All posts by ashleymcarmichael

Authentic :: Rachel

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Rachel and Leah—if for no other reason than because everyone has always called Rachel and Jacob a “great love story” on par with “Romeo and Juliet”. I just want to go on record that “Romeo and Juliet” is not a love story—by Shakespeare’s own admission it’s a cautionary tale and a tragedy, but it’s really more about impulsive decisions leading to some pretty dire consequences in a world where violence and corruption are so prevalent that even love is corrupted. So in other words, you should always think things through and act with your head in addition to your ever-changing emotions. I kind of see Rachel and Jacob in the same light. Jacob is a super impulsive man who rarely thinks with anything other than those darn emotions and doesn’t see the consequences of said actions until God is bailing him out of whatever situation he’s found himself in. Now that gives me a lot of hope because the good Lord knows how often he has to dig me out of my own head and place me back on His path. And Rachel…well it took me a long time to read this story with any kind of grace for her, and that has more to do with my own demons than the girl’s actions in and of themselves.

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Love At First Sight

Genesis 29:7 has Jacob seeing his cousin for the first time. After a long journey, he is tired and ready for some good ol’ hospitality. He’s his momma’s boy, after all, and hasn’t spent a lot of time in the fields or out on his own really, so he’s ready for a home cooked meal and a nice bed I can imagine. And then he sees her. The townspeople have identified her, and he is eager to be on his way—or maybe he’s eager to be alone with her, after all he is encouraging the others to water their sheep and go back to the pastures. Either way, it’s clear that he wants to impress Rachel when he “rolls the stone away” all by himself and “water’s his uncle’s sheep”. All we know of Rachel at this point is that she is a shepherdess, so she spends a lot of time outside. Probably she has dark skin, bright eyes, and later in Genesis 29:17 we are told she is “lovely in form”, probably from all that exercise she gets being out with the sheep and covering a lot of ground day in and day out. You go girl.

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

At any rate, she arrives and after Jacob shows off his muscles—or his impatience (take your pick)—he kisses her and begins “to weep aloud”. I feel pretty justified in my assertion that he is an emotional man, not that emotions are a bad thing, but he tends to let them kind of get the better of his common sense sometimes—very Romeo of him (if you’ve read the play, then you know what I’m saying). Like when he hangs out with his uncle for a month and falls in love with the pretty daughter—who he is so in love with he suggests working 7 years for her hand in marriage (and so he can work up some property of his own) but “they only seemed like a few days to him because of his love for her” (Genesis 29:19). Which sounds really sweet, and maybe it is, except for his demand to Labon. In the very next verse “Give me my wife…I want to lie with her,” which just seems kind of shallow to me. But I live in the 21st century, my perception is colored by my disdain for this kind of thinking.

God knows what we need is not always what we want.

All through this bargaining, we don’t get any of Rachel’s thoughts, feelings or emotions. Even when Labon tricks Jacob into lying with his other daughter—thus gaining a BOGO wife deal—we hear nothing of Rachel’s thoughts or emotions. Was she as in love with Jacob as he was with her? I have my doubts about her devotion, which is part of why I feel that God arranged for Jacob—whom he had chosen to receive the blessing of Abraham and Isaac—to marry Leah too (and first), because God knows what we need is not always what we want.

What a Girl Wants

After Jacob unwittingly marries Leah, I would expect Rachel to be a little bit salty—especially if she was as in love with Jacob as he was with her.

Actually, we don’t see Rachel’s reaction to this marriage arrangement at all. In Genesis 29:30 it tells us that Jacob love Rachel more than Leah, but we already knew that. It doesn’t tell us anything about how Rachel feels about the situation…until her sister starts to have kids and she remains barren. This is where I start to struggle extending grace to Rachel. We’ve seen women deal with barrenness before—in previous generations of the same family—but none of these women react in the same spoiled little princess way that Rachel does. In Genesis 30:1 she declares to Jacob that if he doesn’t give her children she will just die. Oh please, girl. You will not die. Even Jacob gets annoyed with her in his response in Genesis 30:2 “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”

Rachel doesn’t want to please God. She doesn’t even want to please Jacob. She is only concerned about pleasing herself, and this is seen throughout the course of the narrative.

