Monday, August 10, 2009

Isaac and Rebekah Had Favorites Genesis 25:27-28

When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

As one may have thought, given Esau’s ruddy and robust appearance when he was born, he took a fancy to hunting and became very proficient in it. The Hebrew text yada implies that not only was he good at this but that he had studied and came to know it inside out, having perceived all aspects of it. Today, he probably would have hosted his own hunting show on television although the focus of the program would have been hunting for food rather than pleasure. He was likely the means by which the family was able to enjoy many good meals of game. The use of the word ‘field’ here may have one of at least four possible meanings, only one of which implies a ‘cultivated land’. The Hebrew word sadeh is also used to mean ‘a land that is a home to wild beasts’ and even a ‘plain type of land as opposed to mountains’.

Jacob on the other hand is reported to be a ‘peaceful’ man who lived in tents. It is not clear whether or not the text intended to imply that Esau was not peaceful. I think we can take it to mean that Esau was most restless and had to be out and about all the time, while Jacob was more content to stay at home, perhaps reflecting on life, listening to stories told by his elders, or helping his mother with the affairs of the home. Some Bible versions use the word ‘plain’ for the Hebrew tam rather than translate it ‘peaceful’. In either case, the word not only means an ordinary, quiet sort of man, but also implies a complete or perfect being, one who lacks nothing in physical strength, beauty, etc. It is used with reference to someone who is sound and wholesome, morally innocent, with integrity, and ethically pure.

Clearly these two twins were very different. We could safely assume that the phrase ‘kindred spirits’ could not be applied to them. And their parents noted their differences. Unfortunately, these differences formed the basis by which their parents identified preferences for one over the other. Isaac ‘loved’ Esau simply because he was more into hunting which we assume Isaac himself enjoyed. Today this could be equated to a parent who favors one male son over another if the former has a knack for hockey or some other sport while the other one is more comfortable with writing, music, or other art. Rebekah on the other hand, the text says, ‘loved’ Jacob.

The use of the word ‘loved’ to describe the feelings of both parents to their respective preferred child is most interesting. That a parent should love their child is natural and healthy and desirable. That a parent should love one child more than the other, as the context seems to imply, is none of those. In my own mind I have tried to explain this verse in some other way, but I cannot. Isaac’s choice was based primarily on the fact that his son Esau often satisfied his hunger for venison. Rebekah on the other hand may well have made her choice based on what God had told her about the youngest child’s future. In general, though, favoritism towards one child over another is not a way to parent properly. If one feels they must make such a choice, for whatever reason, it should reflect the choice we believe to the best of our ability God would have made (although I would never purport to assume we could think in any equivalent manner with God).

I also want to distinguish between loving someone and condoning their behavior. There comes a time when a child makes decisions and/or exhibits behaviors that are not in keeping with God’s desire for his/her life. When we detect evidence of this, it is appropriate for us not to condone their actions. We should, however, make that decision not based not on what we as parents think is right, but on what the Word of God clearly and unequivocally says. This is not an area where we disagree on matters of interpretation or cultural practices, but rather where there is clear-cut sin involved. In circumstances like that, I believe it is appropriate to indicate that we oppose such behavior. I am not convinced, however, that we can ever, even under those circumstances, stop loving our child. If that were the case, God would have stopped loving many of us years ago. We still have a responsibility to make countless efforts to help them get back on the right track, and at the very least, always keep the door unlocked for them to return.

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