Tuesday, July 23, 2013
"Sister, thanks for your superb article. One point I would like to know more: "the Jews tell us she had been prophetically told she would be the one to fulfill the promise"... may you quote the source for me? I'm interested to document this."
Dear Brother, Sorry it has taken so long for my response but the answer is not as clear as one single reference nor as condensed as one sole moment in history. To better understand this we need to go back even before Tamar.
We know from the scriptures that Jacob would father nations and that kings would come from his loins (Gen. 35:11). Ancient Jewish sources tell us that it was even known he would father 12 sons and Leah assumed each of his wives would give birth to three sons apiece. That is why, when Judah, Leah’s fourth son was born, she exclaimed “This time I will praise the Lord,” for she had now been given more than her fair share (Tanhuma, Vayeze 9).
The birth of Judah was also, for her, an additional reason to praise the Lord for she realized that Jacob did not just fulfill his duty or quota of three sons with her but continued to treat her as his wife in every respect and love her and come to her even when he did not have to.
So who was Leah and why was she important to your question?
Leah was the oldest daughter of Laban and, in Gen. 29:17, we read that she “was tender eyed”. While explanations of that term are varied, the Jews believe this description was given in praise since the Torah does not speak disparagingly of the righteous….neither does the Bible.."
Ancient scripture beyond the Bible tells us that Leah was a righteous woman. In fact, some records tell us Leah and her sister were twins (Seder Olam Rabbah 2). Adding to that are other ancient records that tell us Leah’s eyes were tender from weeping for she was supposed to marry Esau, Jacob’s older brother. The two families were related and knew each other and some records tell us the marriages between the brothers and the sisters had already been arranged. In Rabbah 70:16 it is recorded that Leah prayed “May it be His will that my lot not fall in the portion of the wicked Esau.”
In the weavings of life, ancient Jewish records and Rabbinic writings tell us that Esau did not care about his covenant marriage any more than he did about his birthright and married two of Ishmael’s daughters instead.
Remember that Ishmael, through his mother Hagar, was of Canaanite heritage. Canaan was the grandson of Noah through Ham and his wife Egyptus. Through a series of choices, Canaan and his children were eventually denied the priesthood. Therefore, those of Canaanite descent did not have the blessings of priesthood authority for themselves or their children. Instead, the priesthood authority was given by Noah to Shem and his children. Through his righteousness, Shem and his children were blessed to know God. In fact, Shem was promised that the Shekinah was to dwell only in the tents of Shem (Yoma 10a; Tan., Noah, 21; Gen. Rabbah 37:9, comp. Jubilees 7:9).
So what is the Shekinah?
Shekinah is a Hebrew term that means the physical manifestation of God among the people. Additional definitions to the term would be an intermediary between God and His people or a presence dwelling among the people.
As Christians we know and understand that Skekinah to be the son of God, himself—even the Savior Jesus Christ. Christ would come through Shem’s lineage. In fact, after the flood and the blessing, Shem’s name became synonymous with the son of God and Shem was often referred to in ancient writings, as Shemu-el or Elohe Shem and it was often said that “Shem is blessed of Yhwh."
So, knowing all this—knowing that both Jacob and his brother Esau were descendants of the righteous Shem and knowing the eternal promises given to Abraham and Isaac—Leah knew that this Savior, this intermediary would be born through that family's priesthood line. When Esau rebelled and married outside of the covenant, taking Canaanites to wife, this prophesied Savior could not come through him but only Jacob.
Not that Leah was gunning for position in world genealogies. She wanted a man who honored the priesthood and his heritage. If a prophesied Savior would appear sometime later, in the Meridian of Time, to be God’s Shekinah on earth, so be it; but Leah wanted a good man now. To that end her father Laban (and some ancient writings tell us her sister Rachel) worked together to assure she would be able to marry the righteous Jacob.
Then, after the marriages, the children began to come and each of their names indicated greatly their prophesied roles. Though we do not know how they knew who would do what--whether that knowledge came through blessings, visions, visitations or other divine communication--Jacob and Leah did know that royalty—and the King of Kings—would come through Judah’s lineage.
Fast forward that a few years to the life of Judah. He left his family—and his divine responsibility—and married a Canaanite. In fact, the wording is filled with powerful symbolism…”Judah went down from his brethren.” The Torah tells us he not only lowered himself but he separated himself from his family as well. Trying to distance himself from them and his guilt over what they did to Joseph may have caused some of that. Guilt does cause us to sink down and turn away from loved ones.
After Judah turned to paths he should have avoided and married a Canaanite, all three of his sons: Er, Onan and Shuah, were ineligible for the priesthood. Through his marriage choice, Judah had ended his sons' chances of progressing eternally and playing a role in bringing forth the prophesied son of God. That still happens so often today!
Now, many assume from the Biblical account alone, that Tamar was also a Canaanite simply because it fits snuggly with the information about Judah settling among the Canaanites and says nothing about a second move. But other ancient writings tell us that Tamar was not a Canaanite. She was a descendent of Shem and had righteous parents, her father being a priest. That is why, when Judah heard she was pregnant, he called for her to be burned. Only the children of priests were burned for adultery. All others were stoned (Lev. 21:9, Deut. 22:17-24). That pronouncement of punishment meant Tamar was not a Canaanite but, rather, from the chosen bloodline.
As the daughter of a priest, raised in the gospel, she knew of the priesthood limitations on Er, Onan and Shuah because of the choices of their father.
So why, then, did she marry into the family?
That we do not know, but we do know that she saw the great role the family would play and that she prayed with the Lord and pleaded "May it be Your will that I not leave this house empty” (Gen. Rabbah 85:7).
Tamar also understood that only Judah—at this point—could continue that prophesied line of royalty. Judah could try to flee his responsibility, could even act in pseudo righteousness by keeping the laws that served him best while doing other things his own way—but he couldn’t flee from God. That is why, when Judah recognized the truth of the situation later, he exclaimed “She hath been more righteous than I.”
Several Midrashic accounts tell us that before Tamar joined Judah in that legal marriage union she wept--not only for her own unfulfilled marriage but for the loss of the promised line. She was so grieved over the loss that at least one ancient account tells us the Lord comforted her and sent the angel Michael to intercede on her behalf (Tanhuma [ed. Buber], Vayeshev 17), announcing that kings and redeemers would come forth from her tent (v. 16, Gen. Rabbah 85:8).
She knew the truth all along. She knew Judah was the prophesied father of the royal line, the continuation of the promises given to Shem; and she knew, too, what the Lord had told her. Despite all the setbacks, all the years of frustration, the broken promises and seeing a chosen and righteous man live beneath his potential, she still lived a righteous and virtuous life. She trusted the Lord and that decision eventually brought Judah back around to the truth.
It is said that, on learning she was with child, Tamar pronounced with joy,“I am pregnant with kings and redeemers” (Gen. Rabbah 85:10) and, for certain, she was.
For more on this story, see Did Judah Sin with Tamar?