When we do something wrong but don't 'fess up, over time that unconfessed behavior eats away at us. It could be something as heinous as physical abuse against your children or accidentally killing someone with no witnesses to cheating on your taxes or driving off without paying after pumping gas. Likewise, when you lose someone unexpectedly (or even expectedly) or lose a huge chunk of change in the stock market, your home, your job or a relationship you thought was going well abruptly comes to a halt because the other party is not happy, it can also wreak havoc in your emotions. When these issues arise in our lives, some through no fault of our own, if we do not properly deal with them, we may find alternative ways to deal with the pain or the shame of it all. We can turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain, we can throw ourselves into our work so as not to have to think about the pain or other times we may isolate and create our own fantasy world in escaping the pain sexually through porn and masturbation, prostitution, affairs, hookups...what have you. Then, if that is not dealt with, it can open up a whole new door to self destruction as well as the destruction of others. It can become a cycle of pain and shame with unsuccessful attempts to heal from it all - just trying to get through another day, another hour, another minute.
Well, there was a man in the Bible who had both of these going on. His name was Judah. He was the 4th born son of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, the spiritual father and patriarch of Israel. God called Abraham out from his own people and told him that through him a mighty nation would arise and that God was forming this nation to be a light to the world of His love and power. It got off to a rocky start as God told Abraham and his wife, Sarah that they would conceive a child. Problem was, they were late in years and had no clue how that was possible. Sarah said, maybe you should sleep with our maidservant. So he did. And they conceived a son -Ismael. Well that opened up a whole new can of worms, not to mention years of jealousy because Sarah was showing to potentially be barren - which was a major stigma. Finally, Abraham and Sarah do conceive, as rather senior adults, and the nation is now officially 3 people. Their son Issac grows up and marries and has twins, Jacob and Esau; a rocky relationship within itself. Finally Jacob marries and in a weird turn of events becomes a father to 13 children through 4 women. We will deal with that at a later date. However, Judah is one of those children.
Judah and his brothers have a bit of a thorn in their side. Their brother Joseph. Joseph was the firstborn son of the woman Jacob truly loved; Rachel. She was barren for a better part of their journey together but finally conceived a son. Joseph was son number 10. But this child took precedence over the rest of the children. As you may have heard, he received a special coat of many colors and was seemingly being trained to take over the family business. That didn't sit well with the other brothers who had been working the fields and tending to the livestock for years before this pip-squeak came along. Son number one or number two usually got the nod to be the inheritor of the next generation, but son number 10????? Jealousy got the best of them and so they decided to kill him and concoct a story to tell their father. Fortunately another plan was devised to not kill him but to sell Joseph off to their cousins, Midianite traders, who would take humans into slavery and sell them at the markets in Egypt. So they did that. How benevolent. Now, what to tell father.
The brothers took his colorful coat, smeared it with the blood of an animal they killed and made it look like a wild animal had killed their brother out in the open fields. After sharing the news, the father ripped his garments and lay in sackcloth and ashes mourning the loss of his son. FAMILY SECRET. They made a pact to never speak of this again. Only one problem. You can just leave something like that in the dust of yesterday. This is going to eat them from the inside out. As time goes on, the brothers marry and start their own lives. We will now follow Judah along his journey.
Judah marries a Canaanite woman. No name listed. Not the best choice since they had other gods. But he does it anyway. (Incidentally, Esau, Jacob's twin brother married one and it was a thorn in the side of their parents). So Judah and no-name have three sons - Er, Onan and Shelah. Life seems good. Judah then finds a wife for Er. Her name is Tamar. However, before they could have a child, Er did something pretty loathesome in the sight of God and God struck him down dead. Whatever it was, it was highly offensive to God. Because of the culture, the widow falls to the next born son, Onan. Onan understands that even if he conceives a child with Tamar, that child will receive the lion's share of the inheritance from Judah, so it won't actually be Onan's child per se, even though he would have sired it. Onan doesn't like that so while he and Tamar are "knowing each other Biblically," Onan pulls out before impregnating her. So it looks like they tried but he doesn't have to take the rap for her inability to conceive. The Bible only mentions this once but this might have been a routine for Onan to blame Tamar for the problem. However God saw his heart and he took the place alongside his brother, 6 feet under. Next in line was Shelah but he was not of marrying age yet so Tamar was sent back home to live with her folks until Shelah was old enough. Well that day came and went but no marriage. My guess Judah was once bitten twice shy on the whole losing his sons debacle. So Tamar is waiting but you know, always a bride, never a bridesmaid.
