This week's Bible Study - April 25, 2016
Redeemed from Broken Relationships
Genesis 27:41, 33:1-11
Quotes of the Week:
If you didn't hear it with your own ears or see it with your own eyes, don't invent it with your small mind and share it with your big mouth.
If you're ever been in a relationship, you've probably also been in a broken relationship. Except for any computer that is reading this on its own, we are all humans and we are prone to failure. Where you take two humans that are imperfect and put them together in a relationship, is it any wonder that there are problems? Many relationship issues can be worked through, if both sides are willing to do so, and if both sides are willing to "own" their own issues. Let's stop right there and talk about that - because that is a big IF. How many relationships do you think could have been saved and reconciled if both parties owned the things that they had done and asked forgiveness, and freely forgave each other? What tends to happen, though, is that one or both sides refuse to let a past wrong go, and somehow believe it is 'godly' to hold that over somebody else's head for as long as they live. In a relationship like that, if it is not broken altogether, it is at the very best 'very shaky'.
Often, counseling can be very helpful, in large part because a counselor can help mediate differences and get diverse perspectives out on the table. One problem that often drives people to counseling is that the same issue or way of handling it keeps coming back around - and after years and years of this it wears on everyone. Sometimes in a last ditch effort to save the relationship, a counselor will finally be sought and appointments set. But that just gets you in the door together. If one individual looks to change, but the other won't admit their issues, or that they even have any, counseling only goes to spend money and not fix anything. An alcoholic can get help if he or she will admit they have a problem and seek help. Otherwise, they will continue on their path, telling everyone else around them that they don't have a problem.
And, we do see the problem if someone acts remorseful for what they'd done, said they are sorry, and then turns right around and does the same thing over and over again. Apologies that are coaxed are not helpful to either party, and apologies that say "I'm sorry if I did something to hurt you" are very vague and feel quiet disingenuous to the person it's said to. Additionally, apologies that say "I am sorry that I did all those things, now can we just move on and can you please get over it" can appear to be flippant. And the final insincere apology is the one where someone is saying (in a defensive and indignant tone), "I'm sorry I've ever hurt your heart, killed you with my words and tore you down instead of showing you love. I thought I'd come a long way in working with you. I'm sorry you don't want to have anything to do with me". I would almost feel like someone slapped me if that was said to me, but I certainly wouldn't feel apologized to. Statements like those are first insincere, second, not really about the one being apologized to and third, are really focused on the one who's 'asking for forgiveness' trying to make you feel bad for setting a boundary and they are making themselves out to be the 'victim'. In essence they are saying that it is YOU who is being unreasonable, because it's YOU who doesn't want the relationship, not them. I mean, after all, they apologized didn't they? I would imagine we have all heard apologies like the ones mentioned, and that afterwards we feel no different and in some cases, more upset because the person seems to really not get it and doesn't seem to really care about how you feel. We all like to hear apologies, but there are many people that seem to think that they have never done anything to apologize for, even if it is clearly seen by others. In short, we know that relationships can be sticky and that apologizing and owning what is ours to own is a major reason why they can be so difficult.
There are some relationships in life that you might say are meant to be transient. For some period of time, you may work with people, or encounter people on an almost daily or weekly basis. You may find that you do things with certain people for a season of life and then, once that is done, you simply move on.
There are other relationships that we hold near and dear. These are typically family and very close friends. You know, the people and relationships that we are willing to invest time and energy into. And why are we willing to do that? Because we care deeply for these people and we value them and what they bring into our lives. For some people, this seems easy. For others, it can be quite hard. I've seen some people that became very close to others, and after a while they broke apart. One of the comments I've often heard is that one of the people in the relationship was high maintenance. When that occurs it feels like the other person is all about 'me' and they can have very high expectations of what they want and need from you, and when you fail them, they let you know it. Occasionally, there are people that seem to just want to sit on the outskirts of the family. Perhaps they don't see the point in putting forth any effort. If we take a step back, I would bet in the recesses of our minds, we would like to think that the world revolves around "me" or "you, when reading this". We would like everyone else to consider us first and we would like things to go as we would want them to go. In reality, the only true perspective we have is our own. We see with our eyes. We think with our minds. We do tasks with our bodies. This is a large part of why our faith is less about what we do, but more about who we become. Perhaps if we were to put our own thoughts and expectations aside, and consider what God would have happen and ask Him to show us how the other person is feeling, more relationships would be 'unbroken'. As we study God's word, let's ask God to be with us and to show us if there is a person whose feelings we need to consider, or if there is a situation we haven't been willing to see from any perspective other than our own. In other words, let's ask God to show us the truth and peel back any errant way in our heart as it relates to broken relationships we may have.
