I’ve wondered about trying to write a novel. But I can never think up a story to tell that’s more exciting than the one I’m living, with all its highs and lows. God’s stories in the Bible strike me the same way. But his include the kinds of details I’d hide if I were writing mine.
I wonder why.
Today’s passage includes two stories of failing from the family God’s chosen to use to bless all nations through. It’s another post about the God who stops at nothing to bring about his plan to save us, using even the wickedness and foolishness of his own faithless people for his good purposes.
God prefers that we trust and obey him, of course, but he doesn’t let unbelief and rebellion get in his way. He weaves in both the faithful and the faithless, and sometimes they’re two parts of the same person–the lies of Abraham, the scheming of Sarah, the favoritism of Isaac and Rebekah, the pining of Leah, the idolatry of Rachel, the deceit of Jacob, and today, Jacob’s ruthless sons.
These are the ones he uses in Genesis to tell his story of seeking and saving. Not stellar people. Broken ones. Only God could weave a story so good from so little goodness. Only God can bring someone holy out of so much sin–a spotless Savior through a family of scoundrels and scalawags.
Jacob’s son, Joseph, is his pride and joy. The first son of his favorite wife, Rachel, and born in his old age, Jacob favors him over his other sons and gives him an elaborate coat to show it. It’s a source of pain for his eleven sons, and they hate him as a result. You’d think Jacob would know better than to play favorites, since he was wounded by his father’s favoritism of his brother, Esau. But he doesn’t. The sins of the father are passed on to the sons, Ge 37:3-4.
Joseph’s brothers also hate him for the dreams he shares with them, dreams about his rising over them and their bowing to him. Not only does their father esteem Joseph above them, Joseph’s own dreams do, too. Or at least, this is how it seems. Little do they know the prophetic nature of his dreams. All they know is they want to get rid of Joseph, so with murder in their hearts, they scheme, Ge 37:5-11.
When Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers and the flocks, Joseph makes a journey of some 60 miles on foot. When they see him coming, they make plans to kill him, but Reuben wants to spare him and get him back to Jacob. He suggests throwing him in an empty well instead, Ge 37:12-24.
While Reuben’s away, Judah says they should sell Joseph to a caravan coming through and make some money, so they do. Then they kill a goat, tear Joseph’s robe and dip it in its blood, show it to their father, and lie about what’s happened. Reuben goes along with the ruse. Jacob, broken hearted, grieves so hard he wishes he were dead with his son, Ge 37:25-35.
Joseph is taken to Egypt where he’s sold as a slave to Potiphar, one of Pharoah’s officials and captain of his guard, Ge 37:36.
I know a lot of dysfunctional families, but none as corrupt as this one. It’s easy to miss the shocking depravity in a story I’ve heard since I was ten. But today the dust blows away, and I feel the intense hatred of these ten brothers. It’s a hate so fierce, they’re willing to take Joseph’s life and their father’s happiness to get rid of him. They only end up saving him for their financial benefit. The sad truth is, they’re an awful lot like their father, as we’ve already seen him, (for the story of Jacob, see https://iwantmore.blog/2021/01/13/humble-pie/).
God uses these people to bring about his chosen nation, and his blessing, and the story of salvation, and through them, the Savior of the world?
Oh my word.
What happened to the good people who trust God in Bible stories? I’m realizing as I read the Bible, there just aren’t many. And the ones I find often have sin issues, too. Doesn’t God mind how these people make him look? “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”
Welp, it gets worse–or better–depending on how you look at it.
The scene switches to Jacob’s son, Judah, who leaves his family and settles down with a Canaanite wife. Intermarrying with the Canaanites has already been discouraged, as Abraham and Isaac have insisted their sons marry inside their family. But Judah doesn’t mind venturing out and looking elsewhere for a suitable wife, Ge 38:1-2.
He has three sons and he finds a wife, Tamar, for his firstborn. His son suddenly dies and leaves her without a child. The custom of the time is that the brother next in line would marry her and produce an heir for his brother, which becomes the retirement plan for his widow (since children supported parents in their old age). The next brother enjoys Tamar, but refuses to honor the custom of giving her a child, which is wicked in God’s eyes, so he dies. And now, twice widowed, Tamar turns her eyes to the last son, still a child, Ge 38:3-10.
Judah sends her home to live with her father “until my son Shelah grows up,” but in reality, he’s afraid that Shelah will die married to Tamar, too, just like his brothers. Superstitious, he has no intention of giving Tamar to Shelah as a wife, which is Judah’s duty as her father-in-law, Ge 38:11, (http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/genesis-38/).
