Women of the Bible – Potiphar’s Wife

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Potiphar’s Wife

Please Read: Genesis 39

There’s a lot of bad women in the Bible. Jezebel comes to mind. Her name has become synonymous with a scheming and shamelessly evil woman. But, if I were handing out awards for the “Most Wicked Woman” in the Bible, I’d have to pick Athaliah – who kills her grandchildren so she can reign supreme as queen. (More on the two of them, later.) Potiphar’s wife would probably make the Bible Bad Girls Hall of Fame. While some of our biblical heroines sinned “helping out God,” Mrs. Potiphar is the first woman on record to sin for purely sensual reasons.

sensual [sen-shoo-uh l] adjective

  1. pertaining to, inclined to, or preoccupied with the gratification of the senses or appetites; carnal; fleshly.
  2. lacking in moral restraints; lewd or unchaste.
  3. arousing or exciting the senses or appetites.
  4. worldly; materialistic; irreligious.

Well, that about sums up Potiphar’s Wife. End of story.

Just kidding.

Seriously – after Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, he ends up a slave in the house of Potiphar, a high ranking Egyptian official. Even in the midst of slavery, God is with Joseph and made everything he did successful. Potiphar is no dummy. He notices that God is blessing Joseph and puts him in charge of his entire household. Enter the problem at hand:

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome. After some time his master’s wife looked longingly at Joseph and said, “Sleep with me.”

Talk to the Hand!

Contrast Joseph’s response to Judah in the story of Tamar. Judah easily gave in to lust and slept with a “prostitute.” Joseph said, “Talk to the hand!”

“Look,” he said to his master’s wife, “with me here my master does not concern himself with anything in his house, and he has put all that he owns under my authority. No one in this house is greater than I am. He has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. So how could I do such a great evil and sin against God?”

Who are you sinning against?

Joseph knew that all sin is ultimately against God Himself. If he had given in to Mrs. P’s request Joseph would’ve committed a sin trifecta sinning against God, Potiphar and himself. Proverbs 5 – entitled “Avoid Seduction” in the Holman Christian Standard Bible – describes the hurt we do to our own self by giving in to sexual temptation:

My son, pay attention to my wisdom; listen closely to my understanding so that you may maintain discretion and your lips safeguard knowledge. Though the lips of the forbidden woman drip honey and her words are smoother than oil, in the end she’s as bitter as wormwood and as sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps head straight for Sheol. She doesn’t consider the path of life; she doesn’t know that her ways are unstable. 

So now, my sons, listen to me, and don’t turn away from the words of my mouth. Keep your way far from her. Don’t go near the door of her house. Otherwise, you will give up your vitality to others and your years to someone cruel; strangers will drain your resources,and your earnings will end up in a foreigner’s house. At the end of your life, you will lament when your physical body has been consumed…

Why, my son, would you be infatuated with a forbidden woman or embrace the breast of a stranger? For a man’s ways are before the Lord’s eyes, and He considers all his paths. A wicked man’s iniquities entrap him;  he is entangled in the ropes of his own sin. He will die because there is no discipline, and be lost because of his great stupidity

Joseph’s Coat

To do his job, Joseph had to keep on going to Potiphar’s house and keep on encountering Potiphar’s Wife. She was persistent, you have to give her that. She spoke with Joseph “day after day.” Finally, one day she throws herself on him and begs him to sleep with her. He escapes leaving his coat in her hands.

Which brings us to an interesting point. Joseph’s coat is almost like a character in his story.

  • Jacob, Joseph’s father, gives his favorite son a “coat of many colors.” This induces jealousy in his older brothers.The jealousy leads to betrayal.
  • When Joseph’s brothers betray him by selling him to traders, they tear up his coat, put blood on it and lie to their father, telling him “Joseph must be dead.”
  • Now, Potiphar’s Wife keeps Joseph’s coat (which she tore off his body) and spins a passel of lies on how he tried to seduce her.

The Bible says Mrs. P sits down next to Joseph’s coat and waits for her husband to come home. Creepy. Really creepy. You can just imagine her muttering under her breath, stroking it, plotting her revenge. Tired Potiphar arrives home after a long day at work and is bombarded with her outrage. She’s quite the “Poti Mouth.”

