When we read the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we're reading the stories of some of the giants of our faith. It's easy to think about all the ways they interacted with God, their active faith, their struggles, their promises, and their journeys. But these were not just faithful men; they were family men. And the way that we see the fathers of our faith as fathers to their own families says something about how we ought to do family - with our flesh and blood, as well as with God's church.
Abraham, as we know, struggled to be a father at all. His wife, Sarah, could not have children, and he was a very old man before having children even became a real possibility for him. (And kudos, Abraham, for not getting desperate much earlier than your 90s and doing something shameful.) Then God comes along and makes a promise to him - you will be the father of many nations. He laughs, but somewhere in the recesses of his heart, he's hopeful. Sarah has the same reaction - she laughs, but somewhere in the recesses of her heart, she's hopeful. Although it seems absurd, they believe in God's promise.
And this will be a mark of Abraham's life with his son, Isaac, too. A few chapters later, we see this scene where God calls Abraham to offer his only son, his promised son, as a sacrifice on the mountain. So Abraham and Isaac set out toward the place where God has called them. Abraham is silently praising; Isaac has questions. Isaac wants to know where the animal for the sacrifice is. Abraham tells him nothing more than that God will provide one, and the two continue on their journey together, believing there will be a sacrifice when they arrive.
Abraham's family story, then, is one of believing together. And, it must be said, laughing together, too. This is the foundation of who we are as families. We believe together, and we laugh together.
Then Isaac grows up and marries Rebekah and becomes a father himself. Rebekah births to Isaac two sons -Jacob and Esau. Esau is a man's man, a hunter, hairy as they come. He is the firstborn. He is the light of his father's eyes. Isaac loves Esau. Jacob is a momma's boy. He tends the fields. He's conniving. He's the younger son. He is the jewel of his mother's heart. So Isaac's story is a story of love divided, which doesn't seem much like a family story at all. Except that it's kind of all of our family stories, isn't it? And we see clearly here what happens. Jacob and his mother plot against Esau and his father, confuse the old man, and break his heart. Isaac is grieving, Rebekah is fearful, Jacob is essentially exiled, and you could cut the tension with a knife. Nothing good, it seems, comes from this love divided.
Isaac's family story, then, although being a story of love divided, teaches us that we must do better. We must love together. This is what families ought to do.
Finally, we get down to Jacob, who has been living in a far-off land, working for a corrupt distant relative, taking wives and having sons and building his family. And then we find him with two wives, plus two concubines, a whole gaggle of sons, and a massive flock of animals. Despite all that he has, he is missing one thing: home. He wants to go home. But home is where his brother's bitterness continues to burn, where his father's grief remains deep, where his mother's anxiety lingers on. Home is where he may not be welcome. Still, he cannot get his heart away from home.
So Jacob prepares his family and his flocks for the travels. He takes his entire household with him. As they approach the place where he may first encounter the brother he so wronged, he begins to divide his household. He sends his family out in stages ahead of him, to meet his brother first and soften the elder brother's heart. By the time the two men stand face to face, Esau has seen all of Jacob's house - his livestock and servants, his concubines and children, his less-loved wife and her sons, his dearly beloved wife and her sons, and finally Jacob. By the time the two men stand face to face, Esau and Jacob are anxious to see each other. Although we can't say how much the caravan offering of Jacob's family had to do with it, the point is that his family was willing to do that for him. They prepared the way for him to come and make restoration with his brother.
Jacob's family story, then, is a story of restoring together. Healing together. And that is what we must do with our families. We must restore together. Heal together.
And so this is family - the family of the fathers of the faith, the family that we gather around our own tables with, and God's family, as well. We believe together, laugh together, love together, and heal together. This is what families do. This is what families ought to do.