God shows us that wanting certain things in our lives is not necessarily a bad thing. Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah, all these women wanted children. Our wants are not the problem. Our desires are not the problem. Our hearts and our motivations are what God cares about the most. In her selfishness, Rachel hurt her sister, her husband, and ultimately God, but her wants seemed more important, and it almost got her killed by her father.

Photo by Dingzeyu Li on Unsplash

Genesis 31:19 reveals the crux of Rachel’s problems. When Jacob is ready to flee Laban, because he knows he’s overstayed his welcome, Rachel steals her father’s household gods. Then when her father pursues them and demands the return of the gods, Jacob is so offended (after all, he’s a follower of his father’s God) he said if they gods are found Laban can put that individual to death. Rachel is wily though. She hides them under her saddle and sat on them—then she played the “period” card—which of course sent this ancient man a running because, well, whose father wants to talk about that with his daughter? So she gets away with the crime…and keeps the idols. Rachel can never be as happy as Jacob or even her sister, who finds peace in embracing a personal relationship with God, simply because Rachel searches for validation in the things of this world: children, husband, idols. You see, what a girl wants is not always what she needs.

You Took My Husband

Leah gets a bad rap in this story nine times out of ten she is seen as the manipulative one—the one who stole Rachel’s fiancé from beneath her sister’s nose. But I think that is an unfair statement. Not only was Leah acting in obedience to her father when she married Jacob, I wonder if she was also acting in obedience to God and her own heart. This is pure speculation, mind you, but I find Genesis 30:15 to be an incredibly revealing verse: “But she [Leah] said to her [Rachel], “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”

Oh Leah, interesting point. Didn’t you take away Rachel’s betrothed….? There are so many unanswered questions here, and that is the first thing I expected Rachel to bring up. But it isn’t! The verse ends with: “Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.” Rachel concedes to Leah’s claim!

The story is complicated, and not exactly the greatest love story of all time. Sure, Jacob loved Rachel—but Rachel only loved what Jacob could give her and when he didn’t, she sought it elsewhere…everywhere but with God. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, when we seek our validation outside of our Almighty Creator, all we do is create heartache for ourselves—and those around us. Leah learned this lesson. Rachel never did. And as a result, their family—though formed under the blessing of God—would always live in strife and contention.

So the lesson here? If you want to avoid tragedy, seek God’s favor, and thank him for your blessings. That doesn’t mean your life will always be easy, but it can make a difference in how you react and live through life’s disappointments. Don’t believe me? Just ask Leah and Rachel.

AUTHENTIC :: LEAH

So, the title of this series is authentic, and I’m just going to get real here for a minute, so bear with me.

I have spent the vast majority of my life feeling as though I am second best—and compensating for that by trying to be perfect thereby proving that I am, actually, the best. But then when anyone praises me, or gives me a compliment, I have a hard time accepting it as true because I never actually feel like I am good enough.

And it is exhausting.

As this battle rages inside of me, I hear the simple truths of the father—you are enough, I love you through your flaws—and I know that perfectionism is its own sin, still the battle rages on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I’m hopeless. I’m just saying that I am human and this is the battle I fight against my sin nature. Some days I trust in Him enough for it to quiet…and some days I don’t. Hey, I said I was going to be real here.

I get the feeling that Leah probably felt a lot of the same struggle, only she had some pretty tangible proof that the world really did see her as second best. At least when compared to her sister.

Behold, it was Leah

I have lots of feelings about Jacob (Leah’s future husband), but the strongest is that he was an incredibly flawed man—who God still made the forefather of his great nation. So my drive to be perfect, clearly isn’t the way to God’s heart. It might actually be more of a separate than some of these blatant sins, just because of the pride issues that accompany it—but let’s set that philosophy aside for the moment and focus in on Leah.

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At the start of the narrative, Jacob has run away from a pretty sticky situation at home. He and his mom had manipulated Jacob’s father into bestowing his deathbed blessing on him rather than on Esau, who traditionally should have been the recipient as the firstborn. Given that Jacob had already manipulated his older brother out of his birthright, this second backstabbing was a little too much for Esau—and so Jacob fled his brother’s wrath and made is way to his mon’s brother, Laban, who is not exactly the most honest of individuals either (go back and look at the Rebekah post if you want some more juicy details on that family dynamic). When he arrives, he’s asking around about his family when Rachel makes an appearance—seeming, in a lot of ways, similar to the way in which his mother appeared before the servant and became the wife of his father, as story I am sure that he grew up hearing being so close to his mother and everything. So it really isn’t much of a surprise when he waters her sheep, as his mother watered the camels so many decades before.

