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Dysfunction

Date: Aug. 26, 2018

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Genesis 27:41-28:9

Key Verse: Genesis 28:4

May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.

Anybody here like watching reality TV? It is a genre of television that basically consists of people living out their lives while being filmed. Personally, I can’t stand it, but for many people it is fascinating because it’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. The people on those shows go through some of the most absurd adventures. Sometimes they go through the most ordinary things, but with the greatest drama possible. The families or groups of people on the shows are completely dysfunctional. They fight each other and scream. They scheme and plot to get their own way. It really is like watching a train wreck happen in slow motion, and yet millions cannot look away. Our passage today seems like it belongs on reality TV. There is a lot of drama and misdirection. People are plotting, and people are scheming, but one thing remains at the heart of it all, God. Despite what the people in this passage are doing, God is making sure that his plan is moving forward.

If you remember last week, we were in a passage that already had a lot of drama in it. Isaac was getting old. He had lost his sight and was certain that he could die any day, so he wanted to make sure that he passed along his blessing to his son Esau. Esau was the oldest son by mere moments, but he was Isaac’s favored son and wanted to give everything he had to his favored son. He told Esau to go hunt some game, bring it back, cook it up, serve it to him, and then he would receive the blessing. Now, Isaac’s wife Rebekah heard what was going to happen and she preferred Esau’s twin brother Jacob, so she concocted a plan to trick her husband into thinking the younger son was Esau and give the blessing to him. She dressed Jacob in Esau’s clothing, prepared some goat to pass off as game, and covered Jacob with goat skins to make him feel like good old hairy Esau. Jacob went into his father pretending to be his brother, and, after some doubt on Isaac’s part, fooled Isaac into giving the blessing to him. The younger was blessed over the older. When Esau came back, Isaac was confused and they both realized that Jacob had deceived his father. Esau was in tears because he had been cheated out of the blessing. He cried out for his father to bless him, too. He was a man that did not think much about his birthright, but when it mattered, he wanted it back, but it was too late. The blessing that Isaac gave Jacob was legally binding. Everything would go to Jacob, including God’s promise.

That’s how we get to this passage. Jacob stole the blessing out from under his brother at their mother’s suggestion. Our passage begins, “Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’” (27:41) Esau was so upset that he started planning about killing his brother Jacob. That’s some next level stuff. It’s like a movie plot or something you see on a soap opera. It is how supervillains are made. The hero takes something that the bad guy thinks that is theirs and then they vow to get back at them and take everything that they have and even kill them. This is the beginning of Esau taking up the name Edom as his supervillain name. He becomes the Red Menace. Esau just wasn’t going to kill Jacob, he had a plan or at least 12% of a plan, which is better than 11%. Esau wanted to wait until his father died, then he would kill Jacob. With Isaac seemingly at death’s door, Esau did not want to go against him while he was alive, so he chose to wait. Unfortunately, no one knew that it would be another forty-three years before Isaac would die at the age of 180.

Now, Esau was making these plans privately. Even though he was on the path of supervillainy, he did not make the classic supervillain mistake of monologuing. He didn’t explain his plan in painful detail to the hero. Instead, he said it to himself, but it was not quite quiet enough, because someone overheard his plan and passed it on to his mother Rebekah. Yes, someone told Esau’s mommy about the bad things he was planning. “When Rebekah was told what her older son Esau had said, she sent for her younger son Jacob and said to him, ‘Your brother Esau is planning to avenge himself by killing you.’” (27:42) Rebekah didn’t take Esau’s plotting and words lightly. She immediately called for Jacob and informed him of the situation. In the last passage, Rebekah was the one eavesdropping on Isaac, but apparently, she has a network of servants who report to her everything that seems odd or disconcerting, like death threats. She just didn’t want to inform Jacob, however. She wanted to try and stop the plan.

“Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran.” (27:43) Now, I am not sure if this was something cultural or not, but Rebekah doesn’t seem to be attacking the problem head-on. That would have meant talking with Esau or Isaac about the plot to kill Jacob. Instead, she tells Jacob to flee from Esau and to go to her brother Laban. There was no solving problems in this family, there was just running away from them. Rebekah continued, “Stay with him for a while until your brother’s fury subsides. When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I’ll send word for you to come back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?” (27:44-45) Her plan would keep Jacob away for a while and to call for him when Esau had a chance to cool off. I don’t know how long Rebekah expected Jacob to be away, but it would end up being twenty years. And it wouldn’t be Rebekah calling Jacob back, it would be Jacob fleeing Laban that would bring Jacob back to the Promised Land.

