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  • Writer's pictureLES HENSON

Family Conflict

Les Henson


Genesis 25: 19-34 (NRSV)

19 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21 Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?”[a] So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb,     and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other,     the elder shall serve the younger.”

24 When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.[b] Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30 Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.[c]) 31 Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.”[d] So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.


Families are complex, and conflict is not unknown even in the best of families. The family of Isaac and Rebekah, along with their two sons Jacob and Esau, was no exception. Isaac loved Esau while Rebekah loved Jacob. To make matters worse, there was an intense rivalry between the two brothers, which was not helped by the fact that God chose Jacob ahead of his older brother Esau to be the head of the family. Furthermore, complexity is added to complexity for the two sons were to become two nations (Israel and Edom), who would live in close proximity to one another and in conflict for generations to come.

What is more, Jacob and Esau were two very different people. Jacob was an achiever, manipulator and deceiver, who knew what he wanted and was prepared to do anything to get it. Yet despite all this, he had a deep desire for the things of God in his own perverted way. Whereas Esau was gullible, angry and indifferent, his focus was on immediate pleasures rather than long-term blessings. But unlike Jacob, he cared little for the things of God.

This scenario has been played out over and over again in families (and nations) throughout the ages. How can we escape the trap of personal and generational conflict within families (and between nations)? And how can we stop such things happening in the first place? Certainly, there are no easy answers, but any solution regarding conflict within families (and nations) will begin with: listening and loving rather than shouting and hating; a mutual confession to and forgiveness of one another; and an authentic process of reconciliation and restoration involving all parties. Now it would be foolish to suggest that any of this is easy, it is not! But the cost of doing nothing is simply enormous and left unresolved the conflict may become generational.


Father, we have a tendency to screw things up to get things wrong. When this happens within our family the pain goes deep.

LORD, forgive us and enable us to become  peacemakers within our families. Amen.

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