These Two are the Generations of Jacob

These are the generations of Jacob. And the generations of Jacob start with Jacob because he is the dad. But then there is Reuben, the first born. And Simeon the second born. And Levi the third born. And Judah the fourth born. And Dan the fifth born. And Naphtali the sixth born. And Gad the seventh born. And Asher the eighth born. And Issachar the ninth born. And Zebulun the tenth born. And Dinah the only daughter. Then Joseph the eleventh born. And Benjamin the twelfth born. These are the generations of Jacob.

But the word these does not refer to Jacob and his thirteen kids. No, instead the word these refers to the ending of Genesis, all fourteen chapters. These fourteen chapters are primarily about two of Jacob’s thirteen kids. Genesis 37 and Genesis 39 and Genesis 40 and 41 and 42 and 43 and 44 and 45 and 46 and 47 and 48 and 49 and 50 are about the son Jacob loved more: Joseph. This leaves one chapter for one other son – Genesis 38.

Genesis 38 is not about Jacob’s first born. He was a disappointment (35:22). Genesis 38 is not about Jacob’s second born. He was a disappointment (34:30). Genesis 38 is not about Jacob’s third born. He was a disappointment (34:30). Genesis 38 is about Jacob’s fourth born. He was a…

So, What Does Judah Have to do With Joseph?

Genesis 38:1-30 is about Judah. And I am wondering, what does one have to do with the other? These are the generations of Jacob – thirteen chapters dedicated to Joseph and one chapter dedicated to Judah. So, what does Judah have to do Joseph? Yes, the two are brothers, but this feels so out of place. Genesis 37 gives so much attention to Joseph. He dreamed two dreams. His brothers hated him. His brothers sought to kill him. His brothers grabbed him, tossed him around, ripping from him his multi-colored robe and threw him into a deep pit. Then each sat down to eat a sandwich. His brothers sold him into slavery. Finally, the brothers led their dad to believe that Joseph was dead. Genesis 39 will then give so much attention again to Joseph, as will the remaining the chapters that follow. There is just this chapter, Genesis 38, all about Judah. So, what does Judah have to do with Joseph?

The answer, I think, is profound: a lot. Judah and this chapter have a lot to do with Joseph. Genesis 38 may be divided in two parts. Part one is about Judah and Tamar (38:1-11). Part two is about Tamar and Judah (38:12-30). And here then is a brief connection to Joseph and Genesis 39: Tamar is another man’s wife. So, essentially the two parts of Genesis 38 are about Judah and another man’s wife. Genesis 39 is about Joseph and another man’s wife.

But there is more. Listen to Genesis 38:1. “It happened at that time.” Pause there and notice the word time. Time seems to have some importance to Genesis 38. There is Genesis 38:12. “In the course of time.” And Genesis 38:24. “About three months later.” And Genesis 38:27. “When the time of her labor came.” In other words, Genesis 38 seems to unfold over quite a bit of time, perhaps close to twenty years. But it begins with what happened at that time. Another way of saying this would be, “It happened at that moment.” What happened at that moment?

Listen to the rest of Genesis 38:1. “It happened at that moment that Judah went down from his brothers and turned aside to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.” So, what happened at that moment? Notice the word turned aside. It means to stretch. Judah left his brothers, this is what happened, and stretched toward his buddy named Hirah. But here is the picture: Judah turned away from his brothers and turned toward his friend. This was what happened at that moment. And what was that moment? Joseph.

Joseph had been thrown into a pit and his brothers were content to leave him for dead, so content that they had lunch together right outside the pit. But one of the brothers had an idea to sell Joseph to some traders passing by. This brother saw a profit to be made, twenty shekels of silver. And the deed was then done. Joseph was sold into slavery, carted off to Egypt. And the brothers were left with heavier pockets and a tattered multi-colored robe. The robe was taken and dipped in goat’s blood and sent to their father. When he held it and looked at it and gripped it, he wept and mourned, refusing to be comforted by his sons. And who was one of those sons? Judah. Listen to the last thing recorded about Jacob. “Thus his father wept for him [Joseph]” (Genesis 37:35). The word wept means to wail, to weep loudly. At that moment, Judah turned away from his brothers and turned toward his friend. What does Judah have to do with Joseph? It was Judah’s idea to sell Joseph into slavery (cf. 37:26).