Now, right then and there Jacob could have just left for his uncle’s place, but instead his mother had a plan in how to implement her scheme for Jacob to flee. Rebekah didn’t talk to Isaac about Jacob needing to leave. She didn’t mention anything about Esau’s plotting or the cat he kept petting or his propensity to tent his fingers and say “Excellent”. Her plan was a bit more roundabout and fit in the movie Inception. Rebekah wanted to make sure that it was Isaac’s idea for Jacob to go to Laban. So, he began by amping up the drama. Now, remember, that Isaac cannot see anymore. So, Rebekah must have used an audible way to get his attention. She probably sighed a few times with varying intensity. Finally, Isaac noticed, “What is it, honey?” To which she answered, “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.” (27:46) What she said had a lot of truth in it. At the end of chapter 26, the Bible says that Esau’s wives were a source of grief for his parents. It would be an understatement to say that they didn’t like his wives much, but here Rebekah uses that disgust as a means to send Jacob away. At 77 years of age, Jacob was still unmarried, and Isaac wouldn’t want Jacob to make the same mistake as Esau, so ratcheted up the disgust a few levels and embellished her words, just to make sure that Isaac would get the idea.

And he sure got the idea. “So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: ‘Do not marry a Canaanite woman.’” (28:1) Isaac was very blunt with Jacob. He commanded Jacob to not marry a Canaanite woman. Isaac saw the problem with Esau’s Hittite wives and extended command to include all Canaanites. Also, Isaac commanded Jacob. It wasn’t a suggestion; it was a command. He was very forceful about it because he wanted to make sure that Esau didn’t make the same mistake as Esau. Esau probably just looked at an outward appearance without considering the inner nature of his wives. Esau’s wives were probably very beautiful, but they were just horrible people otherwise. Esau doesn’t strike me as a person who looks much further than physical beauty.

Instead of marrying a Canaanite, Jacob tells his younger son to go to Rebekah’s brother and take a wife from one of his daughters. I find it interesting that Rebekah wanted Jacob to flee to her brother Laban, and although Isaac knows nothing about the fleeing, he also tells Jacob to go to Laban. Rebekah wanted to make sure that Jacob had some family to go to, but Isaac wanted to make sure that whoever Jacob chose to marry would be from a good family, and the only one he was sure about was Rebekah’s family. Sure, Isaac was commanding Jacob to marry his cousin, but that wasn’t an uncommon thing in those days. Even Abraham married his half-sister Sarah. It just wasn’t as big of a deal back then.

Then Isaac began to bless his son again. This time it was without deception. Isaac was speaking to Jacob, “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.” (28:3-4) The first part of the blessing seems pretty standard. Isaac calls in God to bless Jacob and make him fruitful and increase in numbers. This is very similar to the blessing Adam received from God. It is a standard blessing to have many children.

The second part of the blessing is more interesting. In the second part, Isaac is calling on God to give Abraham’s blessing to Jacob and that he would give Jacob the land of Canaan. I find interesting because this is the blessing that Jacob stole when he impersonated Esau, but now Isaac is giving the blessing freely and knowingly to Jacob. Isaac has accepted that Jacob was to receive this blessing, so he reaffirms it knowingly this time. This is God working despite all the human plotting and scheming. People have their own agendas, but God’s plan is supreme over all. Before they were born God told how Jacob, the younger son would be chosen over Esau the older son and here we see Isaac passing down the birthright and the blessing of God to the younger son, willingly.

Jacob listened to his father and he left to go to Laban in Paddan Aram, which was hundreds of miles away. Even though it was at Rebekah’s call to flee from Esau, Jacob left with a blessing and a charge to find a wife from among the daughters of Laban. If Jacob just fled, he may not have had a way to return home. Instead, it was Isaac’s idea to send him there to find a wife. He would have a way to return home when it was time. Rebekah had the idea to send Jacob to Laban, and she had a way to make sure that Isaac had the same idea. It is truly like Inception, where the protagonists had to go into multiple levels of dreams to implant an idea by making the mark think that he had the idea to break up his father’s company. If they suggested that he break up the company, the idea wouldn’t hold, but if he came up with the idea, then the idea would hold, and the mark would act on it. Here, Rebekah complained about Esau’s wives and Isaac had the idea to send Jacob to find a wife from a more respectable family, that of Rebekah herself. So, Jacob listened and went to Laban.

When Esau heard what happened, he didn’t cry out because he was denied the blood of his brother. He learned what his father thought of his wives. “Now Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Paddan Aram to take a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he commanded him, ‘Do not marry a Canaanite woman,’ and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram. Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.” (28:6-9) Here, we have Esau missing the point. When he learned out displeasing his Hittite wives were to his father, Esau set out to find another wife that was not a Canaanite. Esau must have thought that Isaac didn’t bless him because of his wives. That he was disappointed in his choices, so he cluelessly tried to get some blessing of his own by marrying a daughter of Ishmael, Isaac’s half-brother. Remember, Isaac was the son of promise, while Ishmael was the son of the curse. So when Esau married Ishmael’s daughter, he married a woman who was from the cursed side of the family. The two parts of the family that God rejected were coming together through this marriage.

Esau seems to be a little slow on the uptake. At the beginning of the passage, he is angry at his brother for stealing the blessing, but at the end of the passage, he is trying to mimic his brother to receive some blessing from his father and his approval. He does so poorly, but his heart is slightly changed. He wants to be blessed and he tries to get that blessing by his own power. He realizes some mistake that he made, but he tries to correct that mistake on his own. That causes him to make more mistakes, instead of a right choice.

