Series: My Crazy Family
Genesis 25: 19-34
Who of us has cornered the market for craziness in our family? It seems that broken families and dysfunctional families are everywhere. There’s hope for even crazy families because of Jesus Christ. Great things can come from broken families.
Jacob’s life stands above the rest of humanity like a tall Colorado Rocky mountain peak over the horizon. More than a 1,000 years after Jacob died, his impact still lived on for the prophet Hosea said of him:
”In the womb he took his brother by the heel,
and in his manhood he strove with God.
4 He strove with the angel and prevailed;
he wept and sought his favor.
He met God at Bethel,
and there God spoke with us-” (Hosea 12:3-4)
Jacob’s life works like a Russian nesting doll, for his life has one conflict inside conflict inside yet another conflict. What begins as a conflict with his twin brother Esau, moves to his quarrel with his eventual father-in-law Laban, to continual run-ins with his two wives (yes, he was a polygamist). Jacob’s family life is one quarrel wrapped around another.
We will follow him from his birth right to his deathbed in the weeks to come. As great as Jacob was, he will transform before our eyes in the weeks to come. From a scheming manipulator to a humbled man, Jacob transforms by the grace of God. We will see him used of God and watch in wonder as God starts a nation from his lineage.
”These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her, and she said, ”If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her,
”Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”
24 When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, ”Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) 31 Jacob said, ”Sell me your birthright now.” 32 Esau said, ”I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, ”Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” (Genesis 25:19-34)
Here’s why Jacob matters. It’s not just that he comes from a crazy family and can help guide you through your next family reunion, it’s that Jacob matters because God’s choice of him. In fact, Jacob goes by another name, Israel. Yes, that’s right, the very nation of Israel will be named after Jacob.
Why Jacob is Important
This not just any family, for this is God’s chosen family – the one family He had chosen to change the very world. God’s promise to Abraham (Jacob’s grandfather): ”And he brought him outside and said, ”Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, ”So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5).
God’s promise to Isaac (Jacob’s father): ”Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. 4 I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed…” (Genesis 26:3-4).
God’s promise to Jacob himself: ”Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 28:14).
It is from this family that God brings Jesus Christ from many years later (Matthew 1:2). God takes this one family aside and essentially says, ”I’m going to save the world through your family.”
1. Successfully Handling Family Problems
Every family has problems. Whether it is a toxic family member, alcoholism, or a cheating spouse, families have their problems.
1.1 Meet the Parents
Let me back up a moment and fill you in on the backstory of Isaac and Rebekah here. Jacob’s grandfather was the Abraham, the father of the faithful. Jacob’s father was Isaac and his mother was Rebekah. The story of their arranged marriage is told in Genesis 24, typical for the day.
Now, if you get the names confused throughout this study, don’t worry so will I !
Isaac’s birth was a miracle because he came to Sarah and Abraham so late in their lives (Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90) – (Genesis 21:1-7). Isaac’s very life was a big test for his father for he was the one that God told Abraham to take to Mount Moriah to sacrifice. Yet, at the last moment, God provided a ram for the sacrifice in his place (Genesis 22).
The Bible tells us that Rebekah was kind woman to strangers and animals (Genesis 24:14, 18, 20). She was also beautiful as the Bible calls her ”very attractive” and virtuous as she waited until marriage for having sex with any man (Genesis 24:16). Now, Isaac was 40 when he married and now he is approaching 60 years of age with no children as of yet. Ancient Jewish rabbi’s felt that if you weren’t married by 20, you were cursed by God! So with Isaac and Rebekah waiting so long, they felt the biological clock ticking.
1.2 Family Problems
Look for a moment at Jacob’s mother and father: ”And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived” (Genesis 25:21). It is important to place Jacob’s parents in front of you for another moment for how they handled their problem insightful. Rebekah was barren (sterile) just as Sarah, her mother-in-law, Sarah, before her (Genesis 25:21). The fact that Rebekah was not able to have children surely stumped Isaac and her. And remember, God’s promise to this family was they would have numerous children. After all, God Himself had promised that Isaac’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars above. But unlike Isaac’s parents (Abraham and Sarah), Isaac and Rebekah did not take matters into their own hands. When Abraham and Sarah faced this same problem, Sarah tells Abraham to sleep with one of the female servants, a girl named Hagar. Nowhere do we read that Hagar got a choice in this and as soon as soon as she produces a child for Abraham, you can probably anticipate the next thing: Sarah becomes jealous. No, Jacob’s parents didn’t do this; instead, Jacob prayed.
Having a successful family is hard but it is exceedingly rewarding. Yet, God has given you a tremendous tool in prayer. Isaac prayed when Rebekah couldn’t conceive (Genesis 25:21) and Rebekah prayed when her pregnancy was so difficult (Genesis 25:22b).
How Does God Answer Prayer?
The great tragedy is not unanswered prayer but unoffered prayer. God never answers a prayer that you don’t prayer. I wonder if God will take us aside one day in the future and show us all the things He would have done, had we simply asked Him?
Four Ways God Answers Prayer
1) Sometimes God Answers Directly. This is the way we would love God to answer all of our prayers. We pray and He answers!
2) Sometimes God Answer is Delayed. In fact, this seems to be the way God answers Jacob’s prayer. How long did Jacob pray like this? 5 years, 10 years, even 20 years?
3) Sometimes God answers Denied. ”No” is answer. What is about the word ”No” you don’t understand. The truth is: If I gave you everything you asked for you’d have a lot of stuff you really didn’t want.
