Like father, like son.
In the worst sense of the word.
That’s what Week 3 of Where Apples Fall featured, with a close look at one of the top five “ick” stories in Scripture: the “meet my sister” pattern that Abraham starts and passes on to Isaac.
After that noxious beginning, however, the message found redemption in both Genesis 50:20 and the genealogy of Jesus and landed here:’
God steps in to turn re-enactors into redeemers.
Can I tell you about something that I find intriguing if not all that appealing? Civil War Re-Enactors. We have them down in Historic Brattonsville, SC, don’t we? People dress up as if it’s 1863, man their positions, and re-enact battles from their ancestors’ great trauma. As if the original Civil War was so good – kind of like Seinfeld – that we want to put it in perpetual syndication and watch the re-runs over and over and over. Now: I know people love it and I’m sure there is historic value in studying the battles & characters. It’s just not my thing, either as participant or observer. And given that there are about 30,000 active CW Re-enactors in the US (complete with webpage (AV of www.cwreenactors.com) so you know it’s legit!) we will probably be picketed next week. But there is something about re-enacting, REPEATING trauma, warfare, family dysfunction from an earlier generation that doesn’t appeal to me too much.
Maybe that’s because an element of it strikes too close to home. Maybe, as we go deep in to Where Apples Fall, it’s because of the ways I realize that generations of all kind RE-ENACT the behavior and attitudes of their forbears. Sometimes for good; more often for ill. And maybe it’s because I regard it as an incredible privilege to hold some of this stuff up, explore it by the light of the Gospel, and to raise your awareness of what’s REALLY going on in your life. And maybe it’s because I am particularly excited today to get to do so by looking at some generational re-enacting that’s up there in the top five ICK stories of Scripture.
Here’s the situation: we’re still getting most of this apple stuff from WAY back, the extended family saga and melodrama that makes up the last 38 chapters of the book of Genesis. An family that includes names a lot you may know, names like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Sarah, Hannah, Leah, and Rebekah. And in Genesis 12, just after … RIGHT AFTER … THE NEXT THING AFTER! … being told that he is going to be the father of many nations, Abraham does this: READ
Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”
You know what I love there? These are Abraham’s first words in the bible. The first thing we hear him say: “I’d like you to meet my sister.” To protect his own neck in Egypt, he passes his wife off as his sister. Guys: I do NOT recommend you try this at home!
Look what happens in 12:14-15:
14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace.
“Taken into the palace” means that she joins Pharoah’s harem. Which more than likely means that she had non-consensual intimacy with him, because that’s what happened to women in harems in those days. And look how Abraham ends up at the latter stage of that particular story in 12:16: READ. Hey! I’ve essentially subjected my own wife to human trafficking, but I got some donkeys and camels out of the deal, so we’re all good, right? And THIS is the father of a nation; the man to which the three great ONE GOD religions of the world –Xnty, Judaism, Islam – look to as their source? Yuck, bleh, could you please pass me the hand sanitizer after I read that please?
But we’re not done yet. There’s more. Look at Genesis 20:1-2: 20 Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, 2 and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.
Hello Britney Spears! Oooops I did it again! What in the world is going on here? Now: Abimelech in this particular story gets warned in a dream not to take Sarah into his harem, so her virtue (and body and soul and spirit) gets protected. But no thanks to Abraham for that! It’s gross, it’s icky, it’s deceptive, there is some reason it worked culturally, and we so desperately want to cover this up and move on. He’s one of our first biblical heroes, after all, and his self-interest is so great that he’ll sacrifice his wife to protect his neck. And it’s about to be re-enacted.
Because Abraham & Sarah have a son named Isaac. And of all of these major characters in the second 2/3 of Genesis, people like Abe, Jacob, Joseph, Leah, we know the LEAST about Isaac. But look at what we DO know. As a man he marries a woman named Rebekah and Lord have mercy look what happens in Genesis 26:7: 7 When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.” Now wait wait wait wait. Where did he learn THAT? Where did he learn to RE-ENACT an earlier generation’s trauma, deception, and rape? Can you imagine THAT father-son conversation: “Now listen Isaac (looking around … ), that wife of yours is something. You done good, my boy! But if you’re ever in a fix and fear for your own life, here’s what you do ….) Is that how it happened? Is that how he became a reenactor?
Or was it more subtle that that? Did Isaac learn it by osmosis? Lying is what we do! It’s in our genes! To get out of a fix you make up a story! Women are expendable! Perhaps he heard about it from Sarah rather than Abraham, as she shared her trauma and her violation around a campfire one night. We’re not supposed to know HOW Isaac became a reenactor, we don’t know how the pattern got passed down, we just know it was. And here’s something to ponder: does Genesis’ inspired author include this story because the deception is the deal (she’s my sister) or because the reenacting is the deal (Abe, then Isaac)? I’d say: YES! I’d say Genesis’ inspired author writes the story the way he does, emphasizing the toxic LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON moment, because he wants to lift the veil on all the ways WE ARE TRAUMA REENACTORS as well. He wants to raise our awareness of the patterns in our lives & families so we can break them before they break us.
