Archive for the ‘Levirate Marriage’ Tag

Devotion for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year D)   1 comment


Above:  Tamar and Judah, by Aert de Gelder

Image in the Public Domain

Taking Difficult Passages of Scripture Seriously

MAY 8, 2022


The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 38:1-30 or Ecclesiastes 5:1-20

Psalm 10

Matthew 22:23-33 or Mark 12:18-27 and Luke 20:39-40

2 Corinthians 7:2-16


I recall that, in 1996, my father began his tenure as pastor of the Asbury United Methodist Church, north of Baxley, in Appling County, Georgia.  Shortly after this I began to attend to services at St. Thomas Aquinas Episcopal Church in town, for I had been an Episcopalian for a few years.  Nevertheless, I was never a stranger at Asbury Church during my father’s tenure there.

One of the adult Sunday School classes at Asbury was discussing the Book of Genesis at the pace of a chapter a week.  On one Sunday morning in the summer of 1996 the leader of the group, having covered Chapter 37 the previous week, skipped over Chapter 38 to Chapter 39, with little explanation.  The story of Judah, Tamar, levirate marriage (the background of the question in the readings from the Gospels), and temple prostitution was a really hot potato, so to speak.  The narrative in Genesis 38 does not criticize a young, childless widow for having sexual relations with her father-in-law at a pagan temple and becoming pregnant with twins.  In her situation she did what she needed to do to secure her future.

Deuteronomy 25:5-10 commands the practice of levirate marriage, for the benefit of a childless widow in a patriarchal society without a government-defined social safety net.  In the case of Genesis 38 the practice, applied to a particular set of circumstances, makes many modern readers of the Bible squirm in their theological seats.  This is no excuse for ignoring the chapter, of course.  Whenever a portion of scripture makes one uncomfortable, one should study it more closely and, in the highest meaning of the word, critically.

The Sadducees in the parallel readings of Matthew, Mark, and Luke did not ignore levirate marriage, but they did employ it in a question meant to entrap Jesus.  They did not affirm the resurrection of the dead.  That is why, according to a song for children,

they were sad, you see.

For the Sadducees the emphasis on this life helped to justify the accumulation of wealth in a society in which economic injustice was ubiquitous.  They, like others, failed to ensnare Jesus verbally.  He was that capable.

Koheleth, writing in Ecclesiastes, noted that economic injustice and other forms of social injustice ought not to surprise anyone.  After all, he mentioned, perpetrators of injustice protect each other.  Nevertheless, as the author of Psalm 10 understood, those who exploited the poor (in violation of the Law of Moses) could not escape divine justice.

Just as the painful letter of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthian congregation led to the changing of hearts there, the study of difficult passages of scripture can lead people to learn more about the Bible, ask vital questions, think more critically about scripture, and grow spiritually.  It can also change hearts and minds for the better.  May we who call ourselves followers of God neither ignore nor use such passages flippantly, but take them seriously instead.  Then may we act accordingly.  We might even learn that we are committing or condoning social injustice, perhaps that of the economic variety.






Devotion for the Thirty-First Day of Lent, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments


Above:  King Zedekiah

Image in the Public Domain

Honest Faith Versus False Certainty



The Collect:

Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us

from all sin and death.  Breathe upon us the power

of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ

and serve you in righteousness all our days,  through Jesus Christ,

our Savior and Lord, who lives  and reigns with you and the

Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28


The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 32:1-9, 36-41

Psalm 143

Matthew 22:23-33


Teach me to do what pleases you, for you are my God;

let your kindly spirit lead me on a level path.

–Psalm 143:10, Common Worship (2000)


The kingdom was doomed.  Jeremiah knew this yet purchased land anyway.  It was a deed of faith in God and of confidence that, someday, exiles would return.  Faith in difficult times is where, as an old saying tells me,

the rubber meets the road.

Alas, the Sadducees’ question in Matthew 22 was insincere.  It was an attempt to entrap Jesus in his words via self-justifying sophistry.  Sadducees did not acknowledge the resurrection of the dead.  That, as a chidren’s song says, is why

they were sad, you see.

Their denial of the doctrine of resurrection of the dead resulted from their limited canon of Scripture—the Torah.  That doctrine, having debuted in the Book of Daniel, was “new-fangled” by Sadducee standards.

Sadducees, usually wealthy landowners, were socially conservative.  Jesus challenged the status quo.  They, denying the resurrection of the dead, emphasized the continuation of the family line.  Jesus focused on other topics.  Their insincere question was an attempt to demonstrate the absurdity of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead.  Jesus replied that they misunderstood Scripture.  The nature of the next life, our Lord and Savior said, is a matter of the faithfulness of God to divine promises.  Insincere questions citing Levirate Marriage (part of the Law of Moses) miss the point.

Misplaced certainty and the quest for it contradicts trust in divine promises.  The quest for such certainty leads some people to concert their theological opinions into idols and to demonize those who disagree with them.  The search for such certainty leads some people to focus on affirming their thoughts, not seeking the truth from God.  But what if Jesus disagrees with one?

I recall a story, one which might be apocryphal.  Many moons ago, a lady on the lecture circuit for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) delivered her stump speech in a certain town.  She spoke of how much God wants people to avoid alcohol at all times.  The orator concluded her remarks and asked if anyone had any questions.  A young man raised his hand.  She called on him.  He asked,

If what you say is true, how do you explain Jesus turning water into wine

The lady replied,

I would like him better if he had not done that.

So much for false certainty!  Honest faith—the kind which survives in difficult times—is a virtue, however.  One can trust in the promises of God without fear of contradiction.







Devotion for the Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Fifth Days of Lent (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   5 comments

Above:  The Widow’s Mite

Image Sources = Johannes Bockh and Thomas Mirtsch

Genesis and Mark, Part XXII: Sincerity (Or the Lack Thereof)

MARCH 29 and 30, 2022


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 43:1-28 (24th Day of Lent)

Genesis 44:1-18, 32-34 (25th Day of Lent)

Psalm 34 (Morning–24th Day of Lent)

Psalm 5 (Morning–25th Day of Lent)

Psalms 25 and 91 (Evening–24th Day of Lent)

Psalms 27 and 51 (Evening–25th Day of Lent)

Mark 12:13-27 (24th Day of Lent)

Mark 12:28-41 (25th Day of Lent)


Some Related Posts:



As I read the assigned lessons I arrived at a unifying theme:  sincerity (or the lack thereof).  Joseph’s brothers demonstrated the sincerity of their change of heart by

  1. not objecting to preferential treatment for Benjamin, the youngest brother, in Genesis 43:33-34, and
  2. defending Benjamin, whom they thought was about to become a slave in Genesis 44:18-34.

They passed the test with flying colors.

In contrast, collaborators tried to trick Jesus into sounding like a rebel in Mark 12:13-17.  There were more Roman soldiers than usual in the city at the time.  But Jesus was no fool.  And the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection of the dead, asked an obvious trick question about levirate marriage and the afterlife.  Yet our Lord did field an honest question–one regarding the greatest commandment–and witnessed a desperately poor widow make an offering.  In the immediately prior passage he had denounced scribes who

devour the property of widows….

–Mark 12:40b, The New Jerusalem Bible

I have covered the widow’s mite in other posts linked to this one, but I choose to write the following here and now:  The widow should have kept her money and spent it on her needs.  But at least she was sincere.

May we refrain from playing destructive games with God and each other.  Instead, may we seek the best for each other and the community, be honest in that, and be sincere in our love.