Tag Archives: Generational Sin

Different Times, Same Journey

Different Times, Same Journey (CaD Gen 38) Wayfarer

As [Tamar] was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law [Judah]. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”
Genesis 38:25 (NIV)

I have blogged often in my posts about my maternal great-grandmother, Daisy, who was the celebrated matriarch of my mother’s family. The untold story of Grandma Daisy is her complicated relationship with her husband, Will. As heralded as Daisy was for her faith, joy, strength, fortitude, Will was remembered by his family as a tragically broken man who, from birth, was trapped in circumstances that were not of his own making, and from which he would never truly escape.

One of the challenges for modern readers of Genesis is to understand the social customs and mores of the tribal Near Eastern Mesopotamian cultures in the time of 1900 B.C. There are aspects of humanity and human behavior in which “nothing is new under the sun.” At the same time, the matters of daily life, systems of family, marriage, commerce, religion, government, survival, and culture are largely foreign to a 21st-century reader.

Today’s chapter is a fascinating lesson in the roles of men and women with regard to marriage and widowhood. It was a true patriarchal system. A woman had no status but for her husband and/or sons. She could not own land or inherit an estate. Widows were in a particularly vulnerable position. Unless her husband’s family agreed to marry her to a relative and she produced male offspring (called a Levirate marriage), she could either return to her father’s household (if he would have her) or try and survive by prostitution or the generosity of others.

Once again, the recurring theme of deception crops up, now in the fourth generation from Abraham. In yesterday’s chapter, Joseph’s brothers deceive their father into thinking his favorite son had been killed by a wild animal. In today’s chapter, Judah’s eldest two sons die, leaving him to care for his daughter-in-law, Tamar. He promises to marry her to his third son once he was of age, and sends her back to her family as was the custom of that day. He didn’t keep his word, however, and married his youngest son off to another. Judah knew he was not keeping his pledge to Tamar in yet another deception.

Tamar, left in a vulnerable position with no recourse, shrewdly beats Judah at his own family’s game of deception. Eerily similar to Judah’s father’s deception of Isaac, Tamar disguises herself, pretends to be a prostitute in order to get Judah to sleep with her and impregnate her. Having birthed a son by Judah, he is forced to bring Tamar and his son into the family or risk public humiliation.

Which, in the quiet this morning, brought me back to the story of Will and Daisy who, like Judah and Tamar, lived in a culture of intense social pressure. Their divorce left Daisy alone and scandalized with five children to raise on her own with whatever meager means she could scrounge in that day. She even graciously agreed to marry Will a second time as he attempted to redeem himself and pull himself out of his endless cycle of poor choices and unfortunate circumstances. His death was a sad metaphor for his life. He was run over in the street. Not surprisingly, no one in my family talked about Will. I only learned his story because my great aunt investigated and wrote a short biography of her father. I believe it was a daughter’s attempt to understand and reconcile with a father who brought so much pain into her life.

And thus, I return to the fact that humans of every time and place in history are human. In that, there is nothing new under the sun. In Judah and Tamar’s story, in Will and Daisy’s story, are two human beings navigating their own life journeys complete with the obstacles of personal failings, generational sin, relational struggles, and cultural obstacles. Sometimes we’re hampered by our own choices. Sometimes we’re stuck with circumstances that were not of our own making. Sometimes we struggle against the systems of culture, religion, community, and society that are lined up against us. It’s all part of our journeys and our stories. How I walk that journey will impact the legacy and the journeys of my physical and spiritual descendants.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“It’s Not Business; It’s Personal”

“It’s Not Business; It’s Personal” Wayfarer

Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”

But they replied, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”

Genesis 34:30-31 (NIV)

As nomadic strangers in the land, the growing tribe of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were constantly holding the tension between two threats. One was that they would be absorbed into one of the local tribes.

