My old Home Group leader had a favourite expression to sum up the sorry state of humanity. Barry was a teacher, so knew humanity better than most. And he would sum us all up in just one word. One word not just for his pupils, or his colleagues, but for every one of us, Ministers and Deacons and Church members as well. The best of us and the worst of us all grouped together in just one word. “SCUMBAGS!!!!” Barry would say. “We’re scumbags, every one of us!”
When you look at the story of Joseph, you find out exactly what Barry means! Genesis chapters 37 and 38 give us a dreadful catalogue of sins to avoid. At the same time they show us the kind of people God chooses to use in His amazing plan of salvation. The story starts with
Jacob who was also called Israel
Do you remember the story of Jacob? As a young man he was the rebellious younger twin son who conned his father Isaac and stole his older brother Esau’s birthright of a double portion of the inheritance and also the blessing of their father. DESPITE ALL THAT, time and again Jacob is linked with his father and grandfather as one of the great heroes of faith, the Patriarchs. The God of the Bible is called the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Despite all his lying and cheating Jacob was still commended as hero of faith in Hebrews 11. The example of Jacob is encouraging for us all. Even when God’s people fail Him and break His laws and rebel against Him, he doesn’t immediately reject them! In His plan of salvation God still chooses to use the most unsavoury of characters.
Two weeks ago we began the story of Joseph and his technicolour dreamcoat looking at Jacob’s sin of
Favouritism: 37: 3 Now (Jacob) loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him.
This favouritism did Joseph no favours. He grew up as the kind of child we call today a “brat.” In many other ways the story of Joseph started off badly.
Lying : 2 This is the account of Jacob. Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.
We see many examples of Joseph’s “bratty” behaviour.
Pride and arrogance: 5. Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.
9 Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?”
Joseph was a scumbag. DESPITE ALL THIS Joseph was also a hero of faith – the saviour of his family and indeed as we will see in the coming weeks the saviour of the whole of Egypt as Pharaoh’s right-hand-man when the 7 years of famine followed the 7 years of plenty. Joseph still had some lessons to learn, but God didn’t throw him on the scrapheap. God can even use scumbags!!
Christians throughout history have experienced this wonderful truth for themselves. The seventeenth century Congregationalist John Bunyan who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress also wrote his autobiography. He called it “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.” And he got that phrase from Romans 5:20 in the King James Version where it says, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” God’s love and grace and mercy are greater than any human sin. Grace abounding!
Hatred and jealousy: 4 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.
8 His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
Plotting murder: 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him. 19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”
Kidnapping: 23. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe- the richly ornamented robe he was wearing- 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
As so often happens, what started off as sinful ATTITUDES, hatred, jealousy, soon turned into sinful ACTIONS, murder, kidnapping. Sins to avoid indeed! If that lot wasn’t enough, then there’s even worse to come!
They sold their own brother into slavery: 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed. 28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
Joseph was a brat. Maybe you think he got what he deserved from his brothers. Maybe not. They were scumbags too! And their evil was not only directed against their brother but also against their father.
Deception: 31. Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They took the ornamented robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.” 33 He recognised it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.”
There is a deep irony here. Remember how Jacob had tricked his Father Isaac into giving HIM the blessing which rightly belonged to his older brother Esau “a hairy man” – by wrapping his hand in goatskin. Now the deceiver is himself deceived! And by a goatskin soaked in blood, no less! Poetic justice! “God is not mocked! You reap what you sow.” Serves Jacob right, you may say, BUT
Such cruelty to their father: 34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days.
All twelve of Jacob’s sons were scumbags. DESPITE ALL THIS, God still made Jacob’s sons to be the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel. Despite all their sins God does not condemn them or reject them, but blesses them and their descendents. God is a loving God, a forgiving God, a patient God, a God who chooses to work even through people like them, and like us!! Grace abounding!
Judah – the ringleader
Plotting the selling 26 Judah said to his brothers,`What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood
But Judah would commit even greater sins in his time. I am not a betting man, of course, but I would bet that you have never heard a sermon on Genesis 38, and you won’t today either. There are just too many sins to avoid in the story of Judah’s immorality with his own daughter-in-law Tamar: Genesis 38 is a whole X-rated chapter of wickedness and I don’t recommend you read it! But Genesis 38 is in the Bible so what I will do is just summarise the story.
Judah went to Canaan to do business and married a Canaanite girl. That was his first mistake! They had three sons. The first son called Er married a girl called Tamar. But Er was wicked and God was angry with him and killed him. According to the customs of that time, Tamar had the right to become the wife of Judah’s third son. But instead Judah sent Tamar back to her father’s house to live as a widow. Second big mistake. So to get her revenge on him, Tamar pretended to be a shrine-prostitute and tricked her father-in-law Judah into sleeping with her. Third and fourth big mistakes – that was not only an act of adultery but it was also an act of idol-worship, worshipping the false Canaanite gods the Baals). Tamar took Judah’s seal and his staff as the pledge for the payment.
Now THIS deceiver was deceived in his turn – like father like son!!!
Genesis 38: 24. About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.” Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!” 25 As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognise whose seal and cord and staff these are.” 26 Judah recognised them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.”
Judah was a scumbag. The worst of them all. DESPITE ALL THIS, it is from Judah’s descendents that God’s plan of salvation was worked out. You might have expected God to choose to work through Reuben, Jacob’s first-born son, Reuben who tried to rescue Joseph when his brothers were trying to kill him, Reuben who had suggested imprisonment in the cistern rather than murder because he planned to rescue Joseph secretly afterwards. But it WASN’T through Reuben, descendents, nor was it through our hero Joseph’s descendents that God would bring salvation to the world. No!
JUDAH was the ancestor of great King David. And even more amazing than that – we read in Matthew 1:3 in the genealogy of Christ “Judah, the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar”
Judah was the ancestor of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the mother of Judah’s son Perez was Tamar. The child conceived on the very occasion when Tamar deceived her father-in-law Judah by pretending to be a shrine prostitute, that child was in the ancestral line of David and of Christ. That was an act of blatant immorality (which in years to come would carry the death penalty according to the Law of Moses). But God chose by his grace to overrule and even to weave Judah’s sin into His divine plan of salvation. So in Revelation Jesus is even described as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah”. Grace abounding!
We hear a lot nowadays about dysfunctional families. But they are nothing new! Jacob and his dysfunctional family were as bad as they get! Favouritism, lying, pride, arrogance, hatred, jealousy, plotting murder, kidnapping, selling into slavery, deception, cruelty, immorality and incest. But by God’s grace these were the Patriarchs!! These became the great heroes of faith!!!
These chapters do NOT teach us is that God doesn’t care about sin. These stories do NOT teach us that sin doesn’t matter or that the abominable things these brothers did were acceptable in God’s eyes. Sin is still sin, whoever commits it. Big sins, little sins all deserve God’s judgement!
What these chapters DO teach us is that we serve a God who will forgive us. We serve a God who will never throw us on the scrapheap however much we deserve it. We serve a God who will still chooses to use us in His purposes for his glory, however far we may fall. We serve a God who delights to save from the gutter-most to the uttermost!
Because God is the God of GRACE – whose love is so much greater than our transgressions. Grace abounding!! Hear these comforting words from Psalm 103
Psalm 103 8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
If God will forgive Jacob his sins. If God will forgive Joseph and his brothers their sins. If God will forgive even Judah who was the worst of the lot, then God can forgive us! And if God chooses to use scumbags like them in His divine purposes He will even use scumbags like you and me as well!! That is grace abounding!