Gien Karssen says: “She accused (Joseph) of the immorality she had intended to commit herself!  …she decided, without any scruples, to ruin his career and stain his good name.”

Potiphar has to punish Joseph or he’ll never get any peace at home for the rest of his married life. We can surmise, however, that there may have been some niggling doubts in Potiphar’s mind about the veracity of his wife’s tale. He could’ve just had Joseph killed. Instead, he sends him to prison.

How is Jesus involved in the story of Potiphar’s Wife?

We’ve already learned in Rachel’s story that Joseph is a Type of Christ. Jesus also said:

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

“And the two become one flesh.” Here’s my theory: Every time you sleep with someone you are not married to, you become “one flesh.” So when you break up – which you inevitably will because without the covenant of marriage you are, frankly, just using each other to get what you want – when you walk away, you will tear apart the one flesh and leave a little piece of yourself behind in the process. If you repeatedly do this over and over and continue to fragment yourself, you no longer feel whole anymore. Little bits of your heart and soul are walking around in other people.

The only way to become whole again is to come to Jesus and let Him heal you and fill your empty places. Obeying the law of God is for our protection. He made us. He knows what’s best for us.

Questions to Ponder

  1. Temptation is a fact of life. Joseph ran when he was tempted. According to Proverbs 5 above, how can you avoid temptation, what are the results of giving in to temptation?
  2. How did wealth and idleness predispose Potiphar’s Wife to sin? Are you spoiled? Why or why not?
  3. How do you think Potiphar’s Wife felt when Joseph – years later – came to be the second most powerful man in the land of Egypt?

Prayer:

Lord, our society is a lot like the society Potiphar’s Wife lived in. You have given us so many blessings: Comfortable homes. Good food. Beautiful clothes. Peace. Joy. Grace. But still we want more, more, more. We are not content with the things we have. We don’t remember You have said the greatest blessing of all is that You will never leave us nor forsake us. Help us to remember that, Lord. Help us not to wander, to lust after what we cannot have. We have all we need in You. Amen.

The Bottom Line

Things I learned from Potiphar’s Wife: Idle hands ARE the devil’s workshop.

First posted March 19, 2016


Women of the Bible – Tamar #1

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Tamar – “Stately Palm”

Please Read: Genesis 38, Ruth 4:12, 1 Chronicles 2:4 and Matthew 1:3

Double standards. Whenever sexual shenanigans are going on, here is a typical reaction of people both modern and biblical:

  • To the man: “Oh well. Boys will be boys!”
  • To the woman: “Whore!”

And that is exactly what happened in the story of Tamar, daughter-in-law of Judah.

Bad Boys – Whatcha Gonna Do?

I think it’s in the movie Ben Hur that Massala says to Judah Ben Hur (with a heavy sigh): “Judah. Judah. Judah.” I’d liked to say the same thing to this Judah, too. “Judah, Judah, Judah.” Sigh.

  • The Bible interrupts the story of Joseph to tell us Tamar and Judah’s story. Fresh off betraying his brother Joseph – it was Judah’s idea to sell him to the Midianites – Judah moves out of the house. Maybe he left because he couldn’t stand watching his father’s continuous grief over the “death” of Joseph (Judah and his brothers lied to their father and told him Joseph was dead.) Maybe the guilt was eating him alive. Anyway…
  • Judah settles near his foreign friend, Hirah. There he meets and marries a Canaanite woman whose daddy’s name means “rich.” Hmmm. He obviously didn’t marry her for her faith in God because they raised two wicked sons – Er and Onan. Judah gets a Canaanite wife for his oldest son, Er. Her name is Tamar. Enter our beleaguered heroine. Yes, I said heroine.
  • Er is an evil man. We don’t know what kind of evil he was. All we know is that he was so bad that God killed him. (I don’t know if we have any other instances recorded in the Bible of that happening?!) According to the laws of the time, Judah was to provide Tamar with his next son as husband to keep the family line going. Levirate marriage is not something we practice today, so it seems foreign and uncomfortable to our ears, but it was common in those days. The Bible talks about this concept in Deuteronomy 25:5-10.
  • Onan, Judah’s second son, was also an evil man. The Bible gets really graphic here. We know the evil Onan did. He spilled his sperm on the ground rather than get Tamar pregnant. (His name is actually still in our modern dictionaries – meaning self-gratification.) Onan would not do his duty for financial reasons – greed. He knew that any children of Tamar would endanger him from inheriting his dad’s estate. God kills Onan on the spot.
  • Judah has a third son, Shelah, but he’s just a boy. He tells Tamar she can have Shelah as her husband when he grows up but then he sends her home to live with her father. The right thing to do would’ve been to keep her in his own home. Instead of acknowledging that his sons Er and Onan were evil, Judah appears to blame Tamar for their deaths and fears for the life of his last living child.
  • Imagine waiting for a little boy to grow old enough to be your husband. Ewww! Years pass. Lots of years pass. Tamar’s biological clock is ticking. No kids means no support, no future for this two-time widow. When Tamar realizes that Judah is not going to keep his promise to her – he is not going to do his duty and provide Shelah to be her husband – she hatches a plot. This lonely, neglected widow springs into action. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The Seduction…or is it?

