If you look back in the history of Israel, you can’t help noticing their tradition that the oldest son has a special place in the home, and in their society. In fact, the parents had to buy back their oldest son from the Lord, to whom the firstborn belonged.
However, you also can’t help noticing how often that didn’t work out as planned. In the case of Israel, it was even more pronounced: he had to disqualify not one, but three of his oldest sons before settling on Judah as the de facto oldest son in his household and in the subsequent nation. And lest you think Judah was lily white, he ended up losing his two oldest sons and maintained the royal line only through some subterfuge by his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Aaron’s two oldest sons had an even more dramatic fate: they were killed by no less than the Lord Himself, together with all their families, and Eleazar, who actually was Aaron’s third son, became the next high priest. And we think today’s soap operas are far-fetched.
It’s reassuring, then, to see that during the time Israel crossed the Red Sea, traversed the Sinai wilderness, conquered Jericho and settled Canaan, the leaders of the tribe of Judah were not blowing it royally, and the firstborn of each generation took his rightful place, right on schedule.
But that almost ended with Shalmon and the first family the royal line raised in Bethlehem.
The House of Shalmon
If you understand just little bit of Hebrew culture, you can picture the scenario. In this new town, Bread City (which is what Bethlehem means) the unquestioned leader was Shalmon, head over the entire tribe of Judah, one of Joshua’s spies, and the hero who married Rahab.
Every Jewish mama in a hundred mile radius had one goal: to have her daughter be the one chosen to marry Shalmon’s son. What honor that would bring to their family! Being the in-laws, they would be invited to join at the seat of honor reserved for the greater Shalmon clan. Married into the Main Man’s dynasty: every mother’s dream.
And so, it’s not hard to imagine the jostling and positioning, subtle and often not so subtle, Rahab had to endure as all these Jewish mamas threw each of their daughters’ hats into the ring. The more strong willed ladies would no doubt have laid the guilt trip on Rahab with a shovel: “Look, lady, don’t think you’re someone. We know where you came from. Now, if you want to stay in our good books, you just make sure little Becky here gets to meet your son, and you make sure to tell him what a nice girl she is and what a great mother she’ll make for your heirs. And if you’re even thinking of getting uppity, we’ll make your life a living nightmare.”
Rahab, you can imagine, probably had to think “Oy!” by herself many a time. But she couldn’t complain. This was the price you paid for the place of honor in the community, the ultimate backhanded compliment.
In time, as her son grew up, Rahab must have screened out many candidates out of hand, but she also must have felt honored to have her son be in such demand. It certainly beat the alternative.
As time went by, the line of prospective brides continued, but… something was not right in the home of Happily Ever After, Bread City.
We don’t know why, but Shalmon’s son never married.
In the beginning, it probably didn’t surprise anybody. Look what happened to Prince Charles and Lady Di. You can’t be too careful with these things. This isn’t just the family next door, this is the Big Line. We have to choose carefully. And so everyone probably commended the young man for not jumping at the first pretty face brought to him for approval.
After a few years, though, approval must have turned to concern. At first, the mothers of the rejected daughters probably whispered that the Shalmons were getting big heads. “What? Our girls are suddenly not good enough for them any more? Who do they think they are, anyway?
Rahab, I’m sure, had many talks with her son, trying to figure out what the problem might be. The Bible doesn’t tell us what the problem was, but (romantic that I am) I think it was as simple as the young man simply didn’t meet anybody he liked. Were his standards too high, perhaps? We will never know.
I think that as the nation settled in to its new identity of a free nation under God, with its own country, Gen FLIP (Finally Living In Peace) might very well have decided they don’t want to just be told what to do. That was so “slave-identity.”
This we do know: Shalmon didn’t raise an idiot. His son might not have married, but he knew how to take care of his affairs, and he was highly honored and very successful in his financial dealings. The time came when the area experienced a severe famine. Others, even one of his cousins, lost it all. Some even had to leave the country. His cousin did, a broken man, in order to avoid slavery in his own nation. Shalmon’s boy, though, thrived, and became wealthy. Not only was he from the right stock, he was smart, honored… and filthy rich as well.
You can just imagine the conflict this caused in their society. This was their first and best opportunity to fill the land, as the Lord commanded, and the number one bachelor in the nation was not doing his part. What was his problem?
The famine in the land ended, and Shalmon’s son just grew richer… and older.
How many evenings did he and his mother sit around the dinner table talking about this? Hundreds of times, is my guess.
Happily Ever After
Then, one night, everything changed. Rahab must have noticed the bounce in his step, and over dinner, she must have said, “Okay, Son, spit it out. What happened today?”
“Mom, I think I may have met someone.”
“So? How? Who?”
“It’s a foreign girl. Quite pretty!” I’m sure his eyes glowed. “She just showed up today and asked to work in my field!”
But then his eyes clouded over. “But I don’t know. I mean, she’s not an Israelite. What will people say?”
“Oy!” Rahab must have replied, rolling her eyes. ” What are you doing to me?”
The next few nights, over dinner, you can just imagine the dialogue continuing, covering the dilemma from every angle. Shalmon’s son must have been a fairly headstrong fellow, given the hundreds of marriage proposals he turned down, and he was not letting go of this notion that seems to have entered his head.
The mothers in the community must have gotten wind of this new development, hoping it would blow over, as all their previous attempts at match making had blown over.
Who knows? Maybe Rahab’s son was so old they just resigned themselves to the fact that Shalmon’s line was not destined to continue.
As the days passed, though, it became evident that the stubborn son was getting more and more set on the notion that maybe, just maybe, this foreign girl was The Girl for him. And, who knows, Rahab may have sat with the women of the town, and lamented. “Golda, what can I do? I’m the last person on this earth to tell my son to forget about marrying a foreign girl! I’m Rahab, for goodness’s sake, who am I to talk like that?”
And, a few days later, I can imagine Rahab saying, in an exasperated voice, “So, Boaz, my son, who is this foreign girl you’re thinking about marrying, then?”
“Her name’s Ruth, Mom. Remember cousin Elimelech, who got wiped out in the famine a few years ago? Well, it turns out he and Naomi went to Moab and their sons married local girls there. Then, when all the men died, Naomi came back and Ruth came back with her. You remember the land Elimelech pawned to raise money? Because I’m his cousin, I’m second in line to redeem his land, and Ruth comes with it. How cool is that?”
Well, you know the rest of the story. Shalmon’s son, this week’s character in the shadows, is none other than Boaz, gread-grandfather of King David.
Amazing how God puts pieces of the puzzle together.
Hey, who knows, He might even be putting something together with you…