On Tuesday I wrote about a pattern in Genesis that I find powerful for explaining the human condition: the consequences of the rebellion of Adam and Eve are felt in the family. The most intimate human relationships are where human sin is most acutely evident.
What I didn’t say, and should have made clear, is that God doesn’t defer hope from the time of Abraham until the time of Christ. The church is where God’s family is restored completely. But right there in Genesis, God is already bringing healing and wholeness.
Abraham is the first in the family to follow God. And he isn’t very good at it. He’s faithful with some things—he’s loyal to Lot and generous in his dealings. But the things Abraham gets wrong, he gets really wrong. Twice he claims his wife is his sister because he fears foreign kings will kill him to marry her. He fails to trust God to provide him an heir, so he sleeps with his wife’s maidservant. Abraham struggles to walk closely with God from the beginning of his story to the end.
Isaac, Abraham’s son, is no model Israelite either. But he makes steps in the right direction. Isaac, too, tries to pass of his wife, Rebekah, as his sister. But he only does it once. That means he’s twice as faithful as his dad.
Isaac’s son Jacob is a scoundrel. There’s really no way around that. But Jacob’s relationship with God is more intimate that his father’s or grandfather’s. He wrestles with God by the Jabbok River. Contending with God seems like a bad thing, really. But I think the point is Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel after this episode) realized God was his only hope. Jacob couldn’t rely on his wits to keep him out of trouble. He needed God’s blessing. And he refused to let God leave without blessing him. It may have been superficial faith. But it was authentic faith.
Jacob’s son Joseph was the real deal. He was Israel’s first theologian. He started out sort of a brat, but when he grew up he was the first in his family to be able to identify how God was at work in his circumstances. When he is finally reunited with his brothers in Egypt, years after they sold him into slavery, he told them, “It was not you who sent me here, but God. God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:8, 7). He recognized God’s broader plan in his brother’s sin: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). Joseph understood the character of God, and trusted it, more than Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob before him.
What on earth is the point? The point is that God worked to sanctify this family generation by generation. They grew closer to God over time, not because Joseph was so much smarter or holier than Abraham, but because God is faithful. And the closer they drew to God the more grace and forgiveness is evident in their families (Gen. 50:15-21, for example). That’s good news. That means the sins of fathers—divorce or abuse or whatever—don’t have to visit their sons and grandsons. It means we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Not because we are smarter or holier than our parents, but because God is faithful.