Now shall we spice things up a bit? Judah's wife dies. Not sure how, but she is now out of the picture. So it's just a single dad raising his youngest but only son. FAMILY LOSS.
Well it doesn't stop there. One day when Judah was on his way to get his sheep sheared, he looks over at this building and lo and behold, there's a woman dressed up like a prostitute. Judah tells his assistant to go on ahead and take the sheep to the shearer and Judah will be there "after a bit." Judah decides to compromise his morals and hook up with a "pay to play." After doing the nasty, Judah realizes that he doesn't have any money on him so what does he do? He gives his staff and signet with cord to this prostitute. It's a pledge that he will get back after he pays her in full for services rendered.
Now those two objects given as a pledge are a little more than just a wooden staff and a piece of metal. The staff was a well known instrument of service of helping one to navigate over the craggy terrain of the middle east. It was used to prod along livestock and was more than likely use to kill snakes or scorpions or wild boar or foxes. But even more than that, it was yours and people knew whose staff belonged to who because it was probably designed with some carvings and had your name on it. It was something individually yours. It might even have been given to you by your father. The signet, in its own right, was a way of signifying one's identity. You would melt hot wax, sap or metal and press the signet into it on parchment and it would let the recipient of a letter or the public of a declaration know who that was from. Kings have used it all throughout history. It was important to keep it on you at all times. So that in whatever type of contracts or agreements were formed, you could use that as your signature. Similar to a notary public these days. Those two things were an extremely important addition to your person and to give them up like that would not have been an easy task but you owe this prostitute money and you don't have any so you give something for her to hold, but it has to "hurt" so she can be assured of your return. Why not just the staff or why not just the signet?
When he finally returned to pay her, she was gone. No one around the little village had ever seen or heard of a prostitute being there. Hmmmm. What's going on? You just gave away two very important parts of your identity. (That's what happens when you sell out to such behavior).
Last but not least, Judah, out a staff and signet is hanging out, probably carving another rod, and he gets word from a servant that his daughter- in-law is pregnant. "For Pete's sake, why this? Now?" This was a no-no according to culture because she was to wait for Shelah. "Why that little hussy!" Seriously she couldn't wait? She's not even married!
I'll save you the suspense. Because Tamar was waiting and waiting and waiting....and waiting and waiting and waiting....and waiting and waiting and waiting to be married and conceive a child, she decided to take things into her own hands. Soooo, she dressed up as a prostitute and lay with the patriarch of the family in order to bring this to fruition. Judah, not knowing this at the time was ready to have her stoned for bringing such disgrace to the family. When Judah asked her how she could do this to him, she showed him the staff and signet ring. He stated, "she has acted more righteous than me." From that child came a series of generations of children, leading right up to Jesus. Yes. From that mess, God still watched over the line of descendants and made sure Jesus would be from that line. Often called the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
This can give us time to pause and think about Judah's life. Judah has this family secret of knowing the truth about his brother Joseph who was sold off to slavery. It's not like they could find him even if they did search for him now. It's been years possibly decades. Not to mention that Jacob lost Rachel after only one more son. Then Judah has to bury not one but two sons and a wife. What is going through his mind at this time? How emotional of a basket case is he? That's a lot to carry. What does he do ? He ends up willing to cross a moral boundary, deny his God and choose to have sex with a harlot. This was a coping mechanism for Judah. After years of pain and loss, feeling alone, no longer engaging in sexual intimacy with a wife, he decides to hide his pain - albeit just for a moment but that's how addictions begin. One little moment here throwing back some brewskis. One little moment trying a hit from joint or a bowl. One little moment snorting some cocaine. One little moment thrusting a needle in your arm, One little moment cruising downtown to pick up a prostitute or a moment just accessing porn online. If you don't deal with the pain or loss, if you don't face it, walk through it and come out on the other side stronger, you will always settle for the counterfeit of real peace and healing. That one moment will add up to minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years and then decades. Like me.
