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Mosaic Spokane

God of the Dark Places

God of the Dark Places

Genesis 37-50

I have a psychologist friend who is fond of saying, “Most problems are relatives.”   :)

While that might not be 100% accurate, there is probably a lot of truth to it. Family is certainly something unique.  When it comes to family, some of the most cherished…and some of the most painful memories…about life revolve around family. 

As you may (or may not) have noticed, our family wasn’t here last weekend.  We were all gathered in Hood River, OR to celebrate the first wedding of one of our 5 sons. Andrew and his wonderful bride, Katie, joined their lives in marriage last Saturday.  We rented an entire house where 11 of us hung out for 2 days non-stop—8 Repsolds, one son-in-law, one two-year old and one 3-week old granddaughter, a college niece from LA and Daniel’s girlfriend from Seattle.  It was one of the best weekends of my life! 

It doesn’t get better than seeing all your children walk down the isle one-by-one with your wife sitting in the front row (yes, crying) and be able to officiate at the wedding of two people who are sharing God-honoring vows and uniting their lives in holy matrimony under the blessing of God himself. 

But life, even in the Repsold family, isn’t always so enjoyable.  In fact, it was just 5 days later that I found myself exploding in not-so-righteous anger towards the very same family that had been the source of such great joy days earlier.  How is it that family can be SO good…and SO painful? 

Today’s text from Genesis is one of the best…and worst… examples of both the heights and depths of family life…God’s family.  Last week Eric so ably focused our attention on Abraham, the man who started God’s chosen race because of his faith. 

Today we are 3 generations down the family tree.  Abraham passed the spiritual baton to Isaac who then passed it to Jacob.  Genesis 25 picks the story of Jacob and Esau, twin brothers who fought pretty much from the womb.  In fact, the account in the middle of Gen. 25 reads like a comedy with the brothers fighting so much in Rebekah’s womb that she starts asking God what’s up.  God informer her that there are two nations in her womb and that the normal roles of the firstborn being the leader will be switched.  It’s never more evident than at the birth when the firstborn, Esau, emerges from the womb with his brother, Jacob, grasping his heal.  Talk about competitive!

Esau turns out to be a manly man, a hunter, favored by his father, Isaac.  Jacob turns out to be pretty much a mama’s boy who preferred to hang around Rabekah’s tents rather than play in the open field with dad and brother.  Esau is a man driven by his immediate appetites so sells his very birthright for a bowl of stew that Jacob cooked up. 

Jacob eventually cheats his older brother out of his father’s blessing as firstborn which leads Esau to swear to himself that he will kill Jacob as soon as their father kicks the bucket. Rebekah gets wind of what is unfolding and sends Jacob to her brother, Laban, some distance away in hopes that Esau will eventually cool off and fratricide won’t become the legacy of their family.

God used the next 14 years away from Canaan to not only grow Jacob up but to give him two wives and numerous children. Working for his father-in-law was about as enjoyable as you might imagine.  Fact is, Jacob had met his match as a schemer and conniver in Laban.  And after 15 years of frustrating relationship, the two part ways on less than the best terms and Jacob heads back to Canaan to face his brother.  On the way he wrestles with the Angel of the Lord who leaves him with a permanent limp…and a powerful blessing. 

If we were to make two columns for Jacob, one labeled “Personal Strengths” and the other “Personal Weaknesses”, both lists would be pretty extensive. 

Regarding strengths, I guess we could say Jacob was…

  • A great cook!
  • Had a close relationship with Mom.
  • Wasn’t afraid to take some real risks
  • Knew when and how to run!
  • Was a shrewd businessman.
  • Was hard working.
  • Stood up to men who tried to bully the woman he loved
  • Was a darn good ranch hand.
  • Was persistent when it came to getting what he wanted from God.

On the other side of the ledger, his weaknesses and personal flaws included…

  • Being a deceiver of epic proportions
  • A liar to his own father
  • A thief who had no problem stealing life’s most important things from his own brother.
  • A master manipulator or people and circumstances whenever it was in his best interests.
  • A man who hid behind the skirts of both his mother and wives when it suited him.
  • A man who had a terrible relationship with his twin brother due largely to his personal and selfish ambitions.
  • A man who played favorites to a very dangerous degree between his own sons (as we’ll see in a moment).
  • A polygamist who bore a dozen children by two wives and two of their maidservants.

Is this the kind of man you or I would have selected to be a critical figure in the development of God’s chosen people in this world???

But the soap opera gets better…or worse, depending on your viewpoint…in the next generation.   If you think feuding twins are dangerous, multiply that by 6.  Jacob had 12 sons by 4 different women.  He plays such favorites with one of them, Joseph, that most of the other brothers grow so resentful of him that they are willing to actually kill him in order to stop the constant reminders of their second-fiddle status.  It is that story which consumes the bulk of the last 13 chapters of Genesis.  It’s a story that brings the sometimes painful realities of family to the forefront.

Genesis 37 begins with these words, “This is the history of Jacob” (vs. 2).  It proceeds to talk mostly about his 12 sons, focusing mostly on Judah as a decidedly negative model and Joseph as a mostly-positive model. 

