So Your Family Is Dysfunctional?

Have you ever thought that maybe your life would be a lot better – and certainly a lot smoother – if you had been born into a different family? Perhaps you have some real shady characters in your family tree. Maybe you've even been one yourself. And you wonder if God's promises are meant for someone like you, someone with your background and history. You may question whether there's even a place for you in God's plan.

Do I ever have some good news for you! Many of us were not born into perfect families – because no such thing exists. Even what we consider to be “good Christian” families have their problems and their dysfunctional characters. Because we are all born into a world tainted by sin, and no one is without sin. That's why we need Jesus – to save us from our sin and make us a part of the family of God!

Next time you think that your own past or your circumstances are not good enough, look at the examples of the patriarchs of the faith. You can read all of these in Genesis, chapters 12- 50. Talk about dysfunctional families! Here are some examples of their family dysfunction and discord:

  • Abram and Sarai were well beyond their childbearing years when God made them a promise that they would have a son. When it didn't seem to be happening, they took matters into their own hands to try to have a child so the promise would come. Ishmael, whose name means “God hears”, was born through a union between Abram and Sarah's maid Hagar. However, God made it very clear: He would indeed bless Abram's illegitimate son Ishmael, but the covenant promise would only be fulfilled through Isaac, the legitimate son.

  • When it was time for the son of the promise to marry, Abraham chose Rebecca as a wife for Isaac. Isaac and Rebecca had two sons: Esau and Jacob with Esau being the eldest. Jacob, whose name means “supplanter” or “heel-grabber”. Grabbing hold of the heel causes someone to fall, or overcomes him. Jacob grabbed Esau by the heel as he was being born, as if to pull him back into the womb, and supplant him as the first-born son.

  • Isaac loved Esau best, but Rebecca loved Jacob. As Isaac was dying, Rebecca took matters into her own hands, deliberately plotting and deceiving Isaac into blessing the wrong son. Isaac was deceived, and gave his blessing to the youngest son instead of the eldest.

  • Jacob went along with his mother's plan, and deceived his father by pretending to be Esau, and received the blessing that should have been Esau's. Then, as if cheating his brother out of the blessing wasn't bad enough, Jacob went on to cheat his brother out of his birthright, the inheritance due to the first-born son. Of course, Esau wasn't totally blameless, as he was willing to give up his birthright for nothing more than a bowl of stew.

  • Jacob left his father's house after Isaac's death, out of fear that Esau would try to kill him for his deceit and treachery. He fell in love with Rachel, and asked her father Laban for permission to marry her, agreeing to work for him for 7 years in exchange for her hand in marriage. Laban tricked Jacob for his own gain, and married Jacob to the wrong daughter, Rachel's older sister Leah. Jacob then had to work for Laban for seven more years to get the bride he wanted. Laban thus cheated Jacob and gained an extra seven years of cheap labor.

  • Although his first wife Leah gave Jacob six sons, and the handmaidens of both wives gave him four other sons, he still showed his favoritism to his beloved wife Rachel's son Joseph, just as his own father had shown favoritism to his brother Esau. He even had a special, expensive coat of many colors made for this son. This caused Jacob's other sons to detest Joseph, and plot against him. They were going to kill Joseph, but decided that really didn't profit them, so they sold him into slavery instead. Jacob didn't learn anything from the supposed loss of his beloved son, but continued his favoritism with Rachel's second son, his youngest son Benjamin.

  • After Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery because of their jealousy, they lied to their father, by omission about what had happened to him. They took his easily recognized coat, and splattered it with blood, so that it looked as if he had been attacked by a wild animal and killed. They showed so little compassion for their aged father, allowing him to grieve for a dearly loved son, one they knew had not died. It was Judah's idea to sell Joseph into slavery, instead of killing him. Perhaps he had a few scruples about murdering his own brother, but he knew Joseph's death would break his father's heart, and he did it anyway. His whole reason for selling their brother was for profit. He sold his brother into slavery for a mere twenty pieces of silver.

  • Judah then left his father's house and married a Canaanite woman. Neither Abraham nor Isaac had wanted a Canaanite wife for their sons, and went to great lengths to get Israelite wives for them. Yet Judah ignored all the teachings of his forefathers, turned his back on his family, and deliberately chose a pagan wife. He further compounded this sin by getting a pagan wife for his son.

