I shared earlier this month that we would be partnering with City Collective Church in Chattanooga in our Garden to City journey through scripture this year. Brookes is a good friend of mine from Seminary and I love the opportunity to partner with other churches around the country and hear from different voices and perspectives. Check out his recap of Genesis –
THERE IS A SUMMARY AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST IF YOU WANT TO SKIP OVER THE RECAP
Before starting Exodus and moving forward, we need to do some looking backward. Win wrote an extremely helpful and thoughtful post about our first week in Genesis, but SO MUCH has happened since then! How could we possibly move into Exodus without at least recapping some of the major events from the past week?!
The major touchstone we have to pick up from the first twelve chapters of Genesis can be found in the life of Abraham or Abram (His name is officially changed from Abram to Abraham in 17:5). God made a promise to Abraham, a promise to make his name great throughout all of the Earth and to make him the father of many nations so that all of the world would be blessed through his offspring. What an amazing promise – especially for God to promise to make Abraham’s name great when we see just a bit earlier in the story that the rebellion at Babel was fueled by people attempting to make their own names great.
After Abraham comes Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. While there were many more characters in these stories, they are the characters that we see take up prominent roles in the rest of the book of Genesis. In them we see each generation demonstrate the renewal of God’s promise to bless the world through this family. In God’s faithfulness, he chooses to keep his promise through some of the most unlikely characters. Usually in these times in history the first born received as inheritance the best of their father’s house. In these stories, however, we see the “lesser” of the sons gain prominence. Abel, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph all show God reaching out and caring not for the first born but for the son who, in this time, had little right to his father’s inheritance.
It’s important that we recognize that in these stories we read some really hard stuff. Reading these stories in 2018 can leave us confused and at a loss. We see the oppression of women sexually in ways that we do not quite know how to reconcile. If these men are men of God then why would they take multiple wives? Why would they lie about their wives claiming they are their sisters? Why would they show such little respect for sexual purity and treat women only like property? Why do we find stories of murder, and idolatry and confusing rituals that seem absolutely barbaric and out of place in God’s story?
These are difficult and important questions that we must wrestle with. While I certainly don’t have an easy answer to any of them, could it be that we see all of these things happen is because the characters we’ve come to identify as the “main” characters of these stories are not, in fact, the main characters at all? I think, all of these men and women we read about in Genesis and all of the things – both beautiful and difficult – we read of them serve to demonstrate the way in which God remains faithful to God’s promises even when humanity really drops the ball – The God of Genesis is faithful to his promises even when humanity is at its worst. God chose to bless the world through this lineage, and sometimes I wonder if God had chosen a different family if the world would have been different? Did God choose this dysfunctional family because God knew it would model God’s own faithfulness better than any other family? I cannot say why God chose this family to bind Himself to, but I can say that God uses these opportunities as a way to demonstrate God’s great faithfulness and provision for God’s people.
One story in particular that I do want to look at a little more closely is the story of Joseph. Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob. His own brothers betrayed him and sold him into slavery. To be fair to them, Joseph did tell his brothers about the dreams he was having about how they would all bow down to him and he would rule over them, so, honestly, I probably would not have liked my little brother if he decided to act that way either. After Joseph is sold into slavery, he is accompanied by the LORD, and he finds great favor at every step of his journey. He finds himself serving Potiphar who was one of Pharaoh’s officials. After basically becoming Potiphar’s right hand man, Potiphar’s wife tries to sleep with Joseph and Joseph refuses. In a dramatic moment she convinces everyone that Joseph was actually trying to seduce her. This gets Joseph sent to prison. In prison, Joseph interprets the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servants by the power of God and, after some time, Joseph ends up becoming Pharaoh’s second-in-command.
In the midst of a seven year famine that Joseph predicted by interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, his brothers come to Egypt in search of food. After some strange interactions, especially from a 21st century perspective and context, Joseph finally reveals to his brothers who he is. They break down with sorrow, panic, and remorse over their actions. Despite all of this, Joseph shows them mercy and finds them a place to live along with their father Jacob – who Joseph sees again for the first time in a number of years.
After living in Egypt for a while, Jacob dies and his body is buried with his ancestors. Here now, living in Egypt, we find the people that God has decided to enter into a relationship with to bless the entire world. Joseph’s brothers approach him and tell him that their father’s last command was for Joseph to forgive them for the evil they committed against him. In Genesis 50 we find one of the over arching themes of the entire story of the Bible on the lips of Joseph as he responds to his brothers:
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:20
We see all throughout the book of Genesis that people intend things for evil but despite these evil intentions, God works them for good so that through them many people should live. Does this sound familiar to any New Testament character? I can’t help but seeing Jesus here – not in the actions of Joseph but in the faithfulness of God. People sought to kill Jesus. They sought to betray him, to humiliate him, to punish him, to make a mockery of him, and to end his life once and for all. Despite these evil intentions, through the death of the eternal God in the person of Jesus, God brought forth life for many people. This only happens because of God’s faithfulness. We read Genesis not to find people to model our lives after but to see the work of the faithful God upon whom our lives depend. Sure, these people had redeeming moments and wonderful qualities about them, Paul often refers to Abraham as being righteous by faith, but the real beauty and glory and wonder of these stories can be found in God’s rugged commitment to stay in relationship with these people so that through this line a savior, the Savior, would be born. God’s faithfulness shines bright in these stories. It is easy to get caught up in the temptation to either deify or vilify these characters. From their best moments we craft character lessons about why we should be like them. From their worst moments we focus on their repulsive sin, their confusing rituals, or the seemingly blatant disregard for human rights and we can barely bring ourselves to read Genesis anymore. In falling into either one of these temptations, we lose sight of the main character of the story. We miss the reality that God is good and faithful to keep his promises. It is only through God’s faithfulness that a savior was born of this line.
I wish I had an answer for every part of these stories that seems wrong. I wish I could help explain exactly why these men and women did some of these horrific things. What I do know, however, is that in the midst of the darkness of these stories, we find a glimmer of light shining through pointing us to Jesus. This is only the beginning of the larger story God has been writing throughout history, and I cannot wait to journey along the rest of the way with you.