God Works Through People—Warts and All

The Transparent Bible

God’s Word is factual—it’s rooted in human history, not folklore. That’s why it gives us the good, the bad and the ugly. That also means it’s painfully transparent—it presents God’s people, warts and all. And that’s why the Bible is a book of grace—for the desperately flawed human race could not survive without God’s unmerited patience and kindness.

The Journey // Focus: Genesis 38:16,24

Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.” …About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.”

Well, this is an awkward chapter to get a devotional from, wouldn’t you say? God kills Judah’s son, Er, because he was wicked, then he slays his brother, Onan, because he refuses to carry on the family line with Er’s widowed wife, Tamar (according to custom). So Tamar, realizing that producing an heir is hopeless, disguises herself as a prostitute and seduces her father-in-law, Judah (and why this patriarch was sleeping with prostitutes is a whole different matter). Tamar gets pregnant from the encounter. Judah wants to stone her for sexual promiscuity—until he finds out the kid is his. And they all live happily ever after.

One of the things I never anticipated was having to explain Old Testament stories like this—and there are a few of them—to my children, whom I encouraged to start reading the Bible through at a certain age. On several occasions, they would come to me with, “Eww! Dad, what’s the deal with this?” And my standard answer was, “Hmmm…better ask your mom about that one.”

So why is a story like Judah sleeping with his daughter-in-law disguised as a prostitute in God’s book in the first place? And is there any devotional benefit I can wrest from this sordid account? Well, it is a gross story for sure, and definitely sad, but still, there are a handful of encouraging take-aways.

Firstly, this story is in the Bible because it is a piece of history. It happened. And since God’s work is rooted in human history and not folklore, it is important that the good, the bad and the ugly are accounted for. God’s Word is historical.

Which, secondly, leads me to the fact of transparency. God doesn’t try to hide the flaws of his people. He allows the bad to be included in the good, because that is the way sinful human life is lived out. If I were to write a fictional account of God, I would have whitewashed these stories to put God and his people in the best light possible. But you can’t whitewash non-fiction; history is what it is. And this in itself gives a high degree of credibility to the Bible. The fact that it is painfully transparent makes me love this book—and its Author—even more.

And thirdly, in this story, and throughout Genesis, the only possible explanation for the human race continuing to survive, given its propensity for every kind of evil, is simply grace. It is obvious, but often forgotten, that God ends up using people, warts and all, to carry out his purposes. And I, for one, am overwhelmingly grateful that he does. Given that fact, it is clear to me, if not to you: I’ve got a fighting chance to still be used mightily by the Lord.

Now again, keep in mind as you read accounts like this, that their inclusion in scripture doesn’t excuse the bad behavior that is recorded. It simply explains what people do, and how God works through them to accomplish his purposes.

So as I read this salacious story yet again on my periodic journey through the entire Bible, I can’t help but grow more confident in the veracity of God’s Word.

Likewise, I come away with a deeper appreciation for the stubborn providence of God to carry out his plans in spite of man’s dumb efforts to derail them. In this case, the family line of Judah continues on despite the dumb and depraved things that happen in Genesis 38—and from this line of goof ups springs forth the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

And finally, it fills my heart with hope that I, as a deeply flawed person, can still be used by God to fulfill his purposes on this planet and bring him glory through my life, warts and all.

Going Deeper: I think a simple and heartfelt “thank you” to God that his mercy endures forever is called for in response to this story.

Killing The Not-So-Silent Killer In Your Home

Leave No Room For Envy In Your Family

If you’ve never received “the robe” of love and acceptance from the most important people in your life, learn how to receive that love and acceptance from God! Do you realize how completely and perfectly your Heavenly Father prizes you? 1 John 3:1 says, “See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are.” Yes, that is what you are—thank God!

The Journey // Focus: Genesis 37:3-4

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 an ornate 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.

Jealousy! That’s the not-so-silent killer in families of all types: the nuclear family, extended families, small groups, churches and the family of mankind. It always has been, it always will be—unless you call a stop to it in yours.

Genesis 37 contains the ongoing account of Jacob’s family, which through his twelve sons, has been singled out as the progenitor of the people of God. But this family is rife with all kinds of dysfunction—especially favoritism that has now passed through four generations—and sibling rivalry which ensues, that spawns animosity and hatred to levels that almost destroy this family.

What we find in Jacob’s unique love for Joseph is an imperfect love with which all parents—including your parents, and you as a parent—inadequately love their kids. I am sure there was more to the story than just one thing, but it was the special robe that Jacob gave Joseph that seems to unleash this torrent of jealousy in the eleven siblings against Joseph.