Jacob was a pretty emotional guy, so it’s also not super surprising that he was all like, I wanna marry that girl—after all, he’s remembering his mother’s own love story. The major difference here though lies in the fact that in the month that he stayed with his uncle Labon there is absolutely no mention of Jacob asking God to be a part of his decision making process! Jacob is not thinking with his head or his spirit. Genesis 29: 16-17 tells us that Labon had two daughters: Leah (the elder daughter, who had weak eyes) and Rachel (who was lovely in form and beautiful). I do not believe this means that Leah was ugly, just that her eyes were not bright, maybe she would even have, in modern times, had needed corrective lenses so maybe she squinted a lot. What it does mean, is that Jacob saw her as second best. He fell in love (boy how I hate that terminology…still it works here) with Rachel’s outward appearance. I have a hard time believing he really got to know her. That’s just not how ancient cultures typically worked. He saw her. He wanted her. He struck a deal. Not having anything to offer his uncle for Rachel’s hand, he says he’ll work for 7 years—enough time to really put together some of his own property so he will be able to care for her.

Unfortunately, Laban was just as manipulative as Jacob and after the 7 years was up, he saw an opportunity. Not only to ‘get rid’ of his cumbersome older daughter, but to trap Jacob into working for him (cheap labor) for another 7 years. So, he sent Leah to the wedding bed (which isn’t so weird since she would have been heavily veiled and similar in form to her sister).

The next morning: there was Leah.

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Always Second Best

Now, Leah had to know and been privy to the plan of her father, but I sincerely doubt she had much choice. I do wonder what she felt in that moment when she consummated a marriage that was built on a lie. Was she in love with Jacob? Was she doing her duty to her father? What went through her mind as she slept with this man who was so clearly in love with her sister? While we will never know, but we do know that in Genesis 29:31, the Lord saw that Leah was not loved. He enabled a quick pregnancy for Leah and kept Rachel barren, which also makes me question Rachel’s heart and character. Yes, Leah was a part of the deception—and the situation was complicated and terrible, but we have a choice in how we treat others in spite of the circumstances. I suspect that Rachel had always treated her sister with a kind of contempt, and so here she is taught a lesson through.

Leah truly believe that her husband would come to love her as son after son is born. First Reuben, then Simeon and Levi…always hoping for that kind of love she has always craved. And then something happened in Leah’s heart. It’s hard to say exactly what—but when she had Judah, she stopped caring about her husband’s love and embraced the love of the Lord, the one—she realized—who had always loved her unconditonally! The only one whose love she really ever needed.

I love that verse, Genesis 29: 35, when she says she will stop seeking approval of man and start praising the Lord. Sometimes the world is cruel and unfair. We seek approval. We seek love. We seek acceptance. We seek companionship. All these things we chase after every day…are found when we stop and praise the Lord. And that is beautiful, if we are willing to embrace it.

Embracing Truth

Lean and Rachel engage in quite the baby-making competition, which is only appropriate given the life that Jacob carved out for himself. His own sibiling rivalry landed him in the position where he would always have to deal with sibling rilvary, first in his wives, then with his sons. Oddly, though, through it all Jacob does not rely on the wisdom of God. Or, I guess, that’s not odd at all. When we don’t make God the center of our decision making and we rely on our own judgments, competitions, and desires, we’re bound to enter into conflicts that become complicated and sometimes very painful.

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What is most striking is that even though Jacob never sees her value, God does. In 1 Samuel 16:7, we are told that mann looks at outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. That is never more true than in the case of Rachel and Leah—Rachel is the pretty one, the loved one, but she is also the petty and the devious one. Ergo, God chooses Leah’s child, Judah, to be the line to the greatest kings… David…Solomon…and Jesus.

We seek approval. We seek love. We seek acceptance. We seek companionship. All these things we chase after every day…are found when we stop and praise the Lord.

And in that, I feel hope.

Authentic :: Tamar part 2

A tale of two Tamars continues several decades after the story of Tamar and Judah. This time, Tamar is a princess, born to a life of privilege and tragedy. 

