The Gospel for the City in Genesis in 37:2-38:30

Family disunion in Canaan (37:2-38:30)

These chapters demonstrate the far reach of sin even among those chosen to bring blessing to the nations. The family disharmony that temporarily interrupts the advance of God’s purposes is eventually reversed by the gracious work of God.

Joseph is the son favored by his father yet envied by his brothers. In their jealousy, they revert to a vicious act of casting their brother into a pit, selling him into slavery, then telling their father that he was killed by an animal.

As we read this story, we wonder how those who have been graciously chosen of God to bring blessing to the nations can at the same time be so ungracious within their own family. We read these chapters with sadness, yet with faith in the covenant God who remains faithful. Our hearts ache in seeing the brokenness of the covenant family, yet we wait in faith knowing that the Lord is working even through the tragedies and the sin of His people.

The absence of grace in the brothers of Joseph reminds us that apart from grace there would be no chosen people to fulfill God’s purposes of bringing the blessing of Abraham to the nations.

The betrayal, rejection, and discarding of Joseph anticipate the suffering of Jesus who in His rejection offers deliverance to all of those who will believe in Him.

11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (Joh 1:11-12 ESV)

Unfortunately, the church in cities has often reflected a disharmony similar to the family of Jacob. Often divided along racial and economic lines, the urban church fails to reach the nations around it because it is captured by its own jealousies and, consequently, is unattractive to those who look in from the outside. When the covenant family fails to display the grace which it has received in the gospel it loses its power to be a blessing to the nations.

 Cities need churches that reflect the grace of the gospel, which displays for us and in us the most passionate love, the deepest mercy, the most magnificent grace, the most underserving forgiveness. These are the churches that will bring the blessing of Abraham, i.e. the gospel, to the nations whom God is bringing to the urban centers of the world.

The Gospel for the City in Genesis 36:1 – 37:1

Genesis 36:1-37:1 record the descendants of the rejected line of Esau. The prosperity of both Jacob and Esau makes it difficult for them to share the land of Canaan so Esau chooses the higher elevation of what is later called Edom. Esau takes multiple wives one of whom is a descendant of Ishmael, perhaps an attempt to bring some unity to the two lines that were not heirs of the Abrahamic promise. The Edomites create their own alien kingdom to the kingdom of God in establishing themselves in a fortress like land and having a monarchy long before Israel would. 37:1 sets Jacob in contrast to the Edomites, for he dwells in the land of his father, Isaac’s sojourning, i.e. the land of promise.

Our immediate text only implies that there is a rivalry between the two kingdoms. The future history of Israel would reveal the innate resentment in the Edomites toward Israel. This came to its culmination at the fall of Jerusalem in 586BC when the Edomites sacked the First Temple. Later under John Hyrcanus the Edomites were forcibly converted and largely subsumed into Israel. One of the most notable Edomites was King Herod who enlarged and embellished the Second Temple.

In the gracious providence of God, there were some from Edom (Idumea) who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry (Mk 3:7-8). An irony of redemptive history is that many of the chosen line rejected Jesus while many of the rejected line followed Jesus. The election of Israel and the rejection of Edom served God’s purposes in redemptive history in giving Israel the privilege and opportunity to bring the blessing of Abraham to the nations, even to Edom. While Israel failed in that responsibility, Israelites, Edomites, and other Gentiles are being recreated as a new unified humanity in Jesus Christ.

While ministering among diverse people groups in the city it is natural to view some groups as more privileged and others as disadvantaged. There exists a great disparity of wealth and education and opportunity. Often this divide is along racial lines, yet prosperity and poverty are at times oblivious to race.  In cities we have the ‘Israels’ and ‘Edoms’ which on the surface may appear to be favored or disfavored by God. Yet, we are often surprised by the indiscriminate work of the Spirit who convicts both the favored and disfavored of sin and righteousness and judgment.

Another disadvantage exists in economically and educationally depressed neighborhoods, i.e. the semblance of Christianity that remains, though often sincere, most often has a low view of Scripture, a false gospel of health wealth and prosperity, and a dependence on political and social action rather than the preaching of the gospel. 

Every city neighborhood needs a church that has a high view of Scriptural authority and a clear understanding of the gospel (see