Because reenactors were not just an issue then. It’s now. It still happens. Sometimes it’s by intention and other times it’s by instinct. And sometimes this reenacting is relatively harmless. Like Riley, our 24 year old? He walks just like me. I didn’t even think I had a walk, but apparently I do, and his is identical! (Make video of the two of us from shoulders down?) How’d he get that? I sure didn’t sit him down and say, “Now here’s how you get all the girls: you walk like THIS. And by the way, son, while we’re at it, your wife is lovely … so if you ever get in a fix, here’s what you do …” Nope, never had to. Observation? Genetics? All of the above. Whatever, I will be dead and gone one day and he’ll be reenacting my walk.
I shouldn’t be surprised though. I few years ago, I was waiting in a line somewhere and what did I hear come out of my mouth. A frustrated sigh (do it). And I was like, “Wait. Where have I heard that sound before?” Oh no! My dad! A million times! The same impatience & frustration I swore I’d never have coming right out of my own mouth. (SIGH). I looked in the mirror, I played the tape, and I saw & I heard a reenactor.
But there’s more. There’s some re-enacting going on all over this room. Some of you were raised in a home full of deception, secrets, and even lies … and now that you’re a parent you know you’re falling into those same patterns. Others here were raised in an atmosphere where you received precious little emotional nourishment – mom was distant & dad was mad – and again, whether you know it or not, you’re reenacting all over again. Some of you dads, especially, are experts at withholding approval, denying affirmation. Why? Because it was withheld from you and denied to you. And then I know that a good # of you were abandoned by one of your parents and even today, despite your promises and even your best intentions, that’s exactly what you’ve done to your kids. And in all this, what do they say about history? That those who fail to study are doomed to repeat it. Well, my prayer is that by studying it, exposing it, we won’t be history repeaters but history makers.
And I believe that God steps in WITH this story to raise your awareness of all the unhealthy ways you’re Abe & Isaac-ing. Like father, like son, like mother, like daughter in the worst sense of the word. That’s why the Lord included it in inspired Scripture & you now know in a flash why he brought you here today.
But God doesn’t just step in WITH this story. He steps in TO the story. Because the story doesn’t end with the sick reenactors. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, & Joseph and all their lies, treachery, and dysfunction culminates in Genesis 50:20:
20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
The greatest BUT GOD in Scripture! And there’s more.
Look at Matthew 1:2:
This is the genealogy[a] of Jesus the Messiah[b] the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers
Who are the first two names in the family tree of the Savior?! The reenactor guys! The wife-passer-offer dudes! The re-enacting gets reversed and these two genetic cowards play a role in the redemption of the world. All because when the apple fell just a little too close, God steps into the sordid story & makes something beautiful out of it. And that’s what I want him to do in your story. Here it is: God steps in to turn reenactors into redeemers. Yep. That’s who he is and what he does. He empowers us to break family patterns before they break us. He moves away from parenting by instinct and towards parenting by intent. I want you to open yourself up to God’s massively marvelous work of taking something broken & making it whole. That’s what redemption is.
See, all of you have some reenacting that is inevitable and deadly. That’s why we’re here today to lift it up and rebuke it. So you have the self-awareness to say, “that’s my history and if I’m not careful I’m doomed to repeat it.” It’s the deception, the abandonment, indulgence that I spoke of earlier. And it’s one other thing. Guys? Dads. A lot of you were raised as little boys around dads who had magazines & videos around. You’ve told me this. And now the whole realm of porn is so much more available and anonymous. Know this, dads: if you’re doing it, your sons know. They just do. You tell me this as well. Get the help. Join the group, pray the prayers, break that cycle. Talk about breaking a pattern before it breaks you … and those you love. Even the strongest family backgrounds have SOMETHING you need to name & discard. God steps in to turn reenactors into redeemers.
And on the other side, many of you have patterns in which you were raised that are good and healthy and you need to name and celebrate those so you don’t forget them. This is how I was raised and it blessed me and I’m bringing into my own parenting. Some of you were fully affirmed. You knew your value. You had security. Get this: you went to church. Instead of stuff! You grew up in an environment in which relationships were more important than experience. Praise God. You were emotionally nourished. Name that, celebrate that, REENACT that. Because that reenacting has the redemption built right in. God stepped into your story early and you get to allow him to keep on stepping in. God steps in to turn reenactors into redeemers.
One of your pastors here at GS was raised with no knowledge of his biological father. Still doesn’t have any. Pretty devastating. Some of you know what that’s like. And yet he told me once that he has a vivid memory of being five years old, riding in the car with his mom, and telling her (at five), “I’m gonna be a dad one day.” IOW, I’m going to be what I never got. Woah. And to see him now, as a dad and a man of God, to see his thoroughness, his tenderness, his care, you know that’s a new story. Not reenacting an ancient Civil War of abandonment. Redeeming a new generation of little ones with a living relationship with Jesus Christ. That how you know there is a God and he is alive. God steps in to turn reenactors into redeemers.