Mar. 20, 2017

Red Flags in the Family

CONFLICTED FAMILIES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

Did you think that families in the bible were all perfect? That’s a mistake. Conflicts are as old as the human family. Tension, envy, anger, jealousy and rivalry characterized most families in the Old Testament, and caused real harm to the bond of brotherly affection. These are some instances:

Cain and Abel (Gen.4:1-16): Cain and Abel’s crisis was the product of envy. Having presented their offerings to God, Cain realized that his offering was not pleasing to God, “God looked with favor on Abel and his offering” (Gen.4:4-5). “Cain became angry and downcast”. Ironically though, Cain had opportunity to make amends. God gave Cain second chance to overcome his anger. God spoke to him, “Why are you angry and downcast? If you are doing right, surely you ought to hold your head high! But if you are not doing right, sin is crouching at the door hungry to get you” (4:7). Cain’s allowed anger to take control of him. He murdered Abel because of jealousy. He saw his brother as a rival, as an opponent who had done better and deserved to be eliminated. The saying, “Am I my brother’s keeper” (Gen.4:10), has remained an age-long slogan for betrayal till date. His was the first recorded case of murder in the bible.

Esau and Jacob (Gen.25:19-34): The rivalry between Esau and Jacob originated from birth. They were rivals from the womb. Abel was born “with his hands grasping Esau’s heel” (25:26). Again, their pregnancy bothered Rebekah that she complained thus, “If this is the way of it, why go on living?” (25:23). Again, the parents of Esau and Jacob aided the crisis between their two sons; “Isaac preferred Esau, for he had a taste for wild game; but Rebekah preferred Jacob” (25:28). It is always a dangerous game to use preference as standard in family settings. Although parents might have special interest in some kids more than the others because of intelligence, character, or physical abilities, it is always good to avoid manifesting likeness for one kid over another.

Isaac and Ishmael (Gen.16:1-16; 21:1-21): The conflict between Isaac and Ishmael is described as the origin of the Middle East conflict till date. It is a crisis that started between step-brothers mostly fueled by their mothers. Sarah was the legitimate wife of Abraham while Hagar was the slave girl who later conceived and bore Ishmael, the first son of Abraham. Before the conception of Ishmael, Sarah and Hagar had great relationships. It was Sarah’s suggestion that made Abraham take Hagar to bed. Sarah felt that she would be unable to bear Abraham a son. Their trouble was double-edged. On the part of Hagar, “And once she knew she had conceived, her mistress counted for nothing in her eyes” (16:4). Sarah, on her part was upset with Hagar and with her husband for letting such happen. “Sarai accordingly treated her so badly that she ran away from her” (16:6). As soon as Sarah had her son Isaac, she saw Hagar’s son as threatening the inheritance of her child, and asked that Hagar and her son be driven out of Abraham’s house. “Now Sarah watched the son that Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. She said to Abraham, “Drive away the slave-girl and her son” (Gen.21:9-10). In large families, such as in Africa, parents’ over-protective and defensive approach could lead to family crisis. Abraham’s family history leaves us an example.

Joseph and his brothers (Gen.37:2-11): The story of Joseph and his brothers is another instance of conflict arising from envy and jealousy. The father was part of the reason why Joseph’s brothers hated him. The bible maintains, “Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons, for he was the son of his old age, and he had a decorated tunic made for him” (37:3). This was the beginning of the hatred from his brothers, and perhaps on Joseph’s part, the impetus for his dreams of greatness above his brothers. Joseph’s dreams of having his brothers’ sheaves bow to him, then the sun, the moon and eleven stars bow before him aggravated the brothers’ hatred. The sun symbolized his father, the moon his mother while the eleven stars represented his eleven brothers, all bowing down to worship him in his dream. This sparked off jealousy and the ugly decision to kill him. Joseph’s story demonstrates another example of family feud caused by envy and excessive manifestation of parental love for one child over the others.

Abram and Lot (Gen.13:1-9): Abraham and Lot’s relationship could in a sense be classified as conflicted even though it was amicably resolved. The conflict between Abraham and Lot was generated by their dependents- external persons in their family. Abraham and Lot were rich. They had servants, herdsmen who took care of their livestock. Material possession and wealth nearly messed the relationship between these two brothers, thanks to Abraham’s wisdom. Scriptures says, “Dispute broke out between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and those of Lot. Accordingly, Abram said to Lot, ‘We do not want discord between my herdsmen and yours, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land open before you? Go in the opposite direction to me: if you take the left, I will go right; if you take the right, I will go left” (Gen.13:7-9). This decision brought calm to a relationship that could have been messed up if they began to struggle over space and possession. Beware of what people tell you about your siblings, external influences could be misleading.

Absalom kills his brother Amnon (2Sam.13:1-29): King David had one of the largest and most complex family history in the bible. It was a royal household with vast women and children. Amnon, David’s first son was born to him by Ahinoam while Absalom and his sister Tamar were born to him by Maacah. “Absalom son of David had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar; Amnon son of David fell in love with her. Amnon was so obsessed with his sister Tamar that it made him ill” (13:1-2). Encouraged by his friend Jonadab (another instance of external influence), Amnon fakes illness to execute his heinous plan. He pretends to be ill, then lures Tamar to his private room and rapes her (2Sam.13:10-14). Absalom is aggrieved with Amnon and promises to take revenge. It takes two years for Absalom to carry out his vengeful plan. Absalom invites his brothers to a banquet in his house and instructs his servants to execute Amnon, which they did (2Sam.13:28-29). The story of Absalom and Amnon sets the tone for lack of forgiveness in the family setting.

Solomon and Adonijah (1Kgs. Chapter 1): The book of Kings begins with the tension over who would succeed David as King. While Adonijah declared himself king, Nathan and Bathsheba convinced David to crown Solomon king to succeed him. Having been anointed king by the priest Zadok, Solomon ascends the royal throne while Adonijah goes into hiding. Solomon’s reply to Adonijah’s request not to harm him is, “not one hair of his shall fall to the ground; but if he proves difficult, he shall die” (1Kgs.13:52).

Lent provides opportunity for us to reflect on the reasons for conflict in our homes?

  • Are you obsessed about anything- wealth, women, wine?
  • Do you listen to false advice from friends against your family?
  • Is the rivalry in your home causing unnecessary tension, can’t you let go and let peace in?
  • Are you jealous of anyone?
  • Have you held grudges for so long?
  • Can’t you forgive and free yourself of bitterness?