God’s Faithfulness in Brokeness
The book of Genesis is packed with so many epic stories and fascinating characters, that it has to take up three blog posts to fit everything in! In case you missed parts one and two, you can go back to the homepage and read those first. Let’s pick up the story from right where we left off in chapter 23.
We ended part two on a high note. Abraham passed God’s test of faith with flying colors! God reaffirmed his promise to Abraham and blessed him and his family. Things are really looking up for Abraham! Then we turn the page and read that some years have passed and Sarah has died. If you’ve been reading Genesis up to this point, you’ll have noticed that Abraham and Sarah weren’t exactly the models of a perfect marriage. Marriage is tough, and not for the faint of heart. But it’s apparent that Abraham cared deeply for his wife. Not only does he weep for her in verse 2, but he also takes great care in choosing a place to lay her to rest. Abraham wanted only the best for Sarah and he paid a great price to see that she had it.
As one marriage comes to an end, a new one begins. In chapter 24 Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac. He gives the servant two instructions. First, Isaac must not marry a Canaanite woman. God made his covenant with Abraham and his people, not the Canaanites. Second, Isaac must not leave the promised land of Canaan for this search. God has promised to give Abraham and his offspring this land. Isaac must stay while the servant goes. Abraham has not forgotten his covenant with God and he is careful to make sure that the terms are kept.
The servant agrees and arrives at a well in Abraham’s hometown. When he arrives, he prays that God would give him a sign as to who he should bring back to marry Isaac. Before he even finishes his prayer, the servant notices a woman named Rebekah and is struck by her beauty. The servant asks her for water. Rebekah lowers her jar down and gets water for him and offers to water his camels as well. The sign he asked for has been fulfilled.
The servant pulls out wedding jewelry and asks to meet the girl’s family. Upon meeting her family, the servant tells them everything that happened. They cannot deny that God has orchestrated this event and allow Rebekah to go with him to marry Isaac. Rebekah leaves with the servant, meets Isaac, and becomes his wife. God provided a wife for Isaac from the people of Abraham and brought her to the land of promise in Canaan. Some time afterward, Abraham dies at a ripe old age. He leaves everything he owns to Isaac and is buried with Sarah.
Chapters 25–27 are about Isaac and Rebecka’s twin sons Jacob and Esau. God tells Rebekah that her younger son Jacob (meaning deceiver, trickster), will inherit God’s blessing and rule over her oldest, Esau and they live will live at odds with one another just like Isaac and Ishmael. Jacob stays true to his name and tricks Esau out of his birthright twice — first by deceiving Esau, and then second, by deceiving their father Isaac. So Jacob receives the covenant inheritance through treachery and deceit.
But wait — didn’t God know this would happen? Why would he choose to give his blessing to a cheat? We’re given one clue in Chapter 24, verse 34, “So Esau despised his birthright.” This could mean that he somehow disregarded his birthright or wasn’t appreciative of it. It also may mean that he was unworthy of the blessing or that he showed spite for it when he was willing to sell it to Jacob. In addition, perhaps God saw Jacob’s potential and deemed him worthy by his other merits. This isn’t the first time that we are tempted to question God’s judge of character in Genesis. But the Bible is full of misfits, unsavory characters, and flawed heroes that God uses to accomplish great things. Jacob isn’t absolved from wrongdoing. But God uses Jacob, and all of us, in spite of our flaws.
Stairway to Heaven
After blessing Jacob, the ailing Isaac sends him to their family’s homeland to find a wife just as Abraham had with Rebeckah. As Jacob is journeying to his family’s homeland, he stops for the night. While sleeping, Jacob receives a dream from God that changes his life.
He sees a large structure like a ladder, tower, or staircase, reaching up from earth to heaven. All along this ladder, he sees angels ascending and descending. Then God’s voice rings out as he speaks to Jacob. Even though he had received his father’s blessing, there was a far more important one he needed to receive — God’s. So God repeats to Jacob the same covenant he made with Abraham and Isaac. God will make Jacob’s descendants a great nation and will give them the land promised to Abraham.
