[According to my tracker, this Bible lesson from February, 2006 has steadily remained on the most popular list. Genesis 25 and the interaction between the parents and the two sons is a powerful lesson in the dangers of parental favoritism. The true source of favoritism is narcissism - the parent prefers the child that is most like themselves. I pray that this has helped others come to grips with this all-too-common family dilemma.]
Genesis 25:28 – “And Isaac loved (and was partial to) Esau, because he ate of Esau’s game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.”
“As long as you are more concerned for yourself than you are for people who you have never seen, you are wrong, and you cannot have even a momentary insight into the simple core of the soul.” – From the sermon “The Love of God” by Meister Eckhart from a modern translation by Raymond B. Blakney.
Why would a father or mother look at one child as a blessing and the other as something else, perhaps something even worthless or bad?
As I wrote my lesson this past week on Esau and Jacob and Isaac’s preference for Esau over Jacob, I almost passed over this dilemma without seeing it. Remember that Isaac has been promised numerous descendants who will inherit the land, but there is a catch. Genesis 18:19 – The Lord says, “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him." That’s right, Abraham was chosen to be a father, that would be his primary role, and his task is to keep the way of the Lord.
For many years Isaac is faithful to God, puts Him first, and trusts in Him. However, he slips drastically in his favoritism of Esau. Why does he love Esau so much? “He ate of Esau’s game” says more than what it appears to say. Isaac saw something more in Esau that he liked. Any son or daughter who is not a favorite can tell you that bringing home some good food doesn’t go very far towards favoritism. The worst side effect of favoritism is the deep sense of hopelessness in the zero child.
No, Esau was Isaac’s kind of son. He pleased Isaac, and Isaac tried to give him his blessing even though it was against God’s will. God had prophesied that the “older will serve the younger" (Esau will serve Jacob) and Isaac knows that Esau’s two pagan wives cannot carry the “seed of Abraham” which is going to be the Messiah.
This story is air-tight because these two boys were born under God’s will and according to His promises. This is not like the half-brothers Isaac and Ishmael, these two are equals. But Isaac forgets to love and nurture their God-image, and to love them equally. Instead he favors the one because he falls in love with his own image, his own pleasures. We must love that essence in our children that pleases God, and try to bring it out (nurture it). We must not love our children based upon what pleases us alone. Obviously, what pleases us alone does so because it does not please God.
Parental favoritism is an unholy approval and an unholy denial.
Isaac’s sin of parental favoritism came out of the most common sin of all: narcissism. He loved what pleased him more than he loved what pleases God. Isaac’s wife Rebekah finds out that blind Isaac is going to bless Esau after he comes back from hunting. She has Jacob disguise himself as his brother Esau and Jacob receives the blessing from the old man. When Esau returns, Isaac realizes that he was deceived by Jacob, but he doesn’t take the blessing back. Why? Because he remembered that blessing Esau was against God’s will, and he began to tremble. He was not afraid of Esau or Jacob, but God. Isaac does an about face. He sends Jacob away to Abraham’s relatives to find a godly wife. Esau vows to kill his brother. In the end, Isaac’s favoritism tears his family apart.
Meister Eckhart states how totally self-love blinds us. “As long as you are more concerned for yourself than you are for people who you have never seen, you are wrong, and you cannot have even a momentary insight into the simple core of the soul.” Not just for your kids, but “people you have never seen” and not “even a momentary insight into the simple core of the soul”. When we fall in love with our own image we lose sight of the God-image and of the humanity in other people. That is how a child becomes a punching bag. That is how that child’s sibling becomes the parent’s best friend when that role belongs to the spouse. That is how a wife can become a stranger and a plotter against her own husband. That is how one person can murder another. God is our humanity. It is His goodness, not ours, that makes us human. It is that goodness that we must seek in our children, in our friends, and in those who cross our paths.
Can only children suffer from favoritism? Yes. They can be a zero (“You’re not like me! You’ll never be any good!”). They can also be a one. Either way they lose. Even if they are favored by both parents, and those parents love them for selfish reasons, their God-image is still not being nurtured. They become “spoiled rotten”; entitled, arrogant, mean-spirited. Remember, parental favoritism is an unholy approval as well as an unholy denial. Nothing good comes of it.
As parenthood grows on the parents, they tend to forget the principle of “watch what you say in front of a toddler because you never know where you’ll here it again”. How many parents have been embarrassed when their toddler asks the waiter, “Can you get me another god-damn Sprite, please?” Ouch! Where did they learn that? As the kids become larger and more difficult to control, the parental rhetoric toward the child can get a lot worse. Only they don’t repeat it as much as they act it out.
The most repeated phrase our children should ever hear is “I love you.” Those words can break down walls in your child’s heart and put in its place a temple in which God can dwell. Every “I love you” is a freshly laid stone, and every day you loved them and didn’t scream at them is a day that didn’t rain in their hearts and a full day of work was accomplished on their temple.
The Bible calls us to recognize our own narcissism and treat it as the crime it is. We need to convict IT and send it away; never should we send our children away. Narcissism enslaves us when it takes root. It causes the favoritism that destroys families. Loving God more than we love ourselves is the only way to freedom from the bondage of our own narcissism. When we love God and make His pleasure our goal, the scales fall from our eyes. We see the world the way it really is. We see that He has called us and we see the Why is that we are to raise His children and keep His way of love and goodness and hope and peace. That all starts by making room for Him in our own hearts so we can bring up children of God.
What does this say? Love God with all your heart, soul and strength/ love others at least as much as you love yourself. Jesus’ two commands both tackled narcissism; there is no amount of narcissism acceptable before God, no narcissism before other people, no narcissism period. It can be safely said that narcissism is the root of all sin.
Only Christ (God, love, goodness, peace) dwelling in us can break the chains of our own narcissism. Only Christ living in us can help us forgive and heal and make everything new again. All of our children; complete, unique, each one intended by God for a unique purpose, equally loved by God, each a blessing from Him. That is His will. And that is the truth that can set us free.