What’s My Motivation?

Think about those smarmy sketches you’ve seen on TV poking fun at actors, who, given direction from the director, ask, “What’s my motivation?” That’s what my post is about today: motivation – specifically, Judah’s.

A couple of days ago I wrote about how Judah (in The Pledge) wanted to avoid a scandal after visiting with a prostitute (who – du du dum – was really his widowed daughter-in-law Tamar trying to entrap him). That’s powerful motivation when it comes lying about your actions to avoid getting caught, but I don’t think this was all that was driving the man.

All stories need conflict and they need development for the character. Otherwise you simply have random events devoid of purpose. There has to be something you’re moving towards; and for Judah, it was redemption. The man who wanted distance from his crazy family eventually returned and earned a place of honor that would last generations. How did he get to that point though? What was the journey or path between Point A and Point B? When you consider that he left his family as a teenager, reunited with them years later (though he kept his distance), was instrumental in the sale of his brother Joseph, betrayed his widowed daughter-in-law and in a span of about 10-15 years buried not only two of his three sons but his wife as well – what motivates a man like that to suddenly recognize the error of his ways and say:

“She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her my son.” Gen 38:26

Really? She deceived then seduced him in order to get pregnant and satisfy a deep-seeded need for revenge.

Still something happened to the man to bring him to that point and quite frankly I’d been struggling with how to convey what that something was. Then I reread the original text. Yes, Judah was afraid of scandal and I do think he held himself above his countrymen, but I think the fear was more that he had sunk so low in his addiction to sex that he was willing to trade his identity for a ‘quick roll in the hay’.

I am reminded of the film Last Knights: Clive Owen’s character, Raiden, a warrior, is forced to kill his master and upon penalty of death to him, his family and his men, he is forbidden from exacting revenge. So he does gets drunk for the next year, hocking everything of value until all he has left is his sword. And when he finally sells it to buy more alcohol, his enemies give up watching him because “what is a warrior without a sword?”

In Judah’s case, what was a powerful and arrogant businessman without his seal and staff with which to conduct business and control the ‘little people’?

When we come to the scene with Tamar, Judah needed sex, but was unprepared for the cost, so he haggled and negotiated and gave up his identity. This was Judah’s rock bottom. Before this, he was arrogant enough to believe he was fine, he could handle his addiction, he wouldn’t get caught with his pants down and he could continue running away from his family and from God. After Tamar confronts him though, Judah realizes he does indeed have a problem and he goes from a man willing to sacrifice everyone (especially the faithful daughter-in-law who was still willing to give him a grandson) to a man willing to sacrifice himself and his “needs”. Now that’s some serious personal growth and character development…which means I have some rewriting to do.

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