The Hope of Discipline: God’s Discipline in Genesis

The Hope of Discipline: God’s Discipline in Genesis

By Luke Shawhan

My daughter, Roselyn, recently perfected riding her bike. This new skill has given her the toddler version of a newly-licensed teenage driver’s freedom. This freedom excites her, and, as most children do, she has pushed her limits. Not long ago, she decided to pedal over to the house of another child in our neighborhood–out of my sight, blissfully ignorant of the possibility of an oncoming car–and she turned a deaf ear to my calls for her to turn around. I ran after her, caught her, and instructed her about listening to Dad and stopping when she was told. Then, a couple of weeks later, while she was riding her bike and my wife and I were walking, she decided she needed to catch up with a neighborhood dog down the road. Again, she ignored my calls to obey, and she rode away–disregarding the possibility of danger.

The need to discipline frustrates us, whether we are parents, leaders, bosses, or teachers. Nobody revels over implementing consequences to bad behavior. Yet, Scripture calls authority figures (most notably parents) to discipline. Observe these Proverbs: “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15). “Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart” (Proverbs 29:17). “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1). “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death” (Proverbs 19:18). If we take Scripture seriously, we must take discipline seriously–even if it can be frustrating, disheartening, or even depressing. But, there is always hope–hope that God offers His people both the example and strength to enact His command to discipline. God’s actions in Scripture’s first book–Genesis–demonstrate this hope in three ways. First, God’s discipline in Genesis does not always rehabilitate. Second, those whom God transforms still swim in the wreckage of their previous sins. Finally, God’s discipline always lays the foundation for Christ’s sacrifice.

Before the first point, it must be noted that any event of punishment, judgment, or testing in Genesis will be classified as a form of discipline by the Lord. Secondly, while methods of discipline often bring fervent debate among Christians, only the importance of enacting discipline will be addressed here.

Recall the events of discipline in Genesis: the expulsion from the Garden, the mark of Cain, the Flood, the scattering of people after the Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, the sacrifice of Isaac, Laban testing Jacob, and Joseph with his brothers. Testing, discipline, punishment, and judgment permeate Genesis. Yet, not all of them rehabilitate those who experience the event. From our viewpoint, they do not all seem effective. Few circumstances agitate parents more than when inappropriate behavior from their progeny continues, especially after correction! But, observe some of these circumstances from Genesis. What happened after the expulsion from the Garden, or after the Flood, or after Sodom and Gomorrah? After the expulsion, Cain murdered Abel. The Flood? Noah abused wine, lost consciousness, and brought shame upon himself in his drunken stupor. Sodom and Gomorrah? Lot’s daughters intoxicated their father and then committed incest in order to become pregnant. Did they not understand what just happened? God spewed fire and brimstone upon their hometown for this kind of behavior! Did Noah forget the flood and why God poured water onto the earth? Was Cain unaware of what happened to his parents for their sin? No, each individual pursued his sin even after enduring or witnessing the judgment for sin. They knew the consequences but acted sinfully regardless. A disheartening reality, to say the least. But, we must look to God’s example. He executed the righteous requirements of His law, even with the omniscience of knowing the outcomes. We, as parents, teachers, and other leaders must realize that rehabilitation of behavior is an important goal, but even when rehabilitation does not take place, we can trust that God is just and can bring goodness from proper discipline.

By God’s grace, not every occurrence of correction in Genesis was ignored. God’s discipline of Adam, coupled with the circumstances of Cain and Abel, seem to have brought about a change with Adam’s subsequent son, Seth. Scripture records that people began to call upon the name of the Lord in Seth’s day (Genesis 4:26). Abraham presumed the truth of God’s promise to the point of trusting in the resurrection of Isaac, and Paul records that “No unbelief made [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20-21). Jacob, whose name means “trickster,” went from a man who placed contingencies upon God to earn his trust to a man who exclaimed, “[The Lord] answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone” (Genesis 35:3). The Lord’s rod against these men wrought a change only possible by God, and this same faithfulness and repentance comes about from the discipline we place upon those whom God has put under our care. But notice one truth: each man cited had to swim in the wreckage of his former sins as transformed, faithful men of God. Adam raised Seth, a godly son, while remembering his act of treason in the garden that brought about the downfall of Abel. Abraham trusted God but lived every day with the result of his actions toward Hagar and Ishmael (consequences still felt today). Plus, the deceit shown by Abraham and Isaac in lying about their wives (Genesis 12, 20, 26) morphed into bribery and theft by their son Jacob (Genesis 25 and 27) and transformed into premeditated murder by Jacob’s sons because of the defiling of Dinah in Genesis 34. By this time, Jacob had already wrestled with God and trusted the Lord to provide his every need, but his former deceitfulness had passed on to his sons (who again, certainly knew the story of God’s provision, wrestling, and kindness to their father and grandfathers). Jacob, as a changed man, lived within the wreckage his own sinful habits had created. Our lives are no different: God disciplines us, changes us, forgives us, but we still live within the ruins of our former actions, whether it is a ruined reputation, a disease, or habits difficult to break. Nonetheless, this brings about the greatest truth about God and His discipline from Genesis: His discipline lays the foundation for Christ!