The robe is the expression of a father’s love and affection for his child. It represents what every child inherently wants, and desperately needs: the sense that they are special and valued. But when another child learns that they’ll never wear the robe, never have their parent’s favor, a hope in that child dies and typically, an unhealthy way of responding to the world is created. And favoritism—deliberate or not—unleashes currents of jealousy and envy that will erode the peace and harmony God intends for that little community.

What’s going on in Jacob’s family isn’t unusual. It happens in most every home to some degree. Joseph is favored because he’s the son of Jacob’s old age—and his favoritism takes a very concrete form when Jacob gave Joseph a robe—the NIV calls it, “a richly ornamented robe”, while other translations say “a robe with long sleeves”, but the King James famously translates it, “a coat of many colors.”

Every time Joseph wears the robe it reminds his brothers that their father will never love them like he loves Joseph. The text tells us three times of their growing “hatred” for Joseph. Interestingly they hate Joseph, but who’s at fault? Jacob! He’s the one that has played favorites, but they take it out on Joseph. Verse 11 says, “So his brothers were jealous of him.”

What’s interesting about this story is that Jacob knew the pain of not being dad’s favorite, of what it was like not to wear the robe, yet he recycles this dysfunction, favoring Joseph but leaving his other sons to know the pain he once knew. And out of jealousy they sell Joseph into slavery and deceive their dad into thinking that Joseph is dead. Yet their deception gets them no closer to what they desperately want: they haven’t won their father’s love; they’ve only lost their brother.

What about you, and your family? Perhaps sibling rivalry, envy and jealousy have broken the shalom of God in your little community. If you are a parent, I would challenge you to think about how you can give twelve robes instead of just one—to love each person uniquely as a special creation of God.

And if you are one who has never worn the robe in your family, and likely never will, I would suggest to you that in the place of envy, you learn to receive love and acceptance in new ways. Cultivate relationships in your faith community. Imperfect as they are, your Christian brothers and sisters will do their best to give the kind of affirmation and love you need.

But mostly, learn how to receive love from God! Do you realize how completely and perfectly your Heavenly Father loves and prizes you? One of my favorite verses, 1 John 3:1 says, “See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are.”

Personalize and memorize this truth: “See what love the Father has given me, that I should be called a child of God, and that is what I am.”

Do that—because that is what you are!

Going Deeper: Memorize 1 John 3:1 today—and quote it as often as you need to get it into your head.

God Honors His Promise

He's Not Broken One Yet — Never Will!

Nothing is unnecessary or random in the story of Esau’s descendants. God is present between the lines. And God’s love and providential care pictured in Esau’s history is a perpetual reminder, among other things, of his care and competence in managing your history as well. How wonderful, how marvelous is the love of the Savior even for the fallen sons of Adam, the Esau’s of this world—which includes you.

The Journey // Focus: Genesis 36:1, 20, 31

This is the account of the descendants of Esau (also known as Edom). …These are the names of the tribes that descended from Seir the Horite. They lived in the land of Edom: Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan. …These are the kings who ruled in the land of Edom before any king ruled over the Israelites. …These are the names of the leaders of the clans descended from Esau, who lived in the places named for them.

Genealogies—argh, thar drivin’ me nuts!

As I mentioned in the genealogical reading from Genesis 10:1, reading the Biblical genealogies is akin to reading from the phone book: an endless list of meaningless names that we’re tempted to skip past. In that case, we were reading about the history that would lead to the man, Abraham, who would become the father of many nations, the patriarch of the Hebrew nation (Romans 4:1), and the spiritual father of all who place faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 411). In this case, this is the genealogy of the brother of Jacob, Esau, who sold his birthright, who did not factor into God’s plan for the ages as Jacob did. Reading this endless list of names is not only akin to reading from the phonebook, it is like trying to read it in Russian.

Yet as I said, every name in human history, recorded or not, represents a story, and every person is significant in the history of God’s saving work and his redemptive plan for the ages. People matter to God—not only the Jacob’s of this world, but so too the Esau’s. And God desires to bless them wherever they live on planet earth and in whatever epoch of time they have lived.

