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A Portrait of a Dysfunctional Family (Genesis 27)
The Story of Jacob
Portrait of a Dysfunctional Family
Genesis 27
Over the last few years, a word has become commonplace in American culture that I never even heard of until I was an adult and that is the word "dysfunctional".
The dictionary defines the noun dysfunction as a “disordered or impaired function". In plain old everyday laymen’s terms that means something doesn't work the way it is supposed to. And most often, in our society, the term is used to describe the problems of families.
For example, we hear about dysfunctional families and dysfunctional marriages. In both cases, dysfunctional describes intimate human relationships that don’t work the way they are supposed to work.
Generally speaking, there are five primary symptoms of a dysfunctional family:
  1. Estrangement—Family members who avoid other family members.
  1. Anger—It may be expressed or repressed.
  1. Lack of Trust—Seen in faulty patterns of communication.
  1. Deception—Inability to speak the truth to other family members.
  1. Unhealthy Secrecy—Refusal to face the truth.
And I think it is important to point out that most of those things are found in healthy families from time to time, but in dysfunctional families those characteristics are not the exception; they are the rule. This is normal life in many families.
If you are familiar with the Old Testament, you won't be surprised at all when I say that the concept of a dysfunctional family is not new. In fact, the idea itself goes back to the very beginning of time. That makes sense because spiritually speaking, the real cause of dysfunctionality is the entrance of sin into the human race.
Therefore, ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed God, every family has been dysfunctional to one degree or another because as long as you have sin, even the best relationships will be less than perfect.
There’s no such thing as a perfect family—never has been and never will be as long as sin is part of the human condition. Sin distorts everything we do and say—it colors life so that no marriage, no family, no parent-child relationship is truly perfect.
So when we study the Bible, we don’t have to look very far to find dysfunctional family relationships:
  1. the very first family. Adam and Eve sinned, and then blamed each other for their own disobedience. Before long, they have two sons and one of the boys murders his brother.
Turn over a few pages and you will find the story of Noah who is the only man on earth, along with his family who are saved from the floods of judgment.
And yet, the waters are no sooner receded when Noah gets drunk, gets naked and exposes himself to his sons.
Then along comes Abraham and Sarah. Abraham lied about his wife, and said she was his sister and has a nephew who turns out to be one problem after the other.
A few years pass and we meet a man named David who is a great king and warrior, but is a terrible father and husband. His marriage to Michal was largely a failure, his marriage to Bathsheba was based on an adulterous affair, and his son Absalom turned against him. As his kingdom crumbled, so did his family.
And if you want another example, consider the family of our current study. To set the scene for the story of Jacob, let's start two generations earlier with Abraham and Sarah. The dysfunction begins when Sarah is unable to conceive so Abraham sleeps with Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant.
When Abraham goes in to Hagar, a son is created whose name is Ishmael. The resulting relationship causes so much strain between Sarah and Hagar that Hagar runs away. At length Hagar returns, gives birth to Ishmael, and there is a temporary peace until Sarah gives birth to Isaac, at which point Abraham in response to Sarah’s complaints sends Hagar and Ishmael away for good. What’s going on here? Not only do Sarah and Hagar not get along, neither do Ishmael and Isaac get along.
We pass now to the second generation. Isaac marries Rebekah and after 20 years, she gives birth to Jacob and Esau. But the boys are very different, and Isaac prefers Esau while Rebekah loves Jacob. This family favoritism is not hidden to the two boys, who become rivals.
While sibling rivalry is a fact of life, even in the best of families, in dysfunctional families the rivalry takes center stage. That’s what happens with Jacob and Esau. Because of their vastly different personalities, and because of parental favoritism, they are destined to be rivals, and even bitter enemies, as long as they live.
So when we come to Genesis 27, where we will study tonight, the three generations of family dysfunction are about to come to a fearful climax. Those patterns of unhealthy relationships ultimately will destroy Jacob’s own family. What you see at the beginning of this chapter is a family that, while not working very well, at least is staying together. By the end of the chapter the family has been blown apart once and for all.
