Tag Archives: Esau

Connected

Connected (CaD Gen 36) Wayfarer

This is the account of the family line of Esau (that is, Edom).
Genesis 36:1 (NIV)

A few years ago, Wendy and I participated in a cemetery walk for our local historical society. We have, for many years, portrayed our community’s founding couple (Hendrick Peter and Maria Scholte) at the town’s annual Tulip Festival, and so we were asked to participate in the cemetery walk. Basically, we stood by the gravestones of the couple we were portraying and when people walked by we would share a brief, scripted story about individuals we were portraying. There were other actors in different costumes stationed by gravestones around the cemetery.

While we were waiting between visitors, I began investigating the gravestones within the Scholte family plot. I was shocked to see a name I thought I recognized. When we got home that afternoon I looked it up. Sure enough, a woman buried in the Scholte family plot, Harriett Yeater Vander Linden (see featured photo on this post), was a relative of mine. Why she was buried with the Scholte family is a bit of a mystery. Especially since she wasn’t Dutch, but came from my mother’s side of the family whose ancestors all came from the British Isles. Never in a million years would I have thought I would end up living in this town portraying its founder. Never in a billion years would I have expected to find my own relative buried with his family.

It’s a small world.

Let’s face it, today’s chapter is one of those that is easily skipped over. It’s one of the genealogical records that everyone hates. All the descendants of Esau are seemingly irrelevant to my life. As an amateur historian and genealogist, however, I spent some time this morning thinking about the bigger picture of Esau’s descendants, who became a small nation called Edom.

It begins with twin brothers, Esau and Jacob. Despite Jacob’s deceit, Esau appears to have prospered on his own. In today’s chapter, they seem to have amicably separated. Esau went to an area east and south of the Dead Sea to settle. The descendants of each brother would grow to become their own tribes which, in turn, would eventually become their own nations, Edom and Israel. Later in the Great Story, the two nations will become enemies. They will war with one another. The prophet Obadiah, for example, wrote his prophetic poem specifically against Edom, predicting its destruction as he recalls that the two nations were rooted in a fraternal relationship.

As time went by and the descendants expanded, the connection was lost. Families became enemies.

One thing that has always appealed to me about history and genealogy is that it is about making connections. It’s kind of the opposite of the Israel/Edom effect I just described. As I make connections to people and the past, I learn things and grow in appreciation for others.

Genetic science has proven that we all descended from one woman referred to as “genetic Eve.” The truth is that we are all connected. Feuds, wars, prejudice, and hatred are the fruit of disconnection. When Jesus calls me to bless my enemies and to pray for those who persecute me, I believe He is calling me to make a reconnection. My enemy is my family. Jesus loves and died for my enemy just as He did for me. While the Kingdoms of this world continue to divide, disconnect, separate, and antagonize, Jesus calls me to be an Ambassador of God’s Kingdom where the goal is to be one Body, connected, unified, and loving.

I may not be able to make a difference on a national level, but I can make a difference in my circles of influence each day. The grave of my great-great-aunt Harriett Yeater Vander Linden reminds me: The connections are closer than I imagine.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Wrestling

Wrestling (CaD Gen 32) Wayfarer

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Genesis 32:28 (NIV)

Growing up in Iowa, one learns that wrestling is a big thing. Our state universities typically have nationally top-ranked programs. Most Iowans know the names of our state’s wrestling heroes. When I was growing up, wrestling was a mandatory class in P.E. during Junior High. For the record, I was really bad at it.

But that was just physical wrestling. With other types of wrestling, I’m quite adept: wrestling with fear, wrestling with shame, wrestling with the past, and et cetera.

Today’s chapter contains another mysterious, ancient story. Jacob, having left his Uncle Laban and returned to his home country, first finds himself in a potentially tough spot with his brother Esau. Jacob fears that his brother will kill him, and he comes up with a strategic plan to appease Esau’s anger and position himself in such a way to reduce his potential losses should Esau attck.

That night, Jacob finds himself in an all-night wrestling match with God. Having successfully gone the distance, God asks to “tap out.” Jacob, however, says he won’t give up until God blesses him.

God responds by saying, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

From the stories we’ve read about Jacob, he’s always been wrestling with life. He came out of the womb wrestling with his twin brother. He wrestles with Esau for power and position within the family system. He wrestles with Esau for his father’s affection and then wrestles with his father to steal Esau’s birthright. Jacob then wrestles ceaselessly with his Uncle Laban for the right to marry Rachel, and then for his wages. God has repeatedly told Jacob that he will inherit the blessing God gave to his grandfather Abraham, and his father, Isaac. Yet, there seems to be something in Jacob that doesn’t believe it despite all the evidence of his flourishing. Jacob is still wrestling with God and petitioning God for the blessing that’s already been given.

