A CHRISTMAS STORY UNLIKE ONE YOU HAVE EVER HEARD
WORD STUDY – SIGNET, BRACELETS, STAFF -מטה פתל חתמ
Genesis 38:18: “And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that [is] in thine hand. And he gave [it] her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him.”
What does this story have to do with Christmas? Well, I am glad you asked that question for I will tell you a Christmas story that you most likely never heard as a Christmas story.
I was reading something very interesting in the Talmud Sota 10 and Genesis Rabbah 85 this morning. These passages concern a very intriguing story of Tamar and Judah. Tamar married Judah’s eldest son Er, who died before he could have a child. By Hebrew Law Er’s kid brother Onan had to marry Tamar to provide a child to continue the family line and provide an heir who would receive a double share of inheritance. If Er died, which he did, and Tamar remained childless Onan would get the inheritance as the oldest surviving son. Onan logically refuse to give Er a child. So he pretended to have a relationship with Tamar but when the moment came he withdraws and his seed ended up on the ground. God deemed such an act as wicked and Onan died prematurely. Now Judah, rather than blame the premature deaths of his sons on their wickedness he blames Tamar saying she is cursed and therefore refuses to allow Shelah his youngest son to give Tamar a child. Since Shelah was just a kid he tells Tamar to wait until he is grown. But that was just a ploy because a couple years later when Shelah is old enough to marry Tamar reminds Judah of his promise. Judah responds, “What promise, I never made a promise, you’re mad woman, you’re just making that up. Forget you.” So he refuses to allow Shelah to marry Tamar.
Well, by this time Judah is a widower who is really not an old man and still quite frisky. Tamar is also not an old lady and she is still a knock out. One day Judah decided that he was going to Timnah to shear his sheep. Uh, Timnah happens to be a Philistine city, the place where Samson met the prostitute Delilah, you know the ancient Viagra Triangle district. I doubt Judah planned to shear any sheep. Well at least not in the sense that we of a more civic mind would think.
Anyways, Tamar who was really given the shaft by Judah not to mention his arrogance at thumbing his nose at Hebrew law which as the eldest he was sworn to enforce, figured, “I will fix his clock.” So she dressed herself up as one of those so called sheep and stood on the street corner waiting to be sheared. Sure enough along comes Judah, they negotiate a price which happens to be a young goat. Quite a sum considering the going price was a couple doves (Sorry Jonah. I swear as soon as I wrote this my pet dove Jonah gave a coo). Now we get to the part of the story which concerns today’s lesson. To make sure Judah does not welch on her as Judah was not exactly carrying a goat in his pocket, she asked for some security or collateral. What she ask for is quite interesting and the Midrash Rabbah even says that a “prophetic anointing was kindled in her.” She asked as collateral his signet. In Hebrew this is chathan which is a signet or ring with the family seal on it that was usually hung by a leather strap around the neck of the eldest son of the family. Chathan is often a word used to show a marriage or family relationship. This was a woman posing as a prostitute who was really Judah’s daughter in law. According to the Talmud Sota 10a she was an Israelite who was now seeking to carry on the family line with a child from Judah himself. It is fitting she asked for his chathan or symbol of the family relationship and marriage. Before she had a sexual relationship, she wanted to keep it on the up and up and demanded his chathan or marriage/family ring. Technically, she was getting married to the old goat, which the Talmud later explains happened.
Next she asked for his bracelet. In Hebrew this is a pathal or a cord. This was really the leather string that held the family ring. But this is no ordinary leather string; a pathal is an ornamental, strap, intertwined with lace and silk and highly decorative. Such pathal(s) or cords were later used by members of the Sanhedrin to indicate their status as members of the high council. In other words it symbolized the enforcement of the law. Finally, she asked for his staff. This was again, no ordinary staff, it was a matteh in the Hebrew. This was a rod that was a symbol or badge of a leader, or ruler. It gave this ruler the authority to enforce the laws of the family. Even today an officer of the law, an enforcer of the law must display a badge to signify his authority. Hence this matteh was Judah’s badge, the token or sign of his authority to enforce the Hebrew law. Thus, Tamar really pinned old Judah against a wall by demanding that he give her a marriage/family ring, the symbolic cord with the ring that symbolized the law of God which demanded that as the wife of the deceased eldest son she was entitled to a child and finally the matteh or staff which symbolized the authority to enforce that law.
But the Talmud and Genesis Rabbah goes even further to explain that the signet or chathan was also the symbol of the royal line and the house of David from which the Messiah would descend. The cord or pathal, as mentioned earlier, was the symbol of the Sanhedrin the ultimate authority in explaining and fulfilling Hebrew law and the finally the matteh or staff is the symbol of the Messiah Himself. Check it out, Jesus was in direct descent of the House of David, who fulfilled the law of God and was the Messiah.
Oh, and one other thing. As a result of this union with Judah a son was born, named Perez who was the great, great, great…grandfather of Jesus. In the Ethiopic or Ge’ez version of the Torah, we find that Perez was to become the king of Persia. About 900 years later Wise Men from Persia came to visit one of their king’s great, great, great…grandchild. Merry Christmas.