God's Dysfunctional Children

Dysfunctional: abnormal or unhealthy interpersonal behavior or interaction within a group.

We’ve been studying a dysfunctional family now for the last several weeks. They’re a mess! We had Abraham; Abraham had been promised by God that he would have so many children, as many as there were stars in the heavens. How long did Abraham wait before God answers? Over 80 years – and Abraham thinks that maybe it’s time for him to do things his own way. A godly decision would be to continue to wait on the Lord. A dysfunctional decision would be … to sleep with the maid, Hagar. And it was his wife’s Sarai’s idea! And then when Hagar gets pregnant, Sarai gets mad at Abraham and Hagar and tells Abraham to fix it. I’m sure Abraham was like, “but this was your idea, wasn’t it?” and Sarai would be like, “don’t give me that, just fix it.” So Abraham sends Hagar and her son, Ishmael, to live in the desert, and the bible says that Ishmael’s descendants live in hostility toward their brothers. Wonder why. Stars in the heavens, indeed, with these little supernovas going off.

Abraham finally has a son with Sarai, Isaac. Isaac probably grew up a little distrustful of Dad because Dad almost sacrificed him on an alter. Isaac marries Rebekah, and they have two children, Jacob and Esau. They play favorites with the children; Isaac likes Esau best, Rebekah likes Jacob. As Isaac lay dying, Rebekah and her son Jacob make a plan to steal the blessing from Esau. Then Esau’s mad as a hornet and wants to kill Jacob, so Jacob flees to his uncle Laban’s home.

Jacob and Laban trick each other for years over Laban’s daughters and livestock, and Jacob eventually marries two daughters, Leah and Rachel. And Jacob runs from Laban back to Esau hoping that his brother won’t kill him. The two brothers sort of patch things up, and Jacob settles down with his wife Leah, who he didn’t really want to marry, but he has 6 sons with her, so I guess they got along ok. Two more sons with Rachel, and then for good measure, two son’s with Rachel’s slave Bilhah and two sons with Leah’s slave Zilpah. Twelve sons in all by four different wives, all living together. And of course, Jacob has learned from Isaac that he should play favorites, so he likes Rachel best, and her son Joseph best. One big happy, dysfunctional blended family.

We’ve actually learned quite a bit from this dysfunctional family.

a) The human nature is rebellion against God.

While we can point fingers at Abraham and Sarai and all their children and grandchildren and say, “what were they thinking?” stop for a moment and reflect on your own life. You are a believer in God. Have you ever rebelled? Romans 3:9-12 says,

What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.

All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”

Not even one. Your life and my life is full of thoughts that rebel against God. Your life and my life is full of actions that betray the Lord. This can be caused by many different things; circumstances in our lives that cause us to wonder if God is in control. Or a lack of appreciation for our relationship with God, or our desire to do things our way instead of God’s way. All of this comes from our natural rebellious state. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all people of God and didn’t seek rebellion, but often fell into rebellion because they didn’t remain focused on God. We aren’t so different; we rebel, we pretend we are not rebelling, we miss God’s calling because we’re doing it our way instead of God’s way. We are the Lord’s dysfunctional children.

b) God is in control.

God knows more about us than we know about ourselves; God was able to accomplish His plans. God knows every human heart, and knew that Isaac and Rebekah would have favorites and that Jacob and Esau would feud. But God is in control no matter how much we rebel. The lessons learned by this family teach us that our own rebellious nature makes things harder on us and on the others around us. Whether we justify our behavior because “I deserve this” or “he did that first” or “she said that to me,” we initiate a chaos in our lives as our actions and reactions fail against God’s omnipotent plan for us. We blame the chaos in our lives on the actions of other people, and pretend that our own rebellious actions have no effect at all.

And now we come to the story of Joseph, born in the middle of a dysfunctional family. A grandfather who slept with a maid, cousins who dislike us, and uncle that wanted to kill his father, a mother who died at childbirth and half-brothers from a step-mother and two other slave mothers. Let’s pick up the story in Genesis 37:1-4,

Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan. This is the account of Jacob. Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

I spent some time trying to figure out what Joseph was up to here. It appeared to me that Joseph was snitching on his brothers, but I think it goes deeper than that. The phrase “bad report” can also be translated “evil whisperings” or “malignant defamation.” Joseph was 17 by this time, and he’s probably old enough to decide that his brother’s comments were some sort of evil or threat against his father. Perhaps some of his trials are the result of a commitment to do the right thing. The right thing is not always easy to do, especially when others around us are not doing the right thing, either.

Joseph’s brothers hate him. Coming from a father with 2 wives, 2 concubines, and twelve half-brothers, all the half-brothers are affected by bad decisions from their parents. God is aware that our rebellious nature is inevitably going to lead to our chaotic lives. The sins of our parents cause damage in our lives and the lives of our children. Exodus 20:4-6, in God’s instruction not to worship idols, God says,

I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Exodus 34:6-7,

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

God is well aware that the rebellious nature of men and women lead to chaos in their children’s lives. But that is not an excuse to blame our rebellious disobedience on our parents and grandparents; look at Jeremiah 32:18-19,

You show love to thousands but bring the punishment for the fathers’ sins into the laps of their children after them. O great and powerful God, whose name is the LORD Almighty, great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds. Your eyes are open to all the ways of men; you reward everyone according to his conduct and as his deeds deserve.

The disciples asked Jesus a similar question in John 9:1-3,

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

God knows about our chaos. He knows that our lives are in chaos because of not only our rebellion, but also the rebellion of our parents. But our dysfunction circumstances are not an excuse for even more dysfunctional rebellion. We are responsible for our own actions.

Why do you think Joseph’s brothers hate him?