One Son, Two Sons, Three Sons

And when Judah met up with his buddy he met a woman. She was a Canaanite woman. Remember, Abraham did not want his son Isaac to marry a Canaanite woman. Isaac and Rebekah did not want their sons to marry Canaanite women. But their grandson met a Canaanite woman. And note this; we do not know her name! The most we know is that Judah took her and made her his wife (38:2). Judah and his unnamed wife had three sons: Er the first born who Judah named; Onan and then Shelah both of whom the text says the mother named (38:3-4).

The day came that Er was ready to get married, so Judah took a wife for Er (38:6). And she had a name: Tamar. Now listen closely to verse seven. “But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death.” What was so wicked that the Lord put this man to death? Then comes verse eight. Judah turns to his second born and tells him to perform the duty of a brother-in-law. In this culture, the duty of the next brother was to marry the widowed sister-in-law and have children for the deceased brother. It was all to perpetuate the name of the deceased brother. But there was a catch. This child would legally be considered the son of the deceased brother and more importantly the heir. This means it would cost the second brother something; it would cost him part of his inheritance.

So, Onan took Tamar to be his wife and “the Lord put him to death also” (38:10). Onan was more than willing to take Tamar to be his wife and he was more than willing to treat her as his wife and do the things that only a husband and a wife do. But he was not willing to give up his inheritance. To put it politely, he instituted his own form of birth control. And since he lived for his desires, which the Bible says was “wicked in the sight of the Lord,” the Lord put him to death also. Here we are told what the Lord found wicked about Onan. I want to suggest that Er’s wickedness had something to do with how he, too, treated his wife. If the letters of the name Er are switched (re) it becomes the Hebrew word for wicked or evil. Interesting. But the name Er comes from the Hebrew word ur which can have the meaning to be jealous, hate or revenge.

This leaves the third son Shelah who it just so happened was not ready to married. He had some growing up to do or so Judah told his daughter-in-law. Shelah was to take Tamar as his wife one day, but not today. But Judah had another motive. He did not want to ever give Shelah to Tamar because he thought Tamar was cursed. Every man she married died! And Shelah was his last son, the last to continue the family line. So, Judah sent Tamar away in widow clothing to her dad’s house (38:11).

As Time Goes By

As time goes by, Judah’s unnamed wife died! And what does Judah do next? He met up with his buddy Hirah (38:12). It was sheep-shearing time which was also festival time. It would be like our summer fairs. This was a big deal to shear your sheep. The whole town got together, the men, and looked forward to prosperity and harvest and would celebrate and drink together. So, it could be that as Genesis 38:12 picks up, Judah and his buddy began the festivities with some drinking.

Tamar hears of it, that it was sheep-shearing time and that Judah had gone out to the celebration. So, she goes into action and why? She has put it all together. Judah has deliberately forgotten about her. He sent her to her dad’s house to forget about her. She was promised to Shelah. She was promised a family and Judah had no intention of fulfilling his duty. Gee, I wonder where his son Onan learned this practice.

And Tamar dresses like a prostitute. This was no ordinary prostitute. She was covered head to toe. Her identity was unknown. She was an unnamed prostitute. Often the men who went off to this celebration would visit a prostitute, but not just any prostitute. No, these men would visit prostitutes who were covered from head to toe. They were called cult prostitutes or religious prostitutes. They served at the temple of the local false god or gods. And at sheep shearing time these prostitutes were used for good luck, to attain the favor of false gods for a good harvest and good fortune.

As Judah made his way to the festival he came across this certain prostitute and solicits her. Tamar had this all figured out. Judah promises a goat as payment, but will have to send it later. Tamar does not budge. She wants a pledge that she will get this goat. So, Judah gives her his signet (a seal with his signature) and its cord and his staff. These are all identity markers.

And the short of the story is that Judah and Tamar sleep together. Tamar leaves before her identity can be found out, but not without those identity markers. Oh, she is now pregnant (38:19).

She is More Righteous Than I

Judah was a man of his word. He sent the goat with his friend so as to retrieve his pledge. But the prostitute is nowhere to be found. The friend asks around the town and the townsmen claim that this town has had no such prostitute (38:21). Uh-oh.

