Genesis: A Story of Brothers

In an overview of the book of Genesis, many great themes are commonly mentioned. One that is frequently missing is reconciliation. Upon a closer inspection, reconciliation is indeed a major theme of the book. Two stories in Genesis, stories which bookend the account of humanity outside the Garden of Eden, highlight this theme. The first is that of Cain and Abel, the last is that of Joseph and his brothers.

Brothers and Conflict

After the sin of Adam and Eve, the blessing of creation (Gen. 1:28) is replaced with a curse (Gen. 3:17). Humanity is kicked out of the Garden. The story of humanity outside the Garden begins with one brother murdering another and declaring that he is not his brother’s keeper (Gen. 4:8-9). Cain is envious of his brother. Abel is the righteous victim. Cain refuses responsibility for his brother. Abel’s blood cries out from the ground about the injustice he has suffered.

The story of humanity outside the Garden begins with one brother murdering another and declaring that he is not his brother’s keeper.

The story goes downhill from there until God makes a covenant with Abraham. The goal of that covenant is to rescue the world from curse and bring it back to blessing (Gen. 12:2-3; see also Galatians 3:13-14). From that point forward in Genesis, however, the blessing of this covenant is entangled in conflict between brothers (and “sisters”). First there is Isaac and Ishmael, then there is Esau and Jacob. We can’t leave out Sarah and Hagar or Rachel and Leah. But it doesn’t end in conflict.

Brothers and Reconciliation

The last major section of Genesis is a story reminiscent of Cain and Abel, with a twist. Joseph’s brothers are envious of him and sell him into slavery and persuade dad that he is dead through the use of blood. But that is not the end of the story. By the end of the Joseph story, we learn that a key part of God’s rescue plan for humanity involves reconciliation between brothers (and “sisters”).

The theme of God’s sovereign providence is often highlighted in the story of Joseph. It is important to note, though, that the theme of God’s providence serves a purpose in the story: reconciliation between brothers and the saving of many lives. In the “Joseph story” we see how God providentially works all things together for good, two particular “goods”—the reconciliation of brothers and the saving of many lives.

The theme of reconciliation in the Joseph story answers to a theme of broken relationships between brothers and sister found in the rest of the book. To say it another way, the story of humanity outside the Garden begins with one brother murdering another and declaring that he is not his brother’s keeper (Gen. 4:8-9), and ends with one brother who rejoiced that he was able to be his brothers’ keeper, even though he had to suffer in order to do it (45:5-7; 50:20-21).

The story of humanity outside the Garden ends with a brother who rejoiced that he was able to be his brothers’ keeper, even though he had to suffer in order to do it.

Brothers and the Blessing

As long as there is brokenness in relationships, as long as brother hates brother and sister hates sister the blessing does not flow. The greater story is not the story of envy and strife that pits brothers and sisters against one another, but the story of Joseph’s willingness to suffer in order to bring life to his brothers. In other words: the greater story is not that of Cain who refuses to be his brother’s keeper, but that of Joseph who is his brothers’ keeper at great cost to himself.

The restoration from curse back to blessing requires reconciliation. Reconciliation, yes with God, but in a significant way with one another. Reconciliation, as we found in our study of Genesis 43–45, is key to the restoration of life. “You will not see my face unless your brother is with you” (Gen. 43:3, 5; 44:23) No brother, no face; no face, no food; no food, no life. Therefore: no brother, no life.

The story of humanity outside the Garden in Genesis begins with conflict between brothers leading to death. But, after God’s intervention with a covenant, that story is transformed into a story of conflict between brothers that ends in reconciliation leading to life.

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
Jerry

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  • Todd Hoatson says:

    “… the story of humanity outside the Garden begins with one brother murdering another and declaring that he is not his brother’s keeper, and ends with one brother who rejoiced that he was able to be his brothers’ keeper…”

    Wow – what a great insight! Really highlights the artistry with which God is writing history.

    “… the blessing of this covenant is entangled in conflict between brothers (and ‘sisters’). First there is Isaac and Ishmael, then there is Esau and Jacob. We can’t leave out Sarah and Hagar or Rachel and Leah.”

    Another great insight! Makes me think that there are also conflicts between extended family (Gen 13:5-9, 29:25-26, 31:1-31), neighbors (Gen 26:12-22, 34), & nations (Gen 14:1-16).

    In my experience I have seen how a person’s refusal to forgive led to more conflict. Bitterness bred more bitterness. But the one who forgave experienced life-giving transformation & restoration of many other relationships. (The one who refused to forgive also suddenly died within a few months – yikes!)

    In my experience I have also seen how God intervened in a conflict I had with a friend. After 2 years of not speaking to each other & avoiding each other every Sunday in church, God put us on a committee together. Fortunately, we became even better friends through that. I learned that God is not content to let His children remain in conflict. He is a peacemaker, and he often pushes us to work it out, just as he did with Joseph & his brothers.

    • Jerry Cisar says:

      Amen. That is the goal… to get you to make other connections like, “Makes me think that there are also conflicts between extended family (Gen 13:5-9, 29:25-26, 31:1-31), neighbors (Gen 26:12-22, 34(Gen 14:1-16).” Great thoughts.
      Indeed, I find your description of experiences in keeping with my own. We may always (this side of new creation) find ourselves in a place that we are being pushed to work out relationships! “You will not see my face, if you don’t come with your brother!”

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