4) Sometimes God answers are Different At times, God will answer your prayer wisely in a way you cannot foresee.
In all of this, you pray. When can you talk to God? Anytime. Where can you talk to God? Anywhere. What can you talk to God about? Anything. If you’re going to successfully handle family problems, then you’re going to need to learn to pray.
2. Sibling Rivalry
Conflict is inevitable in any family relationship. Even the best families have conflict – remember Adam and Eve’s boys (Cain murders Abel). Nevertheless, you should desire family harmony. I need to speak to parents for the next few moments. You are raising sinners in your home who are responsible for their lives. Yet, we must exercise tremendous care in how we guide them. Let me show you.
Jacob’s brother, Esau, plays a powerful role in his life. When Jacob is alienated from Esau in the years to come, it will haunt him. And when he’s closely connected to his brother, it will mean peace has returned. The Bible is full of instances of sibling rivalry: famously, Cain and Abel and there’s Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob’s father. ”When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents” (Genesis 25:27).
Jacob is calculating and cool-headed and he will return back to his scheming ways over and over again. One individual called him ”a conniving opportunist.” His twin brother, Esau, is a free spirit who lives for his appetites. He’s every bit as emotional as his brother is steady. These two boys were different: one liked to stay indoors while the other enjoyed the outdoors. One boy was reddish and hairy while the other chased after his older brother even from birth.
Esau made a lifetime decision for a meal that took only minutes for him to consume. He exaggerates his situation by saying he is dying. Esau’s life was identified by the sinful, hotheaded decision he made in a moment. Esau lacked self-control all of his life and it tore his life apart.
Application point: some of you will be horrified by how little money it will take to get you to compromise your honesty.
Application point: some of you will be horrified by how bad the sex is that compromised your marriage.
Application point: you’ll be horrified to see how vile the pornography is that brought your life’s integrity to down to nothing.
What’s your appetite for? Is it for special recognition? Sex? Money? Most spiritual person? Take care with your appetites for it can lead you to despair.
2.1 Turbulent Pregnancy
Rebekah felt their struggle in her womb as a premonition of things to come: ”The children struggled together within her…” (Genesis 25:22a). What to Expect When You’re Expecting couldn’t help Jacob’s mother during her 9 months of extreme pain. While no pregnancy is easy, Jacob’s mother really experienced some challenges. The Hebrew behind our English versions here suggests the twins smashed themselves inside her. A recent 2011 study of 5 pairs of twins using four-dimensional ultrasound found that twins were social even in the womb. Twins, between 14 and 18 weeks of gestation were found to be reaching for one another. The fierce fighting between the two boys that began in their mother’s womb would follow them for years to come.
2.2 Playing Favorites
A big problem for the twins is the way their parents play favorites: Isaac prefers Esau and Rebekah prefers Jacob. ”Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (Genesis 25:28). Take note of this: Esau’s defining moment came when he failed at what he was so successful doing. Esau’s extreme hunger arrives when he comes back from a hunting trip with nothing to show for it.
Don’t you know that Esau loved being his father’s favorite? Don’t you know that Isaac hurt every time when he saw his brother receive ”extra affection”? Don’t you think Isaac attempted to be the hunter Esau was? Did part of Esau wonder if he was unsuccessful at hunting, he would forgo his father’s affection?
Isaac sets in motion what I am calling a generational echo. You’ll see what I’m calling a generational echo throughout this family’s story when the sins of the father are repeated in the sins of the sons. Here Isaac plays favorites and years later Jacob’s family will suffer because he plays favorites. Jacob’s favoritism of his son, Joseph, over his other boys is partly responsible in Joseph’s being sold into slavery.
When you don’t feel loved by someone as significant as your parents, it is easy for depression to settle on you. This is common among children whose parents have abandoned them. The men in this family traded love like you would trade a commodity in the Chicago Futures exchange.
Before the twins’ birth, God says this about the destiny of the boys: ”And the Lord said to her, ”Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:21-23).
A birthright in ancient culture meant you were the head of your family. All your brothers and sisters would look to you for both spiritual and practical leadership. You get to make the decisions plus you receive twice as much in the inheritance than your siblings. Even though God predicted Jacob would be the stronger of the twins at birth, this doesn’t excuse Jacob’s actions. Instead of scheming for the birthright, Isaac should have simply waited on God to give to him.
Look for a moment at the scheming, manipulating ways of Jacob against his twin brother. Jacob said, ”Sell me your birthright now” (Genesis 25:31). Can’t you feel the demanding tone come through after all these years? Jacob said, ”Swear to me now” (Genesis 25:33a). The silliness of Esau’s decision is modern day thinking: he sells his life for a piece of gum.
Flash Forward: Favoritism This will not be the last meal the two boys will argue over (join us next Sunday). Jacob is a shrewd negotiator and even though it isn’t noted in the text, he lacks any real compassion for his older brother, Esau. These parents should have taken these boys to task and spoken frankly to them – you are to love one another despite your differences. Isaac should have spoken bluntly to Jacob about his conniving, scheming ways. In the end, when the boys are grown up, it was Esau who had sold his birthright over a single meal (Hebrews 12:16).
God specializes in redeeming messes. The fact that this family is included in your Bible should give us hope. If God can use this family, He can also fix your dysfunctional family. God brings His very Son, Jesus, through this family. God is amazing.
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