Jacob’s family and nomadic herding operation was still a relatively small clan among much larger people groups in the area. Were they to settle in one place and join one of the local city-states, it was likely that they would eventually just be absorbed into that larger local society and be considered part of the Hittites or Perizzites. If this were to happen, they would cease to be the people of God’s covenant with Abraham.

The other threat was hostility. Jacob feared facing Esau with 400 men. There were certainly city-states in the area with similar or greater numbers of fighting men and/or mercenaries. Jacob’s herds, children, and servants made them a target for conquest and plunder.

It is this tension that lurks behind the scenes of the story in today’s chapter. It starts with a powerful, heartsick son of the local ruler who is infatuated with the daughter of Jacob. The English translation says that he “raped” Jacob’s daughter Dinah, but the Hebrew word, šākab, can also mean consensual pre-marital sex. It’s possible that this was a Romeo and Juliet type elopement between two young people who knew that their fathers would never agree to the union. This was quite common in the culture of the day when marriages were arranged for social and economic purposes. Even if Dinah and Shechem were conspiring to force the union, Jacob and his sons would have considered it a shameful and deceitful rape of their daughter/sister.

Shechem’s father tries to redeem the situation by offering to arrange the marriage of Shechem and Dinah complete with a generous bride price, along with a political and economic alliance should Jacob choose to settle down there (threat: absorption).

Without Jacob’s knowledge, Dinah’s brothers arrange a deceitful charade intended to kill all of the local males and take all they have as plunder. Fascinating that deceit has now appeared in the family system in the third generation. First in Rebekah (and her brother Laban), then in Jacob, and now in Simeon and Levi. Like the hot-headed Sonny in The Godfather, Simeon and Levi lead their brothers in committing a violent act of vengeance that would have been considered grossly out of proportion to the wrong that had initially been committed. This only increased the threat of hostility in the area. When other city-states learn of it, those people groups will immediately see Jacob & Sons as a violent threat. That would motivate them to make an alliance with nearby city-states and attack Jacob to both eliminate the threat and plunder his lucrative operation.

The brothers return home with all of the plunder from their conquest. Having killed all the men, all of the women, children, herds, and possessions would have been taken as plunder. The brothers “made off like bandits,” as it were. Jacob chastises his sons for initiating such a reckless plan that only serves to escalate the threats against the family. Amidst the din of plundered livestock, women, and children, their reply was that the violent act of vengeance was justified by the shameful treatment of their sister. In essence: “Hey pop!? This wasn’t business. It was strictly personal.”

In the quiet this morning, I found myself meditating on the tension of absorption and hostility. It was the same tension Jesus spoke to His followers about when calling them to be in the world but not of the world. For three centuries the Jesus movement faced constant hostility as Rome fed them to the lions in the Circus to entertain the masses. Then, almost overnight, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and “the church” was absorbed into the Empire. It became the Empire.

[cue: Vader’s Theme]

Two thousand years later, I find that the same tension exists for me in my own earthly journey. As a follower of Jesus, I am also to be in the world not of it. I believe that, for me, this requires me to think, speak, act, and relate in ways that flow contrary to the ways of this world and the Kingdoms of this World. What does it mean for me to not be absorbed in the world of social media, cancel culture, and political correctness?

During my generation, I’ve witnessed “Christendom” become a “post-Christian” world. Being a follower of Jesus has fallen from favor in popular culture while hostility is on the rise. At least 68 churches in Canada have been burned to the ground and tens of thousands of Christians have been killed in Nigeria. While I am currently insulated from these tragic realities, I can’t help but notice the changes I’ve observed in my lifetime. I can’t help but see the storm clouds on the horizon.

