"Three Women who Built the House"
"Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the offspring which the LORD will give you by this young woman." (Ruth 4:12).
There are certain passages of Scripture which, when you read them, seem out of place with the passages that surround it. It makes you wonder why this particular Bible writer included this portion in what he was writing. You may remember when we were studying the Book of Judges, thinking "Why were some of these gory passages included in Scripture - what could it add to the whole?"
The passage that is before us today contains a reference to a story, which takes place in the Book of Genesis. Itís the kind of story that makes you wonder why Moses included it where he did, or at all. And even more, "Why, now is this seemingly obscure story from the Book of Genesis not only included in the Book of Ruth, but included in what is, in my contention, the climax of the entire Book?"
The passage Iím referring to is a story from Genesis 38 having to do with a Canaanite woman named Tamar. The story happens right at the beginning of the story of Joseph. In Genesis 37 we read how the sons of Jacob, the brothers of Joseph, rise up against this favored brother and want to put him to death. But, instead of putting him to death, Ruben, the oldest brother, hoping to come back later and rescue Joseph says, "No, letís not put him to death - letís throw him into a pit." And so the brothers throw Joseph into the pit. When they come back later to put him to death, another brother, Judah, speaks up, "No, letís not put him to death."
Providentially, at that very moment, a caravan of Arab traders passes by. So they take Joseph out of the pit and sell him into slavery to the Arab traders. Those traders then bring him to Egypt where he becomes the house boy for one named Potiphar.
It is directly after that takes place that Judah, who, perhaps because he was sickened at what he had done, and sickened at the wicked company of his despicable brothers, uproots and moves away from his family into the land of Canaan. There he marries a Canaanite woman and has children with her.
Now, hereís a hint as to why Moses included this in Genesis 38. As the story unfolds, we learn the sad results when a believer marries an unbeliever. People get hurt. In this story people actually die as a result of that union.
Judah and his Canaanite wife have three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. The time comes in our story when Er reaches marrying age. So it is up to Judah to find a wife for Er. He searches out the best Canaanite woman he could find - a woman named Tamar. And Er married Tamar. But it turns out that Er is so wicked, so immoral, so evil, that before heís allowed to have children with Tamar, God, the Covenant Lord, strikes Er dead.
Then, according to the Leverate custom (which later became law in Deuteronomy 25, itís up to Judah to provide his second son for Tamar. Judah gives Onan to have relations with Tamar and to raise up offspring for Er, the dead brother.
As it turns out, Onan is not much better than his older wicked brother. While Onan agrees to have sexual relations with Tamar, he does all in his power not to make her pregnant. It says, "he wasted his seed on the ground." Because he so lightly looked upon the act of procreation, and because he despised the idea of raising up an inheritance for his brother, God also kills Onan.
Now weíre left with the third brother, and weíre left with poor Tamar. Tamar desperately wants to have children - to bring in the next generation. But, she has no husband. The first died, the second was unwilling to father children so he died, and the third son of Judah, Shelah, is too young to marry. So Judah promises that when Shelah reaches marrying age he will be married to Tamar and he will raise up children for his dead brothers.
But, Judah, perhaps because he realizes that this woman was responsible for the death of his first son, and for the death of his second son, doesnít want to give her his third son. So, Judah makes a vain promise, "Youíll have Shelah when he gets old enough," but he never makes good on his promise. Judah does so much as to say, "Iím just going to be content with the generation I have and Iím not going to think of future generations."
And then it dawns on Tamar, "Uh, oh, my father-in-law does not intend to make good on his promise. I desperately want to raise up children and now Iím not going to have the opportunity to do that. I guess these Israelites really arenít much into family. So Iím going to have to take matters into my own hands."
Desperate, determined Tamar puts together a plan by which she might lure a father and raise up children. In her plan she took off her black mourning clothes and donned the garments of a prostitute. She veiled her face so that only her eyes were exposed, and positioned herself on the road where she knew that Judah would pass and then she lured him in. He succumbed to her wiles and she took him, supposedly, into a darkened tent where he could not recognize her. She sold herself to him in an act of prostitution. We can only imagine there might have been some bargaining for the price of the prostitution and Judah says, "How much?"
She says, "I want a goat for my services."
He says, "I donít have one on me."
"Well, thatís OK, Iíll take something else in exchange. Iíll take that signet ring that is an identification piece for you and Iíll take your staff."
The commentators tell us that in that ancient day a man would give great care to carving his staff so that at the head of the staff thereíd be animal or some thing that would act as a brand and would identify the staff as belonging to a specific person.
"Iíll take the signet ring, Iíll take that uniquely carved staff, and Iíll take that ID bracelet" (which is called a Ďcordí and would have been uniquely dyed to identify the wearer.
"Good, Iíll leave these behind; the signet ring, the ID bracelet, and the uniquely carved staff."
Then he gets up and still doesnít know the identity of this prostitute and he leaves her. As soon as he leaves Tamar takes off the garments of the prostitute, puts on her black clothes, and returns to her regular identity as one who is mourning the death of her husband.