Tamar the Princess

Tamar had a childhood unlike any other, growing up with not only a king for a father, but arguably one of the most famous kings of all time. The King. King David.  

Photo by Ashton Mullins on Unsplash

You see, Tamar and Absalom were siblings of incredible beauty. True royalty, they had everything…including a big, complicated modern family. After all, when daddy has over eight wives (and a number of concubines), life is bound to get interesting. And, in Tamar’s case, dangerous.  

The long and short of it is this (2 Samuel 13:1-9): Amnon, Tamar’s half brother, fell in love with his half sister (recall that while this was not uncommon for the time period, it was not exactly condoned either). His friend/cousin, Jonadab , noticed how Amnon lusted after Tamar and devised a plan for some…romance…well, for some alone time at least. Amnon would pretend to be sick and ask dear ol’ dad to send his sister to cook some food for him. He wanted to eat it out of her hand, because they were so close I guess. David agreed. Tamar agreed. Tamar made the food, but Amnon refused it and sent everyone home…except Tamar. ‘Come feed me in my bedroom,’ he said. Tamar agreed, suspecting nothing, after all this is her brother with whom she should be safe. But in the height of the #metoo movement of the 21st century we see just where this is going.

As you can imagine, there is a lot going on in this story, which 2 Samuel 13: 10-19 wastes no time in getting to the crux of the story. Amnon requests Tamar to come into his bedroom to “feed him” but it isn’t his stomach that is aching to be satisfied—it’s another piece of anatomy. Tamar brings in the food and he grabs her, asking for her to sleep with him. When she refuses, asking him to do the honorable thing and marry her first (“[my father] will not withhold me from you”), he takes what he wants—forcefully and without hesitation.

Out of Control

Sadly, this is not an uncommon story in world history. This kind of violence and deception was the whole reason why 98% of the time women in a royal household were put under the protection of heavily guarded eunuchs. Regardless, the moment Amnon got what he thought he wanted, his mind and emotions changed and rather than listening to his sister’s pleas he cast her out—thereby completing her shame and dashing all hopes she had for any kind of happily ever after. What’s more, this one act would throw the entire kingdom in a state of utter turmoil as siblings see violence as a means to an end, and their father stand by and do…nothing.

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Heinous crimes, unfortunately, will always be a fact of this fallen and broken world. We shouldn’t ignore this story, we should learn from it, as we do from all that is in God’s word. Let’s face it, the hard issues like this is what we need to talk about—what we need to learn from because life isn’t easy and while intellectually we know that ‘everything happens for a reason’, that doesn’t make it any easier. But knowing that God doesn’t make mistakes should give us hope that no matter what we experience, redemption and grace are always ours for the claiming.

All Actions (and inactions) Have Consequences

No matter what, our actions have far reaching effects and once we commit to a decision—good or bad—we lose control over what will happen next. Humans like to think that we have control, or at least that we can maintain some kind of control, but the fact is human control is an illusion. Tamar probably felt that she had the situation in hand. Sure, the requests her brother made were a little unorthodox, but it is so easy to feel in control when you are safe. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am in NO WAY blaming or victim shaming Tamar for how this story plays out. I’m simply pointing out that at every moment in our lives our decisions lead us down paths and into situations that can quickly get ‘out of control’. So Tamar says yes to the first unorthodox request, because her father sent her and she loves her brother in the way all sisters should.

By the time her brother has cleared the room and receded into his bed chamber, I hazard to guess that Tamar is feeling a little uneasy. She’s been sheltered her entire life, kept under close watch by servants and eunuchs, and suddenly she is alone in a room with a man who, culturally, could be a potential match for her (as she admits when she pleads with him). Tamar must have been pretty young, still a virgin, and not yet married off to a political match, so the attention she receives in this moment from her older brother—and the heir to the throne—probably felt kind of nice at first. All young girls like to feel special and her brother asked for her specifically. So, she draws close, still feeling in control, until he grabs her and everything changes. He asks, she refuses and begs, he takea—unraveling a series of events that will change the course of Hebrew history forever. Those actions, those moments would lead to Tamar’s shame, Amnon’s death, Absolom’s banishment, and conflict in David’s family forever.

But still, God was in control—God was there even in the midst of the tragedy—but in our fallen world we can never forget that all our actions (even ones out of our control) have consequences.