Is Joseph responsible for the hatred of his brothers? Yes and no. In telling Jacob that his brothers were up to no good, Joseph was doing the right thing. That was his own action, and doing the right thing stirred up their anger. The right thing isn’t the easiest thing, and it may make those you are closest to mad at you.

But Joseph’s brothers hated him because of their father Jacob’s actions, too. They were jealous. Joseph was the second youngest son, but Jacob’s favorite. That’s not Joseph’s fault; he didn’t choose his mother or his order of birth. Joseph is dealing with people who hate him because of his own actions, other people’s actions, and just plain circumstances.

Do you think Joseph should have told his father what his brothers were up to?

In Genesis 37:5-10, Joseph shares his dreams with his brothers,

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.

Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

Knowing that his brothers already hated him, did Joseph do the right thing by sharing his dreams with his brothers.

Some commentaries go into a study of discernment and speaking the truth in love here. I think there’s a lot to be said for that; sometimes the truth hurts, and sometimes kindness should temper our words. On the other hand, Joseph has a faith and a walk with God like no other person in Genesis so far. If he knows what God says, should he keep his brothers in the dark, or should he tell them what he knows, even if they hate him for it?

I think it’s important we temper the truth with kindness. There’s nothing in the scripture here to indicate Joseph’s tone; he doesn’t appear arrogant. I think Joseph was correct in sharing the dream with his brothers because his brothers were a part of the dream, even if the dream added to his brother’s hatred of him. Why do you think Joseph shared the second dream with his family after the reaction they had to his first dream?

When we share the truth about God with others, whether they are believers or not, it’s important to be kind. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 that we are to speak the truth in love. What do you think that mean, to speak the truth in love?

Let’s read Genesis 37:12-19

Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied.

So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.

When Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

“They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’ ”

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

Joseph is persistent in doing the right thing, following his father’s instruction. Jacob sends Joseph to check on the status of his brothers and the flocks, and sends him to Shechem about 60 miles north of Hebron, and when he gets there he travels another 15 miles to Dothan. Joseph’s brothers see him coming and plot to kill him. They call him “that dreamer” so they’re obviously still mad about Joseph’s dreams and perhaps plot to kill him to prevent the dreams from coming true.

Genesis 37:21-25

When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the richly ornamented robe he was wearing- and they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

Rueben was the oldest of the ten brothers there (Joseph was the 11th, and Benjamin wasn’t with them). Rueben has second thoughts about killing Joseph and convinces the other 9 brothers to throw him in a well instead. I don’t know where Rueben goes at this point; he’s making some sort of plan to rescue Joseph and he’s taken off somewhere. The other 9 brothers are callous; while Joseph is at the bottom of a dry well without food or water, they sit down to have a meal. Then a caravan comes by.

God’s control is amazing – many weeks before Joseph is thrown into the cistern, God has sent a caravan to be there at the right spot to pick up Joseph and take him to Egypt to complete God’s plan. How awesome is that?

Genesis 37:26-30,

Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?”

Judah comes up with an idea to sell Joseph for 20 sheckels of silver, the price of a slave. I find his justification for this interesting; “let’s not kill him, he’s our brother. Let’s sell him instead.” When we look at such simple reasoning, it looks silly, but we all do this. We convince ourselves that instead of doing something really horrible, we only did a little bad thing, then we pat ourselves on the back for how much we restrained ourselves.

Reuben returns at this point and finds Joseph is gone and Reuben’s upset. I don’t know what Reuben thinks happened; eventually, he must find out Joseph was sold, but for now, Reuben participates in this next deception in Genesis 38:31-36,

Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. They took the ornamented robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.”

He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.”

Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.” So his father wept for him.

Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

“All his sons and daughter came to comfort him” shows the hypocrisy of his children; the sons knew Joseph was alive and they were responsible for Jacob’s grief, yet they came to him to comfort him. Meanwhile, Joseph has been sold again, this time to the Egyptians.

Joseph’s trials are the result of his own actions, the actions of others, and his circumstances.

• What were Joseph’s actions that led to his trials?
• What were the actions of others that led to his trials? (Father’s favoritism, brother’s hatred)
• What were circumstances that tried him? (being born 11th of 12 sons)
• And a final question to think about: how long did Joseph have to wait to see the dreams from the Lord fulfilled?

Joseph waited on God for years and years and went through many more trials. Joseph accepted the trials that came with obedience. He could have used his circumstances as an excuse not to follow God; he could have said, I’m the 11th of 12 children; it’s up to Reuben to do God’s will. He could have found an excuse in the actions of others; I don’t have to follow God’s will anymore because this person said something to me or that person did something to me. Or he could have found an excuse in his own actions; hey, I did my part, now it’s up to somebody else.

But God understands our dysfunction; He knows who we are and He knows how we got here. He knows our circumstances. He knows our grandparents were in rebellion to Him and our parents were in rebellion to Him and that we are in rebellion. And He loves us anyway. What God wants for us is our spiritual maturity and a focus on Him, regardless of our circumstances. We are responsible for our own actions. Joseph came from a dysfunctional blended family, yet Joseph has a solid relationship with the Lord. The Lord wants us to learn patience and to wait on Him to complete His plan.

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One thought on “God's Dysfunctional Children

  1. posted at Midnight Soup. Doug asks Does the Church have a role in our confession of sins? at Bounded Irrationality. Annette presents Being a Pastor posted at Fish and Cans. Chasing the Wind presentsGod’s Dysfunctional Childrenposted at Chasing the Wind. Theresa L. Twogood presents Coming To A School Near You Soon posted at OLIN e-Book e-Publishing. Dan Seely presents Seeing myself in the Pharisees – Part 1 posted at Whirled Views

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