It is again a sign of the dysfunction in this family. Esau doesn’t talk to his father about it; he assumes something and acts on it, whether or not there was truth in that assumption. Again, there is so much dysfunction going on in this family. Both parents are playing favorites. Both Isaac and Rebekah have a favorite son and only have the interest of their favored son in mind. Any parent can tell you that is a horrible thing to do to your children. If you have a favored child, then you make the rest feel inferior to the favored kid. They receive better stuff and more love, and the rest feel left out. Also, there seems to be little communication going on among family members. Rebekah doesn’t talk to Isaac about the real issues but manipulates him to get what she wants. She is good at it too. She is able to get Isaac to do what she wants and makes him think that it was his idea. Rebekah doesn’t confront Esau about his plans and Jacob doesn’t talk to anyone about what is going on. It really does feel like this family belongs on reality TV. It is a miracle that this family even functions at all.

And it is truly a miracle because God is in it. It is not by their human efforts that God’s plan keeps on going. Because of Esau, Jacob could have been killed. Rebekah put Jacob in harm’s way by stealing the blessing and by sending him away, there is a danger that Jacob would never return to claim the promise given to Abraham. Humanly, there are so many things that could go wrong, but they never do because God is making things turn out the way he wants. Some people like to think that they must be doing the right thing because it turned out all right, but that is not necessarily the case. Many times, God is just directing his plan despite what we are doing. He is watching over everything, making sure that it all goes according to plan, but many times our dysfunction gets in the way. Whether we are well-meaning or not, we mess up a lot and God has to clean up those messes in order to keep his plan on track. This shows our limitations, but it also shows his great faithfulness. He is faithful to his plan and faithful to us, even when we are not faithful to either.

Now, I have heard recently that the majority of young people who grew up in Christian families fall away from God in their teenage years because they don’t feel that they are good enough to come to God. They think that God wants them to be perfect to come to him and they know that they are not perfect. They feel alone and abandoned by God. They know of the rules and regulations of God, and they know that they are unable to keep them. So, they just stay away from God. But, that is not the God we see here. This is one messed up family, but God is still working through them. They are not perfect by any sense of the word, but God is still using them to further his plan to bring about the salvation of the world. It is through Jacob’s line that Jesus would come.

We do not have to be perfect to be God’s people. In fact, God doesn’t want people who think they are perfect. If we think that we are perfect, then we think that we do not need God, and that is a grave mistake. God delights in taking the broken and healing them, taking the old and making it new. It reminds me of the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty. The most famous part goes,

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
(Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus)

This country was built by the people that no one else wanted to become one of the greatest that the world has ever seen. We have our problems, but the broken becoming the best is something that this nation knows, but what has happened here pales in comparison to what God is capable of. He redeems and renews all things through the blood of Jesus. Whatever seems impossible is possible with God. God can move mountains; he can make a way where there is no way. His promise still stands. He is so faithful, and he has never failed. If you look at the genealogy of Jesus, there were so many times where God’s plan could have failed because of humanity. One of Jacob’s sons Judah almost prevented his line from continuing. He had two sons die while married to Tamar, so he didn’t want to give his third son to her. There were no heirs, but Tamar took it upon herself to trick Judah, himself to impregnate her and the line continues. Again, that is really messed up, but God’s plan kept going forward. He was still faithful, even though Judah was not. So many of the later kings were evil, but God continued the line of kings to get to Jesus, the true and perfect king.

God doesn’t need us to be perfect to come to him. We just need to recognize that we need him. We need to recognize how broken we are and how we make such bad decisions. Then, God makes us perfect through his faithfulness and the blood of his son Jesus Christ. He died to take way all those imperfections. If perfect people came to God, there would be no need for Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. Yet, he did die for each and every one of us. We can have hope. If God can use a dysfunctional family like this, then there is hope for every one of us and everyone that each of us knows. I’m definitely not perfect. There is too much anger inside of me and I worry far too much about things that I cannot control. I feel powerless and weak. I feel unable to get out from underneath the stress that is in my life. How can I be used by God? I’ve got too many worries to think about. My son keeps getting fevers. My dad is getting open-heart surgery this Thursday. I have many deadlines at my work that seem hard to keep, especially since I have to go out of town for my dad’s surgery. I need to be a husband and a father, when I live my life exhausted. I feel that I neglect so much of what I need to do. God surely doesn’t want to use a person like that, right? That’s wrong. That is the exact type of person that God does want. That type of person knows that they need God, because they cannot do anything on their own. They just need to give in and trust in Jesus. God is so faithful to us and his plan. Let us know the greatest and goodness of who God is. Despite who we may be, God is always who he is.

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The Result of Complacency and Pride

Amos 6:1-14

Key Verse: 6:8b

The Lord GOD has sworn by himself, declares the LORD, the God of hosts:

  “I abhor the pride of Jacob
    and hate his strongholds,
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