These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is to be this way, why do I live?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her,
‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.’
When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterwards his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Born of a virgin priestess, visited by a god, abandoned in a river, saved and raised by a wolf, the founders of the city of Rome, Romulus and Remus, is another story of miraculously conceived, empire founding, fighting twins. Told as the founding story of Rome, it characterizes the wonder, the survivor instinct and the brutal determination of the city and subsequent empire.
Genesis shows that in the nations who came from the Children of Abraham, there was family conflict from the foundation. Isaac was not Abraham’s first born son (Ishmael was) but Isaac inherited everything from his father. Then at the testing age of 40, Isaac married Rebekah who could not conceive (was God’s promise in jeopardy?). After Isaac prayed she became pregnant with Esau & Jacob who fought from the womb (be careful what you pray for?). If we look forward, Jacob’s family life is equally loaded with tension and power struggles.
Just as Romulus & Remus offer a character for the Roman Empire, I think these early stories in Genesis offer us a sense of the character of the nation/s Abraham & Sarah’s children became; full of diversity, often in conflict, riddled with favouritism, and yet bonded as family in which God makes uncanny choices to rule and lead with the younger, weaker and unexpected ones. This family will eventually spend 40 years wandering through the wilderness for God to try and forge them to be the family and the people God hopes for, but even then…
However, through all their messiness and power struggles, with bad choices and moments of brilliance, God never abandons them, never stops hoping for them, never stops shaping their diversity nor seeing their potential. If this is a characterisation of today’s broad family of the children of Abraham and Sarah, then perhaps we can find courage and hope in our faithstory to keep on trying to be the global family God can see in us, because God will never give up on us.
God of Abraham and Sarah Families can be our greatest gift and sorest trial. May our families of kin, of choice and of faith, be spaces where we can safely grow through conflict and calm to become fully alive, fully accepted & accepting, fully loved & loving, In the deep knowledge that you will never leave us or give up on us. Holy family of Three-in-One, in you we trust. Amen.
Fiona Bennett. Minister of Augustine United Church, Edinburgh
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