There are some shows that you hear about from everyone…and then you watch them and wonder how awkward it will be to explain your opinion to your friends. And that’s the way it was with Downton Abbey. Jane Austen? Hardly. It was a bonafide soap opera. And so it slid into the same category as the chapter in Genesis that one of my pastor’s named “the Soap Opera Chapter of the Bible.”
The next three chapters of Genesis are all interesting, actually (Genesis 36-38). First, we get the “Epilogue of Esau” and see what happened in his family for the next several hundred years. Many sons, many kings. And his chapter is mostly closed for now.
Turning to Jacob’s family, the 17-year-old Joseph is turning into a smart young lad…too smart for his own good in many ways. He begins to dream, and interpret his dreams, and share with his brothers these dreams that tell of how they will bow down to him. Convenient? Yes. Infuriating and annoying? Oh yeah! A smart choice on his part? Not so much. His brothers got him alone and sold him into slavery, as a compassionate alternative to killing him outright. Sibling love. Jacob was heartbroken. Another death, his favorite son. Meanwhile, Joseph became a slave of the Captain of the Guard in Egypt. It’s a teaser, a cliffhanger. But before we can dive into the next part of that chapter, the author switches perspectives.
And we learn a little more about Judah. He decided to venture out on his own. Married, had kids, and his oldest got married. And then the drama came into play. The funny thing is, God is a character in this drama. Judah’s oldest son was wicked, so God put him to death. His wife, Tamar, was given to the second son. But he did not want to vicariously give his brother heirs, so he made sure that he didn’t. So God put him to death. And Judah thought it was Tamar’s fault. Somehow, his poor boys got stuck with the wrong girl. But he had one more son. So he put on a smile, told her to wait a little while until the boy grew up, and bought himself some time. And a few years passed. And Tamar is impatient. The camera fades away as she throws off her widow’s garments and picks up a seductive veil.
Judah is in town. His wife died, and he has come to visit a friend. On the way, oh hey, there’s a prostitute. Flirty girl, wants some identification to keep me honest, hey why not? And Tamar put her widow garments back on, and Judah’s friends shook their heads: there was no temple prostitute around here. He walks away…she can keep it, he doesn’t want to look silly.
But now Tamar the widow is pregnant. And Judah calls her out to be punished for being unfaithful.
And then she solves his mystery by bringing out the three pieces of ID she took from him. He swallowed his words, and she bore twins.
Do you know what is the strangest part of these plot twists and drama? It is strange that God got involved. He brought justice, yes, but that is not all. Do you know where else Tamar is mentioned in the Bible? In the first chapter of Matthew, Jesus’ genealogy. God stepped into the story of two sons and a dad marrying a foreign girl, and used it to shape His own story of life on earth.
I think sometimes we underestimate God, and think that He rejects all the messed-up, ugly, sin-strewn stories we like to hide in the back of our lives. But He chose to step into the middle of them. These stories show that He would have to take a dramatic step to pull Jacob’s family out of the influence of the culture before they self-destructed. And Jesus’ dramatic life shows that He did it again for us.
God, thank You for not avoiding our drama. You confront evil, You challenge how we live, but You do not reject us. Thank You for stepping into my life. I’m sorry for my anger at the changes You are making that seem to only be uncomfortable restrictions. God, You are so good, and work to bring me out of the hamster-wheel of sin. Thank You. Please help me to recognize that more and more, even when I do not understand what You are doing. You are good! Amen.