Emotions are Decieving and Capricious

I hate the term ‘fell in love’, because it implies so many things about love that are not really accurate descriptions of love. Amnon used “falling in love” as an excuse to do whatever he wanted—especially when a friend petted his ego enough to remind him of his position and ‘rights’ as a son of a king. Amnon confused “falling in love” with obsession and lust—because if he was really in love he wouldn’t be impatient to ‘get his hands on her’. He would want what was best for her—even if it meant that he had to sacrifice something he valued. After all, he should know that God is love, and as a God of love, he is constantly making sacrifices for his people. If nothing else, he should have at least heard those stories. But, his arrogance overrode his common sense, which is why when he got what he thought he wanted from Tamar his love turned to hate and shame. Momentary pleasure is always fleeting. And, our actions have consequences. Amnon didn’t think about the far reaching effects, he didn’t think about Tamar’s well-being, and, in fact, he ignored what would be best for himself and the kingdom. He sought that one pleasure that he believed would make him happy, and instead it made him miserable, which is exactly what happens when we let our emotions get the best of our common sense.

Leadership begins at Home

King David is known as the man after God’s own heart, but this story just reminds me that despite this, he was still an incredibly flawed man. First, he was gullible and didn’t see any flaws in his own children. Having been a teacher for over ten years and having had my own encounters with parents—this is a common theme I’ve noticed. For some reason it is easy to see the flaws in everyone but our own kids, which is why not only did he allow Tamar to be put in such a vulnerable position, he refused to do anything to fix the situation after it had erupted into chaos and as a result his second son, Absolom (Tamar’s full blooded brother) felt the need to take matters not his own hands. David’s lack of discipline and leadership in his own family also had far reaching consequences

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When Justice Eludes

2 Samuel 13:20-29; 37 picks up the story of these consequences, which includes the death of Amnon and the exile of Absolom and the heartbreak of David. Tamar is never mentioned again, and we are left to mourn her shattered life, knowing only that her brother took her into his own household and by all appearances moved on with their lives until the time was right and then he struck. But revenge is not the same thing as justice.

Tamar’s life took a drastically different path than the one she had dreamed of, and we don’t know exactly where she ended up, but I can see two likely scenarios.

One, Tamar lived out the rest of her days in bitter mourning over what she lost.

Two, Tamar sought God in her moment of despair, because even when her brother got the revenge she so rightly deserved, the consequences remained. Justice will only be found in the safe, forgiving, reedeeming power of Yahweh. Only then could she find a new, potentially satisfying life, despite the trauma of her past.

And we are left with the same choices when life doesn’t go as we planned. Our emotions are capricious, our control is illusive, but God is constant, and it is up to us to decide if we will run to or away from God no matter what life throws at us.

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Authentic :: Tamar part 1

A Tale of Two Tamars

Two women of the same name are perhaps among the most tragic stories in the Bible. Well, there are a lot of tragic stories, but these really do make a person sit up and go ‘what now?!’

So let’s set the scene for part 1:

Tamar the Canaanite (Genesis 38)

Once upon a time, in a land far away from his brothers, a man named Judah settled down with a Canaanite woman. Together this delightful couple had three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. They were a perfect family. The three boys grew older and Judah realized his eldest son, Er, was just incomplete. So he found him a wife. Her name was Tamar.  


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Now, like most little girls, Tamar dreamed of the day she would marry and have children. She would be the perfect wife and mother because she’d been dreaming and preparing for this day her whole life. Unfortunately, about 3.5 seconds into the marriage, it was clear that her husband was not the Prince Charming she’d been dreaming of. In fact, the LORD found him to be so evil, that he struck Er down. Er died, and just like that Tamar became a widow.

Now, Jewish tradition dictates that if your husband dies before you are able to conceive a child to carry on the family name, then the closest male relative must perform his Levirate duties and produce offspring for the dead relative and the widow. Sooooo, Onan was required by law (and his father) to lay with Tamar. As it turns out, Onan was about as delightful as his brother and while he did sleep with Tamar, he made sure that his, well you see he spilled his…well, let’s just say he made sure Tamar would not get pregnant. So, seeing his wickedness, God struck down Onan too (seriously, I mean really you’d think he’d learn from his brother’s mistakes, but no.)

