Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Family Matters

Today's passage:  Genesis 32
     Jacob is headed back to the land of his fathers.  God has instructed him in this.  There is only one small problem, actually it is bigger than small.  Esau, his twin brother, the reason he fled in the first place is living nearby.  In Chapter 31, it is evident that Jacob's scheming ways have not completely left him, and in this case that's a good thing.  He divides everything with him into two groups, that way if Esau chooses to exercise revenge, some of his descendants and belongings will survive and carry on the family name.  My immediate reaction upon reading this was, "I wonder how the groups were divided?"  Did he put Rachel, Leah and their sons into one group, and then Bilhah and Zilpah and their sons in another?  Maybe he put Rachel, his beloved, and her handmaid in the group with him and then Leah and her handmaid in the second group.  See what a mess this might create?
     Then, here in Chapter 32, he divides them further as Esau approaches and this is what struck me.
1And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men.  And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids.
2And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost.

Taken from Treasures of the Bible (Genesis)
By Henry Davenport Northrop, D.D.
International Publishing Company, 1894
       If it had not been clear before, it was certainly obvious now.  Jacob put the people he valued the most at the very back of the line, to preserve them.  And who are the last ones?  Rachel and Joseph.  Perhaps Jacob had shown favoritism to Joseph in subtle ways before this, but I don't think there can be any disputing among the brothers as to who Daddy loved the most.  Dan, Asher, Zebulon, and Issachar must have felt especially undervalued as they are at the front of the line with their mothers.  For a moment, I thought I could argue that Jacob was only putting the oldest sons first, knowing they could defend themselves, but that can't be the case.  The oldest boys were Leah's, and they were put behind Zilpah and Bilhah's boys.  It also doesn't give him an excuse for putting some of the ladies at the head of the pack.  I only know that such blatant favoritism must have stemmed from his own Mother and Father's familial preferences.  He practiced what he had learned.  And his sons will make him pay the price for it.  It must be hard to be the example of what a Father should not do, but Jacob will learn in a few chapters, in a very difficult way, that his behavior towards Joseph   caused a lot of jealousy and even hatred among his sons.  And it probably started way before this chapter, but this is the first instance I see that a line has been drawn.  I'm not sure you can make a point more than choosing for some of your sons to die first, ahead of others. I wonder how Jacob explained this?  Or did he even bother?  Maybe he was so oblivious to how wrong this was, it didn't occur to him to explain it away.  Any explanation would have been lame anyhow, and the boys would have seen through it.  Jacob's future behavior would further cement the assumptions they make at this juncture.  Dad doesn't love me as much as he loves Joseph.  In Dan, Asher, Zebulon, and Issachar's case, "Dad doesn't love me as much as he loves Rachel's and Leah's kids."  What a terrible thing for a child to have to realize!
     Probably in every family, every child has moments when he believes his parent loves one sibling more than another.  But, in many cases this is just a suspicion that can never be proven.  I wish Jacob's sons could say the same.  Though God uses all that Joseph endures for good, and he becomes one of the foremost examples of living for God in difficult circumstances, might God have still accomplished that example had Jacob been a better parent?  Might God have been able to spare Jacob years of believing his son had died and the grief that accompanies it?  I can't answer that, but I know that God uses our weaknesses to work His purpose.  But I don't think that means He wants us to stay deliberately weak.  When we see areas in our life that we should improve, we ought to improve it.  I believe God calls us to that.  In Jacob's case, it may be a matter of seeing the weakness at all.

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