A Dysfunctional Family

Welcome to A Scarlet Cord of Hope, the 2021 advent series of University Fellowship Church Women written and read by Jaime Sherman, who penned our Christmastime narratives from biblical, Jewish, and historical sources to tell how God wove hope from creation to the creche and who continues to point us to the final fulfillment of hope in the one-day-soon second coming of Jesus Christ. Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

today’s suggested reading

Genesis 23-50

(or simply Genesis 50:15-26)

Today’s Audio

The cord of hope from creation to the creche stretches long as we meet more of this extended family that is dysfunctional to its core. From the union between Isaac and Rebekah, a beautiful love story found in Genesis 24, twin boys are born — red, hairy Esau and heel-grasping Jacob, who in time steals Esau’s birthright. Jacob marries two sisters engaged in a fierce rivalry — Leah and Rachel — and has 12 children by them and their two servants — Bilhah and Zilpah. The drama in the clan would have outshined any reality television series today. You can read more about their stories in Genesis 25-36 and see the rampant deception, physical and emotional abuse, and murder that characterized Jacob’s family.

We meet Joseph, Jacob and Rachel’s firstborn after a long season of infertility, when he is 17 years old. He has been given a special robe of many colors and is recounting some crazy dreams. While Joseph was their father’s favorite, his half-brothers were loathe to be in the young man’s presence, so they concocted a plan to sell him to traders — people from the line of Ishmael — and smear his coat with goat blood in a ruse to convince Jacob that a wild animal had devoured his beloved son.

We pause at the end of chapter 37, leaving Joseph with Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh in Egypt who had purchased the boy, and we return to the family of his half-brother. Judah had three sons and a daughter-in-law named Tamar, who was married to his firstborn Er.

Er was a wicked man, and God killed him. This left Tamar a childless widow, and in the custom of the day, she became the second son’s wife. But Onan was also a wicked man who refused to father children by Tamar, and God killed him. The third son was too young to marry, so Tamar lived as a widow for many years in the house of her father-in-law. In many ways she was an outcast without a clear purpose in life, for Judah never gave her his youngest son as a husband as he had promised.

One day, tired of her storyline, Tamar disguised herself as a cult prostitute to entice her recently widowed and grieving father-in-law Judah to sleep with her. Her aim was to conceive a son and carry on the family line. Judah temporarily forfeited his signet, his cord, and his staff, all of which could identify him, until he could send her a goat in exchange for a few moments of pleasure. Tamar’s plan was successful but almost meant her death, for when Judah learned that his daughter-in-law was pregnant, he and the community branded her immoral and destined her for death by burning. But learning his role in her pregnancy, he was convicted of his failure to keep his promise to her and saved her from the flames.

From their one-time physical union came twin boys, who like those before them traded their birthrights. We read in Genesis 38:28:

“And when she was in labor, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, ‘This one came out first.’ But as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out. And she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!’ Therefore his name was called Perez. Afterward his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah.”

Perez would one day be listed in the genealogy of Jesus, for God is in the business of fulfilling His promises, even in the messiest of situations. No matter how broken a person is, how scarred by sin they are, God is always loving, always forgiving, and always welcoming. He makes a way for His people to be reconciled to Him in newness of life.

We see this as we return to Joseph in Egypt, where he was first enslaved and then elevated to a position of power to provide leadership during seven years of plenty and then seven years of famine. His family — yes, the dysfunctional one with all the drama — would come to live in Egypt, be reconciled to Joseph, and multiply greatly over the coming decades until they were feared by the Egyptians and enslaved. They would become known as Israelites from the twelve tribes of Jacob, who God renamed Israel.

As Israel neared his final days on this earth, he called his sons to himself and blessed them, speaking words of Messianic prophecy over Judah and his family:

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
    your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
    your father's sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion's cub;
    from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
    and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
    and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Binding his foal to the vine
    and his donkey's colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
    and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
His eyes are darker than wine,
    and his teeth whiter than milk.”

Another whisper along the scarlet cord of hope.

Today’s account includes a large chunk of Genesis (chapters 23-50), which is worth the read or listen, but if your time is limited today, simply pause in Genesis 50:15-26. Note how Joseph forgave his brothers, expressing that God had orchestrated even the hard pieces of his story in Egypt for good. Also, see how Joseph died trusting God to fulfill His promises. What is your response to challenging people and circumstances in your life? Could it be that God has placed them in your story for your ultimate good and His glory?

today’s Song

  • Click here for the season’s full playlist and other song recommendations.

Jaime Sherman is a writer and editor for ufcwomen.blog but most importantly a child of the King of kings, the wife of one amazing man for nearly 20 years, and mama of five girls and one boy. Learn more about her adventure in writing and enjoy some free resources on our main page for this series.