. In the last part of Genesis 37 we have depicted the deep and unnecessary sorrow of Jacob due to his belief that Joseph had been devoured by lions, and due to the treachery and deception of his sons. So deep was his grief that he refused to be comforted, and he expected to carry his sorrow into his grave.
His sons, together with his daughters, did seek to comfort him. But what miserable comforters those sons were! The one word Jacob needed, and they could supply to stop his tears, they in their wickedness would not speak to him. Whatever they did say to try to comfort him was the lie, because it was withholding from him the truth. And the lie can never comfort. We can only guess what they did say to try to make him forget his sorrows. What wicked words their evil hearts presented, to try to get his mind off that which troubled him as nothing ever had before, is not told us. What could they say in such circumstances? All they had to do was confess that they were lying, and that Joseph was alive somewhere in Egypt. Physically it was such a little thing that had to be done to get their father out of this deep grief. But spiritually this was an insurmountable task. They undoubtedly were moved by their father’s tears which flowed so freely and had their effect on his physical well-being. But they were moved more deeply by their own pride and desire to defend themselves in their lie, and to make sure that Joseph’s dreams would not be realized so that they would have to be his servants. And so they could not comfort him, not because there was no word that could dry those tears, but because there was no love for God operating in their souls to speak the truth, and to bow before His word which Joseph gave them in his dreams. Hypo- critical they were, therefore, in their words which they did speak to their grieving father. In their attempt to comfort they added to their sins. But God has a way of bringing His people to repentance; and subsequent history recorded in this book of Genesis will reveal that their lie is exposed, and that Jacob’s grief is removed by God Himself.
However, after reading in the last part of Genesis 37 of Jacob’s grief, four chapters come and go without one word of mention about Jacob. We do not read of him again until in chapter 41, where we find him sending his sons to Egypt for food. Yet it must be borne in mind that we are still dealing with Jacob’s family. Chapter 38 deals with the evils of Judah who was the fourth son to be born to Jacob through his wife Leah. It is Jacob’s family, his seed, that commits these shameful deeds of sin. It is one who came out of Jacob’s loins and is carrying Jacob’s name into the coming generation. It is, in fact, that branch of Jacob’s family from which the Christ will be born of which we read such debasing deeds and wicked works. Judah, the son of Jacob, took to himself a Canaanite for a wife; and he gets a wife for the son of this Canaanite from among the Canaanites. This son is slain by God because of his wickedness. The second son is also slain by God because he will not raise up seed for his dead brother. In pure selfishness, as well as lack of covenant concern, Onan satisfies his flesh but will not satisfy God’s covenant obligations. Judah, after this Canaanitish wife dies, turns unto one whom he considers to be an harlot, for the satisfaction of his flesh. And Judah, this son of Jacob, becomes an illegitimate father. For, after all, there are no illegitimate children, but only illegitimate parents. The children born out of wedlock do not commit an illegitimate deed. It is the parents who break God’s law.
But the point we want to make here is that all this sad history reveals the truth that, “God works in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.” For it is in the line of this branch of Jacob’s family, and through this series of wicked deeds, that God ultimately brings forth the Christ out of David’s seed, which is Judah’s seed, which is Jacob’s seed. God brings an outsider inside the covenant sphere. This outsider brought forth a son who also received an outsider as his wife. She walks outside God’s law and plays the part of an harlot and begets a son whose descendants bring forth David and, in the fulness of time, the Christ Himself; and through Him we are all brought into the blessings of that covenant of grace. Indeed, here is evidence that it is all a covenant of grace. Our works, beginning with Adam’s, deny us any place in that kingdom and covenant. Man has not performed one single deed that deserves and merits for him a right in God’s covenant. Instead he always, in all that he does, shows not only no interest in that kingdom and covenant, until God brings Him in by a rebirth and the power of the Spirit of Christ, but also no power to live as a covenant child. It is grace and grace alone that explains that there is a covenant established by God and with man. Claim that there is one work of man that gives him even the right to remain in that covenant, and you manifest that you are not living the life of that covenant. The life of the covenant sings,
All that I am I owe to Thee,
Thy wisdom Lord hath fashioned me:
I give my Maker thankful praise,
Whose wondrous works my soul amaze.
A question arises, however, in this connection. Why does God reveal this chapter in the life of Jacob and his family? Why did the account of Joseph have to be interrupted to have this squalid story related?
One answer, to be sure, is that here is established the covenant line of the fathers that runs from Adam, through Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Pharez, David, and Christ. There is one unbroken line; and God reveals it also to His Church in the Scripture. There is also one perfect unity between Old and New Testaments. When you write fiction, you had better be general; and if you try to be specific, you will be contradicted and accused of falsifying. God speaks the truth. Those whom He used to write the Scriptures speak the truth, and, not being silent about immoral conduct in the forebears of David and Christ, they are very specific as to deeds and also to names.
