As I listened to a radio preacher speak of Joseph and his brothers, the thought struck me forcefully that on the whole the chosen family -- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- might well be described today as a dysfunctional family. A dysfunctional family is "characterized by a breakdown of normal or beneficial relationships between members," or a family in which conflict, misbehavior, neglect or abuse occur regularly. I'm not sure when "dysfunctional" entered into common use -- dictionary.reference.com gives its first recorded use as 1949. I don't recall hearing of a "dysfunctional family" until I was well into my adult years. In a sense we're all dysfunctional, though some much more so than others.
Having a mainly Christian readership, I feel it is not necessary to go to great lengths to establish the fact that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were chosen by God. We might turn to Genesis 12:3 or Genesis 26:24 or Genesis 28:14. We read in Isaiah 41:8: "But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend." Of all the people on the face of the earth, why did God choose Abraham? Abram (his shorter name before God changed it to Abraham) is briefly introduced in Genesis 11 followed quickly by the record of God's choice in Gen. 12:1. This appears to be somewhat arbitrary. It highlights God's sovereignty. These men and their descendants were not chosen because they were stronger and better than any others (Deut. 7:6-8; 9:6; 14:2) God rejected the status quo of the oldest sibling favored above the younger. Abraham is not the oldest son of Terah. The line passes from Abraham to his younger son, Isaac, and then to Isaac's younger son, Jacob. Reuben, the firstborn of Jacob and Leah, is also rejected in favor of a younger son, Judah. Notably, the idea of one God, monotheism as opposed to polytheism, was made known to the world through Abraham and his descendants (Cf. Gen. 18:19). Jewish Rabbi Louis Jacobs writes: "The world owes to Israel the idea of the one God of righteousness and holiness. This is how God became known to mankind."
The New Testament emphasizes the faith of Abraham, a man who was fully persuaded that God was able to perform His promises. We do well to emphasize that. Even today people of faith and considered "Abraham's seed." But it without question that God threw no veil over this chosen family to mask its faults, but rather presented them "warts and all." We do well to also consider that. The Genesis account of the families demonstrates the "dysfunction" of God's chosen people. God both chooses the broken and mends the chosen!
Abraham was called by God to leave his abode and his idolatrous family (Josh. 24:2) for a land God would show him. He left behind a friends and family, but carried dysfunction with (and within) him. Nephew troubles (Gen. 13:5–14:16) may hint of larger family issues, but that is mild in comparison to other problems. In traveling to this unknown land, Abraham struck a bargain with his beautiful wife to introduce her as his sister. On two occasions Abraham's lack of fortitude -- but for God's intervention -- put Sarah in danger of adultery with Pharaoh, king of Egypt (Gen. 12:10-20) and Abimelech, king of Gerar (Gen. 20:1-18). Though trusting God for a promised seed, Abraham fell victim to his wife's suggestion that he impregnate her handmaid as a surrogate mother (Gen. 16:1-16). This led to haughtiness in the surrogate, Hagar, and bitterness in the barren Sarah. Later this same mistake would lead to sibling jealousy and the oldest son, Ishmael, was expelled from the home (Gen. 21:1-21).
Like father, like son, Isaac's home was also plagued with dysfunction. Though Isaac was not even born when Abraham and Sarah encountered Pharaoh and Abimelech, he struck a similar bargain with his wife Rebekah and passed her off as his sister. Favoritism by the parents (Gen. 25:27-28; 27:1-10) fueled jealousy and rivalry between their sons (Gen. 25:22-26; 29-34). Rebekah and Jacob schemed to steal Isaac's blessing on Esau. Esau's heart overflowed with murderous thoughts and Jacob had to flee for his life (Gen. 27:41–28:5).
In Jacob's flight he went to his uncle Laban seeking for a wife. Dysfunction in Jacob's home rose to greater heights than his father and grandfather before him. The home started on a shaky foundation with the trickery of Laban saddling Jacob with a wife he had not chosen (Gen. 29:21-30). Within a short time he had two wives, two concubines and 12 children (Gen. 29:31–30:24). Two wives are a recipe for trouble, and these two wives were sisters who were jealous of one another. Jacob's preference for the wife he had chosen -- Rachel -- stoked the flames of discontent. Not only did Jacob play "favorite wife," he had a favorite son of his favorite wife and made no bones about it (Gen. 37:1-4). Everyone knew. This fanned hatred that would not end until the favored son, Joseph, was sold into slavery (Gen. 37:4-36) and Jacob told that Joseph was dead. There is more. Simeon and Levi wielded treachery and murder in Shalem (Gen. 34:1-31) because the prince had lain sexually with their sister and wanted to marry her. The oldest son of Jacob, Reuben had sexual relations with Bilhah, Jacob's concubine (Gen. 35:22; 49:3-4). Judah (of which Christ is the Lion of the tribe of) had sexual relations with his daughter-in-law Tamar. Judah has refused to give this widow to another son under the levirate marriage law. To catch him unawares, she posed as a prostitute and became pregnant with her father-in-law's child (Gen. 38:12-26).
Stop we must, and draw for now a curtain over all these sordid affairs, lest we become proud in our own conceits! Should we not rather mourn? Are we not children of this same family? ...if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:29).
1. Considering the brokenness and dysfunction of God's chosen people should remind us of the nature of God's purpose. God’s purpose is glorious, omniscient, sovereign and immutable. It does not depend upon the merit of the receiver but rather the grace and purpose of the giver. 2 Timothy 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, (Cf. Eph. 1:9, 11; 3:11).
2. Considering the brokenness and dysfunction of God's chosen people should awaken us from the lull of our complacency. God’s people are not pure and right simply because they are God’s people. Romans 13:11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. (Amos 6:1; 1 Cor. 15:34; Eph. 5:14)
3. Considering the brokenness and dysfunction of God's chosen people should assure us of the availability of God's mercy. God’s people may become despondent and imagine themselves beyond the grace of God and without the hope of forgiveness. But His mercies are sure and new every morning! Lamentations 3:22-23 It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. (Cf. Gen. 32:10; Isa. 55:3)
4. Considering the brokenness and dysfunction of God's chosen people should encourage us in the fulfillment of our calling. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were men of like passions as we, yet still used by God. We should not be satisfied to be as dysfunctional as we can be. We should not "sin, that grace may abound." We should sorrow, repent, and press forward. Philippians 3:14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Cf. Eph. 1:18; 4:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Hebrews 3:1; 2 Peter 1:10)
God has chosen the broken -- for we are all broken -- but, praise Him above all, He also chooses to mend the chosen! Through a "broken family" God chose that all the families of the earth be blessed.
Galatians 3:16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.