This lesson is about the story of Jacob and Esau. You can read about their experience in
Genesis 25:19-34 and Genesis 26:34-27:41. Click here to read those passages online
In summary, Jacob and Esau were the children of Isaac and Rebekah, and from the very start, they were at each other's throats. When Rebekah was pregnant, they struggled against each other within her womb. The Lord told her that two nations were in her womb. Two people would come from her and be separated. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older would serve the younger. Esau was the older brother and when he was born, Jacob came out grasping Esau's heel. As he grew, Esau became an expert hunter, while Jacob was a quiet man who stayed at home.
The thing that many people remember about this story is that Jacob created a ruse to steal the birthright from his brother. Jacob had cooked up some stew and Esau came in from the field, famished. He desperately wanted something to eat, and Jacob told him that he would give him some stew if Esau would swear that he would give Jacob the birthright. In the heat of the moment, when he was allowing his passions to be driven by his hunger, Esau would have likely given anything away for something to eat. Perhaps, in any other scenario, Esau wouldn't have been so foolish. As you think back in your own life, have you made some decisions that you regretted because of desires that you have allowed to drive you? Being driven by desire can be a good thing that can motivate you to make the right decision, but if the desire overpowers the circumstance, many can make what might otherwise be considered insane decisions, going totally against what we know to be right, because of a strong desire. And, there is another problem if any of us thinks that could 'never' be us. Perhaps this is one reason why we are not to be driven by what we think will satisfy us. Many can share of regretful decisions that they have made in the past.
One thing I learned by reading through the entire passage of Jacob and Esau that I had somehow missed in previous times is that in Genesis 26:34, we read that when Esau was forty years old, he married two Hittite women. In verse 35, we read that they were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah. In the past, I saw Rebekah as a conniver, for obvious reasons to be discussed in the following paragraphs, but when you couple what God had told her when she was pregnant with the grief that Esau had brought on the family, maybe there is more to the story than meets the eye.
As Isaac grew older and was nearing death, he called for his older son, Esau, and asked him to go hunting and cook something for him. When he brought it to his father, Isaac would give his blessing to Esau. Rebekah heard Isaac tell Esau what to do. She gave orders to Jacob to go and get two young goats and she would fix Isaac's favorite meal. While Esau was going out to hunt, Jacob went in the backyard. At first, Jacob did protest, saying that even if his father couldn't see him, he would recognize that he was not hairy. Rebekah said that she had it under control. He was to get some of Esau's clothes and she would make coverings for him from the goats.
Jacob approached Isaac, and told him that he was Esau. Isaac figured that this happened much too quickly, but Jacob (the stand in for Esau) said that the Lord had provided. Isaac wanted to touch him, to ensure that it was Esau. Isaac said that he felt like Esau, but he sounded like Jacob. I suppose that Jacob wasn't one that was adept at voice imitation, so it would appear that Isaac knew something was up. However, Isaac gave him the blessing, and even after that, asked if he was really Esau. Jacob lied once more. Isaac asked him to approach and when he did, Isaac smelled Esau's scent on the clothes, and then gave him the full blessing, saying that he would be lord over his brothers.
You would have to think that Jacob must have felt guilty about this. You could give him an out for the birthright - stew trade, but this was out and out deception. How do you feel when you know you have had to lie, and lie again and lie again, so that the first lie would never be found out? We've all done this at some point in our lives and quite frankly, we aren't that good at covering our tracks. When would we learn that it would be better for us to be truthful at the start and not have to keep making up stories that are more and more unbelievable? In many ways, it seemed that Rebekah was more behind this than Jacob. He was just the actor and she was the writer/ producer of this deceptive act. It's amazing to think about how many situations people find themselves in because they listened to the advice of a person (or group of people) who have an ulterior motive, and use us as the unwitting puppet. Yet when everything starts unraveling, it is us, and not the instigator that gets caught and suffers the consequences of those actions. Therefore, it is of the upmost importance that we consider who we let into our inner circle of influence, and that we take time to determine if there might be an ulterior motive as to why this person is advising me to do something deceptive or that goes against my better judgment.
When Esau approached Isaac, he told him that he had the food for him. Isaac, who had been confused before, asked who he was. Isaac began to tremble uncontrollably, and told Esau that the blessing had already been given. Esau wanted Isaac to bless him as well, but Isaac indicated that he could only bless one, and then proceeded to say how hard Esau's life would be.