You see, we should care about Esau and his descendants, the Edomites, because they were offspring of Abraham, whom God promised to multiply and make a blessing to the entire earth.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:1-3)

Because Esau was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham, God put his blessing upon him—he bore many sons—and not only blessing, but honor, for Esau’s sons became leaders of men:

These are the kings who ruled in the land of Edom before any king ruled over the Israelites. (Genesis 331)

Ultimately, Edom will not factor into the Biblical narrative as God focuses his plan for the redemption of the earth through Jacob’s line, the children of Israel, but this account does show us yet again that God performs his promises, in this case, that indeed Abraham would become the father of many nations. God fulfilled his word to Rebekah, the mother of the twin brothers, Esau and Jacob, that two nations were in her womb. (Genesis 25:23) And God did bring to pass the divine blessing of Isaac to Esau (Genesis 27:39-40), that he would dwell “in the fatness of the earth” and break free from the domination of his brother. (RSV)

Nothing is unnecessary or random in this story. God is present here. And God’s love and providential care is pictured in Esau’s history, as a reminder, among other reasons, of God’s care and competence in managing your history as well. How wonderful, how marvelous is the love of the Savior even for the fallen sons of Adam, the Esau’s of this world—and that is me, and that is you.

God keeps every single promise. Never forget that.

Going Deeper: Perhaps you feel like an insignificant nobody among all the billions of people who live on Planet Earth. Wrong! God has his eye on you. And he will fulfill his word to you. Take that by faith, and rejoice a little today that God has amazing plans for your life.

Blessed To Be A Blessing

You Can Be A Conduit Of Divine Favor

God wants to bless you so that you can be a blessings, a conduit of blessing, if you will. Those blessings will be more than you need, more than you deserve and more than you can handle. But remember, the blessings God gives you are to bless him by blessing others in a way that furthers his fame and fulfills his purposes on earth. God wants to bless you—so let him!

The Journey // Focus: Genesis 35:2-3, 9-12

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.” … After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your body. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.”

God was bound and determined to bless Jacob. And God is determined to bless all his people—and that includes you.

God had appeared to Jacob at a place Jacob later named Bethel, which means the house of God, and there the Lord blessed him. (Genesis 28:10-22) It was at this time that God established a covenant of blessing with him that he had made with his grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac. The divine pledge was to protect him, provide for him and to prosper him, turning his seed into a nation of untold number that would be a conduit of blessing to the entire world. Jacob’s end of the bargain was to follow wherever God led, trust the Lord alone, and serve the purpose of God in the world.

Now God reappears to Jacob here in Genesis 35 and reaffirms the covenant, once again at Bethel, the house of God. God blesses him once again and reminds him that his seed will multiply beyond number, and that his descendants will greatly influence the entire world. God is bound and determined to bless Jacob.

And God is bound and determined to bless you. Certainly not in the same way as Jacob—it is not likely that out of your lineage will come a nation. But blessings nevertheless are reserved in God’s treasury for you, me and all of God’s people.

Now it is critical to keep in mind that the blessings of God were not for Jacob only; God had a larger purpose to fulfill his kingdom plans throughout the earth and throughout history—and Jacob was the conduit. Of course, as those blessings flowed through the pipeline, the residue of blessing would be left—more blessing than Jacob needed, deserved or could even handle.

Likewise, God’s plans to bless us are not for our pure enjoyment only. God desires to fulfill his purposes through us in our world and beyond our lives by these blessings he bestows upon us. We must learn to align ourselves to receive his blessings, and we must never forget that our blessings should be leveraged to further God’s kingdom through our lives to our world—and that the proper use of our blessings will impact lives beyond our own lifespan.

Jacob aligned his life to receive the blessing. In this case, he jettisoned all the gods his people had maintained. Obviously, he was aware of these since he now called for them to be brought to him. Perhaps he maintained a god or two himself. But he knew it was now necessary to remove anything that stood between him and full allegiance and full devotion to God—which is the essence of a false god. He recognized that to enter into his new identity, Israel—one who prevails with God, and therefore, one who is bless-able before God (Genesis 35:10), he would need to remove any vestige of the old life of deceit and manipulation—which was fundamental to his former identity as Jacob. And now, having purified himself and aligned himself with God’s purposes, he again set up an altar at Bethel (Genesis 35:7,14) to be a continual reminder of his new identity, a continual commitment to God’s purpose, and a continual plumb-line for alignment to the blessings of God.

God wants to make you a conduit of blessing, too. Those blessings will be more than you need, more than you deserve and more than you can handle (in the best sense of uncontainable blessings). But remember, the blessings are to bless God by blessings others in a way that furthers God’s fame and fulfills his purposes in the earth.

What a thought, and what a privilege to be a conduit of God. And the only fitting response to that divine generosity is to sanctify yourself as a holy conduit and to build a sacred altar in your memory as a reminder of God’s covenant with you, lest you begin to think the blessings are for you and a result of you.

God is bound and determined to bless you—don’t mess that up!

Going Deeper: I’m sure, just as I do, that you want God’s uncontainable blessing poured out in your life, too. A man named Jabez prayed a simple prayer for those blessings (1 Chronicles 4:9-11) that I invite you to pray with me today: “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” May God grant that humble request.