There are four characters in this story—Isaac the father, Rebekah the mother, and the two sons, Jacob and Esau. There are a couple of interesting things about this family from this chapter that I wanted to point out to you. I find it interesting that all four of these characters are presented in a negative light in this chapter. And I also notice they never appear together at the same time.
In fact, Jacob and Esau are now so far separated in their relationship that they never appear together at all.
This is a portrait of a dysfunctional family, hanging together by a thread, that eventually self-destructs because of sinful patterns in each of them that have never been confronted and resolved. Therefore, it is unavoidable that the deception and selfishness in each of them ultimately affects the rest of them.
Let me walk you through the downward spiral we see in this family, and I'll use a "d" to start each word so it'll be easier to remember. First, we see
1. Disobedience
verses 1-4
When the story opens, Isaac believes he is about to die, and his last wish is to make sure his favorite son, Esau, receives the cherished family blessing.
Isaac is old and frail, and almost blind. He asks Esau to go out and hunt some wild game for him. Remember, the we've already learned that Isaac loves a good wild game feast, so he says, “Esau, go kill something and prepare it for me. You know just how I like it. And when you get back, I'm going to bless you before I die."
The intention is very clear. Isaac intends that Esau will have the rights of the first-born after he dies, and in sending him out to hunt for food, he is asking him to do what a first-born son should do—take his place as the head and provider for the family. Once his son had prepared the meal, Isaac would then be free to give him the blessing.
Now ordinarily, nothing would be wrong with that. It was repeated time and time again in families of that day.
But God had already spoken and declared before the boys were born that “the older will serve the younger.” That meant that Jacob should be treated as the first-born.
But apparently, all through the years right up to the point of his death, Isaac has never been willing to accept God’s choice of Jacob over Esau.
So now he will usurp God's will and give the blessing to Esau. That is a critical mistake in at least four ways. First, it is never a good thing to try and overturn what God had said. That means he is completely ruled by human logic and wisdom, it ignores the fact that Esau is spiritually unqualified for the blessing, and he conspires in secret with Esau to hide his plan from Rebekah and Jacob.
  1. none of this matters to Isaac. He is determined his favorite son will have the blessing, and if he has to connive and lie and deceive and be disobedient, even to God to make it happen, that’s exactly what he will do. Disobedience leads to
2. Deception
We won't read it all, but beginning at verse 5 and extending down through verse 29, you can read how the events unfolded. It didn't work out like Isaac wanted it to because Rebekah was eavesdropping on the conversation he had with Esau.
She then repeats to Jacob what she overhead and then she cooks up a scheme of her own. Her plan is very simple: Jacob is to go kill two choice goats and Rebekah will cook up a tasty meal for Isaac.
Jacob will serve it to his father while pretending to be his brother, and in that way, trick Isaac into giving him the blessing.
(Somebody should make this into a soap opera!)
When Jacob hears this amazing plan, he has only one reservation: “What if he touches me?” The eventual father of the nation of Israel apparently has no moral objection to the idea, no spiritual reservations that would lead him to trust God. He just wants to be sure he doesn't get caught deceiving his father.
And notice what he says in
verse 12
No, you won't just "seem" to be a deceiver. What he is about to do is intentional, deliberate deceit.
There is a great difference between appearance and reality when deception is involved. But Jacob doesn’t seem to appreciate that point.
His comment in that twelfth verse continues with him saying, "I could wind up with a curse instead of a blessing!" And Rebekah replies in the words of mothers throughout history, “Just do what you're told to do and don't ask questions.”
I guess we know who wears the pants in this family! No doubt, Rebekah is a strong, forceful woman. We could also add deceitful and cunning to the list of adjectives.
She is the prime mover in this story. She is the one who thought of the deception. She is the one who told Jacob to go kill the goats. She is the one who advised him to dress up in goatskin and leave home till Esau cools down. And she was even willing to say, "I'll take the blame if anything goes wrong."
At every point she is calling the shots. She always has an answer for every question and a solution for every problem.