Historically, Tamar is portrayed as a seductress luring Judah into her bed. See painting above for proof. But is she the prostitute she is made out to be?

Judah’s wife has died and the mourning period has ended. Judah heads out to oversee the shearing of his sheep and to visit Hirah. Along the way he encounters a heavily veiled woman sitting at the entrance to the city. Now, notice this!

  • JUDAH approaches her.
  • JUDAH propositions her.
  • JUDAH sleeps with her.

There’s a couple of theories on Judah’s motivation here. One, he’s just a horny old widower seeking sex after a long mourning period. Two, he is trying to improve his sheep shearing profits by participating in a pagan ritual with a temple prostitute. Either way, it’s not good.

Jean E. Syswerda says: “Shrine prostitutes usually kept themselves heavily veiled before and during the act of intercourse, an attempt to create the illusion that the participant was actually engaging in the sexual act with the goddess herself.”

Judah is not behaving like a godly man. He is a man motivated by lust. Tamar does not seduce him. He simply took her and casually gives up his ID for a one night stand. Handing over his signet ring, cord and staff was like handing over his driver’s license, passport and credit card.

“She is More Righteous Than I”

All the men in Tamar’s life failed her. Every. Single. One.

It took incredible courage for Tamar to carry out her plan. There was no social media in those days. She couldn’t see Judah checking in at his favorite restaurant down the road to alert her that he was getting close. How long did she have to wait for Judah to show up? She was in danger of being seen and propositioned by other men the whole time she sat there. But she had even more problems to overcome…

When Tamar is found to be pregnant, Judah piles on even more sins.

  • He listens to gossip.
  • He over reacts – “Bring her out. Let her be burned to death!” (The usual punishment is stoning so he’s being extra vindictive here.)
  • He practices self-righteous indignation – harshly judging the woman for the same sin he just committed.
  • He’s probably secretly relieved that he can eliminate his “problem” and not have Shelah marry this cursed woman.

The triumphant moment of the story. On her way to be burned at the stake, Tamar produces Judah’s ID and names him as the father of her child (children! – she ends up having twins!). Judah’s response?

She is more righteous than I. That about sums up this story.

Ann Spangler says: Judah had shown little concern regarding the continuance of his family line. Instead, God used a woman, shamed by her own barrenness and determined to overcome it, to ensure that the tribe of Judah would not only survive but that it would one day bear the world’s Messiah.

This foreign woman – we don’t even know if she was a believer or not – ensured the line of Christ. Tamar’s desperate act thwarted any plans of Satan to cut off the line of Christ. Through Tamar, God’s plan for the world was carried out.

How is Jesus involved in Tamar’s Story?

Only five women are listed in the genealogy of Christ in Matthew chapter 1 – and Tamar is the first one. What a story to be in the line of Christ. Jesus comes from such a dysfunctional human family. It shows the power of grace.