  • Judah's firstborn son Er was so evil God slayed him. (Genesis 38:7; 1 Chronicles 2:3) We aren't given any details regarding his wickedness, but it must have been great indeed for the Lord to just kill him outright. Proverbs 6:12-15 tells us the fate of a worthless, wicked man: “Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly; suddenly shall he be broken without remedy.”

  • His second son Onan refused to preserve his brother's line, which displeased the Lord so much that He killed him, too. (Genesis 38:10) He had sex with Tamar, but made sure not to impregnate her by withdrawing before spilling his seed. The reason this was such blatant sin is because the the Messiah was to descend from Judah's tribe, and the family line of Judah was in danger of dying out. If that happened, God's covenant promise to Abraham would have been broken. This was an act of selfish greed as well as disobedience: if Er had no heirs, Onan would then get the double portion of the inheritance belonging to the first-born.

    (*This was the first instance in Scripture of a brother tasked with conceiving a child with his brother's widow to preserve the lineage of the oldest brother. It was a common practice in Israel, to preserve the inheritance and lineage of the deceased, so much so that the practice was later incorporated into the Mosaic law (Deut. 25:5) The first child would be considered the deceased brother's offspring, and as such, would inherit all his “father's” wealth and property; all subsequent children would be considered the younger brother's children.)

  • Judah, fearing that the pagan Tamar may have been responsible in some manner for the death of his sons, had no intention of giving her his youngest son, too. He deliberately deceived Tamar, sending her back to her father's house to live as a widow until his youngest son Shelah was older, instead of setting her free, so that she might marry again and have children. To not have children in that culture was a great shame for a woman, so this was very unfair to her. And to not keep her in his own household was an insult to her and her family.

  • Judah had been instrumental in deceiving his father, and now he is himself deceived. Tamar, when she saw that Shelah was now grown and she had not been given to him as a wife, took matters into her own hands. She disguised herself as a prostitute and set out to seduce her father-in-law, to become pregnant by him. She sold herself for the price of one kid, and asked for a pledge to insure payment. In the throes of his lust Judah gave her his signet, his bracelets, (the ribbon or cord holding his signet) and his staff. Thus the transaction was consummated, and Tamar became pregnant by her father-in-law.

  • Judah sends his friend with the requested kid to pay the supposed prostitute. However, when she could not be found to redeem his pledge, Judah decided to let the matter go, lest he be shamed – either because he was afraid to be found having relations with a prostitute, or more likely, he was afraid of looking like a fool for trusting such a person with his staff and his signet. Although Judah had unknowingly committed the sin of incest and adultery with his son's widow, he knowingly committed fornication with a woman he thought was a prostitute.

  • When he was told that his son's widow was pregnant, Judah gave orders for her to be burned. He may have only meant burning of the face or cheek, to brand her publicly her as a harlot. In the eyes of the Israelites she was his son Shelah's wife, and so her pregnancy by someone other than Shelah would bring shame and disgrace upon the family. Or he may have intended to have her burned to death – along with the child she carried, a common practice among pagans, either to punish her, or to cover up his own sins, or both. His first was the sin of deceiving her by not giving her as wife to his third son as was the custom and as he had promised. His second sin was in sleeping with his son's widow and impregnating her. It is ironic that he harshly condemns her for her sexual sin, while completely ignoring his own.

So, you think your family is dysfunctional, and sinful? Do you think your background and experiences will not allow God to accomplish His will in your life? Just look at these examples and see that God carries out His plans and keeps His promises, regardless of the sins, failures, and shortcomings of ourselves or others! We CAN serve God, and be useful in His kingdom. Our family, our circumstances, our mistakes, do not disqualify us from serving God! And they do not keep God from using us to carry out His plan!

Our faith in God and His promises is warranted not because of our worthiness or the worthiness of our lineage, and not due to our ability to carry out His plans and purposes for us, or because of other people's ability to do so. No, we can fully trust in God because HE is faithful to keep His promises, and to do exactly what He says He will do! God works out His promises in spite of the sins, failures, jealousies, and shortcomings of the people involved!

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