  1. if you want an illustration of just how strong she was, think about this: Jacob did whatever she said. Maybe he did it because he was under his mother's thumb or because he wanted the blessing so badly. Maybe it was because he thought the end justified the means or he didn't respect his father.
But at some point, Jacob must have said to himself, “God wants me to have the blessing, so if I have to cheat a little bit to get it, that’s all right. God will understand.”
And Jacob is half right. God did want him to have the blessing. And God did understand what he was doing. But that didn’t make it right.
verses 14-29
Notice how many ways Jacob deceives his father:
There is
- Deliberate Deception: “I am Esau your firstborn.”
- Religious Deception: “The Lord your God brought it to me.”
- Repeated Deception: “Are you really my son Esau?” “I am,” he replied.
- Affection Deception: “So he went to him and kissed him.”
- Sensory Deception: “Isaac caught the smell of his clothes.”
That's what happens whenever you follow the path of deception. One lie leads to another and eventually, you do anything you can to propagate the lie. that's what always follows saying something like, "It doesn’t matter how we do it. After all, the end justifies the means. This is what God wants for me."
Jacob’s lies are bound to happen because his mother and he decided what needed to happen and now he has to lie and keep lying to cover up the previous lies.
And ultimately, it works. Isaac becomes convinced it is Esau and gives Jacob the blessing.
verses 28
Because of the blessing, Jacob now has legal right to all the personal property that belonged to the family, preeminence among all peoples and protection by God. In essence Jacob now receives from Isaac everything God promised to Abraham.
One other detail I want to point out. It's interesting to think about who is deceiving who in this story. There is no doubt that Jacob is deceiving his father Isaac. That is obivous.
But Isaac, who knows of God's promise concerning the position of Jacob, and knows of Esau's decision to sell the birthright, and who thinks Jacob is really Esau, thinks he is deceiving Jacob by giving the blessing to Esau.
Both intend to deceive the other; but only Jacob succeeds. And I'll tell you the most surprising detail in the story is not that families are dysfunctional and lie and deceive one another.
The most amazing point in the whole thing is that through all the dysfunctionality and deception, God’s will was done! Why? Because God’s choice (Jacob) did in fact end up with the blessing. That doesn’t justify the deception, but it does demonstrate how God works through the weakness of sinful men to accomplish his purposes.
Ultimately, this story, is not about how messed up families can become. It is the story of God and His sovereignty in the details of human lives. It reminds me of what Joseph said to his brothers many years later: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20) Both Isaac and Jacob had less than noble motives, but God overruled their bad motives to insure that his will was ultimately done.
Well, as is often the case, disobedience leads to deception, and deception leads to
3. Disintegration
verses 27:30 - 28:9
There is a heavy price to be paid because of the deception. Jacob may have gotten what he always wanted, but he got a lot of things he didn't anticipate also.
And before you feel too sorry for Esau, remember what caused part of the problem to begin with. Ultimately it started because Esau despised his own birthright. If he had properly valued the birthright, Jacob could never have tricked him out of it.
This part of the story comes to an end with Jacob getting the blessing, and at Esau’s request, Isaac gives him a blessing also. But it is clearly inferior to Jacob’s.
And because of that, verse 41 tells us that Esau held a grudge against Jacob. He even said to himself, “After my father dies, I’m going to kill my brother Jacob.” All of that is understandable. Who can blame Esau for being angry? His brother has cheated him twice.
At this point Rebekah steps back into the picture. She tells Jacob to run for his life because Esau will surely kill him. She advises him to visit his uncle (her brother) Laban in Haran (about 500 miles away). Eventually Esau’s anger would cool and Rebekah would (according to her plan) send a message for Jacob to come home.
Momma knew her boys, didn’t she? She knew that Esau had a hot temper, but that his anger would fade as quickly as it came. Esau wasn’t the kind of man to keep grudges. He was quick to be angry and also quick to forgive. Rebekah thought Jacob would return home in a few weeks or months.
Little did she know that Jacob would stay with his uncle Laban for 20 long years. But that’s another story.