Perhaps that the deceiver, Jacob, having lived a life of deceiving and being deceived, has projected onto God his own shortcomings. Perhaps he can’t trust God not to be a deceiver, too.

Perhaps Jacob is bogged down in the shame of his own failings and, deep down, he doesn’t believe that God would bless a deceiver like him. He’s done nothing to deserved God’s blessing and favor.

Perhaps God knew that the only way Jacob would truly understand and embrace the blessing that had been freely given was to wrestle for it.

As I mulled this over in the quiet this morning, I found myself wrestling. I, too, have experienced blessings I know I really don’t deserve. I, too, struggle to embrace blessings freely and graciously given. Instead of gratefully receiving them, I find myself pessimistically assuming that they will be withdrawn, withheld, or will turn out to have been some kind of mistake. I have to confess to my own internal wrestling match with God, for which I might just have Olympic-worthy talent. And, that’s not a good thing.

I believe it’s time for me to tap out and forfeit this wrestling match to God.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Me and Messy Family

Me and Messy Family (CaD Gen 28) Wayfarer

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.
Genesis 28:8-9 (NIV)
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
Genesis 28:20-22 (NIV)

I’ve written a couple of posts recently in which I touched on the fact that the Bible really doesn’t specify any type of ritual or tradition around marriage. In fact, the closest it gets is right in the second chapter of the Great Story. A man leaves his father and mother, is united with his wife and two become one.

As I’ve meditated on this over the years, I’ve come to observe that the focus is almost always on the two becoming one. But rarely do we think about or discuss the pre-requisite of leaving the parents, which happens for both spouses even though only the male is specified in the text.

In today’s chapter, we find the twin brothers, Esau and Jacob, on divergent paths. Esau is already married to two Hittite women who have brought chaos and conflict within the family system. Having been cheated out of his birthright and blessing by his twin brother and mother, Esau is understandably bitter. Realizing how much his parents hate his wives, Esau decides to double-down and marry two more Hittite women and bring even more disruption into the family system.

Jacob, on the other hand, goes into exile with his mother’s family in order to find a wife from within the tribe. While on his way, Isaac meets God in a dream, receives the blessing God gave his grandfather and father, and chooses in. He makes a vow to follow and worship God and embraces Abraham’s covenant.

Welcome to the mess.

There was a specific stage of my own life journey when I thought long and hard about what it meant to be my own person, establish my own house, and separate from the family system of my childhood. I made a couple of key discoveries during this stage of my life:

It’s hard not to play the role one has developed as part of a family system. I leave home. I do my own thing. I follow my own path. Then I go to my parents for the holidays and I find myself thinking, acting, and behaving within the family system as I always have since I was a kid. This isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but neither is it necessarily healthy. I discovered that it was important for me to see it and work through it myself.

Parents are part of the entire equation. Both Isaac and Rebekah played a role in the conflict between the brothers. Parents can help or hinder their children’s “leaving” and the establishment of their own lives, homes, and family systems. The past decade has been crucial for both Taylor and Madison as they are in their own stages of establishing their lives. It’s not always easy to let go. It’s hard to watch them stake their own claims and feel the separation that naturally happens when one becomes independent of the system I established and controlled for so long. I am constantly having to have talks with God, myself, and Wendy about how best to bless our children by repeatedly choosing to let them go.

While Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Esau’s four foreign wives live in the messy consequences of Isaac and Rebekah’s own meddling, I have a feeling that twenty years of exile from that family system will be good for Isaac. He needs time and distance to establish his own relationship with the God of his forefathers, to become a husband, to become a father, and to make his own way.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about this life journey. Once I was a child learning what it meant to leave home, to be one with another, to be a father, to establish my own family system. Now I’m a parent learning to let go of daughters who are one with another and establishing their own family systems. It’s all part of the journey with its mess, mistakes, chaos, crazy, blessing, joy, laughter, and beauty.

I just want to do each stage well, and I’ve learned that I give myself some grace because I’m always a work in progress. I want to progress. I want to bring more sanity than insanity to the lives of our children and grandchildren. I want to make relational choices that will allow for more health than dysfunction. I desire that I can be more gracious and less demanding. I pray that I can increasingly trust God with the lives of my adult children so as to avoid meddling in their lives out of my personal fears and mistrust.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Value Judgment

Value Judgment (CaD Gen 25) Wayfarer

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)
Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright.

