A Soap Opera of the Soul
Dr. Jim Denison
“A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
“David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
“After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, Abiud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim,
Akim the father of Eliud, Eliud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ”(Matthew 1:1-16).
A strange way to start the New Testament, isn’t it. And remember some of the names in the list: Tamar, who had an affair with her father-in-law and bore Perez and Zerah; Rahab the prostitute; David and Bathsheba. Nine names are found nowhere else in Scripture. Failed families, flawed people, forgotten people. Yet Jesus, the only baby ever to choose his ancestors, chose each of them. Why not you?
We’re learning how to lead lives which God can bless. We’ve discovered foundational principles through our conversations in Genesis. Now we’ll study a story which brings them all to life. A man who faced every problem you and I can possibly experience today, and learned to be blessed by God through them all.
A man who was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused by his employer’s wife, thrown into prison, forgotten by friends, and rose to become ruler of the most powerful nation on earth. A man whose leadership saved the lives of millions, not the least of which was the very family which had rejected him. If Joseph could be blessed by God through all that, can’t he teach us how to be blessed by God today?
Today we’ll introduce the story, one of the most sordid soap operas in all of Scripture. If it were on television, even with today’s depraved morality, it couldn’t be shown on daytime TV. If God could bless this mess, trust me–he can bless yours today.
Parents you’d never choose
Our story begins: “Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and he was a lad with the sons of Bildah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought the evil report of them unto their father.” Who were “Bildah” and “Zilpah”? Why was Joseph tending sheep with them? What have we missed?
Had we read the story from Genesis 12 to here, we would have watched this sordid soap opera unfold.
Remember that Jacob’s parents were Isaac and Rebekah. Rebekah favored Jacob over his older brother Esau, and helped him steal his brother’s inheritance from their aged and blind father. He then had to run for his life, so his mother arranged for him to work for her brother, Laban.
Jacob fell in love with Laban’s daughter Rachel, and worked seven years to earn the right to marry her. On their wedding night, however, his father-in-law slipped the older sister Leah into the wedding tent instead. We’re not sure why Jacob didn’t notice the switch–perhaps he was drunk after the wedding feast, or she disguised her face. Either way, he woke up the next morning to discover that he had married the wrong sister! Conniving Laban gave him Rachel as well, in return for seven more years of hard labor.
Imagine being married to two sisters, one of whom you didn’t love. Imagine being that sister, married to a husband who didn’t love you. Imagine being the other sister, sharing your husband with your older sister. Now things get even more dysfunctional. Our text describes Joseph as “a lad with the sons of Bildah, and with the sons of Zilpah.” “A lad” probably points to his status as a servant or helper, since his age has already been clarified. “Bildah” and “Zilpah” pick up more of the soap opera.
Siblings you’d never want
Jacob’s first two children were by Leah, the older (and unwanted) sister of Rachel.
She named her first-born “Reuben,” “Because Yahweh has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me” (v. Genesis 29:32; “Reuben” sounds like “he has seen my misery”).
But his birth apparently did not fulfill his mother’s hopes for her marriage, so that her second son was named Simeon, “Because Yahweh has heard that I am hated, he has therefore given me this son also” (“Simeon” probably means “one who hears”).
Her third son was Levi, for “Now this time will my husband be joined unto me, because I have borne him three sons” (v. 34; “Levi” may come from the Hebrew for “attached”). But still Jacob loved Rachel more.
Her fourth child was Judah, “This time will I praise Yahweh” (v. 35; his name sounds like and may come from the Hebrew for “praise”). Again she was sure that a son would bring her marriage together. But none of the children could bridge the gap between Leah and Jacob, or give her life the joy her soul longed for.