The book of beginnings. For a number of folks in our parish, and in various other congregations throughout our city, it is a book we’ve just recently finished. That doesn’t mean that we’re through with it, or done with it. It simply means that in our Bible Reading Plan, we started reading it on December 31 and finished mid-last week.
As people read, there were certain stories that struck them. I know they did, because I hear about it when they do. There are certain parts of Genesis that we’re very familiar with – few issues are raised when people read through them. Creation; Adam & Eve; Cain & Abel; Noah’s Ark; the Tower of Babel; Abraham; Sodom & Gomorrah; Ishmael vs. Isaac; Jacob & Esau; Jacob’s Ladder; Joseph (& the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat). Familiar.
Yet there are some parts of Genesis that aren’t so familiar to people. Preacher’s don’t choose them as texts to preach from; the lectionary doesn’t have them come up as Sunday readings. Lot’s daughters impregnate themselves by their father while in the mountains after Sodom’s destruction (is this where the “incestuous hill-billy” stereotype got started?); Abraham takes Isaac to make a human sacrifice to God (this one is somewhat known); Judah fathers twins by his daughter-in-law when he refuses to give his third son to be her husband. When people came across these passages, I heard about it.
It’s probably not that the people hadn’t read them before, more likely that they just aren’t as familiar, or front-of-mind. They can be a little shocking when you’re not prepared. But the story of Lot’s daughters is preserved in Scripture to show us the close relationship between the Ammonites and Moabites with the Israelites. The story of Isaac’s near-sacrifice is preserved as an almost parallel to Christ’s crucifixion, to shed light on the Father’s love for humanity, and show us an example of complete commitment to God. The story of Tamar and Judah is preserved in Scripture as a reminder of God’s interest in preserving His people. There are other reasons these are there.
The elements of the stories that we find somewhat repugnant remind us of the need for every individual to own the faith they claim. Proximity to Abraham is no substitute; clinging to the things of earth cannot take the place; our plans are not big enough. Those elements we find repugnant remind us of God’s great love, and His grace in making opportunity for people to come to Him. God makes special provision for the Ammonites and Moabites; Isaac is saved at the last moment; Judah is the ancestor of David, by his daughter-in-law.
Praise the Lord! He uses imperfect people to accomplish His perfect plan! What a delicious reality!