Series on Genesis, II God's Family, I The Punishment of the Family, Text:33:18-38:30, Title: God's Honor


At this point in the narrative of Genesis we see the remainder of Jacob's life and the rise of Joseph to pre-eminence. Even though many have characterized this latter part of Genesis as the narrative of Joseph, it is in fact a study in contrast between Joseph and Judah. We are considering large portions of Scripture, but the reason for this is that we are not trying to deal with the text on a verse by verse basis, but by isolating important themes in the history of redemption. Even though Joseph is the hero, it is Judah through whom the promised seed will come. Judah is the tribe of the kings and Christ is the lion of the tribe of Judah according to Revelation 5:5. We must not ignore this theme. At the same time we see the covenant family fallen on hard times. This was a period of departure from God and of experiencing the consequences of that departure. Against the background of the covenant family's failure there is written large the character of God. It is his holiness and honor which stand out. Let us consider each of these, first, His holiness.

I Holiness

There are many circumstances in the family of Jacob which are indicative of spiritual failure. For example there is the interpretation that Joseph gave to his dreams. Surely the dreams themselves were sent by God and were prophesying Joseph's key role in preserving the covenant family in the future. But, you get the impression from the story that Joseph was particularly short on common sense. His interpretation of the dreams was abrasive in an already difficult situation because he was his father's favorite.  Jacob was overindulgent. The brothers are revealed as jealous, hateful, lustful, and bloodthirsty. The key Scripture in leading us to understand how the sin of Jacob's family highlights God's holiness, as the incident with Dinah and the Shechemites in Chapter 34. It concerns the holiness of God because the first requirement of his holiness is separation. The Corinthian church was heavily involved in alliances with unbelievers, including marriage. Paul wrote in II Corinthians 6:14, Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. You might remember how careful Abraham was to ensure that Isaac did not marry a Canaanite woman. Paul is quoting from God’s warning to Israel in Isaiah as the threat of the Babylonians hung over them, in verses 17 and 18, “Therefore come out from them and be separate,  says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” The Genesis story is one of unhealthy associations. After his meeting with Esau Jacob did not return to Bethel, but he set up camp and bought land and built near the Canaanite city of Shechem. The son of the man, Hamor, from whom Jacob bought his land became infatuated with Jacob's daughter Dinah and raped her. Then the father Hamor came to honorably negotiate for Dinah as a wife to his son also named Shechem. He proposed intermarriage on a general scale. So Jacob's sons insisted that Hamor have all the men of Shechem be circumcised which was not so foreign a request because there were other ancient peoples who practiced the rite.. While they, the men of Shechem, were recovering Jacob's sons, Simeon and Levi, attacked and wiped them out. Jacob's only concern in 34:30 was, Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.” Now you've gone and done it.  Their only reply was that he had treated their sister like a prostitute. Shechem had done wrong but he also had spoken tenderly to Dinah and wished to marry her. The attitude of the sons of Jacob is reflected in the fact that after insisting on circumcision they promised the Shekemites that they would live with them and intermarry. They were fixated on the ordinance and not the holiness it demanded. Their greatest abuse according to  commentators Keil and Delitzsch was of the covenant sign of circumcision as a means of gratifying their revenge, “and the extension of that revenge to the whole town, together with the plundering of the slain, were crimes deserving of the strongest reprobation. The crafty character of Jacob degenerated into this malicious cunning in Simeon and Levi; and jealousy for the exalted vocation of their family, into actual sin. This event shows us in type all the errors into which the belief in the pre-eminence of Israel was sure to lead in the course of history, whenever that belief was rudely held by men of carnal minds." Someone has said, ”If you live in a graveyard too long, you stop crying when someone dies.” The point is that this trouble came upon the family because of their association with the Cannanites. In this Jacob was a lot like his cousin Lot who chose to settle in the city of Sodom and vexed his righteous soul. Sometimes there is no solution except to move. So God commanded Jacob to return to Bethel and notice the account in chapter 35:2 and 3,  So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” And Jacob buried every evidence of the foreign gods under the Oak at Shechem.  In 1937 Frank Lloyd Wright built a magnificent home for a wealthy Arizona industrialist, Hibbard Johnson. One night at a party the roof leaked and dripped on his bald head, so the man called Wright and said, ‘We love this beautiful house you built for us, but the roof is leaking and it is dripping right on my head,” and Wright replied, “Well, Hibbard, why don’t you move your chair?” I am sure the roof got fixed, but sometimes there is no other solution than to move your chair. After Jacob’s move God renewed the covenant with him. There is a relationship between worship and conduct. When God's family lived in close proximity to the Canaanites they tended to adopt their gods and their ways. Centuries later when they came into the land of promise under Joshua the command was to exterminate the Canaanites because God was judging their wickedness. Holiness requires watchfulness and care. Riggers for concerts who sometimes work 100 feet in the air putting up speakers and lights hate to work over suspended ceilings. It doesn’t bother them to look down a 100 feet, but false ceilings under them lull them into carelessness. Israel was flattered into thinking that they could tolerate the uncleanness and idolatry of the nations around them. We are no different.

