As I was learning to read and understand the bible I was helped a lot by a book called How to Read the Bible For All it’s Worth by Fee and Stewart (it’s one of the books Ryan Lehtinen uses to teach the How to Study the Bible class at CCCC.). One important thing I learned is the bible’s narratives record what people did, not what they were supposed to do (narratives are the parts of the bible that tell the story of people’s lives, like Genesis and Exodus).
When I was a new follower of Jesus, still new to the bible, this truth helped my faith immensely. If everyone had gone around living perfect, respectful, selfless, God controlled lives I don’t think I would have believed it, because no one does that. But I do believe the bible because it tells us straight up how people then did impulsive and destructive things, just like they do now. Reading through parts of Genesis is like wading through a bad soap opera. There is story after story of rape, incest, deception, jealousy, murder, and idolatry. Just remember as you read the sordid stories in Genesis that the bible records what people did, not what they were supposed to do.
In the book of Genesis the only One who is doing everything he is supposed to do is God. God is keeping the covenant of grace he made with Eve, that through her offspring evil would one day be crushed and the enmity between God and man because of sin erased (Genesis 3:15). God is keeping the covenant he made with Abraham (Genesis 17:1-8), the promise he made to Isaac (genesis 26:2-5), and honoring the blessing he gives Jacob (Genesis 35:11-12).
Some people are shocked by the bible’s stark telling of not so flattering stories about the people God used to bring about his redemption and keep his covenants, but they shouldn’t be. God uses sinful and imperfect people, like Jacob, Judah, and Rueben - and you and me, to accomplish his purposes. He has to, that is the only kind there are. So yes, it is hard not to wonder why people did some of the things they did, but let the grace and patience and faithfulness of God be equally mind boggling to you. Every steamy and sordid story in Genesis is a story of grace woven into The Story of Grace.
Just because of the way my brain works, I wonder what would be recorded in the bible if God were capturing my part in his story. What would it say about my character? Would I have idols stashed in my house like Laban or involved with idol worshippers like Judah? Would I be jealous of my brother like Jacob’s sons? I’m afraid it would have a lot of dirty laundry about things I’ve said and done. And yet I am still a part of God’s story and he still uses even me, because God is gracious and patient and faithful. And because I, like Judah and Rueben, are part of God’s story of grace.