by Pastor Neil
Sometimes narrative episodes come in pairs in the Bible, as if two stories were crafted on the same template. These two accounts of two sons of Jacob, Judah and Joseph, have many parallels and contrasts. On the surface the story of Judah and Tamar is a story of sexual incontinence and the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife is a tale of sexual self-control.
But the parallels go much deeper.
Judah goes down and lives among the Canaanites
Joseph is taken down to Egypt
Judah sets up business with Hirah
Joseph is purchased by Potiphar
Judah prospered with a growing family
Joseph prospered and made his master prosper
Judah makes an invitation to illicit sexual intercourse
Joseph resists an invitation to illicit sexual intercourse
Judah leaves behind his seal and its cord and his staff
Joseph leaves behind his cloak
Judah passes false judgement and Tamar is to be burned
Joseph receives false judgment and is thrown in jail
Taking a careful look at the scriptures, one can see that this happens quite frequently. We have seen this kind of parallel story-telling before:
Jacob disguises himself
Leah disguises herself
Tamar disguises herself
Jacob puts on his brother’s clothing
Leah puts on her sister’s clothing
Tamar puts on different clothing
Jacob steals his brother’s blessing
Leah steals her sister’s blessing
Tamar steals a blessing
Moses leads the people of Israel through the Red Sea on dry land
Moses, in a dry land, brings water out of the rock for the people of Israel
I Samuel 1-2:
Elkanah’s dysfunctional family
Eli’s dysfunctional family
Jesus stills the raging storm
Jesus silences the raging spirits
Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at mid-day
Jesus meets a Jewish man at mid-night
King Herod throws a banquet for his birthday in his palace
King Jesus throws a banquet for 5000 on a hillside
What are we supposed to do with this kind of observation? Well, if nothing other than noticing the literary craft of the original authors, let us at least take notice of this kind of narrative skill. But also let us observe what the coupled narratives show us. Is there a balancing truth to be learned? Is there a fuller meaning to be grasped? Take a look at some of the psalms and see how a problem posed in one finds its resolution in the next.
Zoom out just a little from the verse you are reading and ask the question: ‘What else is on the page?’
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