“Divine Hope for Dysfunctional Families”
(Genesis 25-50 Overview: “The Chosen People’s Family Tree: Twisted, Gnarled, Splintered, and Bearing Bad Fruit, Yet Fulfilling God’s Purposes and Promises.”)
October 5, 2014 Genesis Sermon #1
Maple Glen Church Pastor Louis Prontnicki
Do you sometimes ask yourself: “Why do I mess up so often? Why do I do the same stupid and sinful things over and over again, when I am one of God’s own children?”
Or do you wonder: “Why is my family so messed up? And why do Christians have such a hard time getting along with each other, when we have the promises and the presence of the Lord with us? Why are so many churches places of hurt and distrust?”
Or perhaps this question: “Why does it seem to take the Lord so long to work out His purposes in and through us?”
These are some of the same questions that we might raise as we look at God’s chosen people in the second half of the book of Genesis. (I presented the first half of this book many years ago as a Sunday school course at MGBFC.) For we see the same sort of messed up people and families among God’s chosen people in our esteemed patriarchs!
We read in 1 Peter 2:9-10 that we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession…. That we have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light, to declare His praises! So if that’s who we are, in Christ, then why are we still so messed up, and why are so many of our relationships so twisted and painful?
I think we can find answers to these questions in the lives of our spiritual ancestors, in Genesis 25-50, especially in the stories of Jacob and Joseph, and how God sovereignly worked in them and through them. Consider the New Testament perspectives we should have as we read Genesis 25-50:
- Romans 15:4 “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
- 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 “Now these things (what happened to people in the OT) occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us…” Therefore, as we read about the men and women in Genesis, we should expect to find teaching lessons for us, including lessons of endurance and encouragement, negative examples and warnings, and hope! The IS divine hope for dysfunctional people and families here!
- But there’s one more thing we should look for in Genesis 25-50. For the OT scripture is not merely for our teaching and guidance; more importantly, it points us to the Messiah, the Savior, (See Luke 24:44-45) and the Lord who we so desperately need, because like our spiritual ancestors, we are pretty messed up too! Therefore let us look for Christ on every page of Genesis, for He is the focal point and the grand finale of all of God’s revelation! Our ultimate hope is in Christ, our great
With that as our perspective, let’s consider some of the sins, problems, and messes that God’s chosen people struggled with in Genesis:
Infertility problems/ barrenness: Three generations of women: Sarah (25 years), Rebekah (20 years) and Rachel, and this problem/ shame is compounded by three things: (1) seeing your rival having children, such as Hagar and Leah; (2) the Middle eastern cultural expectations for having children, especially a male heir; and (3) because the promise of God to Abraham rested on having children. Imagine the marital tension and the despair for these couples, as they wrestled with infertility and bareness.
Major sibling rivalry, to the point of Esau wanting to kill his twin brothers, Jacob. Imagine being their parents, and dealing with such animosity and hatred, every time the family is together? “Boys, boys, we are God’s chosen people! You can’t kill each other!”
Children of believers (Esau) marrying unbelievers, bringing grief to his parents. In Gen. 27:46 Esau’s mother Rebekah said to Isaac: “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women (her pagan daughters-in-law). If Jacob takes a wife from among the woman of this land…my life will not be worth living.” Imagine Isaac and Rebekah seeing their grandchildren being raised by pagan mothers.
Extreme parental favoritism (Isaac with Esau and Rebekah with Isaac; later Jacob with the sons of Rachel, Joseph and Benjamin.) This favoritism would bear bitter fruit as the children grew up, provoking jealousy, envy, and much strife. These families were so dysfunctional and fractured…. Yet they were God’s chosen people!
Ongoing deception and deceit (Jacob means “He deceives”), Jacob’s father-in-law Laban seeks to deceive Jacob re: his flock and herds, Jacob’s sons deceive all the Shechemites, and then kill the men and take their wives and children captive (Some witness to these pagans, right? This would be like inviting unbelievers today to trust in Christ, and when they are being baptized be immersion, you drown them! How horrible!)
