The Forgotten Closet
Text: Genesis 38
Sermon delivered at PBTS Chapel, Sept. 28, 2006.
He never saw it coming. It was just the better part of the morning and yet it seemed like a full day already for him. He was not able to sleep well the night before. Maybe it was the heat. But, no. He had been here for a long time now. His body was well adjusted to the desert heat. The desert. This has been his home for several decades now. He found the place therapeutic. It helps forget one’s past. Or so he thought.
When was that? Ah, it was too long ago. A lifetime had passed. But still, he can remember it very well. The desert was not that helpful after all. He can still feel the pain that caused him to run away. Run away from the ones he love. His father and his brothers. Why? He could not bear anymore to see his father in anguish. He was old. Actually, too old to suffer that way. And the guilt is too much to carry, especially whenever he sees his father crying all day. All the more when he hears him cry at night in his tent. These are the silent swords that cut through his heart. He decided could not live with the lies anymore. Why did he make that suggestion? Who could have the heart to sell his own brother? His own flesh and blood? What if he had not done that? What if he had kept his cool? What if he had just swallowed his envy and his pride? What if…?
His reveries were broken momentarily by a hustling outside the tent. They have come. They were the messangers that came the day before. He was all too excited to see them, only to hear later that it was not good news they brought. He has not seen this men in a long time. Long time friends. Good friends. It was during their carefree days they got acquainted. They have too much in common and have enjoyed each other’s company very much. Now, they have crossed ways again. The first minutes were full of excited exchange of news. Too much to share. Too much to know. And the heart is ever hungry for such encounters. Then came the heart stopper.
“Do you have any news about your daughter in law?” asked one of them.
“Tamar? What about her?”
“There are rumors going around…” said another. Trying to feel the situation.
“Please go on.” He pleaded.
“Some had seen your daughter-in-law and she’s acting strange.”
“What do you mean ‘strange’?” His eyes are now narrowing.
“Some of the townspeople think she’s pregnant. And it’s strange because she has no husband at the moment. Is that right?”
“We did not believe at first. But we ourselves have seen her one time as she was going to the well. It looks like the protrusion in her midsection is not because of an oversized dress.” offered the other.
“Tamar…” His words trailed off. He felt a door that has been closed for a long time, now slowly creak open. Memories are coming back. At first in isolated drops. Then a trickle. Then a sudden gush of memories flooded his mind.
Tamar. Yes. How could he forget? His only daughter-in-law. His cursed daughter-in-law. If not cursed, then what would you call her?
He suddenly remembered Er his firstborn son. He feeling as a failed father came back with the image of his son. Laughing. Mocking. When his son married Tamar, he thought his son will change for the better. Responsibility does that sometimes. Sometimes. But his son seems to be the exception. That cursed woman did not help, instead it brought more judgment from the Lord. For from who else would judgment come from? My Son! He realized that he was just reaping the consequences of what he has done. My son! My son! For the first time, he fully understood the anguish he has brought upon his father. No logical reasons could ever justify what he has done to his father and to his brother! A lost son taught him that. A dead son. A very precious price to pay.
He made sure that his son’s name will not be blotted out from Israel. Although apprehensive, he told his second son Onan to take his brother’s widow as his wife. They must have a son for his brother’s sake. He gently explained to Onan his duty as a brother. It was in the Torah after all. When Onan agreed, he was joyous. At least, a memory for his son is ensured. Or so he thought.
One early morning, he was startled with a commotion outside Onan’s tent. He thought the shepherds were just too excited about the start of the shearing period. He was about to go back to sleep when one of the shepperds persistently rapped at the door flaps of his tent. He called the shepherd in, only to hear the report that his second son Onan died in the night. He felt like being in the middle of an Arabian sandstorm. The lights have gone out. “Again!?” he cried out. His eyes and his heart have not yet fully recovered from his mourning not too long ago. And now this. He felt this was too much. He ran outside his tent like a mad man. He tore his robes. “Adoooooooonnnnnnnnaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy!”
He could not remember how long he stayed face down on the sand. He might have slept crying. He had cried his heart out and maybe he fell asleep out of exhaustion. It’s time to move on. Another price. Another precious price for his sin. It’s all coming back to him. There’s no escape.
Then he thought of that cursed woman Tamar. She has to go. She had brought enough grief already. He can not take another of this. She has to go. But how? He knew that the Law requires him to give his son Selah to her as her husband. But she has to go, he knew that. Suddenly, he thought of something. If giving his son Selah is inevitable, then maybe he can delay it. Yes, that’s it. Delay. The delay might be the catalyst to forgetting. Delaying is forgetting. That’s right. That’s what he needed to do.