Tamar was still a widow with no children so Leviate law dictated that Shelah (the third son) sleep with her next. However, Shelah was kinda still a kid so Judah sent Tamar back to live with her father until Shelah was grown…or so he said. However, like most stupid fathers, Judah didn’t see any fault with his own sons, but rather blamed Tamar for his sons’ deaths. So he had no intention of allowing her to sleep with Shelah—thus condemning her to a life of solitude and shame.

The Jerkface.

Sometimes things happen that are just completely out of our control. What do we do when life seems unfair, unjust, or just plain wrong? If we are wise, we trust in the Lord and let him direct our decisions and our plans.

Right or wrong, Tamar devises a plan, and personally given the cultural context, I can get behind her extreme actions, and evidently, God directed them given the ultimate outcome. According to Jewish tradition, Tamar was most likely a Canaanite woman who converted to Judaism either before or after she married Judah’s son. When she devises the plan, the narrative takes on a positive tone, not condemning her, but confirming that she is doing what is righteous because Judah was being unrighteousness. Rather than living in the shame her father-in-law saddles her with, Tamar decides to take the future into her own hands, but trusts God will ultimately vindicate her.


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Genesis 38:20-23 we see that Judah has never been very good at the whole ‘personal responsibility’ thing. This is actually an echo of Genesis 37:26-27, where he wants to do the right thing, makes a comment or a suggestion or a half-baked action, but doesn’t really follow through. What it boils down to is Judah takes the path of least resistance–knowing what is right, but refusing to stand up for it. He sleeps with a woman who he believes is a ‘cult prostitute’ (or a prostitute for a religious sect), which is pretty heavily frowned upon in God’s law. He gives this prostitute some pretty personal items (kind of like giving her his driver’s license and social security card) as collateral and then, rather than tracking her down, he just shrugs off the items as stolen and goes about his business, never recognizing the sins he himself has committed.

Judah is quick to judge Tamar when it comes out that she is pregnant “immorally”. She’s been living in her father’s home, ignored and forgotten by him until he believes she’s made a mistake and then suddenly he’s all fired up–to burn her at the stake. Nevermind his own sins which he thinks has been forgotten and hidden. But yet again, God proves that he is just and righteous and not only will our sins be found out, but there is also always a consequence to those sins.

This story is not as tragic as it could have been. While it is not exactly a happily ever after kind of situation, it is a beautiful picture of conviction and grace, on the part of Judah, who when he does realize that he was wrong actually admits it and does his best to make it right. After all, Tamar’s life was literally in his hands. He could have ignored the message she sent him and had her burned at the stake–his honor forever in tact. But he didn’t.


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On the surface, this appears to be condoning Tamar’s deceptive acts, but I think it’s actually highlighting her determination to follow God’s law no matter the consequences to herself. Let me explain.

  1. Despite the fact that her two previous husbands were jerks, she never curses God, the men, or even Judah. She had every opportunity to be bitter and surly, but instead she is obedient and compliant. She bides her time and takes action only when she sees that there is no other choice.
  2. When she devises her plan she is careful to still bring honor to bother herself and Judah. She targets him specifically, and strategically placing herself in his path. She covers herself with a veil, which shows an unusual amount of modesty for the ‘prostitute’ role she is playing.
  3. Tamar is thoughtful and cunning, making sure that she can prove who the father of her child is–securing identification tags rather than money, or other forms of payment that might have been tempting.
  4. When the scheme is found out, she does not go public. She doesn’t shame Judah (or herself), she trusts Judah and God to do the right thing, by privately addressing the issue (unlike Judah who rants to anyone who will listen about burning her at the stake).
  5. She is gracious to forgive, only grateful to be vindicated and justified in her own moral character.

All of these elements prove that Tamar was not just acting out of selfish ambition, but with a desire to honor the Lord, Judah and herself.

And we can learn a valuable lesson from her example in how to deal with those who have wronged us–a lesson that is hard to apply but valuable to remember, because at some point we will all feel taken advantage of, lost, or forgotten by the world. So, what do we do?