Jacob’s firstborn son Reuben has sex with his father’s concubine (and mother to some of his half-brothers)
Joseph’s brothers hate him and want to kill him, but end of selling him into slavery, then lie to their father about what happened to him.
Judah, the one whose name means “Praise” and the one through whom the Messiah would come, has sex with his daughter-in-law, Tamar, thinking she was a prostitute, because he wouldn’t give her his third son in marriage. And these are God’s chosen people!!
Or consider the sisters Leah and Rachel. Their sibling rivalry was a doozy: Rachel is young, more attractive, wins the guy, but is infertile. Leah is the older of the two, less attractive, but a fertile myrtle. They are both married to Jacob, and they are competing with one another for his attention. Jacob feels like he’s on a roller coaster, as the two sisters tell him who he is sleeping with each night: Rachel, Leah, or one of the servant girls, Bilhah and Zilpah. And notice who names all the children? It’s the women, not Jacob (except for Benjamin.) What an awful soap opera! Should we laugh or cry at this record of God’s people being so twisted and wicked? Should we write them all off as negative examples to avoid? Or can we marvel at God’s grace, patience, and persevering mercy towards all of them, when they deserved His judgment?
Let’s consider how slowly God’s promises seemed to be answered:
It took 25 years for Abraham to see the promise of the birth of a child, and that when he bought some property in Hebron to bury his wife Sarah, he knew that his future grandchildren and great grandchildren, etc., would not live in the promised land for another 400 years! (Would you purchase real estate if your descendants wouldn’t live on it for over 4 centuries?)
Then we have Isaac, who is 40 when he marries Rebekah, and for the next 20 years, they can’t conceive and bear a child. (Remember how hard this would be, given both the culture and God’s promise of a great number of children). He lives to be 180 years old (Gen. 35:28).
How about Jacob, who has to work seven years for Laban, for his wife Rachel, and then after being deceived by Laban, who gives him older sister Leah instead, so he has to work another 7 years for her. Jacob lives to be 147. Yes, Genesis reminds us that God often works in decades and centuries! But that’s not what we pray for, is it? That’s not how we picture God working in our lives, is it?So what positives can we take away from these struggles and sins and slow pace? What do we do with all our messed-up spiritual ancestors? What does God want us to learn from them?
Then there’s Joseph, who at age 17 is sold into slavery by his brothers, forgotten for two years in prison by Pharaoh’s forgetful cupbearer (40:23), and then some 22 years after his brothers had sold him into slavery, he meets up with them again, but this time the tables are turned!
So how does God offer hope for dysfunctional families and messed-up individuals? Three ways:
1. God’s Training Program includes waiting, suffering, and sin.
(These are three things we don’t want and don’t sign up for… yet God uses them.)
The story of Joseph is a great example of this truth, as we will see in Gen. 37-50. God’s training route for you may take you along a path that you would never have chosen for yourself, a path that will wind through the valley of deep shadow and take you into battles from which you will emerge with wounds whose depth only you and he know. Yet he will nonetheless be with you every step of the way, as he has promised, shaping you for greatness, for glory, and for holiness, in his sight, through each of those difficult and painful experiences.
2. What Man Designed for Evil, God Designed for Good
Gen. 45:4-5, 7 “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me here ahead of you…. God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God….”
(Gen. 50:20) Joseph tells his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
3. Our Salvation comes through a Righteous One, through sin and suffering, and through the Lion of Judah who is the Lamb who was slain.
In Joseph’s story, we find a righteous person who is sinned against and who suffers greatly, especially at the hands of his own family, and yet God uses that sin and suffering to bring physical salvation to the whole world! Later, we read of Jacob’s blessing upon his son, Judah, that the Messiah will come from his family…. And all of these things come to fulfillment in Jesus, born from the tribe of Judah, the righteous One, who suffers and takes on the sin of others… our sins… in order to bring such a great and lasting salvation!
Listen to the way John describes Jesus’ role in heaven after his crucifixion and resurrection: “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals. . . . And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth’” (Revelation 5:5, 9-10).
In Christ, we are part of God’s grand story, of hope and victory. So take hope, in Christ, for God will work through your messed up life, and through your dysfunctional family, to bring about the fulfillment of His glorious promises and purposes.