The bible account of the separation of Ishmael from Isaac provides four lessons toward understanding the individual responsibility in family leadership. First, after recognizing the need for the separation, Sarah honored Abraham’s overall leadership by asking him to send Ishmael and his mother away. Abraham honored Sarah’s leadership of the specific matter by taking her demand seriously and seeking God’s guidance toward resolving his personal conflict regarding the demand. Second, God’s guidance to Abraham provides a conflict resolution strategy of focusing on the underlying concerns regarding a dispute. Third, Abraham’s response illustrates quick and permanent resolution of a potentially dividing husband-wife disagreement, to preserve their unity before God. Fourth, the separation highlights selective development of family opportunities: based on selecting the opportunities to develop and those to abandon, delay, or de-emphasize; in order to focus better on the selected opportunities.
We continue the bible study series toward understanding the individual responsibility regarding family leadership, based on bible examples of husband-wife interactions and relationships. Previous studies in the series led to understanding the husband as overall leader of the household and the wife as spiritual gateway of the family and occasional leader in specific matters. Both husband and wife are individually responsible to honor and support family leadership. The family will benefit greatly if they do.
Interactions at the call of Abraham illustrate God considers husband and wife as one and relies on husband’s leadership and effective communication with his wife to guide them toward his purpose. He spoke to Abraham alone about a mission and promise for his family and relied on him to share the information with wife Sarah to lead their unity of purpose and obedience to God toward accomplishing the mission.
We continue our study of God’s purpose for husband-wife interactions through a mini series on Abraham and Sarah. The biblical accounts of Abraham and Sarah are more often about God’s interactions with Abraham, which intertwine with Abraham-Sarah interactions to tell us about God’s view of their relationship, thus adding to understanding his purpose and expectations for husband-wife interactions and relationships. In a previous study on Adam and Eve (Union of Seamless Complements), we saw that God considers a husband and wife to be one and inseparable. We see more evidence through Abraham-Sarah interactions, based on God speaking to Abraham alone during most encounters when he provided instructions and promises directed at Abraham-Sarah family.
Our study of Abraham-Sarah interactions is divided into four parts in order to focus enough on some of the details. We learn through the four-part series that God considered Abraham leader and representative of the Abraham-Sarah union (therefore, family). Secondly, he considered them as “one in God” such that his promise to one is a promise to the union and any commitment from one is a commitment from the union. Although subtle and at times easy to overlook, the lesson about God relating to Abraham-Sarah as one appears central to his relationship with them. He spoke promises to Abraham that were really promises to Abraham-Sarah and got commitments from him that really were commitments from the husband-wife union.
He gave directions to Abraham, spoke promises to him, and received commitments from him: all on behalf of Abraham-Sarah union. His communications with Abraham applied equally to Sarah as if he spoke to Abraham-Sarah when he spoke to Abraham. For example, when he instructed Abraham to relocate to “a land I will show you” [Genesis 12:1], he was calling Abraham-Sarah to a mission. Abraham’s responsibility to obey God included effective communication with his wife so they could work seamlessly together to accomplish the mission.
The biblical account of Adam and Eve conveys an understanding that God created marriage to combine a man and woman into a union of fitting complements, well suited to fulfill the purpose of representing him among all creation. We learn from his judgment of their disobedience that God holds a man and wife in inseparable responsibility to obey him. Both will incur punishment for an act of disobedience. However, he judges them individually when they disobey and assigns each separate responsibility for his or her punishment.
We study the account of Adam and Eve to understand God’s purpose for marriage as a union of fitting complements well suited to fulfill his purpose for human beings. He created Adam first to fill the purpose but decided that Adam alone was inadequate. He declared that Adam needed a comparable helper from within in order to fulfill the responsibilities of representing God among other creations. Therefore, he created Eve as Adam’s comparable helper so the two together will be adequate to fulfill God’s purpose for humans.
The creation account includes their initial life in the Garden of Eden, disobedience to God in eating from the forbidden, and punishment and removal from the initial “Garden of Eden” environment to the current life that we know. He pronounced a specific punishment for each after they disobeyed him. We learn from his judgment of their disobedience that God holds a man and wife in inseparable responsibility to obey him. Both will incur punishment for an act of disobedience. However, he judges them individually when they disobey and assigns each separate responsibility for his or her punishment.
