Newsletter Subscribe
Australian Catholics Subscribe

When family drama gets Biblical

Michael McVeigh  |  08 August 2019

From Cain killing his brother Abel, to Mary having to give birth in a stable in Bethlehem, the Bible is full of family drama. While family life in Biblical times is just as messy as it can be today, there are still some valuable lessons to be learned. We take a look at three stories, and how they shape our understanding of God and family.


There are many models of family in the Bible. Some of them are not very acceptable by today’s standards: husbands have multiple wives, children are conceived with slaves, and adultery is not uncommon. In fact, there’s very little that’s typical about Biblical stories of family life, other than the fact that God plays a central role.

Moses’ family life was far from traditional. For one, he was abandoned by his Hebrew mother (for his own safety) when he was an infant, and raised in a home by an Egyptian princess who didn’t share his culture or religion. Yet thanks to his sister Miriam he was made aware of his cultural and religious origins. He was eventually forced to flee after killing an Egyptian master who was beating a Hebrew slave.

While in exile, Moses married and had a child with Zipporah, a woman from another faith. When God tried to kill Moses, Zipporah stepped in to save him by showing God that their son would share Moses’ faith. God then gave Moses the task of bringing all Hebrews to believe in one God. When Moses felt unworthy of carrying this burden alone, his brother Aaron was given the task of being his spokesman.

The story of Moses tells us that family bonds are about more than biology, culture, or history. Family life is part of the broader mission that God has for all people. It is also where we can find our closest allies in discovering and realising God’s purpose for us.

Family is the gift that that helps us discover who we are. We know from the story of Moses that family life matters; because it matters to God.


Whether through circumstances like illness and loss, or because they don’t feel safe at home, many people find themselves without a family support network to fall back on.

Naomi lost a husband and two sons in a foreign land. They had fled famine in Israel to the land of Moab, where they settled together. Ruth became part of the family when she married one of Naomi’s sons. However Naomi’s husband and two sons all passed away, leaving them destitute. 

Naomi urged Ruth to return to her family and remarry. Instead, Ruth said she would stay with Naomi and remain part of her family.

‘Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you’, she said, ‘for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God.’ (Ruth 1:16)

Ruth goes out to gather grains in the fields to support them both. Eventually she finds a kind husband named Boaz, who looks after her and Naomi. Their family continues to grow from there, and are blessed by God (Ruth’s great-great grandson is King David).

Naomi gave Ruth a great gift in welcoming her into her family. She also gave her the gift of freedom – to be able to find a new family if she wished. Ruth’s gift to Naomi was to stay with her, and to share with her what she could. Ruth recognised that one of the most important things about being in a family is supporting those who are most vulnerable and unable to look after themselves.

The story of Ruth and Naomi shows that God places freedom and generosity at the heart of family life. When we make a decision to give our time and attention to the needs of someone else, we open up the possibility of creating a bond that will last a lifetime.


Everyone in families gets on each other’s nerves from time to time, and disagreements are inevitable. Sometimes arguments can stretch out over years, tearing families apart.

The Bible is full of dysfunctional families, with many husbands and wives, brothers and sisters doing horrible things to each other. One of the worst acts took place in the family of Jacob and Rachel. 

The couple had 13 children, but their favoured child was Joseph, who they gifted with a beautiful coat. This, of course, made the other siblings jealous.

One day, when Joseph was feeding the flocks, his brothers decided to kill him. They stripped him of his coat, and threw him into a pit. As they debated what to do next, a caravan came by on its way to Egypt. They decided to earn some money by selling him into slavery, then returned to their parents and told them he’d been killed by wild animals.

This wasn’t the end of Joseph’s troubles. When he was in Egypt he was falsely accused of assaulting his master’s wife and thrown into prison. But he proved himself wise, and eventually came to be an adviser to the Pharaoh.

‘The Lord was with Joseph so he became a successful man’, it says in the Bible. ‘Whatever he did, the Lord made to prosper.’ (Genesis 39:2, 23)

Joseph eventually reunites with his brothers, and reconciles with them when they prove to him that they are changed men. Their family has a happy ending together, but not all families do.

The story of Joseph shows that God will stay with us, no matter what happens to us. It may be possible for us to reconcile our differences with family members we have wronged, or those who have wronged us. No matter what our situation is, it’s certainly possible for us to make a new life for ourselves and become the people we wish to be. A difficult past doesn’t have to be the end of our story.



Topic tags: church-thepeopleofgod, familylife

Request permissions to reuse this article

Interested in more? Sign up to our weekly Catholic Teacher and Parish Life e-newsletters for the faith formation resources you need.

Catholic Teacher sign-up

Parish Life sign-up

This website uses cookies to give you the best, most relevant experience.

Using this website means you are okay with this.

You can change your cookies settings at any time and find out more about them by following this link