Genesis both foreshadows and demonstrates the sacrifice and change Christ offers. The foreshadows should amaze us: after the Flood, God placed the bow in the sky—a bow pointed at Him. Upon Mt. Moriah, the angel steadied Abraham’s clinched hand and provided the ram in the thicket—the same location as the future temple of Jerusalem and adjacent to Golgotha, the land of Christ’s crucifixion. Jacob exclaimed that he “saw God face to face, yet his life was delivered” (Genesis 32:30); one day, Christians will live in God’s presence, face to face, without a worry of death. God’s discipline gave a glimpse of Christ’s accomplishment and also prepared the way for His actions, most poignantly in the life of Jacob’s fifth son Judah. Judah, following in the deceitful footsteps of his father, concocted the plan to sell Joseph for a profit in Genesis 37. And then, in the following chapter, a seemingly out-of-place event in Scripture takes place: Judah and Tamar. This occurs in the middle of Joseph’s story of being favored by his father, sold by his brothers, enslaved, imprisoned, and then eventually made ruler of Egypt. But why? It solidifies, without doubt, the fraudulent character of Judah. He refused to honor his promise to his widowed daughter-in-law Tamar. Judah swore to provide one of his remaining sons to her as a husband after his own wicked sons, Er and Onan, failed to uphold God’s command to provide an offspring for Tamar. Genesis 38 records that Er and Onan were killed for their wickedness before God. Later, Judah’s own wife died, and Judah traveled with a friend on a business trip. During the excursion, Judah visited a prostitute who happened to be on the side of a road. She demanded payment of his signet, cord, and staff. Three months following, Tamar revealed her pregnancy by an unknown man to Judah, and he demanded her punishment. Yet, Tamar disclosed Judah’s hypocrisy by displaying the signet, cord, and staff. She said, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” By all accounts, Judah’s vileness ruled him at this point in his life. But, something changed within him. Ostensibly, God’s Spirit, through these events and coupled with time, deconstructed Judah’s heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of flesh. By the time Joseph, as a ruler in Egypt, tested his brothers in Egypt a decade later, Judah was a new man. After Benjamin’s life was threatened during Joseph’s ruse, Judah declared, “For your servant [Judah] became a pledge of safety for [Benjamin] to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.’ Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers.” (Genesis 44:32-33). Gone was the man who only regarded his own gain. Gone was the man who lied to get what he wanted. Present was the man who cared about his father and the damage losing Benjamin would bring to him. Present was the man who pledged his own life to save Benjamin’s; present was the man whose descendant would be the one who pledged His life for those of sinful humanity’s–Christ is a direct descendant of Judah! Through these disciplinary acts of God, the line of Christ was established, the foreshadow of Christ seen, and the change from Christ shown. God’s discipline provided the foundation for Christ to bring redemption to all!

Although veteran and experienced parents, teachers, leaders, and the like know the good discipline can bring, those moments of conversation and punishment never carry enjoyment. We must remember: sometimes the correction does not take. Yet, when it does, it still may not remove the wreckage of previous sinful deeds. But always, discipline prepares the soil for Christ to work.

To finish my story, after Rosie disregarded my instruction and pedaled away, I caught up with her, declared her error, carried the bike home, and took it away for the evening. Roselyn walked home with her mother and cried the entire time. Once back at home, Rosie and I discussed her disobedience and why Daddy punished her by taking away her bike. Ever the emotional girl, she cried and questioned, “Dad, do you still love me even when I disobey?” I replied, “Baby, of course I do.” She blurted out, “Does Mom still love me?” “Absolutely, she loves you.” Then, she asked, “Does God still love me?” To this I smiled and answered, “Yes, baby, God still loves you; that is why Jesus died!” She sniffled and lunged toward me for a hug.

Roselyn’s questions are the fertile soil turned up by discipline, and they give Christ the space to work inside my daughter–and me–revealing to both of us our need for Him. May we trust the Lord in our discipline, and may He redeem us through His discipline!