This dream also carries an interesting parallel to the tower of Babel story from Genesis 11. In this dream, there’s another tower reaching to the heavens. But this time, the Angels are descending to earth rather than humans reaching for heaven. And this time, rather than scattering humans across the Earth, God promises to unite and bless them through Jacob and his family.
These next few chapters are absolutely crazy. Like his father who went before him, Jacob finds the woman he wants to marry at a well. Her name is Rachel. Jacob asks his uncle Laban for Rachel’s hand in marriage. However, Rachel is not Laban’s firstborn — Leah is. But Jacob doesn’t want to marry Leah, because he loves Rachel. So Laban and Jacob come to an agreement. Jacob will work for Laban 7 years in exchange for Rachel.
Thus begins a series of tricks and deceit between Jacob and Laban. Laban deceives Jacob into accidentally marrying Leah instead of Rachel, thereby tricking him into 7 more years of free service to marry both Leah and Rachel. This creates a crazy rivalry between the two women that causes them to compete with one another for who can give the most sons to Jacob. They even bring their servants into the competition by having them sleep with Jacob and bear sons on their behalf! In the end, Jacob has twelve sons. These sons will each have a very special role in the continuing of God’s covenant blessing. The descendants of each son will become one of the tribes of the nation of Israel. We’ll read a lot more about them later on in the Old Testament. For now, just know that these sons are very special.
Now back to the family drama. An issue arises between Jacob and Laban over who should own the flock Jacob had been tending. Through a series of tricks between both Laban and Jacob, Jacob ends up with the bigger and healthier flock. But it is not Jacob’s tactics that made him rich. It was God working in the midst of the mess to provide for Jacob, even in his sinfulness. Finally, it’s time for Jacob, his family, and his many possessions to leave Laban’s household and make their way back to the land where God met him in the dream.
What are we to make of all this trickery and deceit? Why would the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel come about through such morally dicey means? It is to show us something incredibly important about who God is and how he works. God keeps his promises. That’s who he is. He promised that Abraham’s family would become a great nation, and here we have the beginnings of it. God constantly and specifically works through people who are unworthy. God subverts sin and evil by redeeming otherwise terrible situations. God repurposes evil intention. God shows mercy to people who don’t deserve it.*
Jacob knows he still has a score to settle with his brother Esau. Esau had sworn to kill Jacob for tricking him out of his birthright. So Jacob makes a bunch of plans and strategies with his family and servants in preparation for the confrontation with Esau. Jacob gets the confrontation that He’s looking for, but not with Esau.
There’s a strange episode where Jacob is approached by an unnamed man who immediately picks a fight with him. It will become clear by the end of the fight that the man Jacob is wrestling with is actually God. They fight all through the night until the man wounds Jacob in the side. Still, Jacob refuses to back down until the man blesses him. Finally, God, as this unnamed man, blesses Jacob and gives him the name Israel which means “wrestles with God”. This all foreshadows the rocky relationship that the nation of Israel will have with God. Just as Jacob had to go through a period of exile and wrestling with others, with sin, and with God, so his people, Israel, would do the same.
After this confrontation with God, Jacob prepares for another fight with Esau. But in a move that no one saw coming, Esau runs up to Jacob and ebraces him. Esau begs for Jacob’s forgiveness and the two make amends. Finally, the family of Jacob is at peace with one another. For now…
The last part of Genesis focuses on Jacob’s first son with Rebeckah, Joseph. Jacob made it no secret that Joseph was his favorite son. He made Joseph a beautiful coat which set him apart from the rest of his brothers. This makes his brothers understandably jealous. Then, to make matters worse, Joseph tells his brothers about a dream where they all bow down before him. The brothers have had enough and they sell Joseph to a group of slavers from Egypt.
But God is faithful to Joseph and will go on to elevate him to a high status in Egypt. Joseph ends up serving in the household of an Egyptian official named Potiphar where he gains a great reputation as an interpreter of dreams. Joseph is eventually brought before the Pharaoh of Egypt to interpret dreams that were distressing him. From Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph learns that a great famine is coming to the land of Egypt, but there’s time to prepare before it strikes. Because of Joseph’s great insight, Pharaoh promotes him to be second in command of all Egypt! Joseph is able to use his position to prepare Egypt for the famine, ensuring that they have plenty to survive.
