The Dysfunctional Family

16 Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. 17 And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” 18 As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin.

19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb. Genesis 35:16-20

Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife, it seems. It’s the lady he wanted before he was tricked into marrying her sister. First his mother’s nurse/teacher passed away, and not long after, his wife passed away. That’s not an easy burden to bear. Yes, Benjamin was born, but he lost his wife during the birth. It’s the very definition of having mixed emotions.

And yet, he still had his family to take care of. Of course they were older now. Joseph would be mourning his mother, and Benjamin would grow up without his birth mother.

Life gets complicated, doesn’t it? All of Jacob’s kids grew up in what we would call a seriously dysfunctional family. As we’ll see tomorrow, it gets worse.

Every one reading this knows about dysfunctional families. Perhaps you are living in one now. You may even be the biggest dysfunction of the family!

Unfortunately, until Christ comes to rescue us from all this mess, we’re stuck with it.

You can’t change it all, but you can pray and ask God to change some of it. He can do it; only He can do it.

A better prayer, perhaps, is that you will have the grace to accept it as it is, that is, if it’s not harmful or dangerous.

If your family grates on you, then just maybe you need to adapt. 

Israel Needed Encouragement

9 After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.

11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.

14 Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel. Genesis 35:9-15

We’ve seen this theme quite often in the last 20 chapters of Genesis: God reassuring His patriarchs of Him blessing them. They must have had many doubts along the way. Life just does that to people, and especially since they didn’t have much “light” to go on. We view it from our perspective because we know the full story and how it ended for them. They knew very little of what we now know, so they had to be encouraged along the way.

The odd thing is, we too need encouragement from God and others. Life can just drain you of emotional energy. There aren’t a lot of encouraging things happening in the news – or at least they’re not telling them to us.

So, we find encouragement where we can.

We read Scripture and it encourages us.

We talk with people and, depending on their mood, can encourage or discourage us.

But we have the power to encourage others. Those few kind words can sustain a person for a long time.

A case in point, a guest to our singing group who I had never met before made a good comment about my singing after rehearsal last week. I didn’t expect it at all.

A week later, I’m writing about it because it was memorable and encouraging.

It’s so easy to do. It’s the unexpectedness that makes it that much better. For these patriarchs, they probably didn’t expect to be encouraged by having the God of the Universe tell them to hang in there, but He did.

Friends of the Family

6 Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7 There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.

8 Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth (the Plain of Tears). Genesis 35:6-8

Hidden inside this passage is the untold story of Rebekah’s nurse, Deborah. And yet, her influence over Jacob and his family were probably enormous. Just to set the stage, Rebekah lived with her immoral brother and father. Deborah was probably also her teacher. Rebekah went with her nurse along with Abraham’s men. After she married Isaac, Deborah was probably still around. Deborah would have been there for the birth of Esau and Jacob, and would have helped raise those two. And finally, she would have a lot of input into how Jacob was raising his children. She was probably just always there, in the background, going about her day for years.

Family friends are like that. You hardly notice them when they’re around, but when they pass away, the hole they leave behind is enormous. That’s why Jacob buried her in the Plain of Tears. She had a major influence over his life.

Today would be a good day to phone a family friend and let them know how much they are appreciated.

Foreign Gods

Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”

2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. 5 Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them. Genesis 35:1-5

If you’re not careful you could easily miss a significant belief of the people in Jacob’s household: get rid of the foreign gods you have with you.

How did that happen? How did those gods creep into their belief system? How could they be building an altar one week and ridding themselves of foreign idols the next? The fact that Jacob made a pronouncement meant that there were a significant number of gods with them. In other words, they weren’t the exception.

Well, I partially hold Jacob responsible for it. With good teaching and right living, there would be no need for his people to go after other gods. Any leaning towards foreign gods should have been the exception and not the norm.

Many of you reading this understand this completely. You’ve played by the rules, had a godly household and brought your children up in the ways of the Lord, yet still they go after other things instead of the one true God. How can this be?

I am thinking right now of two families in my past who had Godly parents, yet one child in each of their families went seriously astray. How could this be? God gave each of us the ability to make choices and must live with the consequences. Those kids in those two families made some seriously bad choices. To put it into prospective, six others in those two families are on the straight and narrow so they did many many things right.