While He walked the earth, Jesus displayed this grace to another woman caught in the act of prostituting herself.  The Pharisees throw a woman at the feet of Jesus’ who was caught in the very act of adultery. (Trying not to imagine that one.) Whore! they say. Stone her! they say. Where is the man who was caught in adultery with her? Nowhere in sight. Oh, well. Boys will be boys.

Jesus stoops down to write in the sand. When He rises He says: “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one they all leave. Starting with the oldest (who should know better.)

To the woman He says: “Go, and sin no more.” Judah never slept with Tamar again. She had her sons and sinned no more. (Also, on a more positive note, this event seems to turn Judah around and head him in the right direction. He becomes the leader of his brothers, stepping up and offering himself in exchange for Benjamin, worried about breaking his father’s heart.)

Questions to Ponder

  1. In your life, have you seen a double standard applied like this – where one guilty party gets off scot-free and the other is punished for life?
  2. Do you judge more harshly the people that commit the same sins you fall prey to?
  3. Is your family dysfunctional? How do you respond to the dysfunction?

Prayer:

Lord, thank you that you included imperfect people like Judah and Tamar in your own family tree. You came from a dysfunctional human family tree just like so many of us here on earth today. Thank you that while you do not condone or sanction evil, you can work all things for the good of those who love You and are called according to Your purpose. Amen.

The Bottom Line

Things I learned from Tamar: Appearances can be deceiving.

Originally published March13, 2016. 


Women of the Bible – The Witch of Endor

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The Witch of Endor

Please Read: all of 1 Samuel 28

Did you know that according to the National Retail Federation “the witch has been the bestselling adult (Halloween) costume for the past 10 years, followed closely by the vampire, pirate, nurse and Batman?” 

It’s Halloween and tonight our Tuesday evening Women of the Bible study is going to read about The Witch of Endor – a scene the poet Lord Byron describes likes this…

“I have always thought this the finest and most finished witch scene that ever was written or conceived, and you will be of my opinion if you consider all the circumstances of the actors of the case, together with the gravity, simplicity and density of the language. It beats all the ghost scenes I have ever read.”

My co-leader said she’s been a Christian since 1967 but had NEVER read this story in the Bible until now. It shook her up. That is an appropriate reaction. The Witch of Endor SHOULD shake us to the core. God hates certain things and witchcraft is one of them. I saw a meme online the other day that said, “Want to hear God’s voice, read the Bible out loud.” Here’s what God has to say about the occult:

“Do not let a woman who does evil magic stay alive. Put her to death.” Exodus 22:18

“Do not turn to mediums [who pretend to consult the dead] or to spiritists [who have spirits of divination]; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:31

“Every man or woman who is a medium or a psychic must be put to death. They must be stoned to death because they deserve to die.” Leviticus 20:27

A Little Background

So Saul, the first king of Israel, had started well – trusting God and obeying Him. But, and this is a big BUT, he did not remain faithful. He did not remain obedient. So God left him (and, as a bonus, sent an evil spirit to torment him.)  Samuel, Saul’s mentor who only lived a few miles away, never went to see Saul again – and mourned for him the rest of his life.  This sets the stage for our story.

Samuel has passed away. After a busy life of neglecting his kingdom and jealously trying to kill David – God’s next choice for the throne of Israel – Saul is faced with the imminent attack of a massive army. He panics. He prays (which is actually a good response when you’re panicking.) But God is not answering him. God tends to not answer the prayers of people who do not believe in or obey Him.

Hebrews 11:6 says “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Nothing Good Happens After Midnight

Good counsel comes from God alone. But Saul decides to disguise himself, set out in the middle of the night to sneak behind enemy lines and seek the advice of a woman who has sold her soul to Satan. Darkness and disobedience go hand in hand. Saul swears to break the very law that he had created – that all witches must die – and promises the Witch of Endor safety if she will call up Samuel. Here’s what God has to say about that:

“As for the person who turns to mediums [who consult the dead] or to spiritists, to play the prostitute after them, I shall set My face against that person and will cut him off from his people [excluding him from the atonement made for them].” Leviticus 20:6

Saul is going to be “cut off” sooner, rather than later.

