Blog: Communication & Dysfunction Part 4: Hidden Promises & Hard Hearts

Over the last couple of months I have been writing about the connection between a lack of communication and family dysfunction. As I’ve been reading through the book of Genesis I have noticed that, even in the great families of faith and God’s favor, when communication wavered, dysfunction thrived. My prayer is that the piecing together of events, over several generations, will bring hope for healing and a plan for health and freedom for our families, thousands of years after the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is the fourth and final post of the series.

Isaac and Rebekah, just like Isaac’s parents, Abraham and Sarah, had difficulty conceiving children. God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation, but for 25 years after the promise, as Abraham obeyed God and seemed to wander from place to place, still he and Sarah had no children. In their old age, when Abraham was, as Hebrews refers to him, “as good as dead”, Sarah conceived and gave birth to a son, the son of the promise, Isaac. I’m not sure about you, but when difficulty breaks, I generally expect ease to set in. I’m sure Isaac was aware of his story, of how he was the fruit of God’s promise, the outcome of his parent’s faith, but also that he had been waited and hoped for, that his parents had endured and even created difficulty in the many years between when God spoke, and when he was born. If this is the case, I must wonder if Isaac didn’t expect it to be different for him. I wonder if he thought that the test of faith was for the first child, but to become a great nation, children would flow freely for him and Rebekah? No matter what Isaac thought, God’s plan was to continue to build faith and to create patience, to continue using waiting to establish His character in and through the family that would become His nation.

Isaac and Rebekah waited 20 years before they had children. As I’ve written about before, during those years we don’t see Isaac pleading with God, or Rebekah offering her maid to her husband to hurry their hopes along. We are given very little narrative about the first two decades of their marriage, simply that Rebekah was barren, and Isaac prayed. After 20 years of barrenness and prayer, Rebekah conceived, securing that God had indeed provided for the next generation of Abraham’s great nation.

Genesis 25 says that during Rebekah’s pregnancy that the children (she had conceived twins) in her womb “jostled” or “struggled” with each other to the point in which she became concerned, probably even afraid and asked God, “Why is this happening to me?” As any first-time parent, especially one that had waited so long for a child, her concerns were valid, and her fears were very real. The first place, in this passage we see the importance of communication is to honestly share our hearts with God. When the Scriptures command us (as they often do) to “fear not”, it is not an order not to be afraid, but a calling to not be overcome by or led by our fears. We all face things that frighten us, situations that scare us, circumstances that “jostle” us. It is not a sin or a sign of weakness to feel fear or to even be afraid. It is a simply a sign of our humanity. The issue is not how do we avoid fear but how do we deal with it? Rebekah took her fear to God, she asked Him her question, she trusted Him enough to know that He had directed her steps, so she could ask questions about His path. We need to follow Rebekah’s example by telling God our fears and asking God our questions. He is not bothered by our questions, He is not angered by our fears, He is our Father, He hears us, He loves us, and He enjoys being our “ever present help in trouble.” Isn’t this why Paul told us to take “every situation, by prayer and petition . . . to God”? Could this be what God was teaching us when He inspired Peter to write, “cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you”?

Rebekah shared her fear with God, she asked Him “Why is this happening to me?” and He answered her:

“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

God said so much in this one statement, He answered her questions, but He also raised some others. This is often what the Word of God and the Spirit of God do, they don’t simply give us answers, they call us to more faith, they lead us further down the path of discipleship, they reveal more of God’s character and they leave us to choose faith in what has yet to be revealed. First, Rebekah probably didn’t know she was having twins, so this was a surprise, but God told her not only was she carrying two children, but she was carrying two nations. The promise to Abraham was being multiplied, not only would his line become a great nation, but it would become multiple nations. The work of God is often if not always more than we expect or understand. He’s never just at work doing one thing or reaching one people or addressing one need. When He works in us it is so that He can work through us, when He works through us it is because He desires to do even more work in us. It’s important that we learn the heart of God so that we won’t substitute our expectations for His plans or confuse our desires for His promises. God only works according to His character, He does not change, there is no shadow of turning in Him, He will not diminish Himself for our sake, to meet our expectations or to fulfill our dreams. His will is not about our destiny it is about His glory and man’s redemption. All His work, in us, for us and through us is so that Jesus will be glorified, and men will be redeemed.

There was one final piece to what God revealed to Rebekah, this must have been the most difficult to understand, “the older will serve the younger.” My understanding of that culture was that birthright was everything. God sovereignly determined which child was born first, that child not only received the larger inheritance from his father but also a blessing from God. How could this “law of nature” and expectation of the culture be turned upside down? I assume it was troubling for Rebekah to hear and difficult to understand, which probably means it was something that she was not very comfortable communicating.

I recognize that I’m taking a lot of liberty here, but we have no record of Rebekah sharing this news with Isaac or anyone else. We aren’t told of a prophet confirming the word from God or of Rebekah pondering these things the way that Mary did. All we know, is years later, when Isaac was nearing death and the time had come for him to give the blessing of God to his oldest son, Rebekah leaped into action. Like when Sarah gave her maid to Abraham to do the work of fulfilling the promise of God, Rebekah told her youngest son to follow her plan so that he could deceive Isaac and receive the blessing that she assumed was God’s plan, purpose or destiny for his life. When we don’t communicate, when we don’t encourage each other and submit ourselves and our ideas to each other we are left alone with our thoughts, our ideas and our expectations, we are left alone with our fears, our anxieties and our questions and we are left to do what we think is best for us rather than considering what is right, even righteous for everyone connected to and affected by us.

Rebekah took a “word from God”, something that some might call a promise, others might call a prophesy, but she took something God spoke so that she would trust Him and turned it into something that she used to deceive her husband and divide her family. It is my contention that this is what happens when we choose not to communicate, we hide things in our hearts that become much different than what they were meant to be. How often does encouragement turn to division when we don’t share it with each other? How often does a call to intercession become a reason for judgement? How often does a cry for mercy turn into a root of bitterness? Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to give up meeting together but to encourage each other. This isn’t simply talking about joining each other for religious services (although that part of the assembly is important), it is calling us to join each other, to speak to each other, to share our hearts with each other so that we can put courage into each other. We all see God in glimpses and glimmers, Jesus said that no one had ever seen the Father except the One who came down from heaven. None of us have the full counsel of God or have grasped the fullness of the gospel, but when we communicate with each other we put all our glimpses and glimmers together and we form a fuller picture of who God is, we start to move from the caricature of our own creation to the portrait that can only be painted by the full community. Earlier in Hebrews 3:13, the author commanded, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” What if Rebekah’s decision to deceive her husband and rob her oldest son was born, not from the promise of God but from the hardness of her heart, all because, without communication there can be no encouragement and without encouragement the deceitfulness of sin can overtake us?

Open communication is about submission and encouragement. We were created with a need to submit ourselves to and be encouraged by each other. So much of our dysfunction is created by our unwillingness to open our hearts, our lives, our ears and our mouths to each other. As I look through the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I’m struck by how much they received from God but how little they shared with each other. This may not sit well with some, but I believe the generations of the patriarchs teach us that hearing from God is only the beginning of the process. God speaks so that we will share, God speaks so that we can rally around His voice and be joined to each other. If we won’t submit to each other then we are already living in disobedience to God’s Word. If we are not interested in the encouragement of others, then we are opening the door for our hearts to be hardened. If we don’t see the value of communication, then we are planting a garden of dysfunction. Allow God’s Word to teach you God’s heart and then, share His heart and yours with each other. Submission and encouragement are God’s recipe for pliable hearts, open minds and right relationships. All our function is found in our communication.

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