You have stayed up into the wee hours of the morning praying for this child.

You wonder where you went wrong, what you could have done better.

Hang in there. You may be the only person in the world praying, and he/she needs it.

Don’t give up.

Those kids are worth it, but I don’t need to tell you that.

The evil one would have you believe that continuing to pray is useless because they are too far gone. Well, fortunately, you know the truth. You know how far had to go to reach you, so no one is too far gone.

Jacob Jacob Jacob

30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”

31 But they replied, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?” Genesis 34:30-31

On the other hand, there’s Jacob. He had to make the situation about him when it was never that way in the first place. Of course the brothers could have waited for official justice, but there was none. They took the law into their own hands, but Jacob reprimanded them for it. It’s hard to imagine a colder response to what happened to Dinah than what Jacob gave.

I begin thinking, did God make a mistake in choosing who He did to carry out his lineage? Of course not. God used incredibly flawed people to carry out His purposes.

Does that ring a bell at all? He still uses flawed people like us to carry out His purposes.

I am certainly not excusing Jacob’s cold and callous attitude, but it’s also not the end of the world either. I’d like to think that it can only get better from here. We’ll see.

Who’s Your Champion?

13 Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. 14 They said to them, “We can’t do such a thing; we can’t give our sister to a man who is not circumcised. That would be a disgrace to us. 15 We will enter into an agreement with you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males. 16 Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves. We’ll settle among you and become one people with you. 17 But if you will not agree to be circumcised, we’ll take our sister and go.”

18 Their proposal seemed good to Hamor and his son Shechem. 19 The young man, who was the most honored of all his father’s family, lost no time in doing what they said, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. 20 So Hamor and his son Shechem went to the gate of their city to speak to the men of their city. 21 “These men are friendly toward us,” they said. “Let them live in our land and trade in it; the land has plenty of room for them. We can marry their daughters and they can marry ours. 22 But the men will agree to live with us as one people only on the condition that our males be circumcised, as they themselves are. 23 Won’t their livestock, their property and all their other animals become ours? So let us agree to their terms, and they will settle among us.”

24 All the men who went out of the city gate agreed with Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male in the city was circumcised.

25 Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. 26 They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left. 27 The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. 28 They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. 29 They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses. Genesis 34:13-24

This is an example of what true brothers should do: defend their sister in a bold and memorable way. Dinah would remember that act for as long as she lives just as she has the memory of what Shechem did to her. This act by her brothers sealed their their relationship as siblings.

No, it didn’t take away the horror and emotional pain of what she went through, but it let her know that someone was on her side. She had family with her. Tomorrow they could be yelling and screaming at each other, but for this moment in history, they were family.

Everyone needs a champion in their lives, someone who will sing their praises, go to bat for them when they need, or just listen. Dinah had her brothers. They were looking out for her and her welfare.

Who’s your champion? Likewise, who do you champion?

Not Your Pastor’s Recommended Devotional Today

Warning: Today’s devotional is probably more graphic than most devotionals you’ll ever read. 

5 When Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled, his sons were in the fields with his livestock; so he did nothing about it until they came home.

6 Then Shechem’s father Hamor went out to talk with Jacob. 7 Meanwhile, Jacob’s sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were shocked and furious, because Shechem had done an outrageous thing in Israel by sleeping with Jacob’s daughter—a thing that should not be done.

8 But Hamor said to them, “My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter. Please give her to him as his wife. 9 Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves. 10 You can settle among us; the land is open to you. Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it.”

11 Then Shechem said to Dinah’s father and brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and I will give you whatever you ask. 12 Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I’ll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the young woman as my wife.” Genesis 34:5-12

It takes an enormous amount of audacity to try to negotiate for a woman after you’ve raped her. Let’s call it what it was.

Both Shechem and his father lobbied Jacob’s family for Dinah!

Contrast to that, it took a lot of self-control on Jacob’s family not to deal harshly with them right away.