Some mornings I find myself thinking about these big macro thoughts and issues of our world, culture, and society. I always try and end my time in quiet with the question, “What does this mean for me today?” On mornings like today, this is where I tend to end up:

Love God with everything I’ve got.
Love others as I love myself.Keep following.
Keep pressing on one step at a time.
Keep living one day at a time.
Hold the tension.
Forgive.
Be kind.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

A Thread in the Tapestry

Image from the Bayeux Tapestry showing a longs...
Image from the Bayeux Tapestry showing a longship in the invasion of England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 100:5 (NIV)

Last week Wendy, her sister Suzanna, and I had dinner with friends who traveled to Europe over the summer. In hearing about the things they enjoyed seeing in their journey, I learned about the Bayeaux Tapestry. It’s a giant tapestry 230 feet long which dates from around 1070. It tells the story of events that happened from 1044-1046 in the Norman conquest in England. I’d never heard of it and so it was fun to hear about what intrigued our friends with it. My curiosity led me to look it up and learn a bit about it on my own.

I thought about the tapestry this morning as I pondered Psalm 100 because I’ve always thought that tapestries (large, woven textile works that often tell a story) an apt metaphor for family history. I’ve done a good deal of genealogy work on my families on both my father’s and my mother’s branches. It’s fascinating to me to find out where I came from and to discover family history. My curiosity has been more than a trivial pursuit, however. My desire has been to get a better grip on who I am, how I came to be, and what threads of family history were woven into the tapestry of my own personal story. I discovered the good, the bad, and the ugly in my research.

I have come to realize that what God has said in His Message is essentially true. Sins of the parents are passed down through subsequent generations. They are passed along because behaviors are both learned and systemic. Psychological, sociological, and spiritual factors are all at work.

Yet, if the sins of the parents are visited upon subsequent generations, then the opposite is equally true. The blessings of the faithful are also visited upon subsequent generations. Just as you can trace threads of alcoholism, greed, or abuse back through multiple generations you can also trace threads of faith, generosity, and love. As David’s lyric states, God’s faithfulness endures through the generations of the faithful.

In my journey and pursuits I have come to the conclusion that the real question that I need to answer is this: Who am I going to be in light of my family’s stories? Certain behaviors and bents have generational roots, but it is within me to choose how I will behave today. We are influenced by previous generations but we are not enslaved to them. The choices I make in my thoughts, words, actions and decisions today are a thread in the tapestry which will influence the ultimate shape, color and design of my own family’s story.

Make No Mistake… It’s Personal

Simeon and Levi Slay the Shechemites (illustra...
Simeon and Levi Slay the Shechemites (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 34

Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. Genesis 34:13 (NLT)

Being human is so fascinating. I find it interesting how certain things are common to the human experience. I’ll hear people talk about circumstances in our lives as being “like a Greek tragedy” or “Shakespearean.” Yet the the truth is that we make parallels to these fictional stories because those fictional stories are founded on universal human themes. All good stories are simply a reflection of the Great story God is authoring through us, and that is why they become so much a part of our culture and weave themselves into our thoughts and lives.

I couldn’t help but notice the parallels in today’s story with The Godfather. The strong patriarch with a flock of sons and a thriving family business that is dependent on managing a tenuous peace with other powerful families and power centers around them. When the daughter is defiled (remember Carlo beating Connie?), the hot headed older brothers exact their revenge (remember Sonny starting a war?) against the wisdom of the patriarch (remember Vito waking up to find his family falling apart?). Make no mistake, despite Jacob’s desire to protect the family business, this is all personal and it doesn’t bode well for the long term peace. [cue: Godfather Theme]

One more observation is that right at the moment of crisis the pattern of deceit once again creeps its way through the family system. So it is with the human experience. When faced with supercharged amounts of stress and emotion, our conscious choices tend to give way to base instincts and reactions. We’re now into the third generation down from Abraham and each family story carries the familiar theme of deceit. It’s amazing how certain tragic flaws or sinful behaviors can perpetuate themselves in a family system for generations. It takes a person of wisdom and strength to break those kind of cycles and the result can be chaotic for both the individual and the family system.

In fact, get ready. In a few chapters we take up the story of the truth teller: Joseph.