American Journal of Biblical Theology, www.biblicaltheology.com
In this study we are going to investigate problems in the relationships within a family, a source of many of those problems, and the solution and prevention of them. This study takes place in the book of Genesis, in an area that illustrates subjects such as trouble in family relationships, deception in the family, dealing with disappointment, being forgiven, and the ability to bless. This scripture passage will take a close look at a specific family, and the problems they experienced within.
And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham begat Isaac:
Abraham is considered the father of Israel, because he is just that, Jacob (Israel’s) grandfather, and it is from Israel that the nation takes its name. God made a promise to Abraham that, because of Abraham’s faithfulness, God would bless him with a large number of descendents, that He would provide a land for them, and that through those descendents the entire world would be blessed. We now know that the blessing of the descendents would be the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of the eternal Messiah who was awaited by all of Abraham’s descendents.
However, a problem entered this blissful blessing: Abraham’s wife was barren, and had no children. The promise came to Abraham at the age of 75, and it was still another 25 years before Isaac would be born. In the meantime, Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own “hands” and Abraham fathered a son, Ishmael, through Sarah’s mistress, Hagar. Once Isaac was born, Ishmael who was fathered by Abram to receive the blessing, was banished, with his mother, from the family so that the blessing could be received by their natural son. This is a clear example of parents caring more for one child than another, a practice that is guaranteed to destroy a family. The progeny of Ishmael and the progeny of Isaac were in constant tribal conflict from that point on. Many consider the Arab nations to be the family of Ishmael (and later, Esau), and it takes little insight to see that the conflict remains.
It is most interesting to note that as we look closer and closer into the lives of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Esau, etc., we may expect to find a family that is so God-centered that they live in a heaven on earth. However, what we find is actually far from that: a very normal group of people. They experience the same inadequacies and errors that we do. They demonstrated prejudice, pride and arrogance, hatred and expressed anger. They were disobedient to God’s call on their lives, many times in ways that we consider much more “sinful” than our sensibilities can comfort.
What is it, then, that makes this family special? God chose them, not because of their goodness, but simply because of His grace and purpose. It was not ever shown that the chosen family did anything special to deserve the favor of God, except that it was only Abraham who had a committed faith in Him, and that faith was passed on to his children, though oftentimes requiring a long period of time within which many problems were encountered. Even when Abraham’s family was well aware of God’s particular blessing on them, they continued to live worldly lives, making worldly decisions, and paying both worldly and eternal consequences.
And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the Syrian.
Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebekah. If you remember, Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born, so he is now 140. Abraham died when Isaac was 75 years old, at the age of 175. One thing here of interest, Sarah died before Isaac was married to Rebekah. It was after the death of Sarah that Abraham found a wife for Isaac. Note that Sarah showed a lack of faith in God when He revealed His will concerning the birth of a son at her old age. The promise he made to her was that she would be the mother of nations.
Again, we see some unusual circumstances in their family. It was usual for a young man to become betrothed in the late teen years, yet Isaac was not until he was 40. Why? Is it possible that because of Sarah's doubt, she would never have the blessing of seeing the fruition of the prophesy? What are some other examples of people missing the blessing that God had for them because they doubted God? Moses did not enter Canaan because he disobeyed God. The children of Israel wandered in the wilderness 40 years so that the doubting leadership would die off, and not see the promised land.
There are often costs associated with our doubting God. What blessings do we miss when we do not listen to Him?
Let's look for a moment at the family relationships that come out of the marriage of Isaac to Rebekah. First of all, Rebekah is the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Nahor, Abraham's brother. (22:23). It was traditional to keep marriages within the extended family to retain purity (24:3-4). Also, Rebekah was the sister of Laban, who will play a significant role in the life of her son, Jacob. Also, both the father and brother of Rebekah were Arameans (Syrians) and were related to Shem's fifth son and to the blessing of dominance that his descendants were given over Canaan's descendants (9:26). All of Isaac's family had been maintained in the larger covenant community.
And Isaac entreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.
It may not be readily apparent before this verse that there were problems, but Isaac and Rebekah shared a problem that their immediate ancestors had. What was it? Barrenness. Sarah in 11:30, and Rachel in 29:31, Isaac's father and his son, Jacob all suffered from an inability to bear children at the same time that God had promised to them a great blessing in this area. This had to have been an extremely faith challenging event, particularly when their culture considered children as their most valued blessing, the hope of their future. Without children, God’s promise could not be fulfilled, but it was a promise just the same.
