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More About Family Values
by Farrell Till

1996 / November-December

[Webmaster's note: This is Part Two of a five-part series]

In our first article on family values, we left Abraham and Sarah in Gerar collecting the proceeds from Abraham's second attempt to pass Sarah off as his sister. Each time, she caught the eye of a king, and each time Abraham was given sheep and oxen and servants, both male and female, but the second time King Abimelech gave him a thousand pieces of silver as a "covering of the eyes to all that are with you" (Gen. 20:16). Hmmm, it sounds a lot like hush money, doesn't it? But such was the way of "family values" in those days.

By and by, Abraham and Sarah had a child of their own if one can believe that a 100-year-old man and a 90-year-old woman (Gen. 17:17) could become parents, but why not? Abraham was 75 when he left Haran (Gen. 12:4), and the passage just referred to claimed that Sarah was 10 years younger than Abraham. Therefore, when they went into Egypt, where pharaoh took Sarah into his palace, she had to have been at least 65 years old (if there is any truth to the Bible record). So if Sarah was such a raving beauty at 65 that kings lusted over her, why not believe that she could bear a child when she was 90?

Anyway, Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah, and when he grew up, they betrothed him to Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham's brother (Gen. 24:15). That's the way it was done in those days. Brother married sister; cousin married cousin. As noted in "Jacob an Old Geezer?" (pp. 7-9, this issue), Isaac's and Rebekah's son Jacob, the offspring of first cousins, even married the daughters of Rebekah's brother Laban. (Maybe it was all of this inbreeding that made these people think that they were always seeing God.) At any rate, Isaac and Rebekah married, after which we find in the Bible a story that illustrates the old like-father-like-son adage, only in this case, it was a matter of like father and mother, like son and daughter-in-law, because Isaac and Rebekah pulled the same trick that Ma and Pa did. Not only that, they did it in Gerar, the same place where Abraham and Sarah had pulled the wool over Abimelech's eyes. In fact, Abimelech was still king, even though it had to have been at least 40 years later, because Isaac had not been born yet when Abraham and Sarah were in Gerar, and Isaac didn't marry Rebekah until he was 40 (Gen. 25:20). Anyway, Isaac and Rebekah went to Gerar, and "when the men of the place asked him of his wife, he said, `She is my sister,' for he was afraid to say, `She is my wife,' because he thought, `Lest the men of the place kill me for Rebekah, because she is beautiful to behold'" (Gen. 26:7). Yes, indeed, beauty was definitely a genetic trait in this family. After all, if Sarah was Abraham's sister, then Sarah was Rebekah's aunt. So isn't it quite believable that both women could have had beauty that men would kill for? At least, Abraham and Isaac thought so.

Apparently Abimelech didn't learn a thing from his experience with Abraham and Sarah, because he bought the same lie from their son and daughter-in-law. Oh, well, since it was at least 40 years later, maybe the guy was getting senile. At least, he didn't make a play for Rebekah himself, but he did believe Isaac's lie until one day he looked out the window and saw Isaac sporting with Rebekah (v:8). Hmmm, Isaac was "sporting" with Rebekah in a place public enough that the king could see them from a window? Is that any kind of example in family values for the promised seed of Abraham to be setting for all generations to read about?

There has been a lot of debate over what Isaac's "sporting with Rebekah" meant. Some think that it meant... uh, well, that they were "doing it" right in public, but others argue that they were only "displaying affection." Whatever they were doing, it was enough for King Abimelech to guess that they were married (v:9), so it had to have been more than just a hug or a kiss. Anyway, if kids today want an appropriate response to parents and other adults who criticize them for "making out" in public, they can just point to this story and say, "What's the big deal? We're just practicing old-fashioned family values that we read about in the Bible."

