Someone caught me in the hallway at church this week and asked, “what book do you have us reading Pastor Clint!?” The answer of course: the Bible! This has been the week of the Jacob story and all it entails. Some of you are thinking, “why do I need to read this stuff?” Let me ask you to think about the big picture for just a minute.
Genesis is the book of beginnings. Notice in the larger picture how those beginnings are going about now. The creation is marred by the inability of the man and woman to obey the creator’s voice. The garden is lost, the offspring of the man are scattered and harried by crises: the flood, barren wives, wars, famine, etc. A few heroes emerge: Abraham who grows from doubt to trust, from self-reliance to the prototype person of faith. Jacob makes a very similar journey from making his own way to following the way of the God of his grandfather Abraham. The story of the twelve sons of Jacob introduces yet another twist into the narrative. By the time we come out of the stories about selling the next-to-youngest son Joseph and the children produced by incest between Judah and Tamar, the whole creation-of-the-nation-from-Abraham narrative is once again in doubt. Don’t miss the problem with the beginnings. With frightening consistency, the “created-in-God’s-image” guardians of the creation bring chaos to order and from wholeness give birth to brokenness.
Genesis 38 is an admitted low point in the story, but the low points are there for a reason. In spite of the depth to which Abraham’s great grandchildren sink, the God of the Covenant is at work. It’s easy to miss the connection between Genesis 38:29 (the birth of Perez and Zarah, Tamar’s twins by Judah) and Matthew 1:3 (again, one of those endless genealogies), but the connection is important. The lineage of Jesus of Nazareth, the whole point of this story in the end, runs through the children born from the illegitimate relationship between Judah and Tamar. God is somehow always in the deep background of these stories, working ends from the crises and chaos that are unseen and perhaps even unimaginable. From the muck and mire of Judah’s depravity and Tamar’s cunning comes the one who will set everything right.
Speaking of the larger picture, please note the relationship between Genesis 38 and 39. If Genesis 38 is a low point, then the next chapter is a high point: this is how a follower of the Covenant God of Abraham and an image bearer of the Creator should act. Joseph seeks the good with passion and zeal. If God is quietly at work in the mess of Judah’s family, God is very publicly and demonstrably at work in and through Joesph’s life. The messiah’s blood line may run through Judah’s family, but that family only exists through the famine-to-come because of Joseph. Joseph’s two sons by his Egyptian wife Asenath will be the heads of two of the twelve tribes of Israel. There could not be two more contrasting characters than Judah and his younger brother Joseph.
So yes, it's a colorful, R-rated story full of very flawed people and a very amazing God who is doing everything possible to create from the old something new. All this puts into new light a familiar passage from the New Testament:
Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!
2 Corinthians 5:17 (The Message)