Of Truth and the Tales That Vain Men Tell

I am always a little startled at the insistence of certain biblical scholars who persevere in the belief that Scripture is somehow flawed. Such it seems is the case with the oft-ignored account rendered in Genesis 38. Many prominent scholars have deemed these accounts disjointed, calling Judah’s interlude with Tamar a “completely independent unit,” that bears “no connection with the drama of Joseph, which it interrupts at the conclusion of Act I.”[1]

Interrupts? I think not. Or if it is an interruption, let us call it what it is: a divine interruption, and let us turn with humility to that solemn striving otherwise known as listening.

Speak Lord, Your servants are listening…

A careful application of a method of sequencing reveals a thematically cohesive narrative at once poignant and instructive.[2] As parallels emerge, the passages culminate in twin incidents of deceivers unmasked. Yet the denouement was not meant for moralizing; rather, the ultimate exposure was of erring soul; the flashpoint of redemption as Judah, Tamar, and Jacob’s quarreling sons would one day show (Matthew 1:3; Revelation 21:12). For the purpose of overview, the following chart, adapted from The Art of Biblical Narrative, has beenprovided below.


Of course, it is one thing to debate within the scholastic arena but the matter becomes another thing entirely when one is wrestling with the Lord in the ghastly darkness of the soul’s long night. Shadows terrify and long doubts converge upon the questioning soul — precisely, I would add, when that soul most needs the unblinking light of the Word. In that moment, the space between a scholar’s debate and personal consequence is split, and the skeptical soul hangs in the balance. Yet even here truth steals into the darkness, transforming it, unmasking both reality and ourselves with that merciful, awful flashpoint of a relentless redemption. If the Word is flawed — even to the smallest degree; if the Word is composed of propaganda and vain men’s tales, where then shall we turn? How will you answer? How will I? This man knew how he would answer—

 “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” ” (John 6:68–69, ESV)

In times of doubt, in times of trial, let us cling to His faithful, eternal, and unchanging Word.

[1] Genesis, The Anchor Bible (New York, 1964), 299.

[2] For greater study, I highly recommend Robert Alter’s excellent book, The Art of Biblical Narrative.


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