Abraham, a man raised in a pagan environment is called by God to a new land. We know nothing of his transgressions before, only that he went and when God promised him descendants more numerous than the stars he believed God’s promise. As a result of Abraham’s confidence in God, God credited him (gave him) righteousness (Gen 15). Yet we see only a chapter later Abraham lacked faith in God’s plan and took matters into his own hands. In doing so he commited adultery with his wife’s maid-servant, at his wife’s insistence and bore a child Ishmael (Gen 16). Furthermore, he allowed his wife to treat her maid-servant and child with enough disfavor that the woman fled for her and her child’s life. Abraham lacked leadership in his own household and committed adultery, yet God chose Abraham to be the person from whom all nations on earth would be blessed (Gen 22).
Not much is known of Isaac, yet enough is shared that we see he too lacked leadership in his household as his son Jacob and wife Rebekah deceived him into giving the eldest son’s blessing to the younger son Jacob (Gen 27), after Isaac and Rebekah had spent years playing favorites with their twin sons (Gen 25:28). Nevertheless, God chose to bless Isaac and his two sons using them to continue on the legacy which God had promised Abraham.
Jacob is not much better than his father. He is known as the “deceiver” and his name means “he cheats.” He tricked his brother into selling his birthright as eldest for a bowl of soup, deceived his father into giving him the eldest son’s blessing, and fled to his uncle’s home (Gen 25-27). He spends 20 years there earning an honest wage, yet snuke away with his family and goods rather than confronting his father-in-law and spent his life playing favorites among his wives (Gen 28-31). Yes, wives, plural. He, like his grandfather (though it was an acceptable custom of the day, yet not God’s design for marriage) took his wives’ maid-servants as his own, at their prompting, and bore children by them as well (Gen 29-30). So to add to his list of transgressions, Jacob, later known as Israel, adds adultery and lack of familial headship, as well as favoritism among his wives and children. But still here, we see God blessed him and continued His line of succession through Jacob. He does not leave Jacob in his sin, as we see Jacob returned to his brother fully repentant (Gen 32-33). Rather God brought him through it and used Jacob’s sin to create the 12 sons that would become the 12 tribes of Israel.
If we thought things would get better now that we have the 12 sons, think again.
- Reuben, the eldest, committed adultery with his father’s (Jacob) concubine (Gen 35:22).
- Simeon and Levi (2nd and 3rd oldest) kill all the men of the city of Shechem after deceiving them into being circumcised, as retribution for Shechem, the prince, raping their sister Dinah (Gen 34).
- Joseph (the eldest son of Jacob’s favorite wife Rachel, but 2nd youngest of all Jacob’s sons) is spoiled and arrogant; rubbing his father’s favoritism and his dreams in his brothers’ faces (Gen 37).
- 10 of Jacob’s sons are involved in capturing and selling Jacob’s 11th son Joseph into slavery in Egypt, before lying to their father about what happened to Joseph (Gen 37).
- Judah does such a poor job of raising his sons that God ends 2 of their lives early, leaving the eldest’s wife childless. Judah does not keep his promise that his youngest son will provide her a child when he reaches age. To add insult to injury, he was able to be tricked into fulfilling his duty to her, as he committed adultery with her while mistaking her for a prostitute (Gen 38).
- The only son of Jacob’s 12 that we do not hear transgressions of is Benjamin, the youngest, and that does not necessarily mean he did not have some of his own.
These men are the patriarchs for which the 12 tribes of Israel are named. They are God’s legacy through which He would eventually provide the Messiah, from whom all nations would be blessed by His shed blood for our sins. As Christians, these men are our spiritual legacy as well. They are a picture of humanity and God’s grace. We hear of all their sins and transgressions AFTER God made a covenant promise to them. It was not that God required them to get their act together and THEN He would bless them, rather God, knowing their sin, provided a means for them to be cleansed from all unrighteousness WHILE they were still in their sin. This sounds an awful lot like Romans 5:8 that says “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We are all sinners. Not a single one of us can claim righteousness. Genesis is a great picture of Romans 3:23-27, which says
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.”
Praise God for His unfailing mercy and His unconditional love, that even while we were yet sinners He provide for us! Praise God, for His ever present grace, even since the beginning!