            I find those opening words instructive—“This is the history of Jacob.”  And then it talks about his kids.  Truth be told, for those of us with children, they are pretty much our history. For all of us, whomever we pour our lives into who become our spiritual offspring, they are pretty much “our history.” 

            Very few of us live lives of isolation.  Most of us have the privilege of impacting other people in ways that leave a history.  The question is, what kind of history. 

            Which is one of the beauties of this story.  With all the dysfunction and disaster of Jacob’s family, God still deals with every member in powerfully redemptive ways.  Which should be a reminder to every one of us that NO FAMILY and NO FAMILY MEMBER is beyond the reach of God’s redemptive power.

Genesis 37 sets the dysfunctional family stage with a full house of sibling rivalry, jealousy, favoritism, bitterness, bad-mouthing, arrogance, deception, lying, hatred, willingness to murder, profiteering, betrayal, callous indifference, fabricating of evidence and theft.   In the space of one short chapter, 10 half-brothers agree to murder their father’s favorite son (Joseph). 

The only thing that spares him from death is the opportunity that presents itself to make some money off of selling him into slavery to a passing band of Midianite traders.  Stripped naked, he becomes a casualty of human trafficking. 

Meanwhile, all the brothers, including his only full-blooded brother by the same mother, agree to deceive their elderly father about their dastardly deed by fabricating evidence that makes it appear Joseph was eaten by wild animals rather than trafficked into slavery.  Even the abject grief of their father when they unwrap their warped and wicket story about Joseph is not enough to snap them out of their jealousy-induced relational family coma. They would rather see their father die of sorrow than tell the truth about their own deeds and his demise. 

It is precisely this dysfunctional and sinful family dynamic that eventually led to exactly what God wanted to happen—the preservation and saving of God’s people and nation.  Joseph’s immaturity and arrogance as a 17 year old tattle tail and dreamer combined with his brother’s jealous bitterness and hatred that will be used by God to unfold His divine plan.

APP:  This is precisely the wonder of the God we serve.  He can take the mess of our sinful lives and our broken families and weave them into the divine tapestry that constitutes His Story of redemption throughout human history. 

            Have you ever looked back on your mistakes and mess-ups and wondered how badly you’ve damaged God’s plan for your life?  Ever wondered if your own actions have moved you beyond repair to a place where God can’t even recapture your life for His purposes? 

            Very early in the Story of God’s working in this world, God wanted to make it abundantly clear that it only takes ONE person…one imperfect, immature person…to be a person of faith who believes God in order to see God do His miraculous, redeeming work. 

            Trudging along that desert road as a pitiful slave in chains, I’m sure God was doing something in the heart of Joseph even as his brother’s hearts were growing more and more calloused in the presence of their father’s heartbreaking grief.  Somehow even his “what-ifs” about his own arrogance were no match for God’s redeeming presence.

  • “What if…I’d only kept quiet to my father about my brothers’ instead of giving a bad report?”
  • “What if…I’d just kept my mouth shut about my dreams of future greatness?”
  • “What if…I’d stopped wearing that favorite tunic that reminded my brothers every time they saw me of the preferential treatment dad always gave me?”

Somehow, even in the midst of tremendous doubts and questions about how God could ever redeem that mess must have been God’s still, small voice assuring Joseph that He, God, was still in control, still working out His Story, still bigger than any human hatred and sin.

APP:  Have you been wondering the same about your life?  Been wondering if you’ve messed up one too many times?  Been wondering if the abuse you have suffered in life at the hands of others must mean God has forgotten about you? 

            Don’t believe it.  Listen to the words of Jesus to anyone who surrenders their life to His lordship: 

  • “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
  • “Behold, I am with you, even to the end of the age.”
  • “Nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.”
  • “All things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.”

I don’t know where your thoughts are today, but I know where God’s thought are towards you!  Won’t you let God love you and simply say “Yes” to his invitation to redeem your sinful life through simple faith in Jesus Christ? 

[Invitation to put faith and trust in Christ, seek His forgiveness by confessing your sin and invite Him to take charge of your life.]

Let’s keep going.  The descent down into family degradation continues in Genesis 38 as God sets up the moral and spiritual contrast between two brothers…and two branches…of the family, Joseph and Judah.   Chapter 38 is all about Judah.  The story goes like this.

Judah married a Canaanite woman who bore him 3 sons.  The oldest, Er, married a woman who would become a “black widow” of sorts to the family.  Her name was Tamar

Er died (or rather was killed by God) because of his wickedness.   Since he had no children, according to the cultural custom of the day, the next son of Judah, Onan, was to marry Tamar and have a child that would carry on his brother’s name and line.  But Onan, selfish guy that he was, slept with Tamar but refused to actually impregnate her, knowing it would dilute his share of the family inheritance. 

So guess who God killed next.  Onan became a dead man and the only remaining brother, Shelah, still too young for marriage, had his questions answered about who would be his future wife.  But as Shelah grew and became of marriageable age, daddy Judah refused to give him to Tamar. 