This is a classic case of good versus evil. Forget for a moment the boneheaded things Jacob and his family have ever done. They have evil staring them in the face right now. Shechem and his father were making a mockery out of what God called pure. What would they do with this encounter?

Tragically, thousands of women and girls are violently abused, raped, and defiled every day in the West. Every day.

Undoubtedly some reading this have been victims of these horrendous crimes. You know first hand the trauma and emotional chaos of sexual abuse. You also know about the never ending healing process. Obviously these verses are very real and raw for you.

Lord Jesus,
There are women who read this and are probably weeping because they have been abused and raped. I wish it weren’t so, but evil people continue to commit these horrific acts on innocent women and girls.

I pray for their healing.

The process is long and rough. Impossible even.

The memories keep flooding back and haunting them. The doubts and despairs keep creeping into their thinking. Trust has been broken.

But we know that you are a powerful healer.

We know that you want these women to be healed 100%.

We recognize that these women have been falsely shamed but we know the power in the blood of Jesus to wash the memories, the pain, the emotional torment, and the stigma and shame away. Would you do this work right now in the lives of those reading this who have undergone this abuse?

Would you flood your Holy Spirit over their lives. Bring caring and gentle men into their lives to help with the restoration.

How long, O Lord, will you permit these acts of evil to continue? How long?

In Jesus’ Name

Every Zip Code

Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. 2 When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and raped her. 3 His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. 4 And Shechem said to his father Hamor, “Get me this girl as my wife.” Genesis 34:1-4

For the next few days, we’ll be diving into some topics that are uncomfortable but current. It was as if the words in the Bible were written in 2019.

Shechem, a powerful and influential man, raped Jacob’s daughter and then wanted her to be his wife.

Throughout the centuries, wealthy and powerful men have been abusing, degrading, and humiliating girls and women. Not all wealthy men do this, of course, and certainly not all men.

This happens in every culture and in every generation.

Take a look at even the old black and white movies, and women were the subject of scorn and humiliation through the golden years of television.

Recently, however, a convicted pedophile and sex trafficker committed suicide before he was able to give up the names of hundreds and possibly thousands of people associated with him in his perverse ways.

Women, and young girls and boys were bought and sold like cattle and repeatedly abused nightly for years. What we’re seeing in the news is merely the tip of the iceberg unfortunately.

We live in a society that has commercialized the sex slave trade. Boys and girls in your community – in your zip code – are being bought and sold for sex.

We can no longer turn a blind eye to what is happening today, tonight, in your town. The fact that the media and women’s groups (for the most part) refuses to cover these horrific stories tells us much more about them and their involvement than anything else.

If you’re reading this, it’s not an accident. Perhaps you’ve not heard these stories before. Perhaps you had no idea this is going on right in our cities.

The question today is, what will you do with this information? I’ll be the first to admit, it’s tough reading and hearing about it. In fact, there’s a movie out that details the sex trade that I simply cannot watch because it’s brutally honest. However, I’m convinced I need to do something.

How about you?

Bad Blood and Relationships

12 Then Esau said, “Let us be on our way; I’ll accompany you'”

13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young’ If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die’ 14 So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the flocks and herds before me and the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir'”

15 Esau said, “Then let me leave some of my men with you'”

“But why do that?” Jacob asked’ “Just let me find favor in the eyes of my lord'”

16 So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir’ 17 Jacob, however, went to Sukkoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock’ That is why the place is called Sukkoth’

18 After Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city’ 19 For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent’ 20 There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel’ Genesis 33:12-19

If we didn’t know any better, we’d think that Jacob was up to something. He didn’t want Esau to accompany him. I suspect they met up just to patch things up. They were cordial but didn’t insist on staying together. There was bad blood between them but they kissed and made up, so to speak.

We have these people in our lives too. We’re cordial but don’t associate with them for various reasons. We have to be around them, but we don’t have to interact that much with them.

But the important thing is, we’re at peace with them. We may not trust them but we’re at peace. Any bad blood between us is past us now. I think that’s important. We don’t have to be friends with everyone we know, and even our family members.

Sure, they’re family but stuff happens to poison the relationship. But being at peace with that person is very important for your own well-being.