The friend returns to Judah with the goat and the news. The two agree to keep the story between the two of them. Three months pass and it is discovered that Tamar is pregnant. But by whom? It was not by Shelah her promised husband! Perhaps, it is thought, she has been living as a prostitute. So, Judah declares, legally, that she be put to death…by fire. But Tamar planned for this. And she presents the identity markers so as to make known the father of her child. It was Judah (38:24-25)! Listen though to what Judah says and does. He stops the whole thing for “she is more righteous than I.” It is not that she is innocent, but of the two, she is less guilty than Judah. He bears the greater guilt. He did not fulfill his promise and if not for him seeking to gratify his own desires, she would never have been pregnant. And what Judah meant for evil, God turned for good.

These Two are the Generations of Jacob

Tamar gave birth to twins: Perez and Zerah. Tamar is one of five women who are mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:3). And from her son Perez will come a shepherd boy who would be king: David. And from David would come the good shepherd and King of kings: Jesus the Christ. Yes, this was sinful. Judah and Tamar did a sinful thing. Judah misled her and was therefore responsible for her. But out of their wickedness God brought victory in the person of Jesus. He paid the penalty for their sin.

But there is more. There is Judah. He changed in this moment. He confessed and turned from his sin – she is more righteous than I! He will be a different kind of man (cf. 44:18-34). And his son Shelah eventually had a family of his own and guess what he named his son? Er (cf. 1 Chronicles 4:21). I wonder who Shelah married?

1. Men can have a profound impact on the next generation. Did you notice that Er and Onan and Judah all treated Tamar in a similar fashion? Where did the first two boys pick this up?

2. Men can have a profound impact on this generation. How? Call it as it is. “She is more righteous than I.” There was a third son to hear this and see this. In this moment we see Judah confess, say the same thing God says about immorality, sin. May I suggest that what is most needed right now is revival; personal and immediate revival. “It is the constant experience of any simplest Christian who ‘walks in the light,’ but I saw that walking in the light means an altogether new sensitiveness to sin, a calling things by their proper name of sin, such as pride, hardness, doubt, fear, self-pity, which are often passed over as merely human reaction. It means a readiness to ‘break’ and confess at the feet of Him who was broken for us, for the Blood does not cleanse excuses, but always cleanses sin, confessed as sin; then revival is the daily experience of a soul full of Jesus and running over.”[1]

[1] introduction to The Calvary Road, page 8, by Roy Hession


We’ll See What Will Become of His Dreams

It is estimated that $15.3 billion will have been spent on this very day – about $3 billion on sporting events; $2 billion on clothing and another $2 billion on gift cards. Other than peace and quiet, there are only two things that really matter on this very day: a blueberry pie and a strawberry rhubarb pie. Yes, one pie would be more than enough, but two pies would be better. And it is all because today is Father’s Day.

Genesis 37 begins with a title. “These are the generations of Jacob.” And it is not just the title of Genesis 37, but also of Genesis 38 and Genesis 39 and Genesis 40 and…it is the title to the ending of Genesis! And surprisingly, the ending of Genesis – Genesis 37 through Genesis 50 – seems to have very little to do with Jacob. In fact, thirteen chapters all seem to center upon one of Jacob’s twelve sons: Joseph. Yet, there is one chapter that then seems to have nothing to do with Joseph. It, Genesis 38, too centers upon just one of Jacob’s twelve sons: Judah.

But. Not all is as it seems. Genesis 37:12-36 is about dad.

He Kept the Saying in Mind

His name is Jacob. Now, listen to how Genesis 37:12 begins. “Now.” Pause there. This is a key word to the rest of the passage. The word now (and) is a connecting word. Some translations begin instead with the word “Then.” But regardless, verse twelve is being connected to the previous passage. In the previous passage, Joseph, the second youngest of twelve brothers, had a dream. And then he had another dream. So, mark this down, he had two dreams.

The two dreams are different, but also the same. In each, Joseph is lifted up to a position of authority and his brothers and his parents are bowing down to him. But as significant is that Joseph had this dream twice. Each time he had the dream he shared it; first with his brothers and then the second time with his brothers and his dad. Is there anything important about having the same dream twice? Yes.

In Genesis 41, someone else dreams the same dream twice. This time the dreamer, who is not Joseph, and all who hear the dream are very confused as to what it means. But there is Joseph. He is called to explain the meaning. But just listen to this; he first explains the meaning of dreaming the same dream twice. “And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about” (Genesis 41:32).

