July 19, 2015 Genesis 49:1-28
Series: Divine Hope for Dysfunctional Families
Today’s Message: “What Adult Children Need to Hear from Their Parents” (Part One)
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Let me ask you: What do you think every boy and girl, every man and women, longs to hear from their parents? That’s right; it’s the three vital words of “I love you.” We yearn to know that we have their approval, their blessing, and their love. Even if you’ve had a tumultuous relationship with your mother and father, you crave their blessing and their affirmation of their love for you, just because you are their child.
I would suggest that this deep-seated desire is a reflection of the yearning that we have to be accepted, affirmed and loved by our Heavenly Father.
Let’s see how this plays out in Genesis 49. Notice that Jacob’s words are both a prophecy (v.1) and a blessing (v. 28). Think of Jacob’s speech to his adult children as a prophetic blessing.
Now, in this sermon, if I had chosen to focus on the prophetic aspect of Jacob’s words, and then we would have looked at where the 12 tribes settled in the Promised Land, how each of them fared there, and the messianic fulfillment of the prophecy for Judah’s tribe. But in line with our overall series, Divine Hope for Dysfunctional Families, I want to emphasize the blessing aspect of Jacob’s words, and how God’s covenant of grace would work out with his 12 sons.
Imagine the scene: The patriarch Jacob is close to death. His 12 sons are gathered around him at his bedside. Father Jacob has rallied his strength to sit up, and now he’s going to pronounce a prophetic blessing on each of his sons. There’s tension and anticipation in the room, because a number of family sins and skeletons are still in the closet and need to be dealt with.
Though Jacob is old and close to death, his mind is sharp. He knows not only the names of his sons, but also their groupings, according to their four mothers: first the six children born to Leah, followed by the four sons born to the two handmaids, and lastly the two sons born to Rachel.
And what Jacob tells his adult children is what everyone needs to hear from their parents, and what we all yearn to hear from our Heavenly Father.
1. Blessed Assurance: “I Love You”
Every (adult) child craves to hear his father or mother say, “I love you.”
Leslie Leyland Fields wrote a book entitled: Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hurt and Hate. In this book she tells her story of how her father abandoned and abused her family, and then decades later, when she’s living in Alaska, news comes that her dad is living in Florida and his health is failing. So she takes a number of long trips from Alaska to Florida to help her dad, hoping for a breakthrough with him, praying that he will ask forgiveness for what he did, and most importantly, that he will say those three little words that she has never heard from his lips: “I love you.” Leslie Fields craved to have the blessed assurance of her father’s love. I’ll let you read the book to find out what happens, but the author deals with tough issues for many adult children, such as the deep pain of a broken relationship with a parent; the question of “If I forgive an estranged parent, do I have to let them back into my life?”; and “Is it possible to forgive a parent who has passed away?” The book illustrates how you can repair damaged relationships through authentic, gospel-centered forgiveness – the type of forgiveness that will lead you to comfort, hope and freedom.
Well, what about Jacob? While it’s true that Jacob never uses the words, “I love you” to his 12 sons, the idea of his love and affirmation for them is there in the sense of the blessing he gives them. He wants to assure them, that despite their sins, despite what hardships they brought upon him, Jacob wants them to enjoy God’s covenant blessings. He wants them to know he loves them and that God is going to bless them, undeservedly.
Iain Duguid reminds us that Genesis is a book about God’s blessings, from the very beginning. But because of our rebellion, those blessing were turned to curses. Yet, our Lord took the gracious initiative again and again, and promised new and greater blessings. “The rest of Genesis (after 12:1-3) is the partial outworking of that promised blessing in the lives of four generations of broken, sinful people.”
And that is the wider context for the blessings in Gen. 49. Though some of what Jacob pronounces sounds more like a curse, we see in v. 28 (“giving each the blessing appropriate to him”) that, in spite of their sins, all 12 tribes will be included in God’s greater plan. This was because of God’s sovereign grace and amazing love. Jacob conveyed the Lord’s blessed assurance on each son, according to their particular character, past, and God’s future plans. That was his way of saying, “I love you.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ did a similar thing in His final act before his ascension. In Luke 24:50 He blessed his followers, and Jesus’ words in John 13-17 are similar in some respects to Jacob’s words here. Jesus wanted His disciples to have a blessed assurance that He loved them. He wants each of us who know Him, by grace through faith, to have a similar blessing.
And one of the ways God conveys that assurance to us is through the blessing that parents give to their children. Think of it: growing up, you wanted your parent’s blessing on your choice of a career, on your choice of a marriage spouse, and even on your children’s children. You wanted to know that they were proud of you. And one reason we long for our parent’s assurance and