Tag Archives: Jacob

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.

The Right Words at the Wrong Time

4thingsThese are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said as he told his sons good-bye. He blessed each one with an appropriate message. Genesis 49:28 (NLT)

What we say as parents and, perhaps more importantly, what we left unsaid can create soul-wounds which can and will negatively affect generations of a family. A few months ago, Wendy and I had the privilege of participating in a service project in which we read part of an audiobook that will be used by our local hospice when families have a loved one who is dying. The book, The Four Things That Matter Most, was written by Dr. Ira Bock who is an authority in the area palliative and end-of-life care. In his book, Dr. Bock recommends four messages that need to be said between loved ones before death:

  • “Please forgive me.”
  • “I forgive you.”
  • “Thank you.”
  • “I love you.”

I thought about Dr. Bock’s book this morning as I read Jacob’s death-bed words to each of his sons. I put myself in the shoes of each son and considered what each might have felt upon hearing the words. I came up with a broad range of emotions from shame, guilt, envy, curiosity, hurt, anger, bewilderment, and pride. While there were some positive emotions in the list, they were overshadowed by the negative.

I believe Jacob spoke the right words, but they were at the wrong time. I’m sure that he spoke spoke truth to his sons and expressed what his heart felt before he died, but as I look at the diverse list of emotions I jotted down I can only imagine that Jacob’s words created more wounds and division than healing and harmony among the brothers. Furthermore, Jacob purged his heart and mind before he died, giving no opportunity for conversation, reflection and relational healing.

There is a time for everything, a time to wound and a time to heal. There is a time for confrontation and honesty, but confrontation and honesty right before one breathes his or her last tends to create a one way monologue that may open wounds in their loved ones which will never heal this side of death. The time for that crucial conversation is when both parties are able to have a conversation, perhaps a series of conversations, along with the necessary time and space to work things out and come to a mutual understanding. When this is done in a timely way in life, there is a greater opportunity to hear the four things that matter most to be said before death.

Our words have the power to wound or to heal. Let us be careful how we wield them, especially with those whom we love most in this life.

In God’s Economy, Less is More & the Least is the Greatest

Pope Francis Day OneBut Joseph was upset when he saw that his father placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head. So Joseph lifted it to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. “No, my father,” he said. “This one is the firstborn. Put your right hand on his head.”

But his father refused. “I know, my son; I know,” he replied. “Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations.” Genesis 48:17-19 (NLT)

One of the things I find fascinating about reading through God’s Message again and again is the discovery of themes and patterns throughout. The fact that we are reading through a compilation of disparate books, writings and letters that cover hundreds and thousands of years it is amazing to find themes emerge.

“…but his younger brother will become greater.”

In the ancient days of Jacob, the culture and the laws greatly favored the first born son. Yet even in Genesis we find a pattern of the younger son being blessed in God’s economy:

  • Joseph was blessed over his older brothers
  • Jacob was blessed over Esau
  • Isaac was blessed over Ishmael
  • Abel’s sacrifice was accepted over Cain’s

Time and time again, God uses the weaker, lesser, less powerful and prestigious for His divine purposes:

  • Peter, a headstrong fisherman became the “rock” on which Jesus’ church was founded
  • Jesus chose simple, uneducated men from the sticks to be his disciples
  • God’s messenger, John the Baptist, lived like a hermit in the wilderness
  • God’s own Son was born to a poor girl from a backwater town inside a stable
  • Solomon, Israel’s greatest king was a younger son of David’s
  • David was the youngest of his father’s sons, but called “a man after God’s heart” and God chose the boy David over the strapping, handsome choice of the people: Saul.

I could go on. The point is this: God continually chooses the foolish people of this world to confound the wise; He uses the powerless to shame the powerful. Not one of us should think for a second that God could not or would not desire to use us to further His kingdom’s work on Earth.

I am not a Roman Catholic. Nevertheless, I love my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters and have a deep appreciation for the beauty of the Roman Catholic mass along with a fascination of its history. I, with the rest of the world, was enthralled to watch as the College of Cardinals chose their new leader this week. When I began to read and hear about the life story of Pope Francis I, I thought to myself that he sounded like a choice Jesus himself would have made. It was confirmed when I read the on the front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning:

Pope Francis Day One: In his first hours as leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, the pope paid his own hotel bill, took a bus, and called for renewal in the church.

Make No Mistake… It’s Personal

Simeon and Levi Slay the Shechemites (illustra...
Simeon and Levi Slay the Shechemites (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 34

Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. Genesis 34:13 (NLT)

Being human is so fascinating. I find it interesting how certain things are common to the human experience. I’ll hear people talk about circumstances in our lives as being “like a Greek tragedy” or “Shakespearean.” Yet the the truth is that we make parallels to these fictional stories because those fictional stories are founded on universal human themes. All good stories are simply a reflection of the Great story God is authoring through us, and that is why they become so much a part of our culture and weave themselves into our thoughts and lives.

I couldn’t help but notice the parallels in today’s story with The Godfather. The strong patriarch with a flock of sons and a thriving family business that is dependent on managing a tenuous peace with other powerful families and power centers around them. When the daughter is defiled (remember Carlo beating Connie?), the hot headed older brothers exact their revenge (remember Sonny starting a war?) against the wisdom of the patriarch (remember Vito waking up to find his family falling apart?). Make no mistake, despite Jacob’s desire to protect the family business, this is all personal and it doesn’t bode well for the long term peace. [cue: Godfather Theme]

One more observation is that right at the moment of crisis the pattern of deceit once again creeps its way through the family system. So it is with the human experience. When faced with supercharged amounts of stress and emotion, our conscious choices tend to give way to base instincts and reactions. We’re now into the third generation down from Abraham and each family story carries the familiar theme of deceit. It’s amazing how certain tragic flaws or sinful behaviors can perpetuate themselves in a family system for generations. It takes a person of wisdom and strength to break those kind of cycles and the result can be chaotic for both the individual and the family system.

In fact, get ready. In a few chapters we take up the story of the truth teller: Joseph.

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.

Life: Struggle Required

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 32

Two U.S. Air Force members wrestling in a Grec...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The man said, “But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.” Genesis 32:28 (MSG)

When you grow up in Iowa, wrestling has a significance you don’t find in most other places. The sport of wrestling is huge in Iowa. The annual wrestling match between Iowa and Iowa State “grapplers” will pack in record crowds. When I was in junior high, there was a mandatory P.E. class on wrestling that every guy had to take. Wrestlers like Dan Gable are elevated to near deity status in this state. It’s part of the charm of growing up and living in Iowa. It’s a quirky place.

I mention this because, as I read this morning’s chapter, I realized that I might have a layer of understanding that comes from growing up in Iowa. I was never a great wrestler and never had any interest in the sport, but growing up here required that I at least learn how to grapple in that wrestling ring and experience it on numerous occasions. There is  something to be said for facing your fear, staring at an opponent face-to-face, and going at it. You quickly realize that the struggle is both with your opponent and with yourself.

There is a spiritual lesson here because I’ve come to understand that being a follower of Jesus is not something you can do on the sidelines. You cannot sit along the side of the road and watch others’ journeys and expect it to make a difference in your own life. The lesson of Jacob/Israel is that at some point you have to look God face to face and be willing to struggle. You have to hear Jesus’ call to follow and take that step of faith to leave an old way of life to begin a new. Talk about wrestling with a decision.

I’ve come to believe that until we are willing to wrestle with God we are all Jacobs; We are all just deceivers deceiving ourselves. To truly learn how to come through this journey in spiritual wholeness, full of life and in relationship with God, we have to be willing to step in the ring and grapple with both God and with ourselves.