A couple of weeks ago I was watching The Mindy Project during my lunch break. While this show definitely has it’s moral issues and I wouldn’t recommend it without a strict warning, there are often comical gems of wisdom that spurt from the mouth of the show’s main character, Dr. Mindy Lahiri (played by one of my favorite writers and actresses, Mindy Kaling). In this particular episode, Mindy was speaking with the priest of her culturally-Catholic, live-in fiance, and she said that Mary Magdalene could have been on one of her favorite TV shows, The Real Housewives.
Having taught a plethora of Scripture courses of the years, I couldn’t help but laugh at the accuracy, and also think up quite a few more biblical ladies to add to the cast. Thus, if I was a Hollywood producer who lived 4,000 years ago, these are the ladies I would approach to be on my show: The Real Housewives of Genesis.
Sarah– The wife of Abraham, Sarah was easily swayed by cultural norms. She knew that God had promised to give them a child, but decades had passed and no offspring came. Growing impatient, she began to doubt God, thinking maybe He didn’t mean that the baby would literally come from her. A normal custom for that time was for a barren woman to “give” her handmaid to her husband. The husbands would have sex with the maid nightly until she became pregnant. Then, at the time of the babies birth, the maid would have to give birth while squatting over the lap of her mistress. In this way, it was seen as if the wife had actually been the one to give birth to the child. This is exactly what Sarah decided to do. She took her handmaid Hagar and insisted that Abraham sleep with her. When Hagar became pregnant, drama ensued. Though Hagar was a slave that Abraham and Sarah had acquired during their time in Egypt, her newfound status as the surrogate to the tribal master’s heir inflated her pride. Hagar began to think of herself as being above Sarah in the hierarchy of their tribe. Sarah, jealous and angry, beat Hagar so badly that the slave girl actually ran away. It was only because of the appearance of an angel that Hagar returned. Sarah continued to be cruel to her servant, and Hagar eventually bore a son, Ishmael. About 13 years later, Sarah became pregnant herself and bore Isaac. After the birth of her own son, she demanded that Abraham banish Ishmael and his mother, lest he challenge their legitimate child for the position of rightful heir. Abraham struggles with the decision, but ultimately follows through with the idea (after God assured him it was all a part of his Divine plan), and Ishmael and Hagar were sent off by themselves into the desert (Gen 16-18, 21).
Lot’s Daughters– Lot was the beloved nephew of Abraham. It was for Lot’s sake that Abraham had interceded with the Lord on behalf of the city of Sodom (Lot’s place of residence). Though God was unable to find ten righteous people within the city, he did send angels to warn Lot and his family and help them escape before the city was engulfed in flames. Lot’s wife famously disobeyed God’s command to not look back and thus became a pillar of salt. Lot and his daughters obeyed the Lord and survived – though not unscathed. Lot was emotionally traumatized and refused to live among civilization. Instead, he and his daughters (who are never mentioned by name) live in a cave near the city of Zoar. This is where the drama comes in; worried what will become of themselves and their father’s line, they come up with a plan. The eldest gets Lot so drunk, that when she crawls into bed with him, he does not realize she is his daughter and he has sex with her. He also doesn’t remember it the next day. Shortly after, the youngest daughter does the same thing in the same way. Both women become pregnant and bare their father’s children. It is from these children that two of the sworn enemies of the Israelites — the Moabites and the Ammonites — descend (Gen 19:30-38).
Leah & Rachel– These two are literal sister wives; biological sisters and the wives of the patriarch Jacob and there was some crazy rivalry between them. As you can probably recall, it was always Rachel that Jacob wanted to marry, but her father tricked Jacob into marrying his eldest daughter Leah instead. It would have been pretty easy to get away with considering the bride would have been veiled, Jacob could have been drinking beforehand, and the “honeymoon suite” would have been a dark tent with no electricity. That move, in and of itself was pretty dramatic. Still, Laban (the trickster) convinces Jacob to stay and he marry Rachel too. Since he loves Rachel, he does. Thus he ends up with two wives — one he loves madly and one he doesn’t really care about. Because of this, God favors Leah and blesses her with fertility. She bares Jacob four sons while Rachel remains barren. Wildly jealous, Rachel gives her handmaid to Jacob as a surrogate (just as Sarah did with Hagar). Bilhah bares Rachel two sons, Dan and Naphtali whose names basically mean, “I have wrestled with my sister and won.” Real classy Rachel…. Countering her sister’s move, Leah gives her handmaid to Jacob and also gets two sons –Gad and Asher– out of the deal (the meaning of their names are not as sassy). Then one day, Leah’s oldest son Rueben found some mandrakes in the field and brought them to his mother. Surprise surprise, Rachel wanted them (they could be crushed into an herb which was believed to help with fertility). Leah complains, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel’s response is rather flippant… she trades the mandrakes for a night of love-making with their husband. Ironically, Leah conceives, bearing two more sons and a daughter. Then, finally, Rachel bears two sons. Still, the drama never ends… the bad blood that existed between the sisters spills over onto their offspring and leads to more drama– but that’s a whole other story (Gen 29-30).