And so it is with the dreams Joseph dreamed twice. The thing is fixed by God and God will shortly bring it about. This is important to verse eleven. “And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.” Really important to Genesis 37:12-36 is dad. He kept the saying in mind.

Pointing to Something Bigger and Better

Joseph has been described as a type of Christ. What does that mean? It means that the life of Joseph foreshadows or points to something bigger and better. Keep in mind that this closing section of Genesis is connected to God’s promise in Genesis 3:15; his promise that there will be victory. And this promise keeps unfolding and building to the life and death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. It is all very exciting. And the life of Joseph is seen in this unfolding and building toward the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise in Jesus.

There is much of this pointing just here in Genesis 37. First, Joseph was sent by his father (37:13; cf. John 3:16). We will see a little bit more about this in a moment. But for now, see it as a pointer. Second, Joseph was despised and rejected by his brothers (37:4; 8; 11; cf. Isaiah 53:3; John 1:11). Thirdly, Joseph was plotted against (37:18; cf. John 11:45-53). Then Joseph was wished dead (37:18; cf. John 11:53). Joseph was stripped of his robe and left naked (37:23; cf. Matthew 27:28). Finally, Joseph was sold and the payment was silver (37:28; cf. Matthew 26:15).

And then there is dad. He kept the saying in mind. On the first Christmas evening, shepherds went to Bethlehem to “see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” Keep in mind that Joseph’s dreams were something God was making known. And so the shepherds found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger. Then the shepherds made known to this family the saying that had been told them concerning this newborn child. Now listen to what Mary did. “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:15-19). The word treasured means to keep; to keep safe or to guard.

Now back to Genesis 37:11 and dad. He kept the saying in mind. This verse literally reads, “but his father observed the saying.” What is dad observing and keeping?  Notice the word saying (matter). What is the saying? It is the dream! It is the dream for which Jacob rebuked Joseph. Jacob did not treat the dream as some ordinary dream. Is it not interesting that here it is called the saying? It means the sum of what was said. And what did dad do with it? The word kept or observed means to watch for; to wait for; to guard. What may this indicate about Jacob and Joseph and these dreams?

Joseph is Sent to Shechem

Notice that verse eleven calls the brothers jealous or envious. Envious is the better word. Jealousy is when you want what someone else has. Envy is different. Envy is when you want what someone else has and you do not want them to have it! And the brothers are envious of Joseph. The very next verse says that the brothers were out taking care of their father’s flock near…Shechem. What is so important about Shechem?

Two things to know or remember about Shechem. Joseph’s brothers killed all the males of Shechem (Genesis 34:25). And when we read Genesis 37:12, these envious brothers are back near Shechem. Their dad knows this and I am sure has not forgotten about Shechem. And so he sends Joseph to go all by himself to check on his brothers near Shechem. Perhaps he is very concerned for the safety of his boys. But none of this sounds good. But there is more. The rest of Genesis 37 will take place near Shechem (in Dothan about fourteen miles north, cf. 37:17). Joseph will be tattered and thrown into a pit near Shechem. He will be sold into slavery near Shechem. But listen to this. This real story of Joseph is what gets the people of Israel to Egypt. This fulfills God’s promise to Abraham made in Genesis 15:13-16. The book of Exodus is when the people of Israel get out of Egypt to make their way back home to the Promised Land. The book of Joshua is about the people of Israel in the Promised Land, again fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham made in Genesis 15:13-16. But listen to how the book of Joshua ends. “As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph” (Joshua 24:32). Is that not incredible? Why would Joseph want to be buried in this awful, no good place? It is a reminder of God’s hidden hand in the awful, no good moments in our lives.

And when dad, under God’s watchful eye and the guidance of his omnipotent hand, sends Joseph to Shechem, he is keeping the saying in mind. But listen to Joseph. Joseph who clings to the thing fixed by God (the dream), when told by his father to go to Shechem he says, “I am ready” (37:13).

We’ll See What Will Become of His Dreams

A major element in this part of Genesis 37 are those two dreams Joseph dreamed. As Joseph heads out near Shechem he begins to wander. And he is wandering because his brothers are nowhere near Shechem! Catch this; as he wanders he just so happens to run into a stranger. The stranger takes the initiative, this is curious, and asks “What are you seeking?” To which Joseph responds that he is seeking his brothers. It just so happens that the stranger knows exactly where to locate Joseph’s brothers. He heard them say that they were going to Dothan. Dothan is mentioned one other time in the Old Testament. It is where Elisha prayed for deliverance from the surrounding enemy (2 Kings 6:13-18).

