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God’s way with a dysfunctional family

June 2014 | by Martin Wells

In Genesis 27, we see a godly home, yet one where love and trust are missing. How can a family that began so well have come to this?

How prayerful had Isaac been when childbirth had been delayed for 20 years! How earnestly Rebekah had prayed when the promised pregnancy proved so difficult!

Seventy-seven years have gone by since the twins were born, and what a sorry state the family is now in! We have a father whose god is his belly and a mother who idolises her son.

One son uses God’s name in vain, while both boys dishonour their parents. Hatred, anger, suspicion and threatened murder are the deadly ingredients leavening family relationships. Esau has a most inappropriate marriage and everyone just grins and bears it.

One of the boys steals from his brother and two of the players in the drama of Genesis 27 are guilty of blatant lying and deception. Through the whole, a thread of covetousness weaves its evil cloth.

To understand what’s going on, let’s examine each of the seven characters involved in the matter.

Esau’s Hittite wives

Much of the trouble in the family comes from the insidious influence of Esau’s wives. Judith and Bashemath’s names mean ‘praised’ and ‘pleasing’, but their true characters are quite the opposite.

The Hittites, with the Amorites, were the worst of the heathen nations living in Canaan at this time. In Ezekiel 16, Hittite women are represented as loathing their husbands and children; and in this godly household these two ladies bring only grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 26:35).

One can imagine in this encampment how their foul words and godless speech carry though the thin tent walls. So sickening is their influence that Rebekah says at the end, ‘I loathe my life because of the Hittite women’ (Genesis 27:46). ‘What communion has light with darkness? What part has a believer with an unbeliever?’ (2 Corinthians 6:14-15).

Isaac

Such an evil influence should have been tackled years go, but Isaac is strangely lacking in spiritual backbone.

Abraham his father had dealt with strife in the camp and separated from Lot, but Isaac, who had the courage to separate from evil in Philistine country, is sadly inactive when it comes to his own family.

For 37 years he’s put up with the strife; he can hardly make a case for separation now! And all the years of compromise have had a deadening effect on his spiritual life. Fleshly appetite seems to be winning the battle against the spirit.

He loves the country smell of Esau’s clothes, yet ignores the stench of ungodliness about him. He loves Esau’s venison, but has no stomach for the truth in his family. He can feel the hairs on his oldest son’s hands, yet has no spiritual feel for the havoc he’s creating by his wrong decisions.

Isaac has fallen into the deadly trap of favouritism. As a quiet, contemplative man, perhaps Isaac envies the dynamic outdoor lifestyle of Esau, and sees in him all he wanted to be. We can be certain, however, that favouritism wrecks families and churches today. God himself is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).

We should take care not to be blind to the faults of our children. Blind prejudice caused Isaac to pass over the faults of a son who was a fornicator and profane person (Hebrews 12:16).

Rebekah

Rebekah’s love for Jacob is so strong that it becomes reckless. It leads her not only to deceive her husband and wrong her sons, but also to be prepared to bear the curse if her schemes go awry (Genesis 27:13).

When Esau’s hatred threatens her boy, she imagines her love will overcome all obstacles: ‘Just go to Uncle Laban for a few days, Jacob. Esau will soon get over the upset and you’ll be back in no time’. Through it all, Rebekah seems to think she can help along God’s sovereign will. After all, God told her that her boy was the chosen heir.

In the 21st century we too can be tempted to give some assistance to God’s purpose. If God’s blessing is slow in coming, can’t we organise the blessing ourselves?

Jacob

Weakly compliant Jacob has very few objections to the wicked plan, the biggest problem being that he might be found out. Like a Pharisee, this bothers him more than the act of sinning itself. Not once does he say, ‘No mother, this is all wrong!’ How dangerous too to get away with sinning without it impinging on the conscience. ‘As soon as Isaac had made an end of blessing Jacob … Esau his brother came in’ (Genesis 27:30). A close run thing! Getting away with sin is a judgement of God that will only result in a hardening of the heart. Beware!

Esau

Esau wants Isaac’s blessings desperately, and weeps bitterly in an effort to get them. Oh, yes, he cries over lost blessings, but he never weeps over his sins. His tears fail because Esau finds no place for repentance (Hebrews 12:17).

Many decades before, Esau had chosen a life without God, a life of immorality and profanity; and he’d walked that path ever since. Tears of remorse can never undo the past. Many of us have made a mess of life, but there was a time when we truly repented and asked God the Father that for Christ’s sake he would forgive our sins, because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice at Calvary.

Tears alone are not enough; only repentance toward God and faith in Christ are truly blessed.

Esau wants the gifts of God without the Giver. He wants the blessings of salvation without the Saviour. Year after year he’d walked a godless pathway. Now 37 years after breaking his parents’ hearts by marrying Hittite women, he wants to be treated as though none of this had ever happened. This can never be.

God almighty

The seventh person in all this tragedy is our great God. We must never think that he is a quiet observer of the affairs of men, wringing his hands at all the wickedness, but unable to do anything about it.

The great truth of the Bible is that the almighty God is in perfect control, so that, ‘He does according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”’ (Daniel 4:35). So it proves in this incident, as God makes even the wrath of man to praise him (Psalm 76:10).

Consider Isaac. God does restore his faith, but it takes an earthquake in his soul to bring it about. When he realises in horror that he’d nearly given God’s blessings to the wrong son, we’re told, ‘Isaac trembled very exceedingly’ (Genesis 27:33).

That mighty shock wakes him from his spiritual slumber. We hear him say of Jacob, ‘I have blessed him, yea and he shall be blessed!’ That is why Hebrews 11:20 says, ‘By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau’, and later, in that faith that God has renewed, we see Isaac giving instructions to Jacob as he sends him away to Padan-aram (Genesis 28:2-4).

In Rebekah’s case, at a stroke, God breaks her idolatrously over-strong attachment to Jacob. We hear no more of her, except that she was buried in honour with Abraham and Isaac, one day to meet Christ in her resurrected body.

Consider Jacob. While he was at home all his knowledge of God was second-hand. ‘The Lord your God’ was how he referred to the Lord when he spoke with Isaac. God’s plan was for him to have a personal experience of saving grace at Bethel. What a day of days that was for Jacob when as a converted man he saw that stairway to heaven, a picture of Christ, and said, ‘The Lord shall be my God!’ (Genesis 28:12-22).

Two brothers

We should not feel sorry for Esau. God gave him everything he ever wanted in life. After this event he continued walking the way of the world in his safe mountain retreat, away from his brother Jacob.

He really was a somebody in this world, as we can see from the list of chief men who descended from him in Genesis 36. When he met Jacob at the Jabbok river, he confessed, ‘I have enough’ (Genesis 33:9). But he had no appetite for spiritual things.

Jacob could say, ‘I have enough [literally, “all things”]’ (Genesis 33:11). A Christian has all things in Christ, and can be as content as Jacob was.

God really was in control of this chaotic family, doing all things for the good of his people, bringing blessing out of trial and fulfilling his divine will through it all.

Martin Wells

The author is an elder at Welcome Hall Evangelical Church, Bromsgrove