How would you feel if you were Esau? Doesn't it sound like the wrong brother got the blessing? Esau, although driven by intense desire and emotion earlier, seemed to be the son who was more responsible. However, God chose Jacob. It is obvious that it was not for any redeeming value that Jacob displayed at the time he was chosen, but totally because of what God had decided. In Genesis 27:41, we read that Esau held a grudge against Jacob … and determined in his heart that once his father was gone, he would kill his brother Jacob. Rebekah heard what he said and warned Jacob that he needed to get away, and she would let him know when Esau had cooled off, if ever.
We see here a family situation gone from bad to worse. Jerry Springer would have had a field day with this circumstance, wouldn't he? Unfortunately, in many of our lives, we can relate to broken family situations and I've heard of many other family situations that make the story of Jacob and Esau to seem tame. In this case, we see that Jacob's actions were deliberate, underhanded and directed at his brother. We don't know if this would have happened if Rebekah hadn't gotten involved, as God's plan was made known to her. We know what the Lord told her and we read that she and Isaac were grieved by choices that Esau had made, but I get the impression that she tried to engineer the outcome. Although, we know in the long run that God worked through Jacob, this did not help the family dynamics at the time. Often, family circumstances get way out of hand when any party seeks to control others. They forget that God works in each life, but somehow some people see themselves as God's primary facilitator, engineering the outcome that they desire. In doing so, they show less reliance on God and more reliance on self to make the outcome possible. When this happens, families are often fractured and it extends beyond the primary participants and impacts many others in and around the family, as people seem to be forced to pick sides. In this case, as we will see, it worked out, but in many more cases today, the impact can be devastating on relationships.
Rebekah sent Jacob to go towards her brother Laban in Haran. In Genesis 27:46, Rebekah told Isaac that she was sick of her life because of the Hittite women and she was worried that Jacob might do the same thing. So, Isaac sent for Jacob and told him that he should not marry a Canaanite woman, but one of Laban's daughters. Esau heard Isaac bless Jacob and tell him to not marry a Canaanite woman, so Esau went and married two more women who were non Canaanite, perhaps to get back into his mother and father's good grace. In fact, the more I read through all of this, I find myself favoring Esau, as he seemed to want to do the right thing. Once again, I am reminded, it is less of what we see in others and much more important what God sees.
We fast forward about twenty years. That's a long time. Think about the difference in yourself over the course of twenty years. Do you still think the same way? Like the same things? Have the same political views? Are you less judgmental and more forgiving or has the opposite occurred? Has time hardened you or softened you? I supposed it's different for each of us, but one thing is certain, time changes all of us in some ways and there is no doubt the same had occurred with Jacob and Esau. Jacob went to Laban's and you may remember the story where he worked seven years for Rachel, Laban's daughter, but was given Leah, another daughter instead. He worked seven more years for Rachel. God richly blessed Jacob and his family, to the point where Laban's other sons and family were upset that Jacob was getting rich off of Laban. They agreed to split and Jacob is commanded by God to return to the land of his ancestors. To get there, he must got through Edom, which is where his brother Esau lived.
What do you think must have been going through Jacob's mind? The last time he had been around Esau, Jacob stole the family inheritance and blessing, and previously he had stolen Esau's birthright. The last thing he probably remembered was Esau's threat to kill him. If you were Jacob, and you knew you had wronged someone in the past, and that they were mad enough to kill you, how would you feel about approaching them twenty years later, with no contact in between?
Jacob believed that he had to somehow pay Esau back. He sent messengers to tell Esau that Jacob had gifts for him, which included 200 female goats, 20 male goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 30 milk camels with their young, 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys and 10 male donkeys. I guess if Esau wanted to be blessed by possessions, this would have been quite a blessing. However, the messengers found that Esau was approaching with 400 men. This did NOT look good for Jacob.
Jacob developed a plan to have groups, with the gifts in the front, as well as servants all telling Esau that these were from Jacob, then Jacob would follow the gifts and far behind would be the rest of his family, so that they could find safety if things went bad. He had divided the children among Leah, Rachel and two female servants, if things went bad. As he approached Esau, he bowed seven times. What we see here in Jacob is a man in contrition. He knew that he had wronged Esau, and he knew that Esau had every right to deal with him as he saw fit. I think this is a key point in reconciliation. How often are we unwilling to admit what we have done to hurt someone else? It may not have been intentional, but often we act as if it shouldn't bother the other person, and instead of recognizing the pain our words or actions caused to them, we just want them to move on and get over it.