So Abimelech called Isaac before him, just as he had summoned his father years before, and raked him over the coals for having lied about his relationship to Rebekah. "What is this you have done to us?" he said. "One of the people might have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt on us" (v:10). He then warned his people that anyone who touched Rebekah would surely be put to death (v:11). There is no explanation for why a king who kept concubines in his palace would have thought it so tragic if some of the men of the country had "lain" with Rebekah

Times had changed somewhat since Abraham's and Sarah's sojourn in Gerar, because there is no indication in the story that Abimelech gave any goodies to Isaac as he had to his father Abraham. Maybe he felt that he didn't need to; after all, he hadn't made a direct play for Rebekah as he had for her mother-in-law/aunt Sarah. Age is a terrible curse!

Isaac and Rebekah didn't exactly wind up empty-handed, though, because Isaac "sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold, and Yahweh blessed him" (v:12). So the moral of this story seems to be that in those times when Yahweh routinely visited and chatted with his chosen ones, if they lied and "sported" in public, he would bless them with prosperity. Perhaps Christians, who go about preaching a need to return to biblical values, should not be surprised that bribery and sex scandals so frequently disgrace our public officials. Maybe they are just doing what they so often hear from the Christian right and are making an honest effort to return to the family values of biblical times.

In due time, Isaac and Rebekah had children too, although it took them 20 years (Gen. 25:26). Twin sons (Esau and Jacob) were born to Rebekah, and right away problems developed between the brothers that make ordinary sibling rivalry seem like brotherly love. The fault wasn't really the children's, because Isaac loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob (Gen. 25:28). Parents today might keep this in mind. If they want to return to those wonderful family values of yesteryears, they must show favoritism to their children. It's the biblical way.

The sibling rivalry culminated one day when Esau came in from the field exhausted with hunger. Jacob, who had prepared pottage, refused to give his brother any until Esau vowed to give up his primogenitive rights (acquired by being the firstborn of the twins). Faint with hunger, Esau agreed to the demand in order to get food from Jacob (Gen. 25:27-34). This was a supreme manifestation of brotherly love biblical style.

Rebekah, who loved Jacob, wanted to make sure that he retained the birthright that Esau had relinquished, so she conspired to disguise Jacob as his hairy brother Esau in order to deceive Isaac (whose eyesight was now failing) into pronouncing the blessing of the firstborn on him. This involved killing two goat kids to prepare a sumptuous meal for Isaac. Two kids? Isaac must have been hungrier that day than Esau ever was. Anyway, Rebekah took some of Esau's clothing and put it on Jacob, so that he would smell like his brother, and then put the goat skins on Jacob's hands and neck (Gen. 27:15-17). To make a long story short, when Isaac smelled Jacob and felt the goat skins on his hands and neck, the poor old guy thought that Jacob was his hairy brother Esau and pronounced upon him the blessing. If Isaac couldn't tell the difference in feeling goat skins and a hairy human body, his eyesight must not have been the only thing that was failing. Anyway, that's how the story is told in God's inspired word, so it must be true. The lesson for us is that conspiracy, deception, and lying were very much a part of family values in biblical times. Many Christians today seem to be following this example only too well.

When Esau learned what had been done, he vowed that when his father was dead, he was going to kill his brother. Boy, talk about biblical family values! Rebekah heard of this (how is anybody's guess) and arranged for Jacob to go visit her brother in Paddanaram. By this time, Esau had married two Hittite women, who were "a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah" (Gen. 26:35). Ah, so we see that ethnic prejudice was also a family value in biblical times, as was polygamy too, of course. Anyway, Rebekah used this as an excuse to get Jacob out of the country and away from Esau. She said to Isaac, "I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth, like these who are daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me" (27:47)? That's the spirit, Becky; show contempt for all who are not as ethnically pure as you. It's the biblical way.

Once this idea had been put into Isaac's head, he too became concerned. He called Jacob into him and said, "You shall not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Paddanaram, to the house of Bethuel your mother's father, and take yourself a wife from there of the daughters of Laban your mother's brother" (28:1-2). So Jacob went to Paddanaram and engaged in the sexual escapades described in "Jacob an Old Geezer?" on pages 7-9 of this issue. If Isaac, Rebekah, and their two sons were living today, psychologists would call them a dysfunctional family. But don't knock it; that's just the way family values were in biblical times.

Go to Part Three of this five-part series.

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