Leadership Gone Wrong

By Mark D. Roberts

August 22, 2017

He said, ‘Are you really my son Esau?’ He answered, ‘I am.’

Genesis 27:24


Photo of little boy screaming and shouting with an angry face.

Genesis 27 painfully reveals a case of leadership gone wrong. One might say it’s an example of a lack of leadership. Leadership happens in this passage, but it isn’t good.

I’m speaking of the leadership of Isaac and Rebekah in their family. Though the dynamics of leadership are distinctive within a family, they are not dissimilar from what happens within other organizations, such as a business or a school. Thus, the example of Isaac and Rebekah can inform our leadership in a variety of settings.

Why do I say that Genesis 27 shows us leadership gone wrong? Consider what we see in this passage: multiple deceptions including boldfaced lying by a son to his father; failure to abide by God’s prophetic guidance; taking advantage of the frailty of an old man; a wife scheming with her son against her husband; unwillingness to take responsibility for one’s mistakes; hatred of a brother by a brother with the threat of fratricide; the shattering of a family. Now, I realize that parents cannot always control what happens within their families. But it seems clear that Isaac and Rebekah have not led their family well.

We might be tempted to see Isaac as the victim. But he has sown what he has reaped. Isaac, as you may recall, both lied and coerced Rebekah to lie about her marital status, thus risking her honor and well-being. Perhaps his penchant for dishonesty was passed on to his son Jacob. Moreover, the roots of the division and hatred between Jacob and Esau grew from the favoritism displayed by their parents, with each parent loving one son more than the other because of what that son could do for the parent. Finally, Isaac’s desire to bless Esau rather than Jacob is his attempt to circumvent what the Lord had promised concerning Rebekah’s children, namely, that “the elder shall serve the younger” (27:23).

Similarly, we might be inclined to see Rebekah as trying to uphold God’s will for her sons. But doing so by deceiving and dishonoring her husband is surely not an exemplar of wise, godly leadership. No, Isaac, as the patriarch of his family, and Rebekah, as a strong partner with Isaac, both demonstrate leadership that lacks morality and maturity. The result is a broken family filled with deceit and disaffection.

This story saddens me, but it also stirs me to look at my own leadership, not just in my family but also in every place where God has entrusted people and organizations to my care. Am I leading with integrity? Am I honest? Am I nurturing healthy relationships among those whom I lead? Am I creating a culture in which honesty and mutual respect is deeply valued? Am I treating all whom I lead fairly, or do I play favorites? What kind of fruit will my leadership bear in time? Perhaps you might join me by asking these questions about your leadership.


Let me encourage you to consider the questions I have just posed. Think of how your practices as a leader are like (or unlike) those of Isaac and Rebekah. Take a good, long look at the relationships among the people given to your care. How are they, really?


Gracious God, it’s easy to sit back and take potshots at Isaac and Rebekah. I don’t want to do this. I am all too aware of my own foibles and failures as a leader to look down upon this couple. Yet, I am eager to let their example of poor leadership challenge me. Help me, Lord, to see myself and my leadership clearly. Keep me from living in denial. By your grace, may I see where I need to grow as a leader or even to change course dramatically. Help me to lead in such a way that the people and organization entrusted to my care flourish. I need your help, Lord, your wisdom, your grace. Amen.


Image Credit: “scream and shout” by Mindaugas DanysCC2.0.


This post originally published on November 2, 2015.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentaryMultiple Deceptions

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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