This verse does not indicate the time involved between the prayer and the birth of the sons. How long was it? Note verse 26 says that Isaac was 60 when the twins were born, so it was still a delay of 20 years from the prayer to the birth. Abraham, waiting until his son was 40 years old waited yet another 60 years before he saw any grandchildren. What were these people learning from this experience? This was a brutal lesson in patience and faith. Certainly, they did not have the opportunity to run ahead of God, though Sarah found influence through Hagar. We often want the answers to our prayers to come immediately and in the form that we desire. If we do not receive such a response we blame God for not answering. We demonstrate a lack of patience and a lack of faith when we do so. Like Abraham, we may take the matter into our own hands and pre-empt God's intended blessing for our lives. We would do better to pray in faith, thanking God for what He will do for us, and simply wait.
And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the LORD.
Has any mother ever been able to get an idea of the personality of a child even before its birth? Certainly the pre-birth personalities of my own two children were consistent with their post-birth personalities. My oldest, a daughter was quiet, and delivered in a late, long, and difficult delivery. As she grew she was always serious, quiet, and hated change. My second (and last child), a son, was extremely active before birth, and was born within the span of four very hard and violent contractions. He grew up extremely active, to the point of reckless endangerment, and is interested most in experiences that are fast and stimulating, and much to the chagrin of two parents, often dangerous. Both children are now grown, and share our values, and share that component of their personality that they shape. However, they are opposites in every other aspect. We are blessed that they share our values, surely a blessing that came from bringing them up “in the fear and admonition of the Lord,” and we showed (nor had) any favoritism. However, the experience has convinced me that much of a child’s personality is “pre-wired,” and our part as parents is to nurture them within the scope of who they are, rather than try to reform them into something they are not.
What was Rebekah experiencing in her labor? Since this was her first pregnancy, she was probably frightened and confused by the violence within her. Certainly she sought the advice of other women who had borne children, and found little solace. So, she went to God. What does this tell us about Rebekah? Certainly she was a Godly woman, and therefore, would be a Godly mother, creating a family that would follow in the ways of God with Isaac at her side. At least that is what we might infer from appearances. We can often act quite Godly when we need God’s solicited intervention in our lives. However, as we get to know Rebekah and her family, we find her to be more "normal," and quite subject to imperfection.
And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.
The willingness of Rebekah to go to the Lord was rewarded with his answer to her prayer. We do not know how God revealed Himself to her, but his answer was clear. What was it? God prophesied that she was mothering twins who would be in conflict with one another, not only as two individuals, but as two families. There were three parts to the prophesy, each unusual for twins:
The twins, though each fathering a nation, would become separated. This was not consistent with the covenant family arrangement that had been kept up to now. Nor was it consistent with the cultural tradition of the day, a tradition that bound families into close units.
One twin would be stronger than the other.
However, note that a similar experience was shown in the lives of Ishmael and Isaac. Why were things taking place in a manner so contrary to that which society accepted at the time? God's plan is not subject to man's customs and traditions. When he does things outside of the manner society expects, who is in error, society or God? Of course, it is the society that is in error. By choosing the youngest (as was also done in the later choice of David, son of Jesse, as the King of Israel), and through such unusual circumstances, God is showing that He is sovereign, and his will is to be carried out regardless of man's expectations.
The actual struggle between the twins would not culminate until much later, when in 2 Sam 8, the tribe of the descendants of Esau would be defeated by the sons of Jacob.
And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau.
It was not until the birth that Rebekah could really know that she was to bear twin sons. The first to come out was described as red, or ruddy. The word in Hebrew is admonee, which is where the name Edom comes from, meaning ruddy. It is not clear what Esau means, but it is evident, that Esau is also referred to as Edom and his progeny as Edomites. He was obviously born with a good amount of hair, and his ruddy complexion and hair would be his trademark.
And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them.
What was unusual about the birth of Jacob? He was holding onto Esau's heel. Jacob means to “grab by the heel”, which was a Hebrew idiom meaning to overthrow or supplant. What happens to a runner when someone gets a firm grip on their heel? The conflict between the brothers was even evident at birth, and would remain throughout their lives.
