Tamar the Clever WidowThe story of Tamar and Judah is an often skipped over section of the story of Joseph. After Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery but before the famine in Canaan, Judah had three sons. He married the first son to a woman named Tamar, but the son died without an heir. According to Israelite law, a man was supposed to marry his brother’s widow if the widow had no sons. The children the man sired would then be considered to be his brother’s children. In accordance with the law, Judah’s second son married Tamar. The second son refused to give Tamar children, however, and died prematurely. Tamar was once again left widowed and without children.
After two sons died while married to Tamar, Judah blamed her for their deaths. He pretended that he would marry her to his third son when he came of age, but Tamar found out that Judah had no intention of honoring his promise. In ancient Israel, if a man died without children and had no brothers who were willing or able to marry his widow, the widow was supposed to marry her father-in-law. Tamar knew this and tricked Judah into sleeping with her, but he did not know it was her. When she revealed what she had done, Judah praised her courage and honor saying “She is righteous, not I.”
Jesus Curses a Fig TreeSome stories in the Bible seem to come out of nowhere. This is exactly what happens in Matthew 21. The chapter begins with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and his cleansing of the Temple. After this dramatic moment with the iconic verse “my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers,” Jesus leaves Jerusalem to spend the night in Bethany. As he returns to Jerusalem in the morning, he comes across a fig tree. He approaches the tree but sees there is no fruit on it. He curses the tree, and it dies. Jesus and the disciples then carry on to Jerusalem where Jesus begins his verbal battles with the chief priests and elders. The odd moment with the fig tree is never mentioned again.
Vanishing NephilimGenesis and Exodus are arguably the best known books of the Old Testament, but there is a section that is often glossed over in Genesis. Oddly enough, this often forgotten piece of Scripture takes places in the middle of one of the best known Bible stories of all: Noah’s ark.
In the beginning of Genesis 6, the “sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.” The result of these unions were the Nephilim. They are described as “the heroes of old, men of renown,” but nothing else is said about them. The Bible then skips straight forward to God deciding to flood the earth to wipe out human wickedness. The Nephilim are mentioned again briefly in Numbers, but there is never any clear explanation about who these “men of renown” were or what happened to them.
The Talking Donkey and the AdversaryThe story of Balaam is not one of the better known tales in the Old Testament, but there is one element of this prophet’s tale that is quite memorable, and that is Balaam’s donkey. Balaam’s donkey is one of only two animals that ever speak in the Bible;, the other is the snake in Eden. The donkey speaks after Balaam tries to force the donkey to walk past an “angel” that Balaam cannot see, but the donkey can sense. This story in, and of itself, is the more memorable section of this story, yet what is not known is that the “angel” was not a traditional angel at all. In fact, the correct translation of the passage would state that God sent not a malak or messenger but “the adversary.” While this may not seem like a large change, note that the Hebrew phrase used here is a bit more sinister than most translations render it. Balaam faces ha satan.
Fish Who Spit MoneyThe New Testament has some very strange moments wedged between tales of miracles and wise parables. In Matthew 17, the Transfiguration takes place, and Jesus predicts his death twice. Then, he clashes with the priests once more, this time over the Temple tax. Jesus decides to pay it to avoid giving further offense, but Christ apparently has a sense of humor. Rather than simply paying with the money He and the disciples have, Jesus decides to “discover” the money. He could have pulled it from under a tree or bush. Instead, He tells Peter to go down to the lake, catch a fish and pull the tax out of the fish’s mouth. It’s a shame the Scripture does not include the priests’ reaction to that bizarre little miracle.
Even the best known stories have little moments that are glossed over or forgotten. Sometimes they give further cultural context, such as in the case of Tamar. Other times they seem to simply be there to make sure the faithful are paying attention to what they are hearing or reading. It makes a person wonder what else they have skimmed over. So, go crack open the Bible, and rediscover what has been forgotten.