Let’s Take This Quite Literally

Ancient peoples believed the spirit world was real. Modern people are too “sophisticated” to believe in such antiquated ideas. As I researched, I was surprised to find that these passages are called “mysterious” and “difficult to deal with” by some pretty famous theologians. Some of them go through some pretty crazy mental gymnastics to try and make this scene fit their dogma:

  • they say the witch made the whole thing up and Saul fell for it because he was so desperate
  • others say it was an evil spirit that impersonated Samuel
  • still others say it was just a vision of Samuel, not the actual Samuel himself come back from the dead.

Me, I have decided to take this story at face value. 

I believe God warns us so strongly against the occult because it is real and it is dangerous. There is satanic power involved. Saul asked the witch to call up the dead Samuel. Witch does so (thank God the Bible does not describe how she did this). Samuel shows up (irritated that he had to leave the afterlife). Samuel delivers the bad news and leaves.  No mental gymnastics necessary. Besides, it’s not the only time God allows people to come back from the dead. Later Moses and Elijah will return to have a staff meeting with Jesus on the top of the Mount of Transfiguration.

Since the Witch screams when Samuel shows up, I believe she was probably one of those shams listed in Leviticus 19 (and portrayed in the 1990 movie, Ghost) and was terrified when her magical arts actually worked. It’s pretty ironic she didn’t recognize Saul in disguise until God allowed Samuel to return.

Those ancient peoples who believed in the occult were always consulting the spirits to try and control their future. Saul, the guy who took his kingdom into his own hands now wanted to take his future into his own hands.  He wanted to know more than God allowed him to know. So God let him have it. He gave Saul a list of all his sins and told him that both he and his sons would die the next day. Who wouldn’t fall face down on the ground after hearing a message like that? 

Afterlife in the Old Testament

There isn’t much mention of heaven or hell in the Old Testament. The Sadducees of New Testament fame studied the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) and declared that there was no life after death. (That’s why they were Sad u See:) They didn’t include 1 Samuel in their studies. If they had they might have come to a different conclusion.

This story assumes several things. Saul assumes that Samuel’s spirit is living on somewhere else – presumably heaven since Samuel believed and served God to the end. He assumes that Samuel can be called out of heaven to come back to this world. When Samuel returns and gives his fateful message he ends with a very interesting phrase: “Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.”

Some scholars take this to mean that tomorrow Saul and his sons will join Samuel in the house of the dead but others say that Saul and his sons will join Samuel in heaven. Say what? Saul, after all the evil he has done, will still end up in heaven? That sounds more like the gracious God of the New Testament and His Son Jesus than the so-called “angry God” of the Old Testament.

How is Jesus involved in The Witch of Endor’s Story?

The typical reaction of the Christian community to people like Saul and the Witch is to shun them, castigate them, stay as far away from them as possible. But maybe we are just supposed to love them – and share the good news of Jesus Christ with them so the truth can set them free. 

Many women get into witchcraft because they want to help people. The Witch of Endor gently cared for Saul encouraging him to rest after he received his devastating news. She cooked him a fine meal before she sent him on his way. She was a good hostess not the ugly, evil crone by her boiling pot filled with “the scale of a dragon, a wolf’s tooth, a witch’s mummified flesh, the gullet and stomach of a ravenous shark, a root of hemlock that was dug up in the dark,…a goat’s bile, some twigs of yew that were broken off during a lunar eclipse…”

Present day physics are much more subtle now. They have slick, beautiful websites. They promise to ease the pain of your loss by putting you in touch with your dearly departed loved ones or even your lost pets. (All for only $29.99) 

Author Liz Curtis Higgs when writing about the Witch of Endor did some research (after much prayer) on the occult.  This is what a former witch turned Christian was trained to do:

“Never frighten anyone. Offer new realms of mystery and excitement. Make it look like natural, innocent adventure. Cover up evil with appealing wrappings.” 

Liz says

“I studied various books on the occult and found safe-sounding, familiar practices: Prayer and meditation. Ceremonies and sacred days. Music and worship. Sharing of food. Storytelling. Rituals for birth marriage and death. Many similarities. But oh, sisters, one big difference! Our relationship is not with a dead spirit but with a LIVING CHRIST. Our God does not come from within ourselves but from ON HIGH.

