As Israel and his sons will make a sojourn in Egypt to live with Joseph, so we now also take a sojourn to examine the purpose of the Bible: seeing how the Word reveals Jesus to us. The purpose of the Old Testament, aside from us gaining a partial revelation of who God is, is to show us the heritage and lineage of Jesus, who is the fullness of the revelation of God.
Where Jesus comes from shows us the depth in which God enters into our human brokenness, defies earthly wisdom, and reveals the beauty and intricacy of His plan. Beginning with Adam, we trace the lineage of Jesus through Seth. Adam and Eve’s original children were Cain and Abel. Yet, after the murder of Abel, Seth was born to Adam and Eve and we see through this bloodline will come the Christ. Seth was known as someone who feared God. From his line came Enoch who was said in Jewish and some Christian traditions to be taken up to heaven similar to Elijah. However, when Seth’s descendants marry with the line of Cain, we see them fall into the sinfulness of the world.
As a result, the flood happens and the world is washed clean. Left are Noah’s three sons and their wives to give us the bloodline of the Messiah. Ham, who ‘revealed the nakedness of his father,’ was not given this bloodline. From Ham will come the nation of Egypt, a perpetual enemy to the Israelites. Jesus’ ancestry will instead come through Shem, who ‘covered the nakedness of his father’ after Ham’s sin.
From Shem will eventually come Terah, who becomes the father of Abram (Abraham). There is even some biblical scholarship that theorizes that Shem is the mysterious figure Melchizadek, king of Salem, who blesses Abraham after he conquers the five kings to save his nephew Lot. Regardless, we continue to trace the line of Jesus through Abraham. While Abraham has Ishmael first(born of Sarah’s servant Hagar), it is Isaac (born of Sarah) through whom the promises of God to Abraham are fulfilled. Ishmael will become the father of the Arabic nations. Isaac has two twin sons, and we see that the elder Esau will not receive the bloodline of the Messiah because he is a profane man. Instead, Jacob (later named Israel) will be the father of twelve sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel, the nation into which Jesus will be born.
Yet, which of the twelve would receive the bloodline? The eldest son of Israel was Reuben. He would naturally receive the bloodline. However, prior to selling Joseph into Egypt, Reuben will sleep with one of his father’s concubines (Bilhah) and lose favor with his father. We see Reuben trying to win the favor of his father back when he persuades his brothers not to kill Joseph, but just throw him into the pit and let nature kill Joseph. Reuben planned to come back and deliver Israel’s favorite son and win back his father’s favor. Reuben reveals this intention when he exclaims “Where am I to turn now?” upon finding Joseph has been sold. His intentions of saving his brother were only self serving.
After Reuben were Simeon and Levi. We can surmise that Simeon had surpassed Reuben because it is he who is held as ransom by Joseph while the brothers returned to Egypt with Benjamin to prove they were not spies. But what Joseph did not know at the time was that while Joseph was in slavery, Simeon and Levi fell out of favor with their father as well.
An often overlooked member of the children of Israel is Dinah, the sister of the twelve brothers. A prince from the neighboring tribe found her so attractive that he raped her. He then went to Jacob to ask for her hand in marriage. As good big brothers, this enraged the sons of Jacob. However, an agreement was made that as long as the whole tribe was circumcised, the prince could have Dinah for his wife. However, on the third day after their circumcision (while they were healing) unbeknownst to their father, Simeon and Levi went and killed all of the men of the tribe in revenge for their sister. In doing so they fell out of favor with their father.
Next is Judah (fourth eldest). Judah was the son who suggested selling Joseph for profit. In addition, he did not give his son as a husband to his widowed daughter in law as was promised. He ended up conceiving a son Perez with his daughter in law when he mistook her for a prostitute. So we see that Judah himself is not a man of great virtue.
However, the whole purpose of the coming of Christ is to bring about repentance and show the world how to love. At the end of the story of Joseph when he finds his planted cup in Benjamin’s sack and plans on making him a slave in Egypt, Judah repents. Judah knows that Benjamin’s detainment would cause grief that would kill their father Israel. Out of love, Judah offers himself in Benjamin’s place, foreshadowing Jesus’ words, No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). It seems that through this act of repentance God blesses the line of Judah, even though Jacob blesses Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph. Curiously, it will be through Perez, the son born through questionable circumstances that Jesus will trace his ancestry. Jesus in every way is aligning himself with sinners, but also giving nod to those who are repentant. As the Old Testament continues, we will see this theme in Jesus’ ancestry: all sinners in need of redemption.