  1. Be thankful for what we do have, not bitter over what we have lost or think we deserve. After all, if we truly got what we deserved, we wouldn’t be any happier (death, we all deserve death and punishment because we are all sinners)
  2. Check your motivation. Always ask yourself if the actions you are taking will bring honor to God, and if the answer is ever no…take a step back and think about another plan, or just wait to hear from God. Jealousy, revenge, and bitterness do not bring honor to God, but obedience, justice, and thankfulness do.
  3. Think things through. All actions, even rightly motivated, have consequences so it is highly advisable that you consider all the possible outcomes before acting.
  4. Keep things private. I know posting your business and beef with others on social media feels good in the moment, but it causes way more damage to you and the other person when you go public with any kind of conflict. If you truly want to bring honor and justice to a situation, keep it private. Don’t “vent” about to others either. “Venting” is usually just a nice way of excusing your own gossip. Trust me, I know this from personal–heartbreaking–experience.
  5. Forgive. You’ll never truly bring honor, glory or peace if you don’t learn to forgive the wrongs. I’m not saying that it’s easy–I’m sure it was a struggle for Tamar, but forgiveness is the only way to move forward. They don’t call it ‘holding’ a grudge for no reason–it holds you back as much as it does anything else. Let go. Let God. Move on.

Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

Tamar’s story might be weird to the 21st century mindset, but despite the differences, there is always a human connection to be made and if we are wise…we won’t just hear. We’ll learn.

Authentic :: Mary

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary the last couple of weeks. For obvious reasons, given that it is the Christmas season and she gets a lot of press this time of year, but also for the fact that she absolutely astounds me. No, really. We are talking about a teenager who said yes to something that would radically alter her life without seemingly thinking twice about it. I’ve worked with a lot of teenagers over the years (let’s see roughly 25-30 per class, 6ish classes a year, 12 years…That’s like 1,800- 2,160 teens) and a good many of those teens do not accept authority, suggestion or direction; you tell them to do something at least 3 times with a personal anecdote about why they should and a good bit of the time (I don’t know the exact percentage), they do the opposite or at least not exactly what you advise and then come back and ask you what went wrong. Despite the permanent facepalm imprint on my forehead, all I know to tell them is: you didn’t listen.

Mary was one of those rare exceptions. The angel told her what to do and she did it. Now I’m not dogging teens, cause quite frankly it’s not just a teenage problem. It’s a faith problem and I’m not sure I have the kind of faith Mary had. Of course I hope I do, but let’s just say there are many reasons why God didn’t choose me to be the vessel that would birth his one and only son. 

Greatly Troubled

Luke has always been my favorite gospel. The man was a doctor and his logical approach to these happenings make everything seem less ‘fairytale’ and more real. He starts off the Gospel in chapter 1: 3 stating that he has “carefully investaged everything” and will write an “orderly account”. This makes my type one heart just soar with expectation—because Luke, well, he just gets me. His gospel starts from the beginning with John the Baptist before we ever hear about Mary, but then he is the only one who gives us an account of Mary’s experience. Starting in chapter 1: 26-38, he carefully documents the encounter. And clearly this is written by a man, because we are not given a lot of information about how Mary reacts other than upon hearing the news that she is “highly favored”, she is “greatly troubled.”

Her reaction to this greeting is curious, but let’s get real. No matter what this angel had said, Mary was probably freaking out. To put it in perspective: Mary couldn’t have been more than about sixteen (chances are she was younger since she was ‘pledged to be married’ and that could happen at a very young age in ancient cultures). This giagantice man-angel, who had to be pretty darn intimidating, appears to her—alone. The first thing you are going to wonder is if you had too much wine with the last meal, long before you ever register what the man is actually saying. However, the fact that the text tells us that she is reacting to the words and wondering what it might mean (vs. 29), reveals more about her character than anything else. 

When you are told you are ‘highly favored’, we can expect one of three reactions: 

  1. Blatant pride (‘Of course I am. I’m me and I’m the greatest. Who wouldn’t favor me’) 
  2. False humility (‘Oh stop it. I’m not that great, after all!’)
  3. True humility (‘Come again? What do you mean?’)

Mary wasn’t faking—she was truly humble in a moment that could have puffed her up, she wondered at what the greeting could mean. I would like to say that I’d respond in the same way to those words, but the truth is, I spend most of my life hungering after words of affirmation and when I get them I’m more on the #2 reaction where I say ‘Oh, stop’ but really I feel in my heart that I deserve every bit of that praise. I’m not saying that reactions one and two are always bad, but God certainly appreciates a truly humble heart and I don’t think he would have chosen Mary if he didn’t know that her humility was genuine. After all, we really don’t deserve any kind of acknowledgement for our ‘awesomeness’ because each and every one of us is a sinner and the only one who really deserves the praise is God. Not that we can’t appreciate others for what value they bring to our lives, but we can definitely lean more toward ‘greatly troubled’ and away from ‘proudly justified’ as we strive to be more like Jesus—or in this case, his mother. 

