Last week I read the genealogy of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew, and we spoke about who was missing from the church. For the rest of the advent season, we will focus on the women that were mentioned in that text. Today we will talk about Tamar and Rahab with a focus on Tamar since her story is probably a bit less familiar to you. Rahab you might recall was a prostitute in the city of Jericho. When the Israelite spies came to the city they went and stayed with a prostitute. While that doesn’t necessarily speak well for the Israelite men, the fact that Rahab hid them from her own countrymen says a lot about the way women who didn’t have a support network in Jericho were desperate. Prostitution, contrary to popular belief is not a victimless crime. The women whose bodies are being sold aren’t doing that because they think it is the best option. In fact a vast majority of the women who are being prostituted either in person or through pornography are the victims of the modern day slave trade, being bought and sold as property for the financial benefit of others. In ancient times it wasn’t much different. A woman who didn’t have a family support network was vulnerable to the whims of the society around her and quite quickly became pariahs. Every morning the upright women of the town went to the wells to get water, but heaven forbid one of the unfortunates show up, they had to wait until the women all left before they could get their water or face harassment and beatings. Women who were forced into selling their bodies were also vulnerable to honor killings from their own families, so once they were in, they were trapped. Rahab saw a possible way out and took it, and she was rewarded for aiding God’s people, and God’s people did not castigate her for being the victim of a society that failed the women in it. They may also have remembered the story of Tamar who had been failed by Israelite society, one of Judah’s daughters-in-law.
6Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn; her name was Tamar. 7But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death. 8Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her; raise up offspring for your brother.” 9But since Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, he spilled his semen on the ground whenever he went in to his brother’s wife, so that he would not give offspring to his brother. 10What he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also. 11Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up” —for he feared that he too would die, like his brothers. So Tamar went to live in her father’s house.
12In course of time the wife of Judah, Shua’s daughter, died; when Judah’s time of mourning was over, he went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13When Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,”14she put off her widow’s garments, put on a veil, wrapped herself up, and sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. She saw that Shelah was grown up, yet she had not been given to him in marriage. 15When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16He went over to her at the road side, and said, “Come, let me come in to you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” 17He answered, “I will send you a kid from the flock.” And she said, “Only if you give me a pledge, until you send it.” 18He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” She replied, “Your signet and your cord, and the staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her, and went in to her, and she conceived by him. 19Then she got up and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood. 20When Judah sent the kid by his friend the Adullamite, to recover the pledge from the woman, he could not find her. 21He asked the townspeople, “Where is the temple prostitute who was at Enaim by the wayside?” But they said, “No prostitute has been here.” 22So he returned to Judah, and said, “I have not found her; moreover the townspeople said, ‘No prostitute has been here.’“ 23Judah replied, “Let her keep the things as her own, otherwise we will be laughed at; you see, I sent this kid, and you could not find her.”
24About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the whore; moreover she is pregnant as a result of whoredom.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” 25As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “It was the owner of these who made me pregnant.” And she said, “Take note, please, whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” 26Then Judah acknowledged them and said, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not lie with her again. Genesis 38:6-26
I ended my last sermon with the query “Who in God’s family might we be leaving out?” When Tamar’s second husband died she was left out of her society, and sent back to live at the mercy of her father’s house. She was sent back with nothing and was viewed as a woman that it was unlucky to be with, she was not a candidate for another marriage in the society of the time, not only because of the deaths of her husbands, but because she was still considered to be the property of Judah’s family, her next child would be Judah’s heir and would promote the line of Judah rather than anyone else’s. The second son didn’t pull out just to be mean, but because if Tamar didn’t get pregnant he and his line stood to inherit. Is it any wonder that by the time Judah’s next son was old enough, Tamar might have been a bit desperate? Judah’s family had failed her, and she had no better option than to seduce her father-in-law whose wife had died. Let’s be honest here she didn’t exactly have to work hard at it, Judah sought out a prostitute. Some might say that this was acceptable at the time, but if so why did Judah send his friend from another tribe to go make the payment? From the perspective of these scriptures, women are in bad situations like these not because they made bad decisions, but because their community failed them. We may want to fool ourselves by thinking that the women and men in those pictures, that I used to look at on a daily basis before my friend and I became accountability partners, are there because they want to be, but the truth is that nobody who has any better option chooses that life. Tamar and Rahab were both desperate and in neither story were their actions condemned. In fact they were noted in the lineage of our savior, these women who, even in their own time faced death and worse every day.