The brothers see Joseph coming. How? He is so far away, how do the brothers know it is Joseph? The moment they see him, the begin to plan how to do away with Joseph. They will kill him and throw him in a pit and will report that a fierce animal devoured him. Why do they want to kill Joseph? Remember they are envious of him because of those two dreams. Listen to what they say at the end of verse twenty. “We will see what will become of his dreams.”

This is the big question. What will become of Joseph’s dreams? The brothers are the first to ask it. Then Reuben comes to the rescue. This is the third time in Genesis in which a brother has sought to kill a brother (cf. Cain and Abel; Esau and Jacob). Reuben the oldest, knows that it is a mighty thing to have on your hands the blood of your brother. Perhaps he knows the account of Cain and Abel. He also has a hidden motive. His idea is just to throw Joseph in a pit. Then when no one is looking, he will come and rescue Joseph and deliver him safely from disaster (37:18-22). Why? Could it be to look like a hero in the sight of his dad? (cf. 35:22).

So the remaining brothers grabbed Joseph and stripped him of his robe. Ah, now we know how they knew it was Joseph who was coming near them! He was wearing that robe of many colors! They stripped him and took him and threw him in the pit. Then they sat down to eat. Interestingly, the words of Joseph are not recorded. He opened not his mouth. Now later in Genesis 42:21, the brothers will admit that while he was in the pit they saw the “distress of his soul.” But could it be that as Joseph lay tattered and naked in that pit, he may be wondering, “What will become of those dreams?” This looks like the end.

It appeared that although the brothers will not shed the blood of their brother, they are perfectly content with leaving him in that pit to die…until his brother Judah has an idea. There is a profit to be made. He sees slave traders coming. Joseph is sold by his brothers to Ishmaelites who are also Midianites. The slave traders are heading to Egypt and there will sell Joseph to a man named Potiphar. And, again, not a word from Joseph (37:25-28; 36).

What Will Become of His Dreams?

Again, the central question is, what will become of his dreams? Reuben had apparently gone away and then come back to his rescuing. It is here that he discovers that Joseph is gone and “he tore his clothes” (37:29). This is the same reaction of Jacob when he sees Joseph’s bloodied robe. Let’s jump there. The brothers present Joseph’s bloodied robe to Jacob. He assumes a fierce animal without doubt tore him to pieces. Now listen to verse thirty-four. “Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days.” Why is Jacob mourning? In reading verse thirty-five, we read that he refuses to be comforted and will mourn until the day of his own death. Why?

Yes, the son he loved more than any other is apparently dead. He is gone. But there is something more. Remember, this is all about dad. It begins with dad waiting for; watching for; guarding the saying of those dreams, something fixed by God, something shortly God will bring to pass. And his son is now gone. We are watching a dad shaken to the core. Yes, his son is gone, but his faith in God is being tried. His faith is being put through the fire and it may surround this great question, “God, what in the world are you doing? Where are you in all of this? What of your promises, your faithfulness?” Let’s call it a painful disruption in a dad’s walk with God.

We should not romanticize persecution or affliction. They are evils. However, throughout biblical and church history, we find a consistent pattern: “glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46) tend to grow best when adversity, often in the forms of persecution and affliction, is part of the church’s life. Persecution and affliction provide the gracious and sanctifying opportunities for Christians to experience the love of Christ in very personal ways, as we extend it to and receive it from one another — the opportunities to demonstrate the gospel visibly to a watching world. The gospel becomes more real to us the more we feel our need of it.[1]

So, what should a dad do when all seems lost and dark and discouraging, asking, “God, what is going on? Why, O God, why?” There is only one thing I know to say and do and hope to do: “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:3).


Saturday is Before Sunday

Saturday is before Sunday. And it is with great intention that Saturday is before Sunday. Saturday is the Sabbath, the day of rest. It is the seventh day in which God rested from his work of creation. So, on Saturday we remember that our God is the Creator God, who made all things and sustains all things. Then there is Sunday, the first day of the week, but also the day that the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead! So, we remember and celebrate on Sunday the God of redemption!

