My husband and I go away for the weekend every couple of months.
We’re fortunate to be able to live smack dab in the center of the state, so we have destinations in every direction. When we first started looking at destinations, we looked into log cabins in a popular hiking destination. After looking through several different cabin listings, we realized that since we live in a log cabin, the whole “cabin destination” kind of lost some of its appeal! Consequently, we typically head toward cities.
We were walking in one of these cities during one of these weekends when we started to notice there were homeless folks on what seemed like every corner.
As we waited for the light to change at an intersection, a gentleman passed us with his shopping cart full of every one of his belongings.
My husband looked at him for a minute and then asked me if I thought that man ever thought about a life that was different, about a future, about changing his situation.
Honestly, I’ve thought a lot about this because I’ve spent some time with people who were living in the throes of desperation and hopelessness.
One of the major things I’ve learned is that it is very difficult for most of us to understand utter despair and hopelessness because it’s foreign to us:
- We have houses that are consistently heated and cooled.
- We have closets with more clothes than we ever wear.
- We have more food in our fridges and pantries than we’ll ever eat.
- We have jobs that accept us and pay our bills.
- We have bank accounts.
- We have credit cards.
We have the ability to think about tomorrow and the future because we have confidence in today.
Not everyone has that.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs says that basic needs–food and shelter–have to be met before any other needs can be met.
Most of us don’t have to worry about food or shelter; we don’t have to scavenge for our next meal or a bed to sleep in.
We are in thriving mode instead of survival mode.
Not everyone has those luxuries, though.
For people who are in survival mode, it’s not realistic to think about tomorrow, let alone the future, because there is too much to worry about today.
For most of us, though, desperation in our hearts looks a little different:
- We’re desperate for the promotion so we spend 16 hours a day at the office.
- We’re desperate for our kids to be on the all-star team, so we hire personal coaches.
- We’re desperate for our partners to find us attractive, so we starve ourselves.
- We’re desperate for acceptance so we sacrifice who we are.
- We’re desperate for validation so we curate perfect lives on social media
- We’re desperate for understanding so we overexplain ourselves
While our desperation might not be related to life and death, there is still danger there.
A Truly Desperate Heart
I’ve always been baffled by Tamar’s story.
I’m not sure how old I was when the full weight of her story resonated with me, but I’m pretty confident this one wasn’t illustrated on the flannel graph in my Sunday School class.
After all, I don’t remember a prostitute character in the flannel graph box.
If you don’t know Tamar’s story, the full narrative can be found in Genesis 38, and it is absolutely worth a read. Let me just go ahead and sum it up for you here:
- Jacob’s (yes, the same Jacob who had the ambitious, deceptive heart and was the father of the Israelites) son Judah and his wife Shua had a son named Er–he married Tamar.
- Er was evil, so God killed him before he and Tamar had any children.
- Tamar had to marry Er’s brother Onan–that was tradition.
- Onan wouldn’t have children with Tamar, so God killed him.
- Tamar should have married the third son, but Judah sent Tamar back to her father’s house as a widow.
- Penniless and childless, Tamar was desperate.
- After Judah’s wife died, she disguised herself as a prostitute and slept with Judah–her father-in-law.
- She kept his staff, seal, and cord for proof and told him it was collateral until he paid her, but she had no intention of giving them back
- Three months later, Judah learned Tamar was pregnant and ordered her to be punished.
- Tamar reveals his belongings.
- Judah acknowledges his sin and Tamar’s righteousness.
- They have twin boys–Perez and Zerah.
- King David and Christ were both descendants of Perez.
- Judah and Tamar are listed by name in Jesus’s genealogy
Let’s just take a minute to put this in perspective–Tamar marries not one, but two, evil men who God kills. Then, when she is supposed to marry the third, her father-in-law refuses and sends her to her father’s house to live as a widow.
She didn’t have many options because women didn’t have many, really any, options during this time and in this culture. She couldn’t own property, and she didn’t have a son who could own property. They were often abused and completely taken advantage of because of their lack of status in the world.
Sending Tamar back to her father’s house alone and as a widow would ultimately be a death sentence unless Judah followed through with his duty to allow Tamar to marry his youngest son–which Tamar knew wasn’t going to happen.
This was a woman in a desperate situation–a desperate situation that was no fault of her own.
She takes matters into her own hands in the most bizarre manner.
A couple of things strike me about Tamar’s plan:
- She was a Gentile but she knew Jewish law well enough to know her only way out of her situation was through Judah.
- Clearly, she knew Judah well enough to know both his weakness and that he would deny his behavior
Taking a step back and looking at this story, it honestly seems absurd. Here’s a Jewish widow who disguises herself as a prostitute in order to get pregnant by her father-in-law…
Sounds more like a soap opera than a bible story, doesn’t it?
From Desperation to Redeemed and Restored
I struggle a bit with Tamar’s story, just like I struggled with Jacob’s. Mostly, I struggle with how to interpret God’s will and plan in these situations. I’m not a theologian, per se, but I am a literary analyst, and there are some patterns and themes that cannot be denied in these stories:
- God uses imperfect people to carry out his perfect plan.
- The methods and means employed in these stories are baffling and not at all what we would expect.
- It’s only the grace of God that redeems these stories and these people.
- God takes what the enemy meant for evil and uses it for good.
Both Tamar and Judah were guilty in this story–Judah refused Tamar the hand of his youngest son, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute to sleep with Judah, Judah was clearly in the habit of sleeping with prostitutes, and Tamar knew Judah would deny his actions so she kept his belongings and fled.
Neither one of these folks was innocent.
Yet, they both are listed by name in the genealogy of Christ.
Much like Eve and Jacob, Tamar and Judah made some questionable choices, but God restored and redeemed them in order for them to live out their legacies.
You might be reading these stories and feeling hopeful again for the first time in a long time because God is speaking to your heart and reminding you that your past, your own ambition, is not too much for his grace and mercy.
If that’s you, I pray that you truly embrace grace for yourself today and see the hope you have for tomorrow, knowing that God is in the business of restoration and redemption.
If you’re reading this today and can’t relate to these kinds of life-changing, devastating choices like that Tamar was forced to make or Judah chose to make, I pray that as you look around you, you can see the Tamars and the Judahs around you. I pray that you remember God’s faithfulness in these stories and you learn to extend grace to these individuals today so that you can be a source of hope for them tomorrow.
We never know the legacy God has planned for an individual.
After all, He is in the business of redemption and restoration.
- Who do you relate to in this story?
- How has ambition been an issue for you in life?
- In what ways do you see God’s fingerprints all over the messy parts of your life or the lives of your loved ones?
I love this one, Kristen! Thanks for this reminder today. I really enjoyed living this out with you!
Wonderful post! Before I recommitted my life to Jesus, I was caught up in ambition. God is so gracious to give me a better way to live.
I love how you brought Tamar’s Story alive. “We never know the legacy God has planned for an individual. After all, He is in the business of redemption and restoration.” Thanks for sharing