Genesis 38

Genesis! Like a classic TV series, they keep wrong footing you on plot. 

On the basis of the last chapter you think it’s going to be Joseph’s story, he is the child of destiny, betrayed and left to rot in Egypt.

But that moment of high suspense is left on hold to tell the side story of Judah, the brother who had the idea to sell him into slavery.

It’s like a sensationalist soap opera, lurching between lurid, corrupt characters. Like Dynasty or Dallas, but with glimpses of the divine.

Judah continues to cover himself in no glory. Not a godly man at all. He marries a Canaanite woman, and falls into the local sexually promiscuous religion.   

The background to the subsequent events is the strange polygamous family marriage rules of that world. In well off families, women’s male children were their financial security, and they could keep marrying sons until they got one.

So when Judah’s eldest son died his widow Tamar became a wife of the second son. But he practised withdrawal contraception to rob her of the possibility of conception, presumably to favour the inheritance of another wife’s child. This was ethically a cruel and grievous crime against Tamar.

Judah promised her the third son, once he got old enough to marry, but then appeared to forget the promise when the time came, leaving her a vulnerable childless widow, double betrayed.

She took the extraordinary step of posing as a temple prostitute and got pregnant to Judah. When the baby started to show he threatened to burn her for adultery until she proved he was the father.

Judah broke down and said “she is more righteous than I” as well he should, having had revealed: his callous disregard of his promise to her, how far from his religion he had strayed, and his eggregious double standards. The punishment of burning for adultery was unusually severe even for those days… It’s rather like he welcomed an excuse to dispose of her. And he knew he was no better, frequenting prostitutes. 

She has twins. The one actually fully born second stuck a hand out of her first, and a Scarlett ribbon was tied to it to indicate which had broken out first. 

What is it about scarlet threads and the line of Christ? It brings to mind, thousands of years before the event, the blood shed for mankind. A Scarlett thread also features in the story of Rahab in Jericho, a later feisty female link in the great chain that would lead to the Messiah. 

Yes, Tamar is in the messiah’s line giving a blessed grace to the domestic disaster zone that is nasty Judah’s nasty house. It was by faith, presumably, that she posed as a prostitute!

Genesis!

1 Samuel 2

God’s grace can seem unfair especially in the old testament because it is poured out on chosen people who are in stark contrast to the unchosen.

This choosing is the meta story of how grace became available to all. Today whoever chooses god is chosen.

Some ideas about grace that weave through this story. 

God knows we are corrupt, works through it, but it is our fault. The priest’s corrupt sons are cheating on God by taking the prime cuts of sacrificial meat for themselves, and using their position to sleep with women. God prophesies their fall and death because of their evil, but they are responsible for it. 

Reversal – Samuel’s mum sings a joyous song at the start of the chapter. Grace for her has been the experience of the barren becoming fertile. She extends this in her song to the poor becoming rich and the low becoming high.

All the while Samuel grows both physically and spiritually and is admired by all. He is the embodiment of god’s grace. 

I am so dry father, help me remember your grace.

1 Thess 4

So down to the teaching – two chapters.  Its a doddle really, the emotion of the book is in the part we have already read, Paul’s delight at how the truth has taken with them.  This bit is sort of a “carry on!” pep talk.

We instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more

Sex!

First issue is sexual immorality, which may have been a pretty natural part of life for the Greek, idol worshipping community prior to conversion. He condemns it as bad faith towards others (taking advantage of a brother or sister) and God.  

The immorality is an excess of lust to the extent that the body is controlled by it alone. It is a simple corollary of God calling us to holiness. Even if everyone consents, God hates it, because he has called us to be holy.

Consent can certainly be misleading as a test of morality. Sometimes it’s the lesser evil compared to say, social ostracism or loneliness. We’ve all known of consenting relationships that are bad ones. Paul is saying that at the base of sexual impurity is a lack of bodily control; of your own urges making you indifferent to the impact on others.

The alternate view is that the urge makes it right… To dump a family, to persuade someone to do something they would rather not, to live with someone who must put up with feeling unloved.

Is it faithless to want to understand gods rules? Jacob didn’t ask God why he wanted him to sacrifice his son. It’s tempting when debating issues such as sexual purity as a Christian to argue that God’s way is actually the best practical way to live in our world. But it often doesn’t ring true, the psalmists could see that.

The bible does often call us to feel like strangers in this world. I think the western church, as it’s cultural dominance wanes, is struggling with this. We are not used to feeling marginal. Arguing for sexual purity is increasingly awkward in this sex mad world. Though Paul is taking to believers here. The church is sufficiently marginal that there is no suggestion of any sort of influence in the wider cultural norms.

Love

They don’t need to learn a thing, what praise! Just do what you are doing more and more. What does an ideal loving church look like? Here it is quiet and self reliant, quite surprising. Our love is what we should be known for, that is our advertising sign, our calling card and our cultural distinctiveness. Our teaching on sexual purity is for us.