 These are women who just want to help but have chosen a path that God has forbidden. No matter the good intentions, God hates what they are doing and we are not to participate in the activities of evil.

“…do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations… Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord…” Deuteronomy 18:9-12

Questions to Ponder

  1. Have you ever participated in any occult activities: horoscopes, palm readers, telephone psychics, ouija boards, seances? Repent immediately and pray the prayer below. God is forgiving. God is kind.
  2. Does the thought of talking to a deceased loved one tempt you to break God’s law? 
  3. So is reading fantasy books like Harry Potter wrong?  Why or why not? How about desperately ill women reading a book like “The Medical Medium” who says Spirit will tell him what your specific health problems are?

Prayer by Ann Spangler:

Father, forgive me for my involvement in the occult. I want nothing whatever to do with the realm of evil. Draw me out of the darkness and into the light of your presence. Free me from any lingering effects of my involvement and help me to trust you completely for my future. Amen

The Bottom Line

Things I learned from The Witch of Endor: Don’t mess around with occult practices. If you want to know the future, ask God.  He’ll tell you what you need to know. (And I was pleasantly surprised to see solid evidence for the afterlife in the Old Testament.)


Women of the Bible – Dinah

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Dinah – “Justice”

Please Read: Genesis 34

I believe the Bible is a true story. I believe that all the women I’ve been writing about were real women. I believe I can learn something from their lives – otherwise these blog posts are just an exercise in futility. Scripture includes imperfect people – telling their raw stories with no further explanation. We don’t always get to know the back story, the emotions of those involved, the inner workings of their minds or their motivations. Dinah’s story is like this – stark, painful, brief.

Dinah, Leah’s daughter whom she bore to Jacob, went out to see some of the young women of the area. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, a prince of the region, saw her, he took her and raped her. He became infatuated with Dinah, daughter of Jacob. He loved the young girl and spoke tenderly to her.“Get me this girl as a wife,” he told his father Hamor.

The Fatal Sightseeing Trip

So Jacob settled in Shechem when he should’ve gone back to Bethel. First mistake. Both Abraham and Isaac were very worried about being killed by the locals because of their beautiful wives. Apparently a prince in those days just took a beautiful woman if he wanted her. God had to intervene to save both Sarai and Rebekah but nobody seemed worried about little Dinah. Second mistake.

An aging father, two “moms” fighting all the time and twelve brothers left her unsupervised, able to wander away from camp. Looking for female friends (Josephus says she attended the Canaanite annual festival of nature worship), this restless teenage girl got a whole lot more than she bargained for. And, unfortunately, God did not intervene in Dinah’s situation.

Revenge

When Dinah’s full-blooded brothers found out what had been done, they plotted their revenge. Pretending to agree to a marriage ceremony, they used the sacred sign of the covenant, circumcision, to trick the men into a surgical procedure…

On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords, went into the unsuspecting city, and killed every male. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with their swords, took Dinah from Shechem’s house, and went away. Jacob’s other sons came to the slaughter and plundered the city because their sister had been defiled.

We don’t know how Dinah felt about all this. The Bible doesn’t say. We know Shechem loved her and wanted to marry her (after he raped her) but we don’t know what Dinah thought. Speculation can set in. And a number of people have done some speculating on Dinah.

Speculations

Anita Diamant wrote an entire book, The Red Tent, trying to fill in the blanks of Dinah’s life. It was even made into a mini-series (which I haven’t seen.) I read the book back in 2005 and all I can remember about it is that I HATED it. I mean really despised and loathed it. It didn’t follow the biblical story I knew at all and it made all the men in Dinah’s family act like absolute jerks.

I read some criticism of the book and Anita Diament was defending it saying it was biblical.She didn’t understand what everyone’s problem was. The tale she told wasn’t in MY Bible but it wasn’t until I went to Passages Museum of the Bible that I found a clue as to why her story and the story in my Bible didn’t line up.

There’s different books included in the Bible for different religions.

  • The Hebrew Bible has 24 books

The various branches of Christianity all agree on the 27 books of the New Testament but they have a difference of opinion on what should be included in the Old Testament.