II Honor

God's honor is linked to the way in which he brings blessing out of the most unlikely places. As I stated earlier the latter part of Genesis is really a contrast between Judah and Joseph. After the death of Rachel and Isaac in Chapter 35 there is an interlude in Chapter 36 giving the genealogy of Esau because his descendants, Edom, became an enemy of Jacob’s descendants, Israel. But the focus in Chapters 37 and 38 is on Joseph and Judah. This is the origin of the lengthy antagonism between Ephraim and Manasseh or the northern kingdom which comes from Joseph and Judah the southern kingdom which springs from Judah and Benjamin. Odd and ironic that the two sons of Rachel should be divided in this way. The central question is who inherits the blessing of Abraham. Who is the promised seed after Isaac and Jacob? From whom shall come the one in whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed? Is it Reuben the firstborn? Rarely is it the first born in God’s elective purpose. The order is Jacob over Esau, Isaac over Ishmael and neither does Reuben the eldest inherit the blessing.  In  35:22 Reuben rudely tries to take over the clan by sleeping with his Father’s concubine and in Genesis 49 when Jacob blesses his sons, Reuben will “no longer excel” because of what he did. He is divested of his primogeniture. His was a political move like Absalom did to David, and Adonijah did  to Solomon. Not that Reuben is all bad. When the brothers are trying to get rid of Joseph it is Reuben that tries to save him. But even Joseph the favorite will not inherit the blessing, although in Genesis 49 it would seem that Jacob would have preferred this because he says his blessing of Joseph will prevail above the blessings of his progenitors, but it was not to be. Instead, Jacob is compelled to say of Judah in Genesis 49:8-10, Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness, who dares to arouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. It is clear that the promise of Abraham goes to Judah. the father of kings, the father of David. Chapter 37 tells the story of Joseph’s dreams and of his subsequent betrayal by his own brothers. However in Chapter 38, before we read about the successful elevation of Joseph in Egypt we read the story of Judah that best illustrates God’s grace in bringing blessing out of strange places. Judah was not a good guy. In fact in contrast with Joseph’s later life, he was a big disappointment. First of all Judah was a leading plotter in getting rid of Joseph in chapter 37. Secondly, Judah intermarried with the Canaanites. Chapter 38 tells the story. He married off his son Er to Tamar and when Er died because of his wickedness, he ordered his son Onan to raise up offspring from Tamar which was his cultural responsibility. Because Onan refused to allow pregnancy God also put him to death. Then Judah sent Tamar back to her father's house until a younger son reached maturity, but never intended to fulfill the contract. After his wife died Judah journeyed to Timnah where Tamar lived and along the road he engaged the services of a prostitute which was really Tamar in disguise. Later discovering her pregnancy Judah decided to put Tamar to death, and she discloses through favors he gave to her disguised as a prostitute, that he is the father. He repents. Later moving ahead again in Genesis, it is Judah who protects Benjamin when the tribe has gone down to Egypt and Joseph insists that Benjamin be left behind. Judah offers himself instead, so there seems to be a real change in the man and he is assuming leadership, but that is another story. The point here is that God does not choose the righteous, the lovely Joseph, but the bad boy of the lot to inherit the promise. This is God's honor that while he is holy he justifies the ungodly. If you turn to Matthew 1 and the genealogy of Jesus, not only is Christ descended from Judah but it is clear in Matthew 1:3  that it is through Tamar that the promise is fulfilled. In 38:27-30 we have the birth of Tamar’s children, When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.” But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, “So this is how you have broken out!” And he was named Perez. Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out and he was given the name Zerah. Behold the unfathomable sovereignty of God because again the first born is denied and the last born, Perez, becomes the heir of the blessing and the progenitor of David and Christ, as recorded in Matthew 1. Again the sovereignty of God in administering the promise is revealed.


Yes it is true that God brings good out of evil. That is the essence of grace. Self-righteous sinful men rush to judge others for their sins which is why they cannot understand why there is evil in the world. Alexander Solshenitsyn wrote in the “Gulag Archipelago” that it would be easy, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? Martin Luther was once asked why God created man when he knew he would sin, Martin Luther replied, “Let us keep clear of these abstract questions and consider the will of God such as it has been revealed to us.” Luther was right, but he omitted something important. We would add that It isn’t that God doesn’t care or that God is impotent. Jesus gives us a thought provoking illustration drawn from the natural realm in John 16:21 “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world” Like all the mere men in Scripture Judah has fatal flaws, but grace is the midwife that brings the messiah forth from a sinful lineage. Grace is the midwife that brings joy out of pain. Grace is the midwife that brings glory out of shame. In this God’s glory is served and marvelously revealed.