Genesis 25:29-34 (NIV)

Back in the day, the age of thirteen meant you could bus tables in the restaurant industry. My buddy Doug talked me into applying to be a busboy at Campiano’s Italian Restaurant in Des Moines. I learned a ton of great life lessons doing that job.

It happened to be payday one evening as Doug and I worked together. I’m not sure who’s idea it was, but we were suddenly floating the idea of having dinner together after our shift. There was something in this idea that felt revolutionary; The invisible bus boys at the bottom of the employee food chain would be the honored customers. One of the waitresses, (I still remember her name was Karen) heard us talking about it and offered to serve us and take really good care of us. So, we did it. We spent our entire two-week paycheck on one meal.

On the surface, the decision seems kind of foolish. If one is merely talking about fiscal responsibility then I agree that it was a foolish choice. Looking back, however, I have never, ever forgotten that meal on that night. That meal was an investment in intangibles that I now look back on with honor.

That meal, and Karen’s humble generosity, taught me that I was just as valuable as any of the rich customers I cleaned up after each night. The true difference, that I so often felt, was not about age or economic status, but in attitude and perception. That meal taught me that sometimes an experience has a value that can’t be calculated by the prices on the menu. It was formative in teaching me the joy of being with good people around a table where good food and drink are gratefully savored as well as the company and the conversation. Things I highly value today.

Today’s chapter begins and ends with contrasting stories. As part of the cultural solidifying of Isaac assuming the position as Abraham’s sole heir, Abraham sends away potential rivals, including children that he’d fathered with concubines. Culturally, Abraham had no responsibility to these sons. They were merely servants in the social pecking order. Abraham, however, gives them gifts as he sends them on their way. In the culture of that day, this was an act of extraordinary and unexpected generosity. It spoke to me of Abraham’s heart and the things he valued.

By the end of the chapter, we’ve quickly been introduced to Isaac’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was born first, and so he is the heir apparent to succeed his father as sole heir and the paterfamilias. Esau arrives at camp after a long hunt and he’s really hungry. He’s so hungry he makes an exaggerated statement about starving to death. His younger twin brother, Jacob, offers to serve his twin brother some food in exchange for Esau’s birthright as the firstborn. It strikes me as Shakespearean, selling your birthright for a bowl of soup. It says something about what Esau valued, and didn’t value.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself mulling over my choice to spend an entire two-week paycheck on that steak dinner. In the grand scheme of things, it was of little financial consequence in comparison to the value I found in the experience and the character lessons it afforded me. Esau’s decision, on the other hand, was of great consequence. A life-changing (history-changing) decision was made in a momentary desire to appease a daily appetite.

I make value judgments every day. What do my decisions and choices reveal about what I value, and what I don’t?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Family is Family

 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;
Numbers 21:4 (NIV)

My maternal grandfather, Claude Hendrickson had a particularly difficult childhood. Grandpa Spec’s father committed suicide after learning he had tuberculosis. It was assumed that Perry Hendrickson wanted to spare his family the medical costs and difficulties associated with a long, terminal illness. My grandfather, the eldest of three siblings, was farmed out to his maternal grandparents to be raised. His mother retained custody of the younger siblings.

“Spec,” as he was known this whole life, experienced a strict upbringing with his grandparents. There was, however, discipline and faith. He managed well, got married, worked hard, and made a decent life for his family. Meanwhile, his siblings suffered their own difficulties as their mother, Olive Hendrickson, went through a string of failed marriages. Spec’s brother Ralph, an alcoholic, came looking for a job from his older brother. Spec agreed to hire his brother, but explained that he would fire him the first time he found his brother drinking on the job. When that eventually happened, Ralph was fired and promptly returned family in Illinois where he spread malicious lies about Spec among the family there. Spec felt ostracized by much of his family from that point on.

Spec and Ralph remained estranged, yet when Ralph died Spec drove to Illinois to pay his respects and to face a family who thought the worst of him because of Ralph’s malicious stories. Imagine my grandfather’s horror when the funeral director handed him the bill for his brother’s funeral. As “next of kin” the family expected him to pay the bill for his estranged brother who had caused him so much trouble. My grandfather paid the bill, returned home to Iowa, and let it go.

Family is family,” I can hear my grandfather say from his rocker, chewing on a cigar.

This story came to mind as I read today’s chapter. There is a subtle, recurring theme through the story of the wilderness wanderings of the Hebrews. It appears again today when the nomad nation takes a circuitous route to avoid the land of Edom. Skirting Edom to the east meant living in an extremely desolate area east of the Dead Sea.