One final detail and our story is over. She has to find a way to justify sending Jacob to Haran, so she tells Isaac that she wants Jacob to find a wife from among their own people—and not from among the pagans. In effect, she’s giving Isaac a cover story. Isaac agrees, calling Jacob to his side, repeating the Abrahamic blessing, and sending him off to Haran to find a wife.
What do you have when you stand back and take this story as a whole? What you have is a dysfunctional family that in the beginning is barely
holding together. In the end the family collapses under the weight of deception and dishonesty.
And Jacob got what he wanted, but because he got it through fraudulent means, it cost him dearly: His family is destroyed, he is penniless and homeless and fleeing for his life. He is estranged from his brother, he has humiliated and deceived his father, and as far as we know, he never saw his mother again.
All because he wouldn’t wait on God. Chuck Swindoll calls waiting the hardest discipline of the Christian life. Psalm 37:15 says, “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him.” Most of us don’t want to be still and we don’t want to wait. We want our answers right now.
And obviously, there is a lot to learn from this story, maybe the primary lesson is about learning to wait on God. Let me give you two takeaways, one positive, one negative:
On the positive side, those who wait on the Lord, though it is difficult, will in the end not be disappointed.
On the negative side, those who impatiently try to force God’s hand may get what they want but in the process they will lose everything of value in life.
Remember, there are no shortcuts with God. Every shortcut turns out to be a dead-end street. Those who take short-cuts end up wandering aimlessly through life. Write it down in big letters: God doesn’t need your help to fulfill his will in your life. That’s the number-one lesson of this story. If he wants to give a blessing, he can give it. If he wants to elevate you, he can do it. If he wants to raise you up to a position of great power, he can do it.
If God wants Jacob to have the birthright, there’s no way Esau can keep it. If God wants Jacob to have the blessing, there’s no way Esau can get it. And if God wants Jacob to have the blessing, there’s no way Isaac can give it to Esau.
No way! Can’t happen. Not in a million years. God doesn’t need Jacob’s help. Or Rebekah’s either. If God wants to, he can work a miracle or he can arrange the circumstances or he can simply change Isaac’s mind or just strike him dead. God is infinitely creative when it comes to finding ways of accomplishing his purposes on earth.
But when we interfere, when we try to “help” God
out, we only mess things up. The ironic truth is that whenever we try to “help” God out, we may in fact get whatever it was we wanted, but the price will be too high.
One of the hardest prayers you will ever pray is to pray as Jesus instructed us: "Thy will be done." I say that is one of the hardest prayers because there is another prayer that is equally hard and that is "Lord, My will be done!"
In essence, that's what Jacob prayed. And Jacob isn't the only one to ever pray that way. A lot of us have said, "Lord, I don't care what you want. I want what I want and I want it now."
But when you pray in that way, as Jacob did, God responds by saying, “All right, then, your will be done, but you’re going to be sorry.”
In the end you’ll never regret saying, “Lord, thy will be done—in your way, in your time, and according to your plan.”
Let me end by making this very practical. If you are like most people, you probably have a hard time waiting for the things in life you really care about. so think about this: What is it you are waiting on right now? Maybe there is more than one thing. It might be a mate, or a healing or a job change.
It might be your education, or a new home, or perhaps you’re praying for a son or a daughter, or some dream you have in your heart. Who knows?
You may be waiting for a wayward husband to come to his senses. Or it may be that you are praying about a loved one who is very sick. You may have a wandering child who is far from God and you are waiting on the return of the prodigal.
Whatever the situation is, you may be tempted to say, “God, you’re not moving fast enough.” But you need to learn to wait and trust God. You need to be still before the Lord, listen to his voice and let God speak and move.
So whatever it is, would you make it your commitment this evening wait patiently on the Lord in those areas? Would you pray, "Thy will be done, O Lord. If it takes longer than I think, Thy will be done. If I don’t understand, Thy will be done. When my heart is filled with fear, and I am tempted to doubt your plan, Thy will be done. Forgive me for presuming to know better than you. Lord, whatever it costs, whatever it takes,
Thy will be done.
Let's pray.
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