“Dysfunctional” has become one of the buzz-words of this mixed-up generation. Most often we hear “dysfunctional” applied to human relationships—we hear of dysfunctional families and dysfunctional marriages. In both cases, dysfunctional describes intimate human relationships that don’t work the way they are supposed to work.
Our particular focus in this study is on dysfunctional families. Here’s a working definition: A dysfunctional family is one in which there has been a major breakdown in the basic relationships within the family so that the family itself no longer functions properly.
1. Estrangement — Family members who avoid other family members.
2. Anger — It may be expressed or repressed.
3. Lack of Trust — Seen in faulty patterns of communication.
4. Deception — Inability to speak the truth to other family members.
5. Unhealthy Secrecy—Refusal to face the truth.
Note: You may find one or more of these traits in healthy families from time to time, but dysfunctional families adopt these traits as a normal pattern of life.
Although the word is new, the concept of a dysfunctional family is not new at all. After all, the real cause of dysfunctionality is the entrance of sin into the human race. Ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed God, every family has been dysfunctional to one degree or another. 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 colours life so that no marriage, no family, no parent-child relationship is truly perfect.
When we turn to the Bible, we don’t have to look very far to find dysfunctional family relationships: Consider the very first family—Adam and Eve who blamed each other for their own disobedience. Consider their children—Cain murdered his brother Abel. Consider Noah’s 3 sons—Ham disgraced his father by uncovering his nakedness. Consider Abraham and Sarah—He lied about his wife, calling her his sister. His nephew Lot turned out to be a major disappointment. Consider David—although he was a great king, a great warrior, and a great poet, as a father and husband he was a failure. 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.
Three Generations of Family Dysfunction
Consider the family of Jacob and Esau. Let’s start 2 generations before with Abraham and Sarah. The dysfunction begins when Sarah is unable to conceive so Abraham sleeps with Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant. A son is created whose name is Ishmael. The resulting relationship causes so much strain between Sarah and Hagar that Hagar runs away. Hagar returns, gives birth to Ishmael, and a tenuous peace is restored 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 2nd 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 favouritism is not hidden to the 2 boys, who become rivals, not allies. While sibling rivalry is a fact of life—even in the best of families—in dysfunctional families the rivalry becomes the defining fact of family life. That’s what happens with Jacob and Esau. Because of their vastly different personalities, and because of parental favouritism, they are destined to be rivals and enemies as long as they live.
No One Looks Good
Now the 3 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 4 characters in this story—Isaac the father, Rebekah the mother, and the 2 sons, Jacob and Esau. This is a portrait of a dysfunctional family, hanging by a thread, that self-destructs because of sinful patterns of interpersonal deception that have never been confronted and resolved.
1. Disobedience v. 1 - 4
Isaac believes that he is about to die. His fondest dream is to ensure that before he dies his son Esau obtains the cherished blessing. Now old and frail, Isaac’s sight is failing him. Calling for Esau, he sends him out to hunt some wild game for him. His intentions are clear. Isaac still wants Esau to have the rights of the first-born after he is dead. In sending him out to hunt for game, 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.
What’s wrong with that? Ordinarily, nothing would be wrong with it. 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. Throughout all the years, Isaac had evidently never been willing to accept God’s choice of Jacob over Esau. Now at last he plans to give Esau the blessing—in deliberate defiance of God’s will.
2. Deception v. 5 - 29
Rebekah was secretly listening to Isaac and Esau. She cooks up a scheme of her own. Her plan is simple: Jacob is to go kill 2 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, thus tricking Isaac into giving him the blessing.
When Jacob hears this amazing plan, he has only one reservation: “What if he touches me?” Jacob evidently has no moral objection to the idea of deceiving his father. He just wants to know what to do if he gets caught. Rebekah replies in the words of mothers throughout history, “Just do what I say.” Clearly Rebekah is the dominant leader in this family. It appears that Isaac has abdicated his position of leadership in favour of his wife.
One question. If this was so wrong, why did Jacob do it? Because he was under pressure from his mother. Because he wanted the blessing so badly. Because he believed the end justified the means. Because he didn’t respect his father sufficiently.
Jacob said to himself, “God wants me to have the blessing, so if I have to cheat a little bit, that’s all right. God will understand.” Jacob is half right. God did want him to have the blessing. God did understand what he was doing. But that didn’t make it right.
So Jacob, wearing the goatskins prepared by his mother, carries the tasty food to the father – v. 18 – 20.
Jacob’s lies are bound to happen because he decided that the end justifies the means. Soon one lie leads to another and then another and finally you have to keep on lying to cover up your previous lies.
In any case, Isaac sets his doubts aside and gives Jacob (thinking he is Esau) the blessing – v. 25 - 27. The blessing basically involves 3 things: Personal Prosperity, Pre-eminence, Protection by God.
Who is deceiving who? On one hand, Jacob is definitely deceiving his father Isaac. However, Isaac—because he thinks Jacob is really Esau—thinks he is deceiving Jacob by giving the blessing to Esau. Both intend to deceive the other; only Jacob succeeds. The most amazing point is that through this act of 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.
This story, seen in that light, is a story of the sovereignty of God. It reminds me of the words Joseph utters 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 motives to insure that his will was ultimately done.
3. Disintegration 27: 30 - 28: 9
Now Jacob has what he wanted all along, but because he obtained it through fraudulent means, he will soon pay a heavy price. After Isaac finished blessing Jacob, the real Esau came in and Isaac said, “Who are you?” “I am Esau.” Isaac trembled violently. It means that the old man shook uncontrollably as the shocking truth hit home. Jacob had deceived him! In a blinding flash of insight, he realized what he had just done.
Jacob had deceived him and the blessing was gone forever. Now the full weight of what has happened hits Esau – v. 34 – 36a.
“My brother has lived up to his name. He is a true ’Jacob’—He’s a cheater by nature.” So the name “Jacob” became a picture of his basic nature—he was willing to justify anything to get whatever he wanted in life.
Before you feel too sorry for Esau, ask yourself who caused this problem. 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.
At Esau’s request, Isaac gives him a blessing—but it is clearly inferior to Jacob’s v. 38 - 40.
Esau 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.
Rebekah 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 800kms away). Eventually Esau’s anger would cool and Rebekah would (according to her plan) send a message for Jacob to come home. Little did she know that Jacob would stay with his uncle Laban for 20 long years. But that’s another story.
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.
Jacob Got What He Wanted, But … it cost him his own family. As far as we know, He never saw his mother again. Why? Because he wouldn’t wait on God.
Psalm 37: 15 “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.
Two Undeniable Truths
1. Those who wait on the Lord, though it is difficult, will in the end not be disappointed.
2. 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.
What are you willing to trade in life in order to get what you want? Your family? Your friends? Your career? Your children? Your purity? Your integrity? To say it another way: What kind of deal are you willing to make in order to force God’s hand?
God doesn’t need your help to fulfill his will in your life. If he wants to give a blessing, he can give it. If he wants to elevate you, he can do it.
You need to wait. You need to trust God. Be still before the Lord. Listen to his voice. Let God speak to you. Your will be done, O Lord. If it takes longer than I think, Your will be done. If I don’t understand, Your will be done. When my heart is filled with fear, And I am tempted to doubt your plan, Your will be done. Forgive me for presuming to know better than you. Lord, whatever it costs, whatever it takes, Your will be done. Amen.