And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. 28And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Herein lies the foundation for a significant problem within the family. What is it?
The brothers were quite different. It is common to have children brought up in the same family with the same principles, values, and teaching, who are very different in personality and interests. Certainly, there was a tremendous contrast between these two brothers.
Esau was a hunter who liked to spend time in the country, so he spent little time at home. One can envision a big, boistrous, man who is quite self-sufficient, confident, and one who can provide for the needs of others. Such seems to be the personality of Esau.
Jacob was described as quiet. The word here refers to a level of maturity, not a level of sound. He was more of a thinker, using his intellect instead of his hands. He also stayed near the home where he was under the constant attention of his parents. In all of these manners he was quite the opposite of his brother. He was weaker than his brother, and was dependent upon his mother.
The boys were not treated as equals. Isaac preferred the manly Esau, and Rebekah preferred the more dependent Jacob.
What kinds of problems can arise from such a situation? What kind of similar problems do we see coming from families today? This sin in the lives of Rebecca and Isaac was not something new ... one only needs to look at Isaac's parents to see the same favoritism towards their children. The result was an unending conflict between them. Isaac should have known better, having seen in his own life the hatred that was borne between the two families, that of Ishmael and that of Isaac. Now, the seeds were being planted to repeat the same error, an error that would reach fruition in the same manner.
And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: 30And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. 31And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. 32And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? 33And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. 34Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.
It can be seen that the sons followed very differing paths. Where Jacob was stable and well-provisioned, Esau had to search the land for hunting, and sometimes came up empty-handed. In this case, Esau found Jacob with freshly prepared red stew (“Edom stew”, again, the same word, ruddy, is used here). Being hungry, what did Esau do? He asked Jacob for some of his stew to satiate his hunger. Of course, the loving brother lavished his sibling with the food he needed right? WRONG. Jacob saw this as an opportunity to take advantage of his swarthy brother. If Jacob could not defeat Esau with physical effort, he would do so through his skill as a conniver, as one who could "grab the heel."
Do you think that Jacob had been thinking about this before? Certainly, Jacob had been waiting for the optimum moment to take advantage of his older brother in order to gain for himself the blessing that he thought that he actually deserved. Where do you supposed that Jacob got the idea for this plan? When we study the life of Jacob, we actually see that his scheming is prompted from his mother, Rebekah; yes, the same Rebekah who went to God with her plea for a child. It's bad enough that Rebekah would want for her second son that which rightfully belonged to the first, but one can see her using her maternal influence to improve the situation for her favorite son, the one who stayed at home and served her at the expense of her older son who spent time away. It is also quite reasonable that Esau found life in the wilderness favorable to life in a family where his mother doted over his younger brother at his obvious expense. The seed of hatred towards Jacob would grow just as the seed of Ishmael grew against his brother, Isaac.
The worst part in this scenario is played, not by Jacob, but by Esau. What did he do? Esau simply sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. What does this say about Esau? He did not take the birthright seriously, even though God had prophesied that it would be through the lineage of Isaac that the world would be blessed. By despising his birthright, it is evident that Esau despised God and had no interest or gave no consideration to God's promise. This is also evident from the remaining historical accounts of Esau. From this point on, the sons and progeny of each brother would be mortal enemies.
Even though our circumstances may differ so much from one another, God has a place and purpose for each of us.
We should acknowledge and appreciate our differences as well as our likenesses.
Parent's favoritism will bring disastrous results.
God’s purpose for us can only be realized when we acknowledge Him as our Lord, placing Him as the true, supreme, authority in our lives. When we do this we will see how each of us has a purpose that God can work in us, and because of this, each of us is of an infinite value to God and to each other. When we see each other as God sees us, we can learn to accept the differences that define our uniqueness, and use the personalities and interests that we have been given for God’s purposes. As parents we can also love the differences in our children and take advantage of those unique features in each child to help nurture that child in a home that is God-centered. When we do this, we will find that our children will also be God-centered and will pass this on to their children as God intended. The result is a set of generations that live in the peace of God, realizing much of what God desires for their lives. This is not an ideal to shoot for. It is a real opportunity that comes from loving God.