So when Judah made plans one day to visit the city where Tamar still lived in mourning with her family, Tamar took matters into her own hands.  She dressed as a prostitute.  (Apparently in those days, prostitutes covered rather than uncovered more of themselves as they do today.)  Then she took up a position where she knew her father-in-law, Judah, would pass.  Sure enough, he took the bait and took her to bed, giving his signet ring and family staff and chord as deposit for the goat that he would later send her for her services.   

As might be expected, Tamar gets pregnant.  Judah eventually hears about it and calls for her death for harlotry.  At which time Tamar comes forward with his own signet ring, family chord and staff, proving that he is the father and hypocrite extraordinaire.  That pretty well stopped the lynching mob dead in its tracks and forced Judah to own his own injustice and immorality. 

Thus the scenery of family prostitution, incest and hypocrisy form the backdrop to the remaining story of Joseph and his stunning moral integrity in the face of tremendous temptation and injustice. 

Two brothers…two completely different characters…but One God working with both to accomplish His divine Story through their divergent natures. 

            Genesis 38 relays the story of Joseph’s deep moral and spiritual integrity as he repeatedly rebuffs the sexual advances of his master’s wife. 38:9 tells us that his moral stand was directly related to his spiritual life.  Joseph knew that despite all the injustices and indecencies he had endured, he must still answer to God for his own actions.  Being the victim of injustice was no excuse for immorality.  To a woman on the prowl, Joseph answers, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” 

            For his integrity he is rewarded with yet another betrayal and more lies.  His master’s wife accuses him of a false charge of attempted rape.  He’s thrown in an Egyptian jail and left to rot for over two years with no promise of any kind of fair trial or just outcome.  And when he finally is summoned by Pharaoh, it isn’t to vindicate him but to demand his services as an interpreter of dreams. 

            By now, I’m imagining that Joseph is wondering if he ever wants to have another dream from God.  Those dreams didn’t seem to be working out very well.  His continued integrity and faith in God just seemed to be leading him further and further down the dark path of human injustice. 

            But he kept believing God was WITH HIM in the dark places of life.  He kept trusting that somehow God would vindicate him in the end. 

APP:  Ever have difficulty believing God is in the dark places of your life?  The late Pastor Ron Mhel says it this way:  God works the night shift!  If God could take the horrible injustice of slavery and turn it into one of the greatest examples of forgiveness and saving of a family the world has ever known, what has happened to us that God can’t use and reshape and turn to accomplish His unfolding Story in this world? 

            Even in the darkest of places, God is there. 

ILL:  One of THE most powerful examples of that that I have ever seen came into my life in the form of a sister in Christ, the wife of one of my good friends.  A counselor of people who had suffered sexual abuse as children and adults, this woman was herself a victim of Satanic ritual abuse.  As a child, she had suffered the horrors of living in a family whose parents were highly respected in their community but whose private lives were deeply involved in Satanic ritual practices. 

            I remember asking her what she what happened in her life that enabled her to overcome and move beyond that horrific experience.  She simply said, “I had to come to the place where I could acknowledge that, even though people were inflicting horrible evils upon me, God had never abandoned me.  He was right there, weeping with me at the evils and embracing me with His love.” 

            You see, God had put a black nanny in this family who, despite her own powerless position in the family, was there to be the hands and arms of God to comfort and embrace this abused and traumatized little girl.  It was that very experience which God later took and enabled this woman to help so many other people who had suffered similar abuse and evils at the hands of others. 

APP:  This is certainly one of the messages God has for all of us in this story of Joseph that forms part of God’s great Story in this world.  God can take what is seemingly the worst situation of abuse and evil you and I can imagine and turn it to eternal good in His divine outworking of history. 

            With Joseph, that gift of dreams and interpretation of dreams eventually led him to become the #2 man in the most powerful Pharaohs court of his day.  That, in turn, led eventually to the saving of his entire family from a 7 year famine as the very brothers who had sold him into slavery came down to Egypt to buy grain so their families didn’t starve.  Their jealous hatred towards Joseph was met with a flood of tears and forgiveness which they didn’t deserve. 

            Even when Jacob finally dies and Joseph could have exacted revenge on his brothers, this is what he says to those very brothers who had so horribly abused and betrayed him: 

            “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”  (Gen. 50:20)

INTERVIEW Eli:

  • Beaten by a group of thugs to such a degree that he became legally blind.
  • His first wife came down with cancer. He cared for her and buried her after ___ years of marriage.
  • Six months later, their adult daughter was murdered.
  • Eli still had two sons, one (Joshua) severely handicapped with cerebral palsy. Told he would not live into adolescence, Eli became care giver for his wheelchair-bound son until he died at age 22. 
  • His own extended family sought to destroy him in the midst of it all.

QUESTIONS:

--Where was God in those dark places? 

--What advice would you have for anyone struggling to believe in God because of the injustices they have been forced to endure in life? 

APP:

  • Got some experience at the hands of others that you need to let go of? Bitterness about how you’ve been treated or abandoned or abused that you need to exchange for forgiveness? 
  • Family member or history you need to bring under the Lordship of Jesus so that he can make it into part of his divine Story in history that he is writing?
  • Willing to engage God again in some dark place of your life? Tell Him.
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