So, Saturday is before Sunday – the two days coincide together – remembering the Sabbath prepares us for celebrating redemption.

Romans 11:20. “but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but be in awe.” My prayer for myself on this Saturday, is also a prayer for our church. May I, may we, be in continual awe of this great salvation.

Reading is FUNdamental

One of the great joys of 2018 has been reading through the New Testament. A couple of summers ago our church was encouraged to spend the summer reading through the Psalms. And the reading plans have just continued since! Each day has been so timely. The joy of reading God’s Word is that this is when we hear him speak. Think about how this then affects prayer. Prayer is when I get to speak to God. And so when I read God’s Word, hear him speak, I then in prayer I get to speak to God. A conversation, a communion, is taking place! And it just leads me to say, “Reading is FUNdamental!”

There are also some good books to be reading. Good books are written by good authors and are called good because they help us in knowing God better and walking with him. And so, here are a few good books to spend the summer reading:

Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life by Jason Meyer.

Busy for Self, Lazy for God by Nam Joon Kim.

How to Finish the Christian Life by George and Don Sweeting.

5 Things to Pray for your Church: Prayers that change things for the life of your church by Rachel Jones.

Reading is for our joy.

How to Pray for Your Pastor This Sunday (and maybe for yourself as well)

A few weeks ago, a friend shared these words: James, I just want to be a better pastor. It was startling, a bit, to hear. My friend has been a pastor for fifty-one years. Yes, you read correctly, fifty-one years and after fifty-one years he is not talking retirement or how hard and difficult it has been or how discouraging and disappointing and depressing the ministry is, no. After fifty-one years, I just want to be a better pastor.

So, after six years or fifty-one years, how might a pastor be a better pastor? Especially since much of what pastor does and prepares for is preaching. This, I think, is a help (although convicting too).

*Three short bullet points that I think will make a great difference:

1. Since freedom from self-consciousness is ultimately a gift of God, you can’t make it happen. It’s paradoxical. If you focus on making it happen, it’s not happening. Since it’s a gift of God, pray earnestly for the gift of self-forgetfulness in the hours leading up to your preaching.

2. Since the pursuit of self-forgetfulness must be indirect — because fighting self-consciousness in the moment makes us self-conscious — let’s pursue it by stoking the fires of love for our subject matter and for our people. The more thrilled you are with what you have to preach, the less you are going to think about yourself preaching. That may be the most important thing I have to say, so I’m going to say that again: the more thrilled we are with what we have to say about God, about his ways, about his Son, about his gospel, and about the life we have in Christ, the less we are going to think about ourselves preaching it.

3. If in the midst of preaching, we become aware of ourselves and realize this — and God will give us the grace to do this — we need to say to that temptation, “No.” Just speak up: “No.” Then, inasmuch as it lies within us, consciously turn our back on that temptation of self-consciousness and focus again on the glorious thing we’re saying and on the people in front of us.

May the Lord work this miracle in all of us. Not just in preaching, but in all of our authentic communication.

I share this to help you whether a pastor or not. It is to encourage you in how to pray for your pastor this Sunday and perhaps not just pastors, but small group leaders; Bible study teachers; Sunday School teachers or in your witness. But especially pray it for your pastor.

*Read the full article here:

The Most Seemingly Unimportant Chapter in the Bible

Should the Old Testament book called Genesis be preached? Without hesitation or maybe with some wonder your answer is most likely, yes. And if yes, why then should Genesis be preached? And what should be preached?

But…what does it mean to preach? The word preacher first occurs in the book of Ecclesiastes. Listen to its introduction. “The words of the Preacher.” I like this; the word preacher means a collector of sentences. So, what does a preacher do with a collection of sentences? First, we hope he has studied the collection of sentences because study is integral to preaching. But a preacher preaches! Listen to what the Bible says to preachers. In this context it is to a young preacher, maybe thirty-seven years old. “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:1-2b). I like this; the word preach means to proclaim, but biblically means so much wonderfully more. Listen to 2 Timothy 4:5. “As for you, always be sober minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” What is the ministry of a preacher? Preach the word. But here, the instruction is to fulfill your ministry. How does a preacher fulfill the ministry of preaching the word? It is right there in 2 Timothy 2:5. Do the work of an evangelist. Do evangelism or gospelize. Now this is exciting and it is how a preacher fulfills his ministry. To gospelize is to stress the victory of God’s gospel-message in the totality of His good news.