The famine causes Joseph’s brothers to come to Egypt to buy food. Joseph is in charge of selling the food and his brothers end up before him. Joseph recognizes his brothers but he keeps his own identity a secret. The brothers bow down before Joseph as they ask to buy food from Egypt. This fulfills the dream that Joseph had before. Joseph eventually reveals his identity to his brothers and explains that he’s not angry at them for selling him as a slave. He explains that it was the will of God that he come to Egypt so that many lives would be saved. Joseph invites his family to live with him in Egypt and the family is reunited once more.
In chapter 49, Jacob, now named Israel, blesses each of his sons individually. These blessings would turn out to be prophecies of sorts, as each tribe of Israel would take on traits from each blessing. Jacob dies and is buried in the same place plot that Abraham bought for Sarah. He was so highly regarded in Egypt that Pharaoh and all of his officials attended the funeral as well.
In the last chapter, as Joseph dies, he too blesses his brothers telling them,
24 “But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” 25a And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid…”
This blessing will start to be fulfilled in the Book of Exodus.
So, the book of Genesis finally comes to an end. Let’s look at some key takeaways before we close out.
- God is the Great Initiator. He creates. He speaks. He loves. He comes to find Adam and Eve after they sin. He chooses Noah. He calls Abraham. He appears to Jacob. He makes covenants. He destroys. He saves. He works evil for Good. His initiative and power, not man’s, are what drive the story forward.
- Human beings can have a relationship with God. This can only happen by God revealing himself to us and entering into a covenant with us. We then can choose to respond by faith and obedience. Faith is believing that God is real, active, and dependable. Obedience is doing what God commands based on the assurance that he is trustworthy.
- God is in control, yet we are responsible. The writer of Genesis commends the patriarchs for their faith and obedience, yet also warns us by describing their foolish escapades.
- Sin has devastating consequences. Rebellion against God began a cascade of evil in the world. Genesis shows us the horrible fruit of that evil: murder, boasting in violence, abuse, rape, warfare, exploitation, deception, jealousy, pride, selfishness, and plenty more. The magnitude of sin is also revealed in God’s judgment on the world through the flood and later his destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
- God is a redeemer. He chooses to save the world rather than destroy it. He uses messed-up, imperfect people to do his will. He is the master at weaving all events, even evil ones, into his good plan.
- God is patient. He is patient with Abraham’s family through their failures. He patiently waits for his plan to unfold. All the patriarchs waited for something. Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years for Isaac. Jacob spent 20 years in “exile” in Mesopotamia. Joseph spent 21 years in Egypt before he saw God’s purpose in it. God is not in a hurry!
- Human nature is universal. The culture and setting of Genesis are far removed from ours. Practices that were normal then seem shocking or strange to us. Yet the human experience rings true.
- Our understanding of God through Genesis is limited. Genesis does not tell us everything we need to know about God.It raises as many questions about God as it gives answers. But Genesis is only the beginning of the story. We need the rest of Scripture to understand fully who God is.
- Genesis points to Jesus. Genesis creates expectation for a coming Messiah. With the New Testament, we can see how Jesus Christ fulfills these expectations. He is the second Adam who will rule over creation. He is the seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head. He is the true heir of Abraham. He is the ram God provides instead of Isaac. He is the suffering servant, like Joseph, exalted to save. He is the Lion of Judah. Jesus is God’s final answer to the problem of sin. He carries out God’s greatest work of redemption. All the questions we have about God in Genesis are answered in Jesus. All God’s promises in Genesis lead to Jesus.*
- Spoken Gospel (2017, August 4). The Book of Genesis. Retrieved from Defeo, C. (2017, August 4). New webinar on research careers [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blog.mendeley.com/2017/08/04/new-webinar-on-research-careers/
- Smith, Tyler. (2006, July 11). Reflections from the Book of Genesis. Retrieved from https://www.georgiaplainbaptistchurch.com/from-the-pastors-desk/reflections-on-genesis7112018