We discuss the account of creation to understand the broad but clear statement of God’s purpose for people, he created Adam to fill the purpose, and later created Eve as a fitting complement for Adam because he found Adam inadequate alone to fulfill the purpose. Further, we discuss the disobedience and punishment to understand he held them jointly and inseparably responsible for obedience but punished them individually so each can manage his or her punishment separately.
Jacob’s family interactions highlight inability of a man to love multiple women equally and potential to extend unequal love to the children and, thus, jeopardize positive family relationships. His unequal love for wives and children led to hatred of Joseph by older brothers and a tragic event in the family. Joseph’s brothers plotted to kill him in Dothan as he visited to check on them and their flock. However, kindly interventions by Reuben and Judah changed his sentence from death to enslavement and thus launched him onto his Egypt mission.
The life of Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob (also known as Israel), illustrates potential tragic family interactions resulting from polygamy as well as God’s grace in using an adversity to launch a positive change in a person’s life.
His life story begins with interactions with senior brothers (half-brothers, from the same father but different mothers) that hated him: partly because they believed he “stole” their father’s love and partly a manifestation of intra-family rivalry passed to them from their mothers. The hatred culminated in a tragic event that could have ended his life. However, the tragedy triggered a sequence of events in Joseph’s life that ultimately led him to the highest administrative position in Egypt. There he had an opportunity to retaliate against his brothers. However, he did not retaliate. Instead, he put them through tests to verify their repentance so he could forgive and reconcile with them. By doing so he cleared the way for fulfillment of God’s promise to their fathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) to lead them to a foreign land where they will multiply and prosper before returning to the Promised Land.
In a previous bible study under Joseph Called to Mission, we focus on Joseph’s life as an illustration that God could use adversity to bring about a positive change for a person. Joseph’s mission to Egypt started with his tragic experience in Canaan: almost like burning part of a rocket to launch it into higher orbit. His brothers first threw him into a dry well, where he languished until they changed their mind about killing him and instead sold him as slave to merchants travelling to Egypt. That is, God used the adversity brought to Joseph by his brothers to “launch” him into his Egypt mission.
The current bible study focuses on understanding the tragic events among Jacob’s family in Canaan as the product of seeds of discord that Jacob sowed inadvertently through polygamy.
Jacob became a polygamist by responding to circumstances that arose before him regarding marriage and marital relationships. His marriages sowed seeds for family expansion but also of discord that threatened healthy interactions within his family. Thus, Jacob’s polygamy formed the foundation for fulfillment of God’s promise but also exposed features of such family structure to enable an understanding of the issues of polygamy applicable to present day husband-wife interactions and relationships.
Interactions within Jacob’s family provide opportunity to understand various issues of polygamy. Jacob found himself a polygamist by responding from the heart to circumstances before him regarding marriage and marital relationships. He loved one woman, his uncle’s daughter Rachel, and worked hard to fulfill his part of an agreement to satisfy the dowry requirements by serving her father Laban for seven years as a shepherd. However, on the wedding day he was deceived into wedding her senior sister Leah. He remained determined to marry Rachel. The girls’ father appealed to him to complete the wedding process with Leah and marry Rachel as well thereafter. Jacob accepted. He fulfilled his dream of marrying the woman he loved but also honored her senior sister’s right to wed first. He accomplished these by marrying both sisters, the older before the younger.
Later, as Rachel’s hope of having a child with Jacob began to fade, she offered her maid Bilhah to Jacob: “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, and she will bear a child on my knees, that I also may have children by her” [Genesis 30:3]. Jacob accepted and had two male children with Bilhah. Leah became jealous of Rachel’s success with Bilhah and offered her maid Zilpah to Jacob. He accepted the offer as well. The two maids became his wives in addition to Leah and Rachel. He married Leah, Rachel, and Bilhah because of his love for Rachel. He married Zilpah to extend to Leah the same opportunity that he extended to Rachel.