  • Protestants have 39 Old Testament books
  • Catholics have 46 Old Testament books
  • The Eastern Orthodox have 51 Old Testament books

And we all have our commentaries. Even the Hebrew Bible has commentary by rabbis. It’s called the Midrash. Wikipedia says:

In Judaism, the Midrash is the body of exegesis of Torah texts along with homiletic stories as taught by Rabbinical Jewish sages of the post-Temple era that provide an intrinsic analysis to passages… Midrash is a method of interpreting biblical stories that goes beyond simple distillation of religious, legal, or moral teachings. It fills in gaps left in the biblical narrative regarding events and personalities that are only hinted at.  The purpose of midrash was to resolve problems in the interpretation of difficult passages of the text of the Hebrew Bible, using Rabbinic principles of hermeneutics and philology to align them with the religious and ethical values of religious teachers.

So, as I understand it, rabbis, after the temple was destroyed, starting filling in the gaps in the Bible narrative with their own thoughts on the matter. As I researched Dinah’s life, I began to understand where Anita Diament may have gotten her story from. It wasn’t from her Hebrew Bible but from the commentary of the rabbis. Here’s some of the strange (and contradictory) things they have said about Dinah:

  • The Rabbis state that Leah was actually pregnant with a son; when Rachel saw that her sister was pregnant, she prayed, resulting in a change of the embryo’s gender (JT Berakhot 9:3, 14a).
  • Each of Jacob’s children was born together with his future spouse, except for Dinah, who was born alone.
  • The rabbis offered different explanations for the difficult story of the rape of Dinah.
    • They blame the rape of Dinah on Jacob’s slowness to go back to Bethel and keep his promise to God (he does return to Bethel, purifies his household and gets rid of all his idols after she is compromised.)
    • They say the rape is punishment for Jacob. Dinah should’ve married Esau but her father locked her in a chest to hide her.
    • They say the rape is punishment for Leah. She shouldn’t have spent her mandrakes to buy a night with Jacob.
    • They say Dinah knew she was beautiful and wanted to be seen. Her own waywardness caused her rape.
    • They say she married her brother Simeon,
    • Another says she was Job’s wife and converted him to Christianity.
    • Yet another says she got pregnant by the rape, moved to Egypt and gave birth to Asenath who eventually became Joseph’s wife.

My head is spinning. While I didn’t learn much new about Dinah’s life, I did come to understand other cultures, other commentaries and the differences in our Bibles.

How is Jesus involved in Dinah’s Story?

“Jacob’s sons returned from the field when they heard about the incident and were deeply grieved and angry. For Shechem had committed an outrage against Israel by raping Jacob’s daughter, and such a thing should not be done.”

It is an outrage when any woman is raped. I am glad that the Bible makes this very clear. Jesus valued women. He went out of his way to talk to the Samaritan woman. He forgave the woman caught in adultery. He cast seven demons out of tortured Mary Magdalene. He would’ve been grieved and angry just as Simeon and Levi were. But…

Jesus is full of grace and truth. He would’ve known the proper punishment for Shechem and Hamor and it would’ve been true justice. He would not have resorted to trickery and murder and theft to avenge Dinah. He would never bring shame on His Father as Simeon and Levi did. Jacob never forgot what his sons did.  On his deathbed he said:

Simeon and Levi are brothers; their knives are vicious weapons.
May I never enter their council; may I never join their assembly
For in their anger they kill men, >and on a whim they hamstring oxen.
Their anger is cursed, for it is strong, and their fury, for it is cruel!

Questions to Ponder

  1. Do you ever go places or do things you know will get you in trouble?
  2. Do you consult Bible commentaries? If so, whose commentary do you prefer?
  3. How do you determine what is truth in your day to day life?

Prayer:

Lord, help me as I read your Word. Help me NOT to read in what isn’t there but to really SEE what IS there. Help me to understand and apply your truth to my life. May I never wander away from you to check out the world. Keep me following You.  Amen.

The Bottom Line

Things I learned from Dinah: People often marveled that Jesus spoke with such authority. He didn’t quote other rabbis (who we can see didn’t agree about Dinah). He quoted God. I understand now why this was so revolutionary to the people who heard Jesus.

Originally published on March 6, 2016.