Tamar – Tamar is the wife of Leah’s grandson. Sadly, her husband dies unexpectedly, and it is the duty of his younger brother to marry the widow. However, this brother is not very happy that any children they conceive would actually still be considered the offspring of his dead brother. So, on his wedding night, he goes outside the tent and masturbates on the ground, ensuring that Tamar would not conceive. God is not too pleased and the second husband also dies. While there is a third brother, he is still a boy. Their father, Judah (Leah’s third son) asks Tamar to remain in his household and wait until the boy has grown. Tamar remains, but Judah does not follow through with his promise when his son is old enough for marriage. Knowing her child-bearing years are passing her by, she decides to deceive her father-in-law since he has deceived her. Following him to a nearby city, she took off her widow’s garb and wore colorful clothes and a veil. She sat at the entrance of the city and when Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute and promised her a goat in exchange for her services. Tamar asked for collateral -his signet, his cord, and his staff- which she would return to him once he had delivered the goat as promised. Thus, Judah unknowingly slept with his daughter-in-law. Afterwards she returned home, hid his things and put her widow’s garments on again. Three months later, it was discovered that Tamar was pregnant. Calling her a harlot (not knowing that she was the one he had slept with because of the veil), Judah ordered that Tamar be burned alive. Sly Tamar sent the signet, cord and staff, along with a message to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am with child.” Ouch. Talk about a gut-punch. Judah repents, acknowledging his own wrong-doing, not just for sleeping with her, but also because he had failed to make good on his promise to marry her to his third son. Six months later, Tamar gives birth to twin boys.
Potiphar’s wife – Most people are familiar with this story. There are a couple of movies, not to mention an incredibly popular musical written about the story of Joseph. This housewife is a part of his story. We don’t know a ton about her other than she was married to a very powerful Egyptian man, but we can certainly speculate. She was probably much younger than her husband and most likely extremely attractive… as most ancient, powerful men seemed to choose their wives based on little else. We also know that Joseph was so competent that Potiphar put him in charge of his entire house; after this, Potiphar “had no concern for anything but the food which he ate.” Many scripture scholars take this to mean that Potiphar was also probably significantly overweight. Thus, his young beautiful wife had little reason to be attracted to her lazy, overweight husband. Joseph would have been a stark contrast to him; scripture tells us that he was handsome and good-looking, in his early twenties, and obviously smart enough to run a foreign household. It’s no surprise that Potiphar’s wife was attracted to him, and as a prominent, rich, beautiful woman, she was used to getting what she wanted. Day after day, she tried to seduce Joseph. He always resisted. One day, she got so forceful that he had to runaway from her presence… and as he pulled away from her, she grabbed his garment (probably just a light linen skirt because of the climate) and it fell off. Thus he ran away naked. Potiphar’s wife was so angry with Joseph that she wanted revenge. She claimed that Joseph had tried to rape her, using the garment he left behind as proof. In response, Potiphar threw Joseph in prison.
As you can see, the Bible is far from boring. It has just as much suspense, cattiness and drama as any popular show on TV. What’s interesting though is that with Scripture, one can see the difference God’s grace makes in people’s lives. Sarah, Leah and Rachel, and Tamar all allow grace into their lives and it transforms them. In fact, Jesus actually descends from three of these four women. In the case of Lot’s daughters and Potiphar’s wife, there is no repentance, no acceptance of grace, and thus, no transformation or redemption.
I’ll end this post by explicitly stating the two points I hoped to get across by this post:
- The Bible is fascinating and contains the most epic stories of all time.
- Grace can transform anything and anyone.