No doubt you’ve heard about services like Ancestry.com and 23andMe that evaluate your DNA to help you trace your genealogy and build your family tree. We gave one to my dad for Christmas and are waiting to find out what we can learn about his side of the family. We’ve always wondered if his ancestors came from Ireland or Germany and now we hope to find out. I understand there may also be surprises (descendants of Attila the Hun? Did I get these hairy arms from some obscure, hairy tribe?)! After reading Genesis 30 this morning, however, I think I’m prepared for any surprise. Let me explain.
Some people today know a great deal about their family history, tracing it back many generations. Others may have been adopted and not know anything even about their parents. For all who come to faith in Christ, we are each adopted in to a new family complete with a genealogy, a family tree of believers that stretches all the way back deep into the book of Genesis and the rise of Abraham and Sarah’s family. As I read my Bible this morning, I pondered that these are my people:
Jacob, who deceived his father, stole his brother Esau’s blessing, then, with an assist from Mom, fled to Uncle Laban. Here he marries two sisters and also sleeps with their servants, fathering children by all four of them.
Uncle Laban, who cheats his nephew constantly and doesn’t mind marrying off both of his daughters to Jacob, even if it requires a colossal, wedding night deception to pull it off.
Leah, the older, not-so-pretty, sister who is cruelly mistreated by her father. Her rivalry with her little sister results in her anchoring her identity so completely in her children that she’ll swap some of her son’s mandrakes (thought to be a natural aid to fertility) with Rachel in order to gain a night in bed with Jacob and, she hopes, one more child.
Rachel, the beauty and apple of Jacob’s eye. When she can’t conceive, she gives (traffics?) her servant to Jacob in order to gain a child, acting out the same plan her grandmother, Sarah, carried out with Abraham and Hagar.
Who are these people? Is there a hero here somewhere? When Jacob the deceiver faces off with Laban the cheat it reads more like an ancient MMA match than a book of virtues. Yet this family, full of jealousy, polygamy, bitterness, and deceit somehow becomes the nation of Israel, the people of God. Rachel and Leah will become Israel’s most famous mothers (Ruth 4:11), and these 12 sons will not only become the 12 tribes of Israel, but their names will also be written on the 12 gates of the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:12). Yes, in Christ, this dysfunctional family is my family, these are my people.
This sordid, sorry tale is vital to understanding the gospel, and it also connects with this Sunday’s sermon from Romans 9. From Genesis 30 we learn:
1. Jacob and his family aren’t a cut above the rest of the families of the ancient near east. They didn’t pull themselves up by their spiritual bootstraps to qualify as God’s people; they didn’t graduate from the school of godliness in order to be accepted into the kingdom of God. The only way in for them was grace, and that’s the only way in for me, too. Behold the triumph of grace! God is the hero of this story.
2. Jacob’s family helps explain one of the most difficult doctrines in the Bible, the doctrine of election. In Romans 9 we’ll see that God not only selected Abraham (Romans 4) but He continued selecting: Isaac instead of Ishmael and Jacob instead of Esau. Why? Isn’t this unfair? No, it is the stark reality that if God didn’t intervene and choose some, there would be no one in his family. God chose people who would otherwise never have chosen Him. This is true for Jacob’s family, and for believers like us today, as well. God is the hero of this story.
What difference does this make?! It is wonderfully humbling to every believer and leads straight to worship: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33)