Esau's response was not at all what Jacob expected. He may have expected Esau to run at him, but not run to meet him. Esau threw his arms around Jacob's neck and kissed him. And then, Esau took a step back and asked "Who are those with you?" Jacob told Esau that these were the children that God had graciously given to Jacob, Esau's servant. Do you see that even with the good greeting, Jacob was still tenuous about where things were going, and kept showing that he was indebted to Esau.
Esau met the servants and their children, as well as Leah and Rachel and their children. Esau asked what the purpose was of all the flocks and herds that he had met. Jacob explained that he was trying to find favor in Esau's eyes. Esau said that it was not needed, but Jacob insisted and Esau accepted.
Many people that read this lesson may be in the middle of a broken relationship. Perhaps, they see themselves as Esau (in part two) and if the other person (Jacob) would just come and bow before you, things would perhaps get better. I would like to say that if you expect someone to bow before you, before you are willing to forgive them, you aren't likely to be restoring a relationship anytime soon.
In this story, we see wrongs on both sides. Jacob didn't treat Esau as he should have, and he basically stole what by all rights should have been Esau's. Esau also had his share of issues, and was willing to see that God had blessed him as well. In your story, are you willing to see that there are wrongs on all sides in broken relationships? Very rarely is the blame to be put totally on one person. Of course there is always an exception to this and when you know, with a clean and pure heart before God, that you have done all you can do to try to own your mistakes but the other party refuses to do the same, it might be impossible to continue to be in a constant relationship with that person. In some of these instances, it is unhealthy to maintain the relationship because when you have done your part while the other party maintains their defensive stance that they have done no wrong, and you are expected to act as if nothing was done to you, you are actually enabling a unhealthy relationship that can become abusive, or at best is toxic, and therefore damaging to you. This is not what biblical forgiveness looks like. God forgives everyone, yet not everyone will enter heaven because they have not acknowledged their sin before God and taken responsibility for their own words and actions. Without the acknowledgement of our sin and an understanding of how we have grieved God, there is no eternal life in heaven. The same can be said regarding our relationships. When the issues at hand are big, and apologies are never offered, it may be appropriate AND biblical for us to remove ourselves from the relationship and set some boundaries, limiting that person's ability to engage or interact with us on a regular basis, if at all. This doesn't mean you aren't called to forgive the person, but forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing and forgiveness doesn't guarantee a restored relationship. Someone who grew up abused should find a way (as difficult as it might be) to forgive the abuser, but that doesn't imply they should allow unfettered access to their life, and often there should be no access granted for the physical and mental safety of the abused party. In these complicated relationships it is of the upmost importance to first seek God and ask for His guidance as to how one should proceed. God never wants us to stay in dangerous relationships where we are constantly belittled, assaulted or damaged and harmed. He is a God of justice and He doesn't look the other way and turn a blind eye to wrongs committed against another person, and He never expects us to do something He isn't willing to do.
One of the other things that has been rolling around in my head recently is how important it is to not only be willing to own what you have done in the context of a bad relationship, but also to realize that other's actions may have hurt someone. If there is a relationship that affects a group of people, you will find times when one person in the group keeps doing things to make the relationship harder to reconcile. While you may not be the one doing the things, it often is very healing to the impacted party to let them know that you understand how they feel. Showing empathy is another way to help draw people together. It doesn't imply taking sides in a spat, but to show that you understand that something that was done was hurtful. When it becomes all against one, the lack of empathy tends to show that anything that happens bad to the one is of no problem at all, which impacts the all.
Lastly, you may have heard about the book called the 5 Love Languages. Berkley has been talking about another article that she has seen regarding apology languages. If you think about it, it makes sense. Some people are fine with a generic I'm sorry and they want to move on. Other people need to hear that you truly understand how you may have hurt them and how it makes them feel. They may also need to hear how you will ensure that you don't repeat that hurt again.
In the context of broken relationships the need to be reconciled, especially among believers, means God must be involved. At times, that is the only thing that people can agree upon, and when the focus is on the same Provider, and seeking what He would have done in a situation, we are more apt to act in a way that is consistent with His character. We need to realize that we all have sinned, and we all have problems. When we refuse to address our own problems, we will find that we will have a more difficult time restoring relationships with others. Unfortunately this doesn't mean that when we acknowledge our failings and the hurt they caused, that the other party will take ownership of their actions. Both parties have to be willing to own what was done. Without that, unity is very unlikely to happen.