“Until when?” Tamar asked him.
“Wait until he comes of age. Then you can be his wife.” He was performing the charade very well. “For the meantime, you can go home to your father. I will send you messengers as soon as Selah is ready to take his responsibility. Don’t worry, I will send you what you might need. I will make sure that you are taken cared off.”
“That sounds reasonable. Thank you for your generous offer. That’s so kind of you. When should I leave?”
“As soon as you are ready, my men will escort you home.” And then he thought, “for good.”
He was suddenly brought back to the present by the insistent rapping on his tent’s flap door. He was disoriented at first. How long has he been dwelling on those memories? An hour? He has no way of knowing. The raps are now getting louder.
“I will be right there in a moment!” Shepherds! Can’t they just wait? The sudden flashbacks has rendered him immobile. The cramps he’s feeling indicate that he has been in that position for a long time. But deep inside, he felt happy. Vindicated. At last, the time has come. The curse will now be finally broken. He did not expect this to happen. But the LORD has finally made his face shine upon him. Dawn at last! As soon as he felt the strength come back to his legs, he rose slowly.
The men he sent yesterday were fast and highly efficient. He was satisfied with their work. That’s why he sent them. And he can’t but smile to himself. They’re back with the cursed woman! At this very early hour! They made it. He thought of giving them young goats as rewards. Good men deserves rewards. It keeps them efficient and loyal. It works.
As soon as he heard the news from his old friends during their reunion the day before, he immediately sent his men after Tamar. His verdict: SHE MUST BE BURNED. He felt justified and righteously indignant. That is in the Law. Harlotry deserves burning. Adonai must be smiling at me right now, he thought. At last, the LORD has finally made his face shine upon him. At last.
He slowly made his way to the tent door. Age slows you down. Why can’t men just stay young and healthy and vigorous? Now he had to contend with his squeaking joints. He can’t help but remember his younger days. The day he first met his the woman he married. But as soon as the memory hit him, he felt a sudden pang in his heart. She left this world too soon. She could have waited. She was too young to die. Sheol has no need of her, but he does.
The urge he felt suddenly jolted him back into the present. He feel his desires rise, but he restrained it. It can wait. Another young goat would not hurt his flock. He found himself rejuvenated with the thought. Adrenaline has that effect to the body.
He squinted his eyes as he walked out his tent. The brightness caused by the sun’s reflections on things around him is too much for his old eyes to take. And coming from the dimly lit tent of his only made it worse. After his eyes have adjusted, he saw that it was his friend, the Adullamite, that was rapping. Behind him were the men he sent yesterday. His strike force.
“Where is she?” He excitedly blurted out.
“They did not get her.”
“What! Was I unclear yesterday that you missed my instructions?” His stare was so sharp they could have bled to death at that instant.
One of the men he sent stepped forward and brought several things out of his duffel bag.
He never saw it coming. This was far from his expectations. As soon as he saw the first item, he knew it was over. He is dead. There’s no escape. Again.
Memories came gushing back one more time. It seems his past is really after him.
“What pledge should I give you?” he remembered asking the shrine prostitute.
“Your cord, your seal, and your staff.”
“You are funny, do you know that? Why would I give you those things?”
“Because you want to lay with me.”
He did want to lay with her. The urge inside him is like that of the gale of the Galilees. It was fast and furious. It must be satisfied. It must have an outlet. His wife has long been gone. When was the last time he touched a woman? He could not remember. Now is his chance. He could not think of any reason why he would not do it. Life is now. At this moment. But what will happen in the future? What if people find out? What if this is a mistake? What if…?
“Okay. But as soon as I sent you the young goat, I’ll have these back.”
And that morning, he was looking at those items again. No escape. He remembered. He felt so tired. Tired of running around. Tired of trying to close the doors of his deepest closet. His strength is limited. He has reached past the breaking point. It’s now the time of reckoning. The time of judgment.
First, he suggested the sale of his brother Joseph. Then he conspired with his brothers in telling a big lie to his father. They concocted a story that would explain his brother’s disappearance. He thought that was easy. But he was wrong. But instead of facing the truth, he chose to run away. As if running away and forgetting it would make the guilt go away. That’s what he thought. He tasted the bitter consequences and yet persisted… until this morning. Now, it’s over. He was cornered. There’s only one way out. He has to end it. He needs to tell the truth!
Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I…”
Two thousand years later, his great great grandson uttered this liberating words “You shall know the truth; and the truth shall set you free.”