Three months later she shows up and sheís pregnant. When Judah finds out about it, heís irate. "This widow of my son has been obviously playing the harlot and has been immoral and deserves to be stoned to death and burned!"
Before they can carry out the sentence Tamar says, "Just not so fast. I am pregnant with the child of the man to whom belong this signet ring, this staff, and this ID bracelet."
Then it dawns on Judah that he has been tricked and that itís really his fault. Judah declares, "She is more righteous than I because I withheld my son, Shelah, from her to raise up the next generation. But she was determined to have offspring."
It turns out that Tamar does have offspring, two. She has twins in her womb. Thereís another interesting little twist that the offspring wrestle in her womb to see who would be counted the first-born. The one thrusts his hand out of the womb and the midwife ties a scarlet thread onto his wrist. Then the hand is withdrawn back into the womb and the other child wrestles and comes out first, proving that he will be counted the first-born and inherit the blessing of the family.
I promised that we would ask some questions about this passage of Scripture.
Did you ever think about where Moses was when he wrote the first five books of the Bible? Some of it, undoubtedly, he wrote while he was on the mountain and God was speaking to him face to face as a man speaks to a man. But some he wrote while he was camped out with those more than 600,000 Israelites who had come out of Egypt. The young nation of Israel was surrounding Moses and in his writing you can almost hear the children playing outside of his tent, the hustle and bustle of life, and the sounds of animal noises.
Moses is there, in his tent, penning the words of the Book of Genesis. Moses is not writing the Book of Genesis to a couple of hundred people who are gathered in a sanctuary in South Florida in the 21st Century. Moses is writing the Book of Genesis to several hundred thousand people who are camping in the wilderness. His concern is not so much to refute a 19th Century heresy called the "Theory of Evolution" though it does refute that theory, but his overriding concern is to teach the young nation of Israel the will of God.
Teaching them in the wilderness, Moses includes the story of Judah and Tamar to teach them a lesson. "What lesson?" you ask. Moses is teaching the young nation of Israel about the sacredness of the covenant family. Moses wants them to be certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that the people of God must be seriously concerned about raising up a next generation for the glory of God.
Thatís why he included this story in his book. It is a shame to Israel. He would put in their face the fact that they came from ancestors who were little concerned with the sanctity of family life. "Look where you came from! Here is a godless Canaanite woman. She is more concerned for her family than is the patriarch, Judah."
Think about Judah and his disdain for the family. Judah shows that he despises the sanctity of family life by selling his brother into slavery. What a low view of family that must have been.
Secondly, he cares nothing for the holiness of marriage. He takes to himself an unbelieving wife.
Thirdly, Judah doesnít raise up his oldest son to fear Yahweh. He raises up his son who becomes so blatantly wicked that Yahweh has to kill him to rid the earth of that evil.
Fourthly, Judahís own son, Onan, shows that he despises the privilege of procreation by spilling his seed on the ground.
Lastly, Judah withholds his youngest son and shows that he really has no concern for the raising up of the next generation.
Compare that to Tamar. Tamar is so determined to raise up children that she will resort to playing the harlot if only she would have a seed. Simply motivated by raw human instinct to be fruitful and multiply and by that common grace that rests and abides on every person and every woman in particular, she shows more devotion to her offspring than does Judah, who was a child of the Covenant.
You see, Moses is showing what a shame this is. By the inclusion of this story, he is saying to that generation in the wilderness that this should never be - that we look down upon our heritage, our children, our families. We, of all people, who have the covenant blessings of God to pass on to the next generation, should treasure our children because we must see in our children the opportunity to transmit a covenant relationship from one generation to the next.
So, Moses says to young Israel, "You know, every day Iím in my tent, and when I put my quill down and come out long enough to stretch in the doorway of my tent, I see children running around, old people, grandparents, parents, single people - people in all stations of life. Do you know what I see? I see in our families a great opportunity of glorifying the Lord of the Covenant. Oh, children of Israel, take seriously your covenant obligations and raise up a godly seed unto Yahweh."
Now thatís the answer to why Moses included this in the Book of Genesis. It was a teaching tool for the children in the wilderness.
Secondly, we asked why was this reference to Tamar in the Book of Ruth, and especially, why would it appear at the very climax of the entire book?
The most obvious reason is that Tamarís son had a son, and he had a son, and he had a son, and Tamarís son, Perez, was the ancestor of a great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandson whose name was Boaz. You can read that genealogy at the end of the Book of Ruth.
Harkening back to Godís multi-generational blessings, the writer of the Book of Ruth includes the names of Tamar and Perez and the blessing comes out of the mouth of the elders.
But, also, as Iíve said now, this is the climax of the Book of Ruth.; the great engagement where Boaz says, "I have claimed the prize and I declare my intentions to marry Ruth, the Moabitess." Perhaps you noticed how I changed that verse just a little bit - not so much linguistically, but according to the thrust and context of the passage.
