Summary: In an ungodly culture, Jacob (and we too) protects his family, not by withdrawing into a cocoon or fighting the culture wars," but by eliminating idols, prioritizing worship, and renewing the vision of the family.
PROTECTING YOUR FAMILY IN AN UNGODLY CULTURE—Genesis 33:18-35:15
Is it more difficult to raise a godly family today than it used to be?
The world seems more dangerous: drugs, school shootings, abuse and rape. Social media allows bullying and peer pressure to come to our families, 24/7. The media displays sinful activities as normal, and family members are exposed to all kinds of perversions from an early age. There is less community support, as extended families are far away, and neighbors don’t always share the same values.
Is that new? My 93-year-old father-in-law lives with us. Recently he has been telling stories of his younger years, which he had not shared before. There are stories of dysfunctional families in the small community where my wife grew up, stories of soldiers doing shameful things, stories of sexual pressure, abortion, alcohol abuse, road rage, and class distinctions. Is the world more dangerous today, or do we just hear more about it?
When we read about Jacob in the Old Testament, we discover that Jacob and his family faced many of the same dangers people face today (except for Facebook). He knew all about family dysfunction, ungodly cultural values, and social pressure. His story connects with us in so many ways.
Jacob’s story begins with his grandfather, Abraham. God told Abraham to go to a land he would show him, and he promised to bless him, to make his name great, and to bless all nations through him. God made a covenant with Abraham, and the covenant promises would be fulfilled after Jesus came and established his church. We are included in the “all nations” God promised to bless through Abraham!
Abraham had a son in his old age, named Isaac. Isaac married Rebekah, and they had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. It was a very dysfunctional family; the parents lived separate lives, and they undermined each other. In that dysfunctional family, Jacob learned to deceive and manipulate, eventually stealing from Esau the rights the firstborn son. Esau was so angry that he made plans to kill his brother. Fearing for his life, his parents sent him away secretly, to find a wife among the relatives that they had left behind when they moved away.
Jacob found his way to Paddan Aram, to the family of his mother, Rebekah. His mother’s brother, Laban, had two daughters. Jacob wanted to marry one of them, Rachel. Laban tricked him into marrying both of them. Jacob worked for Laban for 20 years, and he prospered. He had 11 sons and a daughter named Dinah, some by his wives, and others by their female maid-servants. If that sounds like a setup for family dysfunction, it was!
Jacob had been a schemer and manipulator from birth, and in his father-in-law Laban, he met his match. After 20 years of scheming and manipulation, Jacob decided to take and his family and flocks and herds, and slip away without Laban knowing. When Laban discovered that they were gone, he pursued them, and only by God’s intervention was armed conflict averted.
Now, Jacob is headed back to the land of his youth, the land God promised to Abraham and his descendants. He doesn’t know what he will find there, after 20 years. What he does know is that he will have to face his brother, Esau, the same brother who had planned to kill him for lying and stealing. Jacob is afraid, and all night long he has been wrestling with God, seeking assurance that God will have his back. The sun rises, and Jacob is limping, because God has touched his hip. Yet Jacob has “seen the face of God.”
Read Genesis 33:1-10. Jacob’s family is in danger. They are in danger from Esau, who comes to meet Jacob with 400 men. They are in danger from within, as Jacob shows favoritism by putting his least-favorite “sister wives” and their children in the front of the procession, where they would be in greater danger.
God protects Jacob and his family. Esau is placated, even gracious. Jacob recognizes the hand of God in this, as he says, “To see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.”
But there are other dangers. Esau invites Jacob to join him and his clan in Edom. Jacob refuses, giving fake excuses, because he knows that Esau is an ungodly man, with Hittite wives and pagan gods. Instead, Jacob enters the land of promise, settling first in Succoth, and then finding his way to Shechem, where Abraham first built an altar to God.
Jacob is home! He buys a plot of land, and builds an altar, calling it God, the God of Israel—God, his God, since God had given him the name, Israel. Jacob is home, Jacob is safe, his family is safe in the land of promise! But how safe are they?