Posted in Biblical Theology

Some thoughts on Levirate marriage, Tamar, and Ruth

This is an e-mail response I sent to one the leader of our women’s Ruth Bible study. She was asking about the connection b/t Tamar and Ruth (specifically in the case of levirate marriage).

It looks like Tamar was probably a Canaanite. After the death of her first husband she was involved in a Levirate marriage situation. The difference between her and Ruth is that the levirate marriage was an established custom of the surrounding area and only later (in the Mosaic Law) was it set in the Israelite system of ethics and standards that God laid down to preserve His people.

During the original formation of the people of Israel, Abraham to Jacob, you find a lot of things that were sketchy and would have been frowned on later (ie. polygamy, having kids through servants (Abraham), visiting prostitutes (Judah), murder (Simeon and Levi)).But if you look at the overall story that these people are situated in it hardly works out for them in a good way unless God intervenes on behalf of His Name.

You also find good things from the culture that God has sovereignly put into place and later makes them specific to the people of Israel. These things are always re appropriated somehow to define Israel as a specific people that carry His name (ie. circumcision, covenants, levirate marriage, temples, sacrifice, etc). In fact, when they are actually doing it in His name, as the law commands them to do, they are truly fulfilling the original purpose for which God sovereignly in the culture in the first place.

All that to say: levirate marriage existed in the surrounding culture of Judah’s day, Tamar has a claim to this based on the culture, Judah tries to circumvent this claim because his sons keep dying (scripture is pretty clear that they are dying because of their actions and not Tamar’s), Judah puts his own line in jeopardy because his sons keep dying, Tamar recognizes her claim and acts accordingly, and Judah repents for his mistreatment of her and declares her actions righteous (lining up with God’s intentions).

Ruth is different because she comes well after the formation of the people of Israel and the establishment of the law. The law limits things like levirate marriage to the people of Israel because it assumes that the people are following the law in the first place and not leaving the promised land and marrying outside of the people of Israel. Just like Judah the line of Boaz and the line of Naomi are in jeopardy, God fixes this through a Moabitess.

Posted in Life

The Real Woman

The other night I got home from teaching a Bible study on the Book of Ruth and I was struck by how blessed I am. The study was a lot of fun and the women seemed very responsive. We had great discussion on what it was to be a woman who fears Yahweh. This in turn lead to further discussion on Boaz’s role in the narrative and how God set them up.

I was jazzed by the study and made it home just in time to kiss my wife goodnight. She fell asleep rather quickly and I stayed up a bit. I was causally watching TV when Letterman came on and, since I couldn’t find the remote, I continued to watch his show despite a natural aversion to its content.
A prominent heiress was Letterman’s main guest. She was turning 30. Pretty much all she had to show for her life was: her daddy’s money, a ineptly applied catch phrase about the current temperature of just about anything not related to weather, some reality TV shows that quickly lost their “I can’t stop looking at the train wreck” value, an audio recording of some well dubbed caterwauling, and several broken relationships. But wait…lest I forget her newest triumph, an iphone app that you can take a picture and kind of- maybe- sort of- look like you are standing next to her. And for only $2.99!!

My wife also just turned 30. As I watch her sleeping, my thoughts drift back to Boaz’s encounter with Ruth. She was called a noble woman and it was obvious by her actions that what defined her was not the limelight or inherited wealth. Rather, there was a steadfastness about her that proclaimed her faith. Her words, actions, and posture were attractive because God was working through them to reveal who He desires a woman to be. All this (and the description of Boaz as well) was to be seen on the light of who He is and what he can do in an individual.

My wife may not have an iphone app or a lot of money, but she exemplifies the steadfastness of Ruth. 3 boys, working to support me through school, leading several different ministries at our church, and discovering her calling in the light of who God is in her life. I am so blessed to be part of what God is doing in her and with her. Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fear/trusts/puts faith in Yahweh deserves all the praise. (Pr. 31)

Let the heiress have her iphone app. I’ve got the praise worthy woman sleeping next to me every night.