Now I know that this is uncomfortable ground, but I firmly believe that anything we don’t drag into the open and hold in the light gains disproportionate power over us. According to statistics by the various organizations including the Barna Group, Pew, and Focus on the Family, at least 70% of the men in this country, in church and out, are looking at online pornography on a regular basis, and depending on the survey between 20 and 40% of women are as well. If we include certain kinds of romance novels that number might just come close to the men’s. $40 million a day is spent on prostitutes in the US. Friends, we have a problem and it is a crisis of community. Portland is a hub for sexual slavery on the West Coast. Right here in our community girls are being failed. And I do mean girls, according to a recent article in the Oregonian:
the average age of victims was 15.5 years when they were first referred to DHS and the Sexual Assault Resource Center. The youngest of them was 8 years old. Sixteen percent of all the victims have had a baby.
Nearly one in five has a family history of exploitation, and 11 percent were exploited by members of their own family.
Slightly more than 49 percent of victims have an affiliation with gangs, which have discovered that exploiting children for commercial sex acts is more lucrative than running drugs or guns.
I don’t know about you, but my heart breaks for these children, and it is time for us as a church to honor the women through whom Jesus came to us, the women who Jesus spent time with, the wives, mothers, and daughters around us and not fail them. Friends, if you have a problem with this area of life like I did, be it soliciting prostitutes, looking at pornography online, or reading salacious or degrading writing I invite you to begin with a pledge to stop, followed by seeking out an accountability partner to help you overcome this addiction, because we can’t do it on our own. I couldn’t do it on my own. In the late 90s when the internet was really taking off, I developed an addiction to looking at pornography online. A friend who was also struggling came to me and suggested that we become prayer and accountability partners to help each other overcome. We both installed software on the others’ computer and that software reported everything we viewed to our partner. It took two years for us to get the upper hand on that addiction, and I am very careful about what I watch on TV, in the movies, and what websites I go to online now, so that I don’t relapse. Having other’s to hold me accountable is what it took, and let me encourage you that with God’s help and our brothers’ and sisters’ accountability we can overcome. We are forgiven because of the Jesus who came to us through women, like those I used to view, who were in tough situations. Let us repay those women and that Jesus by allowing him to change us.
As community of faith we need to discern what actions we can take to let the women around us know how deeply valued they are, not because of beauty, or attractiveness, but because of the image of God they bear. God did not create anyone to be used as a sexual thing, and we must be careful to steward the people we are in community with. We need to affirm the gifts we see in all of us, so that together we can be the people God has created us to be. Up on the screen is the text of the pledge from Shared Hope International,
Today, I am making a commitment in my life to demonstrate the following before my family and friends:
I will not purchase or participate in pornography, prostitution or any form of the commercial sex industry.
I will hold my friends accountable for their actions toward women and children.
I will take immediate action to protect those I love from this destructive market.
and I am calling on every man in the church to go to shared hope’s website and take the pledge with me. Jesus came to us through women that polite society looked down on, let us all remember to look at each other with new eyes, eyes that see the beloved children of God, saved by grace to give grace and work towards the wholeness, the shalom peace of Jesus’ upside down kingdom. As we enter into our open worship, let us remember that we come into the presence of the Holy God to live in communion with Him and the whole of Christianity, past, present, and future. Let us listen for his voice.