So Tamar schemes her own retirement plan: she dresses as a prostitute and plants herself where she knows Judah will be when he’s out of town shearing sheep. His wife has died and he’s recovered from grief, and he propositions Tamar, unaware who she is since prostitutes used veils. After negotiating a price and giving his seal and staff as collateral until he pays, they have sex and part ways. When he sends a goat in payment, this “shrine prostitute” can’t be found, Ge 38:13-19 (enduringword).
Three months later, Tamar is found to be pregnant and is accused of prostitution. Judah hears of it and is livid, demanding, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!” It’s a scene he lives to regret. As she’s brought out, she sends Judah his seal and staff and says the father is the one who owns these, Ge 38:24-25.
It’s a sad and sordid story. It’s just the opposite one you’d expect for the son whose mother praised God and named her baby Judah, or “praise,” at his birth, Ge 29:35.
There’s nothing here to praise except that God brings glory through it despite its depravity. His Messiah will come from one of the twin sons born to Tamar. Perez becomes the great, great, great, great great grandfather of Boaz, who is the great great grandfather of David, who Jesus eventually comes from, Mt 1:3-16.
Sometimes I wonder if God is showing off. I don’t know how else to think about his power to bring great good out of great debauchery. It’s a tale only God Almighty can tell and redeem.
Perez’s name means “breaking out,” because he pretty much elbowed his way past Zerah to get out of Tamar’s womb first. Zerah’s hand had come out first and then withdrew, Ge 38:27-30.
But I like to think that God was saying through Perez that he was “breaking out” all the stops, all the illusions of man’s goodness to show that God himself is the hero of this story. God’s the prince of plot twists, the one with the plan to bring the sacred Savior of the entire world out of family wreckage like this.
This is the good news of the gospel. We aren’t saved by our own efforts to be good. We can never be good enough to deserve saving. We’re saved by God’s efforts on our behalf in Jesus to make us good.
No one is outside of God’s power to be turned around. We’re all scoundrels and scalawags, but God delights to make us into sons and daughters who praise and adore him.
Who would conceive of
of lewdness and woe?
And if they did,
who else could achieve it,
so those who receive him,
would bring the praise
Judah never could
to the One who makes
the worst of us good?
God’s plans to save.
Nobody and nothing
gets in his way.
God is God,
and his plans
Jesus said, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned,” v 35-37.
Reading this today, I feel the weight of it. If what Jesus says is true, then who can be saved? Who has words that are careful and kind enough to acquit them on the day of judgment? I don’t.
I want to run to God here and be reminded of his mercy to forgive my careless, unkind words…and thoughts…and behaviors. And I want him to remember mercy because of Jesus who covers me, Ha 3:2; Ps 25:6, He 4:14-16.
But when the Pharisees heard this, they don’t feel the weight of their sin and repent. They feel smug, and maybe even angry, and rise up. They challenge who Jesus is by asking him for a miraculous sign. They basically say, “We hear you, and we got this. Maybe you haven’t heard of us–the religious professionals, the ‘already righteous.’ We need to see your credentials,” v 38.
If the gospel makes you feel smug or angry, too, ask God’s Spirit to help you repent. I have to do it all the time. It honestly pisses me off that I can’t be good enough to earn grace. Thankfully, God still gives repentance and forgiveness to Pharisees like us.
“You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand,” v 11.
God doesn’t just make me right with him by granting repentance and forgiveness, which is plenty. He also puts other goodies in my basket:
–Knowing how to live well, “You have made known to me the path of life…”
–Filling me with joy anytime I’m with him, “you will fill me with joy in your presence…”
–Filling me with eternal pleasures because of Jesus (who stands at his right hand), “…with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
I have no idea what God has in mind by “eternal pleasures,” but I know what I imagine they could be. And I don’t think I can think up any he hasn’t already thought of first. I could really do some damage with an unlimited pleasure-card like this. God says, “It’s on me.”
My take away today is God’s power to bring good despite imperfect people and their imperfect stories. He’s the God who turns sinners into sons and daughters, remaking their scandals into praises for his glory.
And I see Jesus’ power to look through the Pharisees’ posing, exposing their pride and giving them the chance to repent and be included in his story.
It takes an Almighty God to reach me and teach me any way to live other than my own. That he does this through his word, and that he gives me joy and pleasures beside, well, for me, it’s the greatest story ever told.
Joy just never gets old.