I am the Lord’s Servant

Again, in Mary’s response in vs. 38 I think perspective is colored by the gender of the author, but also because the author had no way of being inside Mary’s head. Yes, ultimately she said “I am the Lord’s servant” and that may have been the end of the story…but I wonder if she didn’t have a slightly longer conversation with the angel. Women—even in ancient cultures—tend to want a few more details than what is recorded in history. Times have changed, but the nature of a woman’s needs have not. I suspect there is a little more to that conversation, but Luke’s pragamtism and second hand account leaves us with the finality of Mary’s response, which, after all, is all we need to know. I’m not suggesting that she turned the angel down at first, but I am suggesting that she may have hesitated, or wept, or asked ‘why me?’ Not in a bitter, surly way, but in a humble—how could the Lord possibly think I’m worthy of this?—way. Like the first time a mother holds her first born child. She looks down at that infant in absolute wonder that not only did she help create that little human, but that God entrusted her with this little human’s life and she wonders, what have I done to deserve such a blessing? 

And the truth is, it’s not what you have done, Mary (or any of us), it’s the potential the Lord sees in us that showers us with his blessing and favor. God didn’t choose Mary because she got all A’s on her report card and swept the house the right way every day, or because she could make a perfect latke. No, he choose her because he saw her heart and he knew that she would say yes in the right way and be a conduit for the rest of his plan. Just like he sees in each of us the potential to fulfill his plan and entrusts us with what he knows each of us can be successful with. 

Each of us has a choice, like Mary, every day. We can say “I am the Lord’s servant” or we can say “I am my own servant” and that choice defines how and where our lives will run. As Joshua so elegantly puts it: “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euprhrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living..” or yourself and the gods of America, the money, power and narcisism that runs rampart in our world (Joshua 24:15). It is up to us to decide. Mary could have said ‘thanks, but I’d rather live the picket-fence life Jospeh and I had planned.’ She could have seen her pristine reputation as proof that she was still favored when she turned the Lord down, and he would have found another vessel. His plan is never derailed by our choices. But he knew she wouldn’t say no. Because she choose to serve the Lord—she chose a hard path, but the only one that would bless her in the long run: to serve the Lord no matter the consequences. 

And the truth is, it’s not what you have done, Mary (or any of us), it’s the potential the Lord sees in us that showers us with his blessing and favor. 

Community Support

The most realistic part of this account, to me, is not Mary’s response to the angel. It’s not her humility. It’s not the fact that it all came to pass. To me it’s that the second the angel left, and she ‘hurried’—ya’ll she RAN to Elizabeth, her girlfriend. Because all ladies know that when something is going to change your life, you go and find another lady who is older, wiser, and who has some experience with angel visits, and you spill your guts out to her. I love that not only did she run to her, she shared her heart. They laughed, they cried, and girls, you better believe, they sang together. Because let’s face it, 2000 years has not changed girl talk or slumber parties. There will always be secrets shared and songs sung. And boy did these two ladies share secrets: miracle babies and unimaginable blessings—promises through the pain that living in a broken world would inevitably bring. Because let’s face it: this was a happy moment that would soon be followed by heartache, judgement and hardship. Mary risked everything in saying yes to the Lord, and she knew she would need support and instead of wallowing in uncertainty she RAN to the support that God provided: Elizabeth. 

It’s hard sometimes to recognize that we need support outside ourselves. Our culture preaches independence and self reliance. But God did not intend for us to live life that way. In the very beginning he stated: “…It is not good for man to be alone…” (Genesis 2:18) and that rings true even today. Living a Christian life is not easy. In fact, it’s downright hard sometimes. Look at Mary: she had it all (reputation, favor, a fiancé)—and then she said yes to God and nearly lost it all. But God is faithful and the community he builds for us is meant to support us in all of the hardships that accompany saying yes to God and living counter-culturally. 

Photo by Court Prather on Unsplash

Saying yes was risky, but saying no even more so. After all, it was that one simple act of obedience that quite literally saved the world.