October 29, 2015 • Life for Leaders
When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.”
In yesterday’s devotion, we noticed a problem in the family system of Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac loved his son Esau, by implication, more than he loved his son Jacob. Why? Because Esau was a skillful hunter who would bring game for Isaac to eat. This kind of “love,” love that is earned by the performance of a child, isn’t really love and doesn’t reflect God’s own fatherly love for us. Moreover, it leads to negative behaviors in children and brokenness in families.
Yet, Isaac’s flawed love for Esau wasn’t the whole problem in this family. After describing Isaac’s conditional fondness for Esau, the text adds, “but Rebekah loved Jacob” (25:28). The context implies that she loved Jacob in a special way, more than she loved Esau. Uh-oh. That’s not good either.
No explanation for Rebekah’s fondness for Jacob follows, though the previous verse mentions that Jacob “was a quiet man, living in tents” (25:27). And who would be in these tents? Rebekah, Jacob’s mother, and her servants. So, while Esau was out hunting, bringing game back for his father, Jacob was hanging out with his mother. The next passage in Genesis (25:29-34), in which Jacob cooked a stew that Esau desired, shows one of the things Jacob did in the tents. He cooked, no doubt alongside his mother. For this reason, Rebekah loved him more than her other son.
Now we have double trouble in this family; not only do both parents “love” their children because of how their children act but also both parents prefer one son over the other. This is a formula for disaster in a family. And we will soon see how this disaster takes shape in the family of Isaac and Rebekah.
It’s normal for parents to connect deeply in some ways with one of their children more than another. And, children might well be more engaged with one parent than with the other. For example, my dad and I both shared a rather peculiar sense of humor, one that especially loved irony. There were many times in my boyhood when my dad and I would laugh together about something, leaving my mom and my siblings in the dark. This was a sweet and special connection between my dad and me. But I never, ever, ever felt as if my dad loved me more than my mom loved me, or that my dad loved me more than my siblings. My dad’s love was solid, steady, and equally given to all of his four children. The same could be said for my mom’s love. Their mature, giving, unconditional love for my siblings and me is one reason, I expect, that we all have strong, loving families today.
We’ll see in the next days how the imbalanced love of Isaac and Rebekah wreaked havoc in their family. For now, if you’re a parent, their example invites you to consider how you feel about your children and how you treat them.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Have you observed a family in which a parent loves one child more than another? Have you lived in such a family? How did this unbalanced love affect the health of the family?
If you’re a parent, can you say that you love your children equally? Do you express love to them in ways that reflect this reality?
What might you do today as a parent to let your children know you love them?
If you are not a parent, who are the children God has entrusted to your care so that you might love them?
Gracious God, every time I read Genesis 25:28 I cringe. Partly, I sense the pain and division in this family. Partly, because I know where the story is going to lead, I can see how the divided and unbalanced loves of Isaac and Rebekah will bear sour fruit.
Help me, Lord, to love my children abundantly, unconditionally, and equally. May I find ways to express my love for them that communicate this reality.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, for showing us what true parental love is like. Thank you for loving us before we loved you, and for sharing your love for us, most of all in your Son. Amen.
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, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.