God wants to walk with you through those painful moments in your past and heal them and bring you through the fire and the flood. There is no need to fear. He can set you free from that which has begun dictating your thoughts, decisions and behaviors. He has promised, He will do it. (Numbers 23:19) (Isaiah 43:2).
Oh and Joseph was alive (I know, you know) and has this incredible story of doing everything the "right way." We'll talk about that later.
Triggers. Triggers are mysterious. They can be sight, smell, taste, a spoken word, a way you are touched. So in essence, all five senses are affected by triggers. If we have had any form of trauma, abuse, neglect, loss, we continuously attach those moments from the past to other things as time moves on. For instance, if we were in a serious accident we might hear a screeching tire and freak out. If we lost a child, anytime we see a child their age we can be triggered and feel the loss as if it had just taken place. It usually leads to episodes of anxiety, isolation and for an addict, acting out in their addiction to escape the pain.
Think for a moment about the nation of Israel. They grew prosperous under Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 41:41) but then after a few hundred years of flourishing and working as shepherds and farmers in Egypt, a pharaoh arose who knew nothing of the legacy of Joseph, the famine, how God rescued them, (Exodus 1:8) and he decided that because Israel was growing too big for his own comfort, they would subdue Israel and make them slaves.
As the story goes God heard their cries for freedom and sent Moses to deliver them. After 10 plagues and Pharaoh losing his firstborn son they were allowed to leave. God promised to bring them to a land flowing with “milk and honey” and a place they could forever call home. It came with a catch though. They had to go in and subdue the godless nations there before they could claim it. Beat down slaves had to go to war? Seriously?
The First nation they were to face was Jericho. A huge walled city that towered over the land. After a couple months of hanging out in the wilderness, providing for their every need, Moses sent 12 spies into the Promised Land for reconnaissance. Two of the ten, Joshua and Caleb said, "No problemo. We can take these cats with the Lord on our side." (Reese Revised Version) However, the other 10 said "No way, Jose! They are huge! We look like grasshoppers in their sight!" They were triggered.
These 10 were also in Egypt treated as slaves with whips and forced to build the huge buildings that made up that towering metropolis. In fact, all they saw when looking at Jericho was a city that reminded them of Egypt. They most likely began to relive the pain of the whips, their feet in the clay making bricks and the harsh treatment from Egyptians taskmasters and fear gripped their soul. And what if they lost the battle??? Who knows what Jericho might do to the survivors. Beating? Raping? Other forms of torture? "No way am I going back to that again!" (Funny how later on in the wilderness they complained about their conditions so much they thought going back to Egypt was the lesser of two evils).
That one negative report caused God to say, “Ok you don’t think I can handle these guys after how I set you free from Egypt? Do you not remember that whole parting of the Red Sea where you stepped onto dry ground and crossed over into the land I was giving you and then I completely plundered the entire Egyptian army under water? Then you will stay in the wilderness and the generation to come will go in and take the land." And so it was. They stayed in the wilderness for 40 years and the former generation died off except two - Joshua and Caleb. At around 80 years of age or so, they entered the land with the others of the younger generation - now middle aged - fought the battle and defeated Jericho. (Joshua 6) It could’ve happened 40 years earlier but everyone was afraid. Because they were triggered, those 10 spies sewed an incredible amount of fear among the whole nation of Israel - numbering most likely in the millions.
Triggers can extend our journey to true freedom. Sometimes for decades. If we allow them to loom large over our life, like a walled city, we will never enter into all God has for us to experience. There’s a saying, “It’s always today in Traumaland.” But you can move through to tomorrow by holding fast to a loving Father who will not only carry you through the pain, He will fight the battle for you.