Pastor Rich Knight
Central Congregational Church, UCC
Father’s Day, June 18, 2023
We’re going to look at 2 Old Testament stories today. Here’s something to remember about Old Testament stories:
The Bible doesn’t tell us what should have happened.
The Bible tells us what actually happened, and we’re supposed to figure it out from there.
Biblical stories often illustrate truth taught elsewhere in the Bible. We’re going to talk about several OT stories that illustrate a truth taught in the Ten Commandments.
Then God spoke all these words,
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“Punishing the children for the sins of the parents” is a difficult and troubling passage and a harsh thought. One way to think about it is through the lens of “natural consequences.” It’s not so much a direct punishment. It’s just the way things work. – more on that later
The Bible illustrates this passage in the Book of Genesis. Let’s take a look at two stories that are very, very similar.
10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you and that my life may be spared on your account.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 When the officials of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram, and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female slaves, female donkeys, and camels.
17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her, and be gone.” 20 And Pharaoh gave his men orders concerning him, and they set him on the way with his wife and all that he had.
Abraham does this again in Genesis 20! “She’s my sister.” Both times Pharoah & the King are more righteous than Abram! It’s astounding how much Abraham de-values and de-humanizes Sarah. I believe that this not only shocks us, it probably also shocked the first people to hear these stories long ago, because the stories are told and worded in such a way that being shocked, stunned, and appalled are the only reactions one could have.
Let’s look at Genesis 26:1-7 – this is about Abram’s son, Isaac.
Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar, to King Abimelech of the Philistines. 2 The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; settle in the land that I shall show you. 3 Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands, and all the nations of the earth shall gain blessing for themselves through your offspring, 5 because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
6 So Isaac settled in Gerar. 7 When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he was afraid to say “my wife,” thinking, “or else the men of the place might kill me for the sake of Rebekah, because she is attractive in appearance.”
Abraham lies about Sarah. “She’s my sister.”
Isaac lies about his wife Rebecca. “She’s my sister.”
Jacob deceives his father Isacc and steals his birthright from his brother Esau.
And then in the next generation, Jacob’s 12 sons certainly had their issues. Remember they beat up their brother Joseph, sold him into slavery, and then lied about it?
So, lies and deception run in the family, and it’s passed down from generation to generation.
It’s only natural that parents hand down strengths and weaknesses to their children, and then those often get handed down to the next generation, and so on. Lots of good things and bad things can run in families.
Illustration. A number of years ago I moved to a new church. I was working so hard that I didn’t have a chance to exercise. And so, I gained weight. Three people commented about my weight gain. Just three. Each suggested I should begin working out again. What was kind of funny is that they were all from the same family! 3 generations of them in fact. I remember saying to myself, “That’s na family that values health, fitness, and bluntness!”
Some families value music, art, reading, education, sports, the outdoors, faith, service to others. Families can also have styles, habits, and ways of living that are passed down – how to handle conflict (do we fight it out, negotiate, or sweep it under the run?), finances (are we spenders or savers or somewhere inbetween?), relationships (do we tend to be distant, close, or even enmeshed?), friendships, and more.
Illustration. I have dear friends from Pennsylvania, the Wimmer Family. They have a beautiful family tradition of having a mid-week family dinner. I had the privilege and joy of attending several of these dinners when I was growing up. It was expected that each member of the family would be home for dinner on Wednesday nights. One of the daughters still carries on this tradition today, as they all gather for a large family dinner on Wednesday nights.
It can be a very helpful exercise for parents to think about – what have we been passing on to our children? – intentionally or unintentionally.
Back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
I mentioned that lies and deception was handed down. But something else is passed down as well.
Listen again to God’s words to Isaac.
“I will fulfill the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands, and all the nations of the earth shall gain blessing for themselves through your offspring.
Their sins were passed down from generation to generation. But their faith, their relationship and commitment to God, their Covenant with God was passed down to a thousand generations! It was passed down all the way to us! We’re a part of their faith being passed down – as the God of Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob is our God, too.
And that brings us back to where we started – Exodus 20:
“For I, the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
The sins of Abraham were seen in 3 generations.
But their faith was handed down for a 1000 generations.
In conclusion – here’s what I’d like you to remember:
- These stories illustrate the idea that the Bible doesn’t tell us what should have happened. It tells us what actually happened, and we’re expected to figure it out from there.
- These stories also teach us that God can use woefully imperfect people like Abraham, Isaac, & us!
If God can use them, God can certainly use you and me.
- Noah was a drunk
- Abraham was too old
- Isaac was a liar
- Jacob was a deceiver
- Joseph was abused
- Moses had a stuttering problem
- Gideon was afraid
- Samson had long hair and was a womanizer
- Rahab was a prostitute
- Jeremiah was too young
- David was an adulterer (not to mention a murderer)
- Elijah was suicidal
- Jonah ran from God
- John the Baptist ate bugs
- Peter denied Christ
- All the disciples fell asleep while praying (and ran away when Jesus really needed them.)
- Martha worried about everything
- The Samaritan woman was divorced (more than once)
- Mary Magdalene was demon-possessed
- Zaccheus was too small
- Timothy had an ulcer
- Paul was a Christian-killer
- Oh…and Lazarus . . . he was dead
The Bible doesn’t sugar-coat the lives of these people that we now call “saints.” And there’s Good News in there for us. God’s not looking for perfect people. God’s looking for willing people.
- We should think about what values, customs, practices we’re handing down to our children & grandchildren.
And it’s never too late to start.
Illustration. My parents were not church people. Growing up we almost never went to church, but my Grandmother & one of my Great Aunts were people of faith.
Whenever we were at their homes, they would always say grace. They went to church regularly and modelled faith for me before I had it. And when I got it, they affirmed it.
And with just these small, simple things, they helped the faith pass down from generation to generation.
Thanks be to God.