But chiefly this chapter is placed here in the midst of the narrative that deals with Joseph and his experiences to warn us, and point out to us, what we can expect when we fail to take our covenant calling in regard to our children seriously. We have pointed out how weak Jacob was in this respect. And the tragedy with us is that the result of our laxity comes when there is no time or possibility of reversing the damage CAUSED by our behavior. Our children are out of our houses and letting their children follow the flesh in ways that make us shudder, carrying sin to new heights in our families and generations. The family tree no longer brings forth the wholesome, bright, and luscious fruit; but we become ashamed and find the desire to apologize for what our grand-children do.
We should be concerned about whom our children get for a husband or wife. We cannot go and get one for them, as Abraham did, and as Isaac and Rebekah sent Jacob to get. But we certainly may not do as Judah did here when he went and got a Canaanite for his son. And Judah was only walking in the way his father allowed him to walk. Judah took a Canaanite for himself; but there is not one word here of objection on Jacob’s part. He had looked the other way so often about the idolatry of his children, and of his beloved wife, Rachel. He had displayed so much weakness of faith all along the line before his family that it does not resemble very closely Abraham’s family and Abraham’s and Sarah’s faith.
No, we cannot go out and get wives and husbands for our children. But are we helping them find mates for life that are spiritually compatible? Do we place so much emphasis on physical and psychical compatibility that spiritual compatibility comes only as an afterthought, when we see that things are not going well spiritually in their married lives? And then do we blame that unspiritual partner for what our own children do? Have we warned? Have we shown them concern for their spiritual well-being? Or have we left them drift; and have we shown them silent approval of their ways? Have we protected them, or have we exposed them to the world? Have we introduced them by the boob tube to the love of Hollywood, of Sodom and Gomorrah, of the cheap paperback novel, that really is no love because it does not have in it the love of God?
Let it be understood, I do not at all believe that believing parents can give faith to their children, or that to get the son or daughter of a believer for a marriage partner is going to guarantee spiritual compatibility. But I am aware of the fact, and emphatically declare it, that God does gather His children out of our children, because He has established His covenant with us and with our seed after us, gathering His elect children in the line of continued generations. And therefore we ought to encourage our children to seek their mates for life in the sphere of the church, in the realm where there are believing parents. And we ought to warn constantly against dating out of the world, even for one night. That is playing with spiritual dynamite!
The chapter also clearly indicates the need for a firm hand while the children are under our roofs. Jacob was loose in his handling of the children; and he failed to speak up when he should have done so. In that measure he failed as a covenant father, and saw failure in the lives of his children. One example of this is in Genesis 37:11. After Joseph told his second dream we read that, “His brothers envied him; but his father observed the saying.” Here is where Jacob should have spoken to his children and at least warned them that this could be the word of God against which they should not fight. Two dreams so similar, with the same basic truth in them, made Jacob stop and think. Even though his flesh spoke and caused him to rebuke Joseph and ask, “Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?” Jacob began to realize that this was no ordinary, nor childish dream. Even the envy of these brothers of Joseph speaks here. They, too, had a fear that this might very well be the case. They did not ridicule him. They envied him. And it was not simply because his father showed such favoritism towards him, as was evident in that coat of many colors. Deep inside they sensed that such an exaltation of Joseph could take place. That was also behind their plot to kill him, and then later on to sell him into Egypt. They wanted to make it impossible for him to become their ruler. These unspiritual brothers sensed that there could be something to Joseph’s dreams. And Jacob should have made known to them his own awareness of the possibility of it being a dream from God. He had experienced such a dream himself, so that dreams with meaning were not something foreign to him.
And, after all, Jacob treated this firstborn of Rachel as though he were the firstborn in the family. That princely coat—rather than “coat of many colors”—proves this. Why should such a dream of Joseph then be only a dream? After his outburst which moved him to rebuke Joseph, he came to his spiritual senses because of all these things; and it behoved him to speak in the wisdom of Gamaliel, “If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought; but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it” (Acts 5:38-39).
But Jacob said nothing to his sons. And when we are silent before our children concerning the evils in the world, or, worse, if we give them the impression that there is good in the world, we must not be surprised to see our grandchildren living in the world and seeking the things of the world with the unbelievers. The church is becoming too much like the world; and the churches are becoming more and more alike. Let us take note and train our children in the way in which they should go, and not in the way our flesh likes to go—lest all this be in our covenant families.