It all goes back to the great-grandparents. Abe and Sally were an aging childless couple. Abe, longing to become a father, had an affair with Sally's maid and got her pregnant. The maid then started gloating about it, and Sally responded by ill-treating her. At one point the maid ran away, but was persuaded to come back. A few years later Abe and Sally had a child of their own, and Sally felt uncomfortable seeing the two boys playing together. One day she blew her top and said to Abe, "I refuse to have that woman and her child in this house any longer". So the maid and her young son were turned out and became homeless. They survived, but the boy grew up to be a loner and a delinquent.
Abe and Sally's son, Ike, married Becca and had two sons, Ed and Jake. Ed was a real he-man with a hairy chest and a fine beard: he was his father's favourite. Jake was altogether different: a mother's boy, a stay-at-home and a bit of a softie. He was also devious and crafty. He played a trick on his father when he was old and blind, and so managed to get a promise of inheritance that Ike had meant to give to Ed. This led to a violent quarrel in which Ed threatened to kill Jake, so Jake ran away from home and stayed away for fourteen years.
In his wanderings he found work with Ben, a sheep farmer. There he fell in love with Ben's daughter Rae, but Ben tricked him into marrying his other daughter, who was older and rather plain. Jake carried on living with both of them anyway. Over the years he cheated Ben out of almost all his property, absconded and eventually went back home and curried favour with Ed. He went on to have thirteen children by four different women.
Out of all his children Jake had a special soft spot for Jo because he was the child of Rae, the real love of his life. Jo grew up thoroughly spoilt. He didn't go out to work like the others, but stayed at home wearing a luxurious and rather feminine gown his father had got specially made for him. He thought he was a cut above his brothers, and was a bit of a tell-tale, reporting back to his father about all their little misdemeanours. They came to hate him so much that one day they kidnapped him and sold him to some people-traffickers. When they got home they faked evidence to make Jake believe he had been murdered. The mean trick Jake had played on his own father came back to him in an even crueller way.
After many struggles in the foreign country where he was taken, Jo's honesty and hard work eventually got him into a position of great power. Some years later the family became quite poor, and some of the brothers unknowingly turned up in Jo's office looking for help. They didn't recognise him in his exalted position, but he recognised them and played some rather mean tricks on them before eventually making himself known and becoming reconciled with them.
Meanwhile, something even more disreputable and weird had happened with Jude, one of the older brothers. He had three sons. The oldest one married a woman called Tanya, but died soon after. Tanya then married the second son, but he too died. The third son was a young boy, but Jude promised that if she stayed single he would arrange for her to marry the boy when he grew up. Years went by, the boy grew up and nothing happened, probably because Jude had a superstitious fear that if he married Tanya he might die too . In any case, by this time Tanya had no wish to marry someone so much younger: she was more interested in Jude. So, true to the family tradition, she played a trick. When she heard that Jude was going to do some business in another town, she took off her respectable widow's clothes, tarted herself up. veiled her face, and went there and sat by the roadside. Jude had recently lost his wife and was feeling the need of some comfort. Thinking Tanya was a prostitute, he availed himself of her services. He didn't have enough money to pay what she asked, so he promised to send the money and gave her his signet ring as security. When he got home he sent a friend to pay her, but the friend came back and said he could find no trace of her. A few months later he was told that Tanya was pregnant. He was livid. He even threatened to kill her. How dare she disgrace the family like that? But she of course produced the ring and said, "The owner of this is the father". At that he relented and openly acknowledged the twins she had as his own.
This sounds worse than Eastenders! If you know the Bible, you have probably seen through my ineffectual attempts to disguise the names and change the cultural setting a bit. Yes, it is the story of the origins of Israel - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the twelve tribes - as told in the Book of Genesis. If ever there was a rough dysfunctional family it was this one.
And, believe it or not, there is a positive message in it. It tells us that God's purpose is not necessarily carried out through squeaky-clean "righteous" people. God's love for these people was unchanging however they behaved. Abraham still became (as the New Testament says) "the father of all those who have faith". The deserted single mother Hagar became the mother of the Arab nation. Jacob, running away from home in disgrace, was granted a vision of a ladder between earth and heaven. God used the cruelty of Joseph's brothers to ensure that the family survived in the famine. And perhaps the most mind-blowing thing of all is that the whole tribe of Judah, the Jews, including David, and including Jesus Christ, would not have come into existence without that weird, deception-based incestuous relationship of Judah and Tamar. Yes, God really does "move in a mysterious way".