Inherited Patterns: Intergenerational Brokenness
Updated: Mar 10
This discussion guide interacts with the corresponding devotional video, Death and All of His Friends Session 6 - Family Tree. Use this post to facilitate discussion and interaction with the Scriptures as you seek God together through his Word.
Last session, we explored the characterization of sin by God to Cain and Cain’s inclement withdrawal from God’s presence. The unfolding narrative goes offline a bit to follow out Cain’s genealogy to demonstrate a point. What would happen to Cain? The following verses lead us to a challenging conclusion about the nature of sin - it’s intergenerationality.
Genesis 4:17 Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.
19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of[g] bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.
23 Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
24 If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
Do you remember God’s last words to Cain before his exile? “Anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Somehow, in this family tree, that protective measure of God’s mercy and justice has been reinterpreted. Cain’s great-great-great-grandson sings this mantra proudly in a song that celebrates his violence. What happened?
Let’s take a reflective approach here. Have their been ancestors (blood or ideological) that we have celebrated despite their flaws? Have we ever smoothed over these fatal flaws in a way that diminishes them? Or, more to Lamech’s tendencies, have we ever honored the flaws of our ancestors proudly?
A trigger warning is due at this point. I once saw a social media post of a young white American man (whom I did not know) speaking about the American era of conquest. As you know, our nation’s origin story includes the genocide of the Native peoples along with their forced removal from their ancestral lands. The post went something like this: Why do they call it conquest? I just call it winning. Clearly this young man’s view of a terrible (and ongoing) history was calcified by pride, reinterpreted so that he could own that history and wear it like a badge of honor. Do you see the danger in doing so? Should we, like this young man, like Lamech, sing proudly of our ancestor’s sins, amplify them, and perpetuate them for generations to come?
Or should we mourn them, grieve them, and repent of them? Can we step outside the scars of our family trees to be healed Jesus who invites us into a new story, a new family, a new tradition? Can we like Josiah, turn away from the sins of our ancestors (read 2 Kings 22 for his breaking of negative family tradition)? Can we like Aragorn turn from the greed of Isildur, take the broken pieces of family history, and reforge and repurpose them for healing?
So, we must realize the Bible’s depiction of this truth: the intergenerationality of sin. We must see ourselves as a part of an unfolding family narrative, interconnected through the generations. The sins of our forefathers (collectively and individually) shape us, consciously or unconsciously (see Meditation III in our Spiritual Practice article on Nehemiah 1 for more on this and how to respond to it). As a spiritual practice, let us go to God with our family trees in prayer.
What have those who have come before me done that I must celebrate?
What have those who have come before me done that I must mourn?
What, O God, would you have me do with the patterns of my family tree?
How, O God, can I walk in humility as part of the family of Jesus?