God’s activity during the six days of creation differs from His divine providence or under the radar work outside of Eden. Nahum M. Sarna wrote, “One of the most characteristic qualities of biblical man was a profound and pervasive conviction about the role of divine providence in human affairs.” God is always active outside of Eden, even if His working is unseen—and that’s a good thing, since life outside of Eden is populated with spiritually blind and broken people who need Someone to redeem them, lead them and work in the messiness of their lives.
Without the hidden or under the radar activity of God on man’s behalf, redemption would never occur. Consider the brokenness of the patriarchs and their families and providence:
Abraham navigates the brokenness of life outside of Eden by walking with God in faith except when he lies (twice) to escape potential personal harm. He is deported from Egypt following his deception of Pharaoh regarding his and Sarah’s marital status. His deportation brings him back to the land of promise.
Sarah navigates the brokenness of life outside of Eden by defaulting to sinful culture and embracing a concubine to produce an heir for Abraham. The result only brings more frustration. Following the birth of Sarah’s son Isaac, Sarah mistreats Hagar and forces her (and her son Ishmael) to depart from their midst.
Hagar’s pregnancy promises promotion in Abraham’s household, but brings rejection and abuse instead. The God-Who-Sees watches over her. She is not alone.
Abraham’s servant provides a classic study of providence when, in answer to his very specific prayer, Laban’s daughter appears at the well with her flock. Though Isaac has had no decision in the matter, he is ecstatic with Rebekah. She is both beautiful and a virgin.
Isaac begins well when he prays for Rebekah to have a child after twenty years of barrenness. Sadly, he repeats the behavior of his father when he lies about his marital status with Rebekah to protect himself. Further, he transfers love from his wife (24:67) to favored son Esau (25:28). Never mind that God has already spoken regarding His blessing of the younger son over the elder. Isaac’s determination to bless the son who has despised his birthright is deterred by a scheming wife and son.
Rebekah navigates the brokenness of life outside of Eden by transferring love from husband to favored son Jacob. She uses Esau’s things to deceive Isaac and trick him into blessing her favored son. She then sends him away to her brother Laban and never sees him again.
Esau navigates the brokenness of life outside of Eden by being spiteful, marrying Canaanite women because he knows that it displeases his parents. Scripture provides no details regarding his home life with multiple wives—one of whom is Ishmael’s daughter. The trouble experienced in Jacob’s marriage to multiple women only hints at what home life must have been like for Esau.
Jacob navigates the brokenness of life outside of Eden by running. He first runs from Esau, then twenty years later he runs from Laban. He, like Jonah, demonstrates that running away only increases your problems.
Laban navigates the brokenness of life outside of Eden by scheming. Yet, God uses this school of deception to teach Jacob a lesson or two about being on the receiving end of deception.
Rachel and Leah navigate the brokenness of life outside of Eden by competing, using other women to obtain their goals, and embracing idolatry. They (and their maidservants) produce twelve sons who become the building block of Abraham’s promised nation. Leah produces Judah, the lineage of the kings, and Levi, the lineage of the priests.
Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi navigate the brokenness of life outside of Eden and avenge the rape of their sister by destroying all of the men of Shechem thus highlighting the presence of Jacob and his family. In response, Jacob was forced to move his family to Bethel—the place where Jacob met with God when he fled from Esau more than twenty years earlier. Assimilation into another people group was averted. And, it was there that Jacob builds an altar to the LORD, God again appears to him, and God changes his name from Jacob to Israel.
Rueben navigates the brokenness of life outside of the Eden with unrestrained sexual appetites and “lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine”. Yuck.
Joseph, Jacob’s eleventh and favored son, navigates the brokenness of life outside of Eden by trusting God. His betrayal by his brothers lands him in position in Egypt, from which God catapults him into saving them during a global famine.
God works providentially in the lives of broken people; Scripture, however, never justifies the stunts that man pulls to navigate life. Brokenness simply provides the backdrop for God’s divine providence—His determined end and His activity—in human affairs. And it’s a good thing.
Story Truths Learned from the Patriarchs and their Family Brokenness:
- Sin leaves its fingerprints on every person and every relationship. Personal and relational brokenness, however, provide the site where God builds character, forms and matures faith, and accomplishes His redemptive purposes.
- The world would no longer exist had God not acted under the radar, intervening and working in the brokenness of humanity.
- Messy broken people and their relationships with other messy broken people provide the context of God’s revelation of Himself to man and His activity in their midst. Somehow God takes the evil that we do and the brokenness that we experience and through them accomplishes the determined good that He loves.
- God commits His activity to those to whom He makes promises regardless of their messy and broken lives.
These stories of old give today’s broken person hope.