Back in Deuteronomy God had told Moses to leave Edom alone because the land of Edom had been settled by Esau, the twin brother of Jacob (aka Israel). The story of the twins is back in Genesis 25. Esau had been Jacob’s older twin, but Jacob had deceived Esau into giving him his birthright. The result was “bad blood” between the brothers and their descendants.

It has been some 600 years since the days of Jacob and Esau, and now the nation of Israelites are living in a desolate desert wilderness clawing out their survival because God had ordered, through Moses, that they leave Esau’s land alone. The people weren’t happy.

“Family is family.” There has always been an unwritten human principle about being faithful to family, to provide for family, to be true to family. In my life journey I believe I’ve seen the power of this sentiment slowly fade in our culture as families spread out over larger and larger geographical areas. Yet, I’m not sure it will ever fade completely. There’s something that’s built in our DNA. It’s why millions of people are doing DNA tests and searching out their roots to understand who their family is and “where I come from.” There is a part of us and our life journey that we realize is only understood in the context of the family from which we spring.

This morning I’m thinking about our human family and the things that connect us. I continue to marvel that modern genetics has definitively shown that all of us descend from what scientists refer to as “Genetic Eve.” We are all part of the same human family. Like the Hebrews, over time we feel less and less connection. Despite the fact that God reminded the Hebrews that the Edomites were “family” they didn’t think of the Edomites in those terms. They saw their distant cousins as enemies who refused to allow them to pass through the land. The Edomites didn’t see the Hebrews as distant cousins but as a threat to their very existence. Along the way our self-centered fears and desires turns human family members into mortal enemies.

Then there are those like Grandpa Spec. Despite having every reason to save his money and walk away angry from his brother’s funeral, he simply paid the funeral bill and let it go.

Family is family.

Indeed.

“Every Family Has Bad Memories”

“Every Family Has Bad Memories”

Last Sunday I gave the message in the auditorium of Third Church. It was part of a series on “Heroes of the Faith” from Hebrews 11, and I was asked to unpack the story of Isaac and his twin sons, Esau and Jacob.

Because of copyright laws, the audio of two video clips were deleted from the recording:

Before the message began we watched a scene from The Godfather III in which Michael Corleone’s son tells him he is dropping out of law school to study music. His son tells him that he will never be part of his father’s business, stating “I have bed memories.” His father replies, “Every family has bad memories.”

At the end of the message we watched another clip in which a Catholic Cardinal presses Michael to make his confession. At first reluctant, Michael eventually confesses his sins including the ordering of the death of his own brother, Fredo.

We are Family

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 36

This is the account of the descendants of Esau (also known as Edom). Genesis 36:1 (NLT)

As I read today’s chapter I couldn’t keep my mind from wandering to “the rest of the story.” All of these descendants of Esau (also known as Edom) would become the Edomites who would live in constant conflict with the descendants of Israel. The prophet Obadiah’s message was against the Edomites. The conflict was between tribes who shared a common ancestor.

That is also true of the conflicts we read about on the internet and see on the television today. The nation of Israel trace their lineage back through Isaac to Abraham. The arab nations trace their lineage back through Ishmael to Abraham. They are all sons of Abraham.

We can cast the net even wider. DNA projects being carried on by National Geographic and other groups are tracing the common genetic strands of everyday people all over the world in order to learn more about how tribes and nations and peoples spread across the earth. What modern genetics has determined is [surprise!] we all, every person on this Earth can trace their genes back to the same woman.

I can also pull the net in close to find this theme played out around me each day. I live in a small Iowa town founded by a small handful of Dutch immigrant families. “Dutch Bingo” is what we call the game that locals play when they start conversationally tracing family trees in order to find a connection. If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard or witnessed casual friends or neighbors playing Dutch Bingo only to find that they are third or fourth cousins and never knew it, I could buy you a Starbucks Grande Latte in Oslo.

I don’t know what to make of it all. I scratch my head and mull it all over as I sip my morning coffee and watch the snow falling outside. The one thing that it does make me appreciate is that we are all connected. I can’t do much about world politics or global conflict, but I can choose each day how I treat my fellow human being family member. I can be a little more deferential to that jerk uptown who drives me nuts. I can choose to respond to a personal attack with grace. I can take that money I’d spend on your Oslo Grande Latte and feed a distant cousin on the other side of the world, help dig a well for a community of far off relatives who daily live without clean water, or help free someone with whom I’m genetically connected from human trafficking.

