Can God redeem your past? What things in your family or your past do you wish weren’t part of your personal history? Can God really use it for good? Does it disqualify you from serving God or ever being used in a meaningful way? Check out today’s reading in Genesis, especially the story of Judah and Tamar.
Our New Testament reading talks about the heart. What kind of heart do you have? Is it hard, stony, full of thorns, or is it good ground?
Genesis 37 & 38
Can God redeem your past?
Here comes that dreamer!
I continue to be blessed by our time in the book of Genesis—the book of Beginnings. I pray that this journey is as fascinating and enjoyable, as well as, practical and enlightening for you as it always is for me. I never tire of these stories. There is so much new to learn every time we walk with our spiritual ancestors.
Here in chapter 37 we have another seemingly sad story with which many of us can relate. There’s Joseph, Jacob’s son by Rachel, his “first love.” His father openly shows favoritism to the boy creating a great deal of resentment with the ten older brothers.
Although Jacob’s behavior was wrong, their attitudes were clearly sinful, as well. Even when we’re sinned against, God holds each of us responsible to respond in a godly way, these boys, definitely, did not!
This story is a good reminder to us that our preferential treatment of one child often does great damage to their relationships and can actually lead to that child being estranged from his or her siblings.
Joseph adds to the problem by sharing some dreams. Remember when the brothers saw him coming they said, “Here comes that dreamer!” Though the dreams would prove to be prophetic, pointing to a time when he would be exalted over his family, it wasn’t wisdom for him to share them.
It brings to mind a verse in the New Testament about Mary and her infant Son. It says:
“And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2.18-19).
Sometimes when God shows us something, we need to ponder it in our own heart and be selective about sharing it.
Perhaps she had learned that lesson earlier. Imagine what would have happened if Mary had gone around telling people she was pregnant with the Son of God. Even Joseph found it impossible to believe, until God spoke directly to him.
Redeeming the Past
Tomorrow’s reading and the remainder of Genesis will pick up the story of Jacob’s family with Joseph as the central character, but here in chapter 38 we have the story of Judah and Tamar. This story can be hard to understand without some cultural background.
The story centers around a custom called the levirate marriage where a close family
member, especially a single brother, would marry a widow to produce an heir for a dead brother who had died childless. It had both practical and spiritual significance.
On the practical side, there was no Social Security and no retirement plans. In their old age women, especially, would have been cared for by their families, usually their children. If there were no children, the woman might find herself with no one to support her.
Spiritually, God was going to bring about His plan through this family and part of that plan involved the preservation of the twelve distinct family lines—which would become the twelve tribes of Israel. Even today, tribal heritage is important to the Jewish people and future events.
When Judah fails to keep his promise to have his youngest son marry Tamar, she disguises herself as a prostitute and deceives him into sleeping with her instead.
Although Tamar’s behavior was deceitful and sinful (as was Judah’s), we need to remember that she was a Canaanite and may have been influenced by other pagan groups who included the father-in-law in the levirate marriage practice.
Amazingly, Tamar’s name shows up in the New Testament (as you probably recall in our reading) as one of only five women called by name in the lineage of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1.3)—another reminder that God is able to take everything and use it for good (Rom. 8.28).
What things in your family or your past do you wish weren’t part of your history? Trust God to use it for good. He can use our suffering, our sin, and our shame to help conform us to the image of His Son (Rom. 8.28-29).
That doesn’t mean we should continue in sinful behavior. While God is able to use it for good, He doesn’t look the other way. There are always consequences for sin. And while we can choose to sin, we don’t get to choose the consequences!
Paul said, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom. 6.1-2).
Instead, let God’s grace and truth motivate you to seek His wisdom and help to go His way.
Steve Viars in his book, Putting Your Past in Its Place, says, “For men and women struggling with past suffering, God stands ready as ‘the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction’ (2 Cor. 1.3-4). People struggling with sin in the past can take heart that the Apostle Paul, after listing a series of behaviors, such as greed, sexual unfaithfulness, and drunkenness, says, ‘But such were some of you’ (1 Cor. 6.11).”
Notice that verse says, “such were”, past tense. The sin in our pasts does not determine who we are or who we can be in Christ if we will repent, change and grow with God’s help.
Today’s Other Readings:
The Cry of the Humble
Verse 12b, “… He does not forget the cry of the humble.”
How faithful is our God to help those who humbly cry out for His grace when tempted to sin!
Grace for the Humble
Verse 34, “Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble.”
I think He wants us to get that point today!
Four Kinds of Hearts
In verses 3-23 we have the “Parable of the Sower.” In the parallel passage, Jesus said:
“Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” (Mark 4.13).
We should seek to understand this passage as it opens our understanding to other parables and principles, as well.
Jesus talks about four kinds of ground—that is, four different kinds of hearts— concerning the Word of God.
The first is the one where seed is sown “by the wayside.” This is the hard trampled ground near the side of the road. Since this ground is hard, it’s easy for the birds to come and eat the seed. A heart that has been hardened by constant rejection of truth will be much more difficult to penetrate. That ground needs to be broken up by a great deal of labor. Perhaps it’s the reason why it takes tragedy to reach some people.
The second is the seed sown “on stony places.” The loose soil around the rocks allows the seed to root quickly and easily, but the rocks keep it from developing a good root system. When they excitedly go home and share what God is doing in their lives, they are met with cynicism or threats.
Or statements like, “You don’t really believe the Bible do you? Don’t you know men wrote it and it’s full of errors?” (Try asking them to show you one!)
Or a woman tells her boyfriend, “I can’t have sex anymore. I need to get my life right with God.” And he says, “That was for a different culture. Besides, we’ve already slept together …” Or, “If you love me …” and fear of losing him grabs her heart. “And immediately he (or she) stumbles” (v. 21).
The third kind of ground is the one that is full of thorns—the cares of this world. “What will people think?” “If I tell my boyfriend ‘no’ I’ll be alone.” “If I don’t walk over people, how will I get ahead?” “I can’t go to church, I need to work.” “I know I need to get my life right, but I’m too busy right now.”
But the fourth kind of ground is the “good ground.” This is the heart that is open and teachable and willing to trust God and obey His Word. This is the heart that hungers and thirsts for righteousness, the heart that is willing to surrender to God. This is the person who is not just looking to get his or her ticket punched for heaven, but who willingly makes himself or herself a bond servant of Jesus Christ. This one “bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
God bless you as you seek to be “good ground” and bear fruit for His Kingdom,
Lives grind to a halt when people don’t know how to relate to their past. Some believe “the past is nothing” and attempt to suppress the brokenness again and again. Others miss out on renewal and change by making the past more important than their present and future. Neither approach moves people toward healing or hope.
Pastor and biblical counselor Stephen Viars introduces a third way to view one’s personal history–by exploring the role of the past as God intended. Using Scripture to lead readers forward, Viars provides practical measures to
- understand the important place “the past” is given in Scripture
- replace guilt and despair with forgiveness and hope
- turn failures into stepping stones for growth
This motivating, compassionate resource is for anyone ready to review and release the past so that God can transform their behaviors, relationships, and their ability to hope in a future.
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