Abraham’s Dysfunctional Family

What are we to make of the many sins, foibles, and family squabbles in the early descendants of God’s chosen people?

For example, in the book of Genesis alone we read about. . .

Abraham’s half-truth that Sarah was his sister, not his wife (12:13).
Isaac’s imitation of his father’s lie about his own wife, Rachel (20:2; 26:6, 7).
Rachel and Jacob’s plot to usurp Esau’s blessing (27).
Jacob’s love for Rebekah and disdain for Leah (29:30, 31).
Jacob’s sons’ murder of the men of Shechem (34).
Jacob’s favoritism towards Joseph 37:3, 4.
Judah’s treatment of Tamar (38).

We could go on. But some key questions are raised in these events. Why are these stories here? What do God’s people learn from them? Why would God “bless” people who do such things?

First, such stories, which clearly do not put people in good light, add to the reliability of Scripture. Unlike the whitewashed stories of many folk heroes, the Bible tells the truth about people and notes their flaws as well as their faith.

Second, these stories show that the Law of Moses never could save people, nor was it ever meant to do so. The great patriarchs of the faith themselves were not made righteous by their good deeds, which shows that the Pentateuch is teaching justification by faith (as the Apostle Paul notes in Romans 4), not salvation by works.

Finally, this record of “good people,” God’s people, doing some bad things, gives us an idea of His patience with us sinners, and great hope for ourselves who sin and repent. God is indeed, “slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.”

So, just because someone in the Bible does something does not make it right. While there are many fine examples set by Abraham, he clearly went ahead of God in taking Hagar, Sarah’s handmaiden, as his concubine and surrogate wife. Rebekah, despite her good intentions, sinned by deceiving her husband Isaac and facilitating Jacob’s deception in order to gain his blessing.

In these and other stories, we learn not only about God’s grace, but also about how to read the Bible as a record of God’s dealing with mankind. He has no delusions about our perfectability in this life, and neither should we. While His grace is not an excuse to sin, it does keep us humble and real in our own walk of faith.

“These all died in faith, not having received the thing promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”
Hebrews 11:13

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