Genesis 38:1–26, Ruth 1:3–14, Mark 12:18–27 (read online ⧉)
Whether it be the situation such as with Judah and Tamar or Ruth or the one proposed by the Sadduccees, most modern American Christians skip over the questions that come up with these passages, as they make them uncomfortable. They are indeed not the idealized “nuclear” American family of husband and wife and 2 kids. It is reasonable that it makes many people uncomfortable, though sometimes (especially with Ruth) we dress it up with similar clothing.
Initially, Judah’s issue with Tamar was that it seemed his sons would die around her. He didn’t want another son to die. It seems somewhat reasonable. Yet, Judah still knew what was appropriate culturally, and even for his own lineage. It does seem that he planned it. One normally didn’t put a widow back into her father’s house, as it was the father-in-law’s responsibility to assure that children were produced. Something about this was off, for through his actions Judah displayed a cultural disregard for his and his sons’ duties (produce heirs). Culturally, he was highly irresponsible.
Judah’s behavior also trapped Tamar. She was engaged to a boy who Judah didn’t want to be her husband (regardless of reason). Judah was cruel to her. While her behavior was inappropriate, she was more righteous than Judah, which he acknowledged.* Some Biblical commentators suspect that Judah even started off wrong by “getting” a wife for his son, Er, from someone who was not of his people. If that was the case, Judah would have been an even greater disappointment.
Ruth is often the one dressed in nuclear family “clothes”. Naomi wanted to send her away (back to her Father’s house, just like Judah did to Tamar). Catch the reasoning. Naomi knew that even were she to remarry and successfully give birth, any sons birthed would not be of age until Ruth was much older. Naomi probably wasn’t optimistic about the remarriage piece either. Naomi, interestingly enough, acted as if she was carrying the burden of her husband and sons to produce heirs. Compare that to Judah who seemed eager to avoid the whole thing.
While the previous stories have extenuating circumstances, the “test” that the Sadducees bring to Jesus is just plain ridiculous. Of course, reasonableness wasn’t the point of the question, it was to test Jesus. It carried the “law” to its extreme. It is an interesting mental exercise to wonder how this would work. The text implies that the seven marriages were consummated, and the text doesn’t provide a marriage timeline. That seven consummated marriages did not result in a child shows either a non-producing male lineage (a pretty severe one at that) or a truly infertile woman. Yes, this was “just” a test, but at the same time is displays how the desperation of lineage worked.
As a culture, we have only somewhat recently grown out of that (maybe). The desperation that people felt by not have descendants is beginning to fade. It is especially becoming so today as we lose connection to the people before us. As such, it seems we might be losing something that is deeply connected to that…evangelism. Evangelism is, in many respects, reproduction. Instead of being biological, it is spiritual.
1) What are your views on evangelism? How is that expressed by your life?
2) Why do you think we are lukewarm about evangelism? Why are we not as desperate to evangelism as people were to have children?
3) Many people adopt instead of having biological children. What can they teach us about evangelism?
Action: Ask God to give you a heart desperate for evangelism.
*A quick note that Tamar later gave birth to Judah’s twin sons, Zerah and Perez. Perez is in the lineage of Jesus. Yet, another example of how a sin and unrighteous act can be—ultimately—redeemed by Jesus Christ.