• Scott Fairbanks

Appointed by God


I sometimes discover a group of disparate biblical episodes that appear to be written with a high degree of collusion between the authors. Robert Alter called these type-scenes, Ken Bailey spoke of controlled oral traditions. These give new eyes to the reader: clarifying meaning or restoring a familiar story to newness.

1 Destiny: מְנִ֥י

A detail shared by the episode in Gen 38 and Judges 14-16 is that much of the pivotal action takes place on the road to Timnah. The root of the word Timnah is מנה. This root also forms the name of a popular deity in the ancient near east: Meni (מְנִ֥י), the god of destiny. Isaiah 65:11-12 mentions this god by name and condemns those who worship him/her(?).

This word is also used four times in Jonah to describe the action that delivers something from nature to deliver or torment the prophet: fish, plant, worm, east wind.

The three stories Gen 38 , Jonah , and Judges 14-16 each share a sense that God

is marshaling chance and the natural forces of creation to bring about God’s desired



  • Genesis 38 is about seed, un-corrupted seed. Judah, the forebear of the messianic kings, marries his sons to a Canaanite woman, Tamar.

  • Judges 14:4 says the God was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. God uses a defiled Nazirite to bring hope to a weary Israel that is subjugated by the Philistine.

  • Jonah is about the word of God reaching a pagan people. The word is in a rebellious prophet.

All of these incidents have a representative Israelite, Judah, Jonah and Samson, disobeying, breaking covenant, and outright rebelling.

2 Edict

Laws, oaths and commands are found in the three stories to govern actions of their adherents. In each story the drama unfolds as the main character breaks or disobeys the binding word.

  • A repeated theme in Genesis is seed. The idea behind the practice of Levirate marriage was to raise seed for the deceased brother. Judah failed to give Shua to his older brother’s wife.

  • The backdrop to the Samson story is the Nazirite vow. This vow set the Nazirite apart from the surrounding people. At the outset of the episode in Judges 14, Samson defiles himself by eating honey from the corpse of a lion.

  • The book of Jonah is a two part book. Each part begins with the word coming to Jonah commanding him to go to Nineveh. In the first instance Jonah disobeys by running in the opposite direction.

3 Hollow

Each story involves something good being birthed after being incubated in something bad.

  • seed in gentile womb Genesis contains a series of stories whose concern is the source of seed. Three times a patriarch’s bride is taken or nearly taken into the home of a gentile king. Each time the bride is released without the pedigree of the destined seed being compromised. Gen 38 is the story that recalls the corruption of the seed. The seed is .גוי incubated in the womb of a gentile

  • honey in corpse Samson is the final Judge in that bleak book. Samson finds honey found in the unclean corpse גוה of a lion. Why honey, why the lion corpse? The hebrews are weary and in need of good rule. A similar situation is found in 1 Sam 14. Saul has exercised bad leadership and required Israel to refrain from eating until he is avenged. The people are weak. Jonathan and his armor bearer seemingly rise up out of holes 1( חור Sam 14:11) to defeat the Philistines. Then they just so happen to stumble upon honey in the forest. They take this forbidden food and their eyes saw; we are in Genesis territory now. Honey is the readiest form of sugar provided by nature. Saul, the archetypal king like the surrounding nations, makes the people weary from bad leadership. In Judges, the people have no king and no direction. They are weary. They are under surrounded and ruled by the Philistines. Honey is hope, it reverses weariness faster than bread, meat, or vegetable. It immediately returns sparkle to sullen eyes. The corpse is defilement. The people are not separate, holy or distinct. They are like the Nazirite Samson, a nation set apart, who whores and indulges. Samson is from Dan, Dan is a wandering lion (Deut 33:22).

  • word of Yahweh in mouth of bad prophet, in whale, in sea The word of Yahweh is in the mouth of the rebellious prophet, who is thrown into the sea which is the repository of uncreation, swallowed by a great fish, who goes to the bottom of the sea. Pretty emphatic.

Tamar offers herself while asking for a pledge of Judah's tokens of authority, his ring and cord. Samson offers honey to his parents after asking them for a Philistine wife.

4 Pagans

A pagan nation looms large in each story:

  • the Canaanites in Gen 38, the story describes how the messianic seed comes through a Canaanite woman.

  • the Philistines in Judges 14-16, the story describes how deliverance comes through a defiled Judge while Israel is under the burden of the Philistines.

  • the Ninevites in Jonah, the story describes how the prophetic word moves from Israel to Nineveh.

5 Burning

  • Tamar is threatened with burning.

  • Samson’s wife is burned.

Jonah burns in anger(4:1).

It is difficult to articulate the meaning or purpose of this literary link.

6. Birth Period

In each story there is a delay, an incubation period before God's initial purpose manifests itself in the narrative.

  • 40 week pregnancy Tamar returns to her widowhood until she can no longer hide her pregnancy. She then dramatically produces Judah's tokens of authority causing Judah to recognize his guilt.

  • 7 days to guess riddle The honey found in the lion carcass becomes the foundation of a riddle and leads to a series of events that begins the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines.

  • Jonah emerges onto dry land from sea in three days Jonah emerges/ is vomited onto dry land on the third day. These details suggests a new creation because of the third day creation imagery. He obediently travels across Nineveh, another three day journey, putting us on the sixth day. He prophecies against Nineveh. Nineveh repents.

7 Recurrent structuring element

  • Gen 38 The story has two halves. Each half opens with Judah taking a Canaanite mate. 

  • Judges 14-16 The story has three parts, there are many quantities of threes and thirties in the Samson narrative. Each of the three parts in the Samson narrative begins by Samson taking a Philistine woman. 

  • Jonah The story has two parts, each opened by the word of the YHWH coming to Jonah. 


These three stories within the narratives of the patriarchs, the judges, and the latter prophets really tell a single story. Repetition serves to emphasize. What is being emphasized? I highlighted seven points of continuity in the three stories above.

Genesis 1 presents the word of God as being irresistible, the chaos folds and immediately complies with God's decrees. These three are similar stories. They also show that God's words are irresistible, even though he uses rebellious and greatly flawed characters to execute his will. God does have a chosen people, but from the gentiles come faithful actors that keep covenant like Tamar, or who wholeheartedly repent like the Ninevites. The item that triggers the execution of God's word incubates in an ironic place. Promised seed comes through a daughter of the cursed Canaanites, vitality comes from honey found in a corpse, the word of God emerges from the very bottom of the un-created sea. A symbolic period elapses between a conception and deliverance. Each story uses recurrence, a failure followed by a success, the parts are communicated with repeating elements.

These seven recurring elements are preserved in a fourth scriptural instance.


Destiny The gospels describe how God's irresistible word overcomes the accuser, the satan. This is the impossible task.

Hollow, birth period: Jesus is crucified and is laid in a cave. On the third day he emerges alive from the cave.

Edict: Jesus is born under the law.

God works through one born in the backwaters of Judah with no form or majesty.

Pagans: The Hebrews are captive to the Romans.

Burning: Jesus becomes our Leviticus 1, whole burnt offering; a holocaust.

Recurrent Structure: Jesus' primary self-identification in the gospels is `Son of ha-adam'. The temptation narrative is a re-play of the garden story. The adam failed when tempted while residing in a verdant garden and a sated appetite. The son of adam resisted the serpent's temptations after fasting for forty in a hostile desert.

These three stories are a preview of the gospels, they are the gospel in miniature. God casts the role of savior with the available pool of actors, even though none bear close resemblance to the one for whom the play was written. Regardless, the story is told.

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