In Greek drama, sometimes at points of high conflict characters from outside of the drama will speak into the drama. We call those characters, "the chorus." This is very similar to that - the chorus pipes in at the climax of the Book. First the people speak, then the Elders. Boaz says, "I declare that I am now engaged to Ruth, the Moabitess and you are witnesses."
And the people say, "Witnesses!" You notice the words "we are" are not in the original - they are in italics. The people just yell out, "Witnesses!"
If I were going to buy a car from someone, he would take me to the gate of the City, and he would say, "Now everyone witness that I am selling my car to T.J." Everyone in the courtyard would say, "Witnesses." In other words we are now attesting to the fact that a transaction has taken place. The people cry out, "Witnesses."
Then the Elders chime in and this is what they say: "May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel."
Isnít that interesting, ladies? Rachel and Leah didnít build the house of Israel. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob built it. But, no. Leah and Rachel, by childrearing, built the house of Israel. "And may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah through the offspring which the Lord shall give you by this young woman."
Do you see what heís saying? Do you see the parallel between Tamar and Ruth? Just as Tamar, the Gentile, was grafted in by Godís grace, the chorus says, "Now may Ruth, the Gentile, also be grafted in to Godís family tree." And the chorus of Elders wishes for Ruth that she, like these other ancient women, Leah, Rachel, and Tamar, would be used to bring glory to God by her rearing godly sons and daughters who know a true and living God.
What does this mean to 21st Century people living in Southern Florida - people who are people of the Covenant?
It was true from the beginning of the Bible to the end and continues to be true today. It was true in the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was true in the days of Rachel and Leah who, by their childrearing, built up the house of Israel. It was true of Jacobís son, Judah, though he had to learn the hard way. It was true of the families in the wilderness and Moses wanted them to see it.
It was true in the days of Ruth and Boaz and it is true to this very day that God uses the family as a primary tool to transmit the blessings of the Covenant from one generation to the next. God has entered into relationship with His people and with their children. This relationship is based upon an agreement predicated upon the carrying out of a covenant, or agreement, between the father and the son. You get a little hint of it in Psalm 2 where the father beckons the son, "Ask of me and I will give the nations as thine inheritance."
So the son agrees to ask of the Father to carry out a great act of intercession and the son agrees to live a life of obedience and to die sacrificially for His chosen people that they might belong to God, they and their children. He fulfills that agreement that we might belong to God, along with our seed, to live in dependence on the Covenant Keeper and for the glory of the Triune God.
Do you see what this means for us as a congregation of Godís people? It means that Christian child-rearing is an almost inestimable blessing and a very serious responsible to be considered a priority by the church in all ages, from Genesis to Revelation and beyond.
Thatís why I want to call on this congregation - this is not in response to some contemporary book, but this is in response to what God calls us to as people of the Covenant. This is in response to an absolute Biblical mandate, which will never fade away while earth, in its present form, exists.
This is why I want to call on the congregation that we, as a people, would look to Christ, the Keeper of the Covenant, and would call upon Him for grace so that we might raise up a next generation in the home and in the Church, that we might raise them seriously, Biblically, joyously, and might do so in order to transmit covenant blessings from one generation to the next for the glory of God.
I want to close with one short paragraph from a book Iím now reading called, Will My Children Go To Heaven?
"The Lord works His will through the families of mankind. Generation follows generation in succession; blessings for obedience and consequences for sin are passed from parent to child in unmistakable ways. Noah believed and obeyed the Lord and his whole family was delivered. The former prostitute, Rahab, expressed faith in the God of Israel and safely housed the two spies when they visited Jericho. She not only secured deliverance for her fatherís household, but later married Salmon who gave birth to Boaz and became one of the direct ancestors of the Messiah. Her children and her parents were blessed because of her."
Just as Moses said, Iíll say to you, "Oh, children of Israel, take seriously the privileges and the responsibilities of the covenant relationship into which we have entered and let us commit ourselves in the Church, and in the home, to raising up a Godly seed to bring glory to Christ, the Keeper of the Covenant.
Our Father in Heaven, we love You for Your word, for how it is a light unto our path. We love You for how it speaks to us in the midst of this perverse and wicked generation who have despised the family and have ridiculed that great blessing of childbirth and childrearing.
Father, we certainly would expel this perverse generation in treasuring our children and bringing our families in orbit around the Triune God. So would you bless us? And Lord Jesus, Keeper of the Covenant, would You pour out Your Spirit upon us that we might raise up a seed for the glory of the Triune God?
Father, we acknowledge that unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. So, come, and build Your house here at St. Andrews, bless fathers as they seek to be priests in their home, bless mothers as they labor to make the house a place where God is glorified, bless children as they lay hold of the grace of God in order to obey their parents, bless those who are single as they minister to the children of the Covenant and as they carry out their covenant responsibilities.
Father, bless the Elders and Deacons of this church and help them as they make decisions for the future as to how ministry will be carried out in this congregation.
Bless us now, Father, as we look to You, to build the house. In Christís Name. Amen