Where does God’s gospel message begin? Genesis. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). All the details are not there (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-5), but it is pregnant with thought. God’s gospel message begins there. There will be victory.

So, what does all of this, preachers and preaching and gospelizing, have to do with Genesis 36? It is exactly what I have been wondering. Should it be preached? If yes, it is a chapter in the book of Genesis after all, why should it be preached? What about it should be preached?

Genesis Relativizes Our Lives

Listen to how it begins. “These are the generations of…” I like how one translation words it, “These are the family records of…” The word generations (record) is rather important to the book of Genesis. The first time this word appears is Genesis 2:4. “These are the generations of the heaven and earth when they were created.” And it will appear nine more times until Genesis 36. It is found twice in Genesis 36. Listen to it. “These are the generations of Esau” and then again, “These are the generations of Esau” (Genesis 36:1, 9). Part of the point is that Genesis is filled with family trees – these historical records of people. And part of the big question is what to do with them.

I came across a really good article Thursday titled “Four Reasons Your Next Sermon Series Should Be Through Genesis.” I laughed because I thought this article for me and for you was about seventy sermons through Genesis too late. But the author gave good reasons that preachers should preach through Genesis. Genesis is foundational for understanding the rest of the Bible. Genesis consistently wades through “front page issues” like human dignity, marriage, etc. Genesis is beautifully written narrative.

But listen to this fourth reason. Genesis relativizes our lives without emptying them of significance. What does that mean? This perfectly applies to these genealogies. If you were to look at each genealogy beginning with Genesis 5 through Genesis 36, you would see people. And there is one critical observation with each person in each genealogy: people come and people go. In other words, people live and people die. But there is more. In each genealogy beginning with Genesis 5 through Genesis 36 there is time. Just consider Genesis 5. Throughout is this phrase: “Thus all the days of fill in the name were fill in the years, and he died.” There is a lot of time within each genealogy and then centuries between each genealogy, meaning time continues as people come and people go.

But there is more. Woven alongside these genealogies are promises. There are Genesis 3:15 and Genesis 9:15 and Genesis 12:7 and Genesis 15:5 and Genesis 28:15. And the point is that in all this time and the coming and the going, “the book of Genesis shows us the importance of God’s promises in the lives of God’s people.” These are not perfect people. Some are disappointing. Some are failures. Some are disappointing and failures. And especially in the life of Jacob, which was to be true for the first people to read Genesis, “the book of Genesis shows us the importance of God’s promises in the lives of God’s people as they journey to God’s place, the Promised Land.” So, how does this help us? “Clinging to God’s promises kept, we mirror those in Genesis who clung to God’s promises made.”[1]

The Most Seemingly Unimportant Chapter in the Bible

But then there is Genesis 36, another genealogy. It is different. Note again, the twice reference about the big idea of this chapter. It is found in verse one and then again in verse nine. “These are the generations of Esau.” In verse one, there is a little parenthesis added – (that is, Edom). There was a hint to this in Genesis 25:30. Just as Jacob is also Israel (35:10) so, Esau is also Edom. Both brothers become nations. The nation of Esau develops faster than the nation of Jacob and not just in terms of wealth, either. Listen to Genesis 36:31. “These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites.” Edom would boast kings much sooner than Israel. When Edom had kings, Israel served kings.

But Moses dedicates an entire chapter to the generations of Esau. And in this record, there are 81 names. There are sons and grandsons, chiefs/leaders, and kings. It is success upon success. But listen to Genesis 36:20. “These are the sons of Seir the Horite.” This is a completely distinct family from Esau. There is absolutely no relation whatsoever. Except when you read Genesis 36:8. There is a point in the life of Esau when he took his wives and his kids and moved to Seir. What did he find in Seir? He found people. And when he found people, he overtook them. And eventually, these two family trees, intertwined. It appears that Esau’s son took from Seir a woman as his concubine and had a son with her (cf. 36:12; 22).

Esau seems so unimportant. And if he seems so unimportant, this chapter seems so unimportant, perhaps the most unimportant chapter in the Bible. But as you keep reading, Moses keeps bringing our attention upon Esau (36:5; 9; 10; 15; 19; 20; 31; 40; 43). It is like some sixteen times. Why?

