From Genesis 4 to Forgiveness

I read Genesis over the past two days. I don’t think I have ever read the book in such large chunks. I want to note a few things that stood out.

First, the repetition — my goodness, the narrative is like an echo chamber of swirling similar events.

Second, the slow down with Genesis 12 — The world is created in Genesis 1–2, and from 3–11 the land is corrupted and humans spiral into violence and selfishness. God vows to work through Abraham and do something special with his family, so beginning with the twelfth chapter the pace slows and we focus on this family.

By the end of the book, what has God actually done with Abraham’s family? One thing stood out to me in this regard. Let me try to explain.

From Genesis 4

In Genesis 4, Cain killed his brother, Abel. The violence was amplified with Lamech as he boasted,

“I have killed a man for wounding me … if Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”

Mom and dad ate the fruit; the sons are killing each other. It takes one generation to devolve into this dark place.

To Forgiveness

The pattern radically changes by the end of Genesis. Esau vowed to kill his brother, like Cain, but that’s not what actually played out. This isn’t the same family. The patriarchs are shockingly broken, twisted people, yet God continues to work through them.

Despite Jacob’s fear and Esau’s vow, in chapter 33 Esau welcomes Jacob. When they are united, they embrace each other and cry together. No murder here. I love the scene in chapter 35 where they grieve their father’s death and bury him together.

By the very end of the book, things are even better. Joseph’s brothers were going to kill him, but one brother speaks up. They don’t kill him, but they do sell him into slavery. Even still, one of the brothers mourns when he sees that Joseph has been sold. There is a back and forth. We see Cain-like vengeance but a better-than-Esau-like mercy, too.

The rest of the book is one long, climactic story of forgiveness and Providence. In chapter 45, Joseph weeps in front of his brothers and reveals himself.

“Don’t be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

Finally, their father Jacob dies, and now Joseph’s brothers really worry. Now that dad is dead, will we have a Cain repeat?

It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him. (Genesis 50:15)

Not so. This is a different family.

Joseph said to them, “Do not fear … I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:19–21)

Abraham’s family is a twisted mess of broken humanity, but they are different at the same time. God keeps working with and for them. They forgive each other, and this stands in stark contrast to the first family of Genesis 4.