Thus, he became a husband of four wives because of responding positively to circumstances that arose in his relationship with Rachel. He became an incidental polygamist, thus sowing seeds for the family expansion that God promised his grandfather Abraham. Furthermore, his polygamy sowed seeds of family discord that initially threatened to derail fulfillment of God’s promise of prosperity but ultimately became a vehicle to convey fulfillment of the promise. Thus, Jacob’s polygamy formed the foundation for fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham but also exposed features of polygamous relationships to enable an understanding of the issues of polygamy applicable to present day husband-wife relationships.
We discuss Jacob’s polygamy in a two-part study. First, in the current study, we examine his becoming a polygamist by responding positively to circumstances that arose before him regarding marriage and marital relationships. Also, we examine how his polygamy sowed seeds for family expansion as well as seeds of discord that threatened healthy interactions within the family. In the second part, we examine the unhealthy family interactions and relationships that resulted from his polygamy and triggered events that initially threatened the family but ultimately led the family to multiply and prosper.
Authority to Represent Family:
in Abigail-Nabal Interactions
Authority to represent family requires access to family resources and capability to mobilize the resources as needed. Abigail used such authority to mediate a dispute and forestall potential attack against her family. They faced possible attack from David and his men as retribution for her husband denying their request for assistance. She recognized the men deserved what they requested and her husband was indisposed to help. She mobilized and delivered the supplies and persuaded them against attacking her family.
The biblical account of interactions between David and Abigail provide information about two marital relationships: Abigail was married to Nabal in the first part of the account, was introduced to David in the process of mediating a potential dispute between David and her family, and eventually married David when she became available to remarry after the death of Nabal. The account provides opportunity to learn from a specific event in Abigail-Nabal marriage and from the courtship of Abigail and David that led to their marriage after Nabal’s death. We focus on the lesson from Abigail-Nabal marriage in this study and reserve a follow-on study to examine Abigail-David courtship.
Nabal was a wealthy farmer in Carmel (the same city we encountered Elisha in Interactions Among Shunammite Couple). He had thousands of sheep and goats and several shepherds and servants in his service. The event from his marriage that is of interest in this study occurred during the period that David was a fugitive from Saul, leading an approximately 600 strong fugitive army through wilderness refuges (Please see David and Saul Close Encounters for more information). David requested food from Nabal during sheep shearing and expected Nabal to honor the request because his men assisted Nabal’s shepherds during encounters in the wilderness. However, Nabal rejected the request with contempt, hurling insults at David and his men. A quick-thinking servant sensed an impending retributive attack against Nabal from David and counseled Nabal’s wife Abigail to intervene.
She took the servant’s counsel to heart, mobilized resources, and set out to intercept David and his men that, in fact, were on their way to attack Nabal’s household. Abigail used her understanding and respect for David’s mission in Israel at the time to persuade him that an attack against Nabal would be inconsistent with, and demeaning to, David’s character and Godliness. She was successful. David accepted her gifts, appreciated her intervention, and turned around with his men.
In this study, we focus on Abigail mobilizing family resources in an emergency to protect her family from an impending disaster. Modern day couples live in societies several times more complex than did Abigail and Nabal. However, the principles that enabled her to save her family are applicable today even if the details are more complicated. She had unrestricted access to family resources and was sufficiently knowledgeable to mobilize the resources as needed to address a family emergency. Her husband was indisposed to help as we discuss presently. Therefore, her family’s fate depended on her authority to represent the family. As we discuss herein, the authority to represent family consists of two aspects: access to family resources and capability to mobilize and deploy the resources as needed.
Personal choices determine the fate of opportunities that God positions for each individual. Make the right choices and develop the opportunity and benefits. Make the wrong choices and you could abandon the opportunity as it is transferred to another person. Christ taught this through the Parable of Talents. Additionally, Joseph’s interactions with his brothers during “the great famine” provide us a real life example.
Forgiveness without repentance could result in an “eating with the devil” relationship, in which one would use a proverbial long spoon in readiness to run away at any appearance of provocation. God can see through your heart to know if you have repented. However, a fellow human being may need a physical manifestation of your repentance to truly forgive.
Joseph Seeks True Forgiveness
Joseph sought and found true forgiveness for his senior brothers. Recall that his brothers met him in Egypt approximately 20 years after they sold him to slavery. He was a powerful man, the administrative head of all Egypt. His brothers did not recognize him. He recognized them but did not reveal himself. Instead, he subjected them to several tests to verify their repentance.