Faith that Transcends Morals
And it came to pass, about three months after, that Judah was told, saying, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has played the harlot; furthermore she is with child by harlotry.” So Judah said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!” When she was brought out, she sent to her father-in-law, saying, “By the man to whom these belong, I am with child.” And she said, “Please determine whose these are—the signet and cord, and staff.” So Judah acknowledged them and said, “She has been more righteous than I, because I did not give her to Shelah my son.” And he never knew her again. (Gen 38:24-26)
After Adam sinned, man became enemies of the devil. From the beginning, man was made to prepare the way for the Son of God to come to the earth. Hence the purpose of man’s existence until Jesus came was to prepare His way. Man was to be the way for Him to come to the earth. Thus man’s greatest worth is to be used for that. It is by far more important than any ethical or moral value that the role of the woman as a mother that brings forth the Son of God to the earth.
When Jesus came, He didn’t come through various people or different families; He came to the earth through just one family lineage that continued like a straight line. Nobody knew who that would be. Yet God continued to choose. He chose Abraham, then Isaac and then Jacob and so on. Though Isaac had two sons but to whom will the blessing go – Esau or Jacob? It was Jacob in the end who obtained the blessing. Jacob then had twelve sons but through whom was the blessing going to continue? This was of utmost importance, more than anything else. Finally, the blessing came to Judah.
So Jesus came through the tribe of Judah. Judah had three sons of which the firstborn was Er. But as he was wicked in God’s eyes, God put him to death. This happened after he was married to a woman named Tamar. So people would have considered her to be unlucky. After that, Judah gave his second son Onan to her to marry her and continue the family line for his brother. But Onan sinned also. And God deemed him wicked and slew him too. Probably, all the people looked at Tamar as a man killer.
According to the Law and even in their traditions, since this was before the Law came, when this happened the woman had to be given to the next son to be married. But Judah’s third son named Shelah was still young. So Judah told her to wait until he was grown up. But when he was of age, his father did not want to give his son to her because he was worried that his third son might die as his brothers did. Therefore he didn’t say anything about it to her. And Tamar could not possibly ask for a husband again when the two husbands she already had died. Probably these situations occurred commonly at that time, and women like Tamar would have just lived alone as widows and been neglected. And Judah pretended as though he knew nothing and feigned innocence.
One day he went to someone’s house for a feast and noticed there was a prostitute in that town and he slept with her. The prostitute then asked for a pledge from him. He probably said, “I’ll pay you later”, and gave her a few of his belongings as a sign of his pledge, which he forgot about later on. However, after that, he heard the news that his daughter-in-law was pregnant by harlotry. Do you think he was pleased or not? He would’ve been pleased by that news thinking, “I can put her to death then and my son will be a free man. Everything will be sorted out”. But she took out the belongings and told him that whoever they belong to is the father of the child. And Judah noticed they were his belongings. He had slept with his daughter-in-law. It was an outrageous situation according to ethical and moral standards. She had practically played the whole family – the eldest, the second and even her own father-in-law. Nevertheless, Judah acknowledged her, that she was right. Because it was him who didn’t keep the promise. And Tamar’s righteousness was not only acknowledged by Judah but by God Himself. Why? Because that was the reason for man’s existence at that time.
Nobody knew who will be the ancestor of the Messiah. But all mankind existed for that very purpose, especially the descendants of Abraham. They became the path for the One who was to come. Hence for them to have many children was to them a very important act of faith. Barren women in that sense did not have any meaning to their lives. They meant nothing. For a family’s lineage to end meant that there would be no chance that the Messiah would come from their descendants, which is a curse. Thus, a barren woman in those times had no reason to live anymore. Indeed it was a curse.
This woman however did everything she could to have children, and she even deceived her own father-in-law and finally became pregnant. And she gave birth to twins. And incredibly, this woman appears in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Although Jacob had twelve sons, it was none other than Judah through whom Jesus came. Judah also had many sons, but it was not any of them that God chose. Instead, Tamar had two sons named Perez and Zerah, and Perez is the one in the genealogy of Christ.
In this way, the man born from this woman Tamar had been chosen. We can’t really call this a normal, let alone a proud or dignified genealogy. However, within the genealogy of Jesus Christ, we can find many anomalous characters. This shows that this genealogy is not simply by lineage but made up of people who won by faith. So, this woman was able to draw God’s attention. There are few women listed in the genealogy of Jesus in the Bible. But those that are present, all share a similarity. They all had such eagerness of faith to partake in the blessing. They had an earnest desire and hope to be participants of the blessing given only to Israel and even played a leading role in it. They had a spiritual desire.