Esau Went Away From His Brother Jacob

In the midst of all these names, there is a little break in Genesis 36:6-8. It is partially about why Esau ended up in Seir. He had too much stuff or at least he thought he did. He was accumulating a lot of wealth and so he moved where he could have more room. The strange part is that he went where there was more people (cf. 35:8; 20). But the last part of verse six is the key. “He went into a land away from his brother Jacob.” God had promised to Jacob the Promised Land. This land is also known as Canaan. God made this promise to Jacob and Jacob clung to this promise. So, what does Esau do? He goes to another land, away from his brother. Why is this significant? Jacob journeyed to the promised land, clinging to God’s promises. Esau journeyed away from the promised land, letting go of God’s promises. He may have even thought that none of it was for him anyway, so why stick around?

But he had always treated the things of God this way. Remember, as a young man he traded his birthright for a bowl of soup. He had always treated the things of God lightly. And he walked away from God’s promises.

Is any of this important? Does it matter? Did you notice that the first record in this family tree are Esau’s wives? He had three of them, maybe four. There is a minor discrepancy in the names (cf. 25:34-35; 28:9; 36:2). He married the first two wives so as to irritate his parents. And then he married the third wife to try to please his parents. But then there are all these names, names of sons and grandsons. Just listen to them. What do you hear?

His wife Basemath, her name means perfume (36:3). Elon means region where deer are found (36:2). His son Eliphaz means pure gold (36:4). Nahath means rest (36:13). Dishon means gazelle (36:21). Shepho means bald (36:23). Aiah means hawk (36:24); Keran means turtle (36:26); Aran means mountain goat (36:28); Ithran means advantage (36:26). What is the point of these names? Keep in mind the intentional redirection throughout this chapter to Esau. Could these names reflect Esau? What he values? What he loves? Keep in mind, too, when we first met Esau, we were told that he is a man of the outdoors; a hunter and fisherman. There are only a couple of names that have anything to do with God. There was Reuel which means friend of God and Jeush which may mean God helps (36:4; 5).

So, What is the Point?

Again, it is just another genealogy, but different. It is of a man who did not live his life in the light of the things of God. He was not journeying to the promised land, and God’s promises held no value in his eyes. His son Eliphaz is interesting, though. He had some sons. But one in particular was named Teman (36:11). Eliphaz and Teman. This son Teman would also be a tribal chief, a leader, maybe of a thousand people within the nation of Edom. Listen to Job 2:11. “Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite.” One of Job’s friends, yes that Job who suffered at great costs, had three friends. One of those friends was Eliphaz the Temanite, a descendant of Esau. But greater still, there is a possibility that Job, too, was a resident of the land of Edom (cf. 36:28; Job 1:1). In a land of all these names, bearing very little if anything with God, there may have been a man named Job, who in his suffering would declare, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27).

Here is something I could not wait to share with you. Remember, Edom produced kings. I never knew this until studying what I thought could be the most seemingly unimportant chapter in the Bible. King Herod also known as Herod the Great, was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau. One day he met some wise men. These wise men were seeking to worship a newborn king, he who was born king of the Jews. And King Herod sought to kill all the male children in Bethlehem who were two years old and younger. One such child was named Jesus the Christ, a descendant of…Jacob (Matthew 2:1-18).

Esau Though Was Never Forgotten

But the point is bigger and better than I ever anticipated. It does have a lot to do with three questions: should this be preached? Why should it be preached? What should be preached?

I thought so little of Esau. He showed no interest whatsoever for God or the things of God. He lived quite well ignoring the promises of God. But he was never forgotten. I want us to listen to Amos 9:11-12. “‘In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old, that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name,’ declares the Lord who does this.” Esau is Edom. Edom are all those descendants of Esau who seem to reflect Esau. This very passage is quoted in the New Testament. Listen to how it is introduced. “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old’” (Acts 15:13-17). What does God desire in and from this genealogy?

God never forgot Esau. He was always working to reach people like Esau that they might seek God. It is amazing. Esau journeyed away. God pursued. Esau ignored God’s promises. God kept keeping his promises. And it was for the sake of people like Esau.

You might be like Esau. You are not forgotten by God. You may care nothing for him, but he cares for you. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The world is full of Esaus.

[1] Four Reasons You Should Preach Through Genesis;