 

Peace and Family

The Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, as in Ge...
The Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, as in Genesis 33, oil on panel, at the National Galleries of Scotland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. And they both wept. Genesis 33:4 (NLT)

Jacob had every reason to fear his brother Esau. Esau had been deceived by his younger brother and had stolen both his birthright and his father’s blessing. Furthermore, Esau was a man’s man and a man of the wild. Jacob stood little chance against his brother if it were to resort to combat. Yet there was an obvious desire to reconcile with his brother.

We sometimes forget in the midst of all the stories that Esau and Jacob were twins. Having grown up with twin brothers you realize that there is a connection between them that is at once natural and mysterious. They shared a womb, they shared all of the experiences of the formative years together. Despite the obvious differences between them it does not surprise me that both Jacob and Esau had an intimate desire to be at peace with one another.

Along the journey I’ve been blessed to live in peace with my family. Relationships ebb and flow as our respective journeys take us on divergent paths, every family goes through periods of tension or strife, yet I would drop everything in a moments notice if any of my family were in need and I trust the same to be true of them. I’ve also witnessed friends who don’t have that blessing of love and peace with their family. In every one of these cases, however, I’ve also observed a desire to be at peace with their distant family member(s) and a restlessness of spirit that occurs in those who have family relationships that are broken, distant or have never been reconciled.

Today, I’m offering thanks for my siblings and my family. It is a good thing to live in peace.

Tragic Stories Touch Secret Wounds

English: Isaac Feels Jacob as Rebekah Looks On...
English: Isaac Feels Jacob as Rebekah Looks On, watercolor by James Tissot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 27

Isaac said to Esau, “I have made Jacob your master and have declared that all his brothers will be his servants. I have guaranteed him an abundance of grain and wine—what is left for me to give you, my son?” Genesis 27:37 (NLT)

As an actor, I find it interesting to read the theatrical lengths to which Rebekah and Jacob went to make Jacob convincingly play the part of Esau and deceive Isaac. As  I read today’s chapter, I also thought what a tragic story is revealed in these past few chapters.

  • How twin brothers could be so different
  • The conspiracy of (seemingly) heaven and earth to favor Jacob from birth
  • The parental favoritism that divides the parents and family
  • The deceptive stealing of birthright and blessing
  • The fulfillment of Jacob’s given name (which in Hebrew sounds like both “Heel” & “Deceiver”)

I couldn’t help, as I read, to think of other epic stories told on film such as Legends of the Fall and The Godfather which deal with similar themes of fathers and sons, of favoritism and blessing, and of tragedy and loss. I believe that there is something very compelling in these stories for us because they tap into very human realities from our very own family systems and experiences. These are things which families rarely speak about or even acknowledge, and  their suppression makes the truth and reality of them even more powerful when we read or see similar themes so artfully articulated in story. It’s like scratching at an old wound.

I walk away from some stories and chapters with more questions than answers. Today’s chapter is one of them. Why did God seem to honor the deception of Rebekah and Isaac? How could Isaac so passively allow these things to happen? How and why does God utilize human brokenness and sin to bring about His will?

It’s a good morning for a cup of coffee and a thoughtful conversation around such interesting questions.

When You Marry a Spouse You Marry a Family

2012 07 21 VH Reunion Group 1But Esau’s wives made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah. Genesis 26:35 (NLT)

Typically, when you marry, you are not just entering into relationship with a person but with an entire family. Your spouse or spouse-to-be is part of a family system with its own traditions, culture, ways and means of doing life. In my experience, people don’t talk much about family of origin when they get married. There might be the passing conversation or even a pre-marital counseling session dedicated to talking about our families, but the conversation is usually covered in the fairy-dust of two people desperately in love with one another and living in the delusion that nothing could possibly diminish the feelings of infatuation they are experiencing at the moment.

Just wait until the holidays.

The brief observation made at the very end of today’s chapter holds a huge lesson for all of us. When we enter into a marriage we enter into our spouse’s family system. Make no mistake: It’s a package deal. We can either be a blessing or a curse to that family. I can’t control whom my family members marry, nor can I control the way they behave or relate to my family. But, I can control how I behave and relate to every one, especially my wife’s family. By speaking and acting in loving kindness towards her family, I am not only honoring my wife but keeping myself from being a source of tension and conflict in her family system (I am blessed that Wendy’s family makes it easy ;-))

Today, I’m thinking about the role and responsibility of being an in-law. The truth of the matter is that part of loving my spouse well is loving spouse’s family well. If/when I dishonor or make life difficult for my spouse as it relates to her family, then I diminish my love for her. When a spouse dishonors your family, it can wound deeply, leave scars that never completely heal over, and continue to itch long after they are made.