If Tamar had considered ethical and moral values and virtue, she could not have done what she did. But those values didn’t matter. What did matter was whether or not she was going to be used in God’s work. Indeed, ethics and moral values are very important for us in our lives, but those values originated from the earth, not from heaven. The standards of ethics and morality in our society are different to that of another society. And the present times are different from the past; each village and town are all different from one another. Apparently for the Eskimos, one of the ways they entertained their guests was to give their wives to the men. If a man didn’t do that, he was an offensive fellow.
These values all came from this world to help people live with one another. However, the word of God came even before the universe was created, and God’s will for His Son was already in heaven. Hence His will takes prominence. So just as Abraham did, the blessing must be obtained even if it meant slaughtering his son; or as Isaac waited a long time before getting married, he had to persevere in order to receive the blessing. And even if Jacob had to trick his brother and snatch the blessing off him, he needed to take possession of the blessing. And just as Tamar did, the blessing had to be obtained even if she had to deceive her father-in-law to become pregnant and have a child. They had to have a such spiritual desire. If you think of it as a humane way and call it a bad person, and limit it which leads to prevent God from using us. That seems to be the right way for those who are accustomed to ethics and morals, but in God’s eyes, it is not.
It is not that God only uses those who are moral and have commendable qualities. Rather He uses those that truly desire for God’s word to be fulfilled upon them, not just anyone who is kind and gentle. That is why you notice that many servants of the Lord have difficult personalities. They have a rugged personality and the moral compass seems to be broken for some of them. Of course, one’s personality and morality are important. But in the New Testament times, even those matters are different from how it was in the Old Testament. But what is fundamental for all in both times is that they have the eagerness to be used by God. Because God will never disregard that. And nothing can transcend that.
Truly, that desire to obtain the life God gives will transcend all things. South Korean ladies seem to have a sort of tenacious nature. When it comes to anything to do with their children, even social order or such values do not stop them. It is as though the after-effect of the Korean War is still present among us. In order to win and gain, they are blinded to take notice of anything else. And such an attitude about the promise of God may actually be pleasing to God.
When the war ended, the people that just stood around doing nothing but criticising others for brazenly grabbing what they desired without any moral standards, actually couldn’t gain anything and starved to death. But those that vigorously went around looking for food and grabbing whatever they could find were the ones that survived. After the war, if people concerned themselves about saving face and nitpicked about how others cut in the line, wouldn’t get anything and starved to death. Similarly, whoever desires to live spiritually would need such tenacity. Thus, when Jesus said to the woman that it is not right to give the children’s bread to the dogs, she still pleaded and asked that it be granted to her. That’s how we draw God’s attention. When Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore fig tree, he had violated public order. But what would happen if he climbed the tree? The tree might break. And people probably thought that he who is a man of some dignity at least should know better than to climb a tree like that.
Below the tree, there would have been many people with outstanding qualities. But the Lord was not interested in those. He was looking for the one that was longing for God’s word to be fulfilled upon him, the one that was yearning for Jesus Christ. Most people regarded Zacchaeus as a shameful man because he was a tax collector. A tax collector was no different than a traitor to his own country; a man with no conscience. Yet the Lord was not concerned about that; He was only looking at the zeal he had for the Lord.
Sometimes we can feel offended in the church because some people who seem to have a bad character but God uses them. Yet after careful observation, it is evident that they have faith and are very zealous and truthful before God even if they have a foul temper. Such a person continues to be used by God. Don’t you agree? They are the ones who will be used by God to the end. It is no use comparing yourself to others that you are a more conscientious person than them because God is not looking for that. If anyone wants to be used by God, He wants them to aggressively go for it.
Even if we lose everything else, we still need to have the zeal for this spiritual blessing, the blessing of the Lord being with us, and being used by the Lord. We need to crave that blessing before the Lord, and not be deterred by thoughts like, ‘It’s not fair if I have it all. Others should have a chance too’. We must not view the spiritual blessing from man’s perspective. Instead, let us pray that we will be aggressive in craving for the spiritual and vigorously draw God’s attention.
God our Father, help us to first strive and struggle for our own spirits to live. Even if we might relinquish everything else in the world, help us to never yield spiritual blessings to others but forcefully seize them no matter what. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pastor Ki-Taek Lee
The Director of Sungrak Mission Center