We have a mix of weirdness and dangerousness in today’s readings. First, the weirdness. Judah goes off and marries a woman from Canaan. Boo! Then his wicked oldest son dies. Then he tells his next oldest son to sleep with her–as is his duty–so his oldest can effectively have a lineage. That boy, Onan, repeatedly “pulls out” and the wife of his oldest Tamar doesn’t get pregnant. God kills Onan. Then Judah sends Tamar back home while he waits for the third boy to get old enough to impregnate her. (Ick.) However, Judah is out with his buddy one day and he picks up a prostitute, but turns out it is Tamar in disguise. She finally get the Hebrew boy(s) she has always wanted. They are twins, with a somewhat unusual birth story.
Okay. So, from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, Gen. 19, people claim to find support for the alleged wickedness of being gay. That’s stupid. Sodom and Gomorrah no more stands for gayness being bad than it stands for “looking back” being bad, or sleeping with your father being good. Similarly, the story of Onan has been used to say that masturbation is wicked. Again, stupid. The story no more stands for masturbation being stupid than it stands for the virtue of compelling your son to sleep with the widow of your oldest son.
The bulk of today’s reading also concerns me. In Gen. 39-40 we get the story of Joseph constantly rising to the top. God is with him. He is smart. Everywhere he goes he ends up in charge, whether as a slave in Potiphar’s house or in the jail where Potiphar throws him when Potiphar’s wife unfairly accuses Joseph of attempted rape. This sort of Prosperity Theology is rebutted by Job, for sure, but it remains in our zeitgeist.