From the very time of his birth, Jacob’s life was set to be a tapestry of trial. His very name means “supplanter” or “deceitful”. He was a twin, born grasping his brother Esau’s heel in what seems to be a fight to be first. Of course, being first born in ancient Hebrew culture had very significant meaning and carried with it certain birthrights. But Jacob did not come out first. Making him, even if by only a few seconds, the younger brother.
But when opportunity came, Jacob took the advantage and conned Esau out of his birthright; though it seems Esau did not take his birthright seriously at this point in his life. Jacob and Esau are, perhaps, the classic example of sibling rivalry. Esau being the outdoorsy, sportsman type while Jacob was mild-mannered and more domestic. Their parents, Isaac and Rebekah, didn’t help matters much, as Isaac clearly favored the more traditionally manly Esau, while Rebekah had preference for Jacob, her baby.
The Bible doesn’t go into great detail about their family life but, we can probably imagine Isaac and Esau spending time together outdoors – hunting, fishing, camping, and so on while Jacob stayed home spending time with his mother around the house. Perhaps we get our best glimpse of parental favoritism when Isaac becomes old and nears the end of his life. That is when he instructs Esau to embark on a hunt so he can make some wild game stew, Isaac’s favorite, and a meal after which Isaac will pronounce his blessing on Esau.
Rebekah, desperate to secure the patriarchal blessing for Jacob, overhears the conversation and launches a plot to deceive her own husband into blessing the younger brother. She hatches her deceptive plan with Jacob’s obvious consent and, while Esau is still away hunting, they make a goat stew, form an elaborate disguise for Jacob, and send him in, pretending to be Esau. Isaac suspects a problem, but instead of coming clean with the deception, Jacob navigates his way through his father’s inquiries, completing the con job. Isaac, being too old to see for himself, is convinced and offers his blessing to Jacob.
Of course, Esau eventually comes home with the wild game, only to uncover the web of deception that occurred in his absence and cost him his birthright. I do not quite understand how the blessing works, but it is apparent that once given it cannot be revoked, and though given in deceit it still had force of law. Esau wept bitterly and experienced great sorrow. Eventually, Esau’s sorrow festered into deep resentment and he began to launch a plan to kill his younger brother, but Rebekah sends Jacob away to his uncle Laban.
Those of you familiar with the story know the family dysfunction did not end there. Jacob goes to the land of Laban, falls deeply in love with Rachel at first sight, and seeks to make her his wife. He asks his uncle the price for her hand in marriage and agrees to work seven years for Laban so he can marry Rachel. After the seven years pass by, Laban throws a marriage feast, after which he gives his daughter to Jacob to be his wife. There must have been some alcohol involved, because Jacob apparently doesn’t notice (or perhaps in a drunken stupor loses the ability to care) that it is Laban’s older daughter Leah that he sleeps with.
After confronting Laban over his trickery, Jacob ultimately takes Rachel also as his wife and agrees to work for Laban another seven years. At this point, I’d like to say the pattern of destructive behavior finally came to an end, but it would continue, seemingly ad infinitum. Leah and Rachel experienced sibling rivalry of their own, ultimately leading to even more sexual sin as they both have Jacob sleep with the personal servants. And the twelve children that result from this cavalcade of corruption find their own sibling rivalries that ultimately see their brother Joseph sold into slavery. And this family dysfunction ultimately leads to the entire Hebrew nation becoming slaves in Egypt. Talk about far-reaching consequences!
But perhaps young Joseph ultimately sums it up best when he tells his older brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” (Genesis 50:20) And the point of me recounting all of this is simply to point out that, at one time or another, all of us have experienced some amount of dysfunction in our families. We live in a fallen world and such chaos must be expected. As painful as conflict with our loved ones can be, we can be confident God is present within us and able to carry us forward. In fact, as Christians, we can bring the light of Christ to our family situations.
You can read about Isaac & Rebekah and their descendants starting in Genesis 24. Most people think the Bible is a book about perfect people but it is anything but that. It tells the stories of imperfect people and how God interacts with them. Imperfect people just like you and I; and our imperfect families and friends. So if you find yourself struggling with dysfunction in your personal relationships, remember that when we are weak, when we struggle, often that is when God’s work in our lives becomes the most profound. As the psalmist wrote, “He remembered us in our weakness. His faithful love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:23)
And as Isaiah wrote: “Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!” (Isaiah 53:4) And the Lord told Paul, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9.
It is our sincerest prayer that you will find the sustaining power and love of our Lord Jesus in all areas of your life and especially in your trials. For His love endures forever!
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