a slave, and no ability to make it on her own.

Genesis 16:6 – “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” 

Abraham is completely passive. It’s like we’ve heard this story before. When was the last time a man had the ability to step up and protect, yet stood by and said/did nothing? Oh yeah…Adam.

So Sarah lets loose on Hagar. The story simply says “Sarah mistreated her.” That is a gross underrepresentation of what that Hebrew word means. The Hebrew word used here implies physical and psychological abuse. It’s so bad, that Hagar runs away. She would rather be on her own in the desert, than to stay in her current situation.

At this point, Hagar has been enslaved, raped, abused, and is now on her own. What must she have been feeling? While she is in the desert, the angel of the Lord appears to her and says, “Hagar…

Did you catch that? If you read through chapter 16, the narrator uses Hagar’s name, but Sarah and Abraham never do. They only call her slave. But in her trauma, brokenness, and loneliness, God moves toward Hagar and speaks her name out loud for the first time. How must that have felt? Not only that, but this is the first time in the Bible that God sends his angel to someone. At her lowest point, which is by no fault of her own by the way, God moves toward Hagar and comforts her. God then gives her strength and tells her what I imagine must have been really hard to hear. 

Genesis 16: 9 – “Go back to your mistress”

Hagar must face her trauma head on…and she does. This is a brave woman! She returns, and gives birth to a son, Ishmael.

We don’t hear of Hagar again until Genesis 21. Sarah has finally given birth in her old age. Now that she has a child of her own, she wants nothing to do with Hagar and her son.

There are no justifications for Sarah’s actions here, but is it possible her trauma influences this? Maybe she is desperate for Abraham to show her the love and attention she needs. Maybe she secretly hoped he would never have agreed to her proposal to sleep with Hagar in the first place. Whatever the reason, she approaches Abraham and says,

Genesis 21:10 – “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

Notice, she still won’t say Hagar’s name. 

This time we read that Abraham is concerned about Sarah’s request but, in a strange turn of events, God tells Abraham to do what she says. Why? The story doesn’t say but, maybe God wanted Hagar to get out of this traumatic relationship.

So we read that Abraham TOOK some bread and water, GAVE them to Hagar, and sent Hagar and Ishmael off. There are those words again.

Hagar and Ishmael are completely alone, traveling through the desert, and the little bit of food and water Abraham sends them with run out. She puts her child under a bush so she doesn’t have to watch him die.

Then the most heartbreaking verse …

Genesis 21: 16 – And as she sat there, she began to sob.

What was running through her mind? Had she completely given up? And then…

Genesis 21: 17 – God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? 

Her name is spoken again.

God promises to be with Hagar and her child. God says that Ishmael will be blessed and would become a great nation. Then Hagar opens her eyes and sees a well in front of her. God provides. As Hagar’s story ends, we read that God remained with them as the boy grew up.

There are many women in my life who have experienced some severe trauma. I don’t know why this happens. I wish it didn’t. Like Hagar and Sarah, much of it happens at the hands of men. Most do not choose their trauma. Here’s what I do know. God moves toward you in your trauma and sits with you in the desert. God calls you by name. You may have to face your trauma head on in order to heal. You may have to remove yourself to heal. Throughout Scripture, water is a symbol of life. Hagar opens her eyes to see a well of water provided for her. I don’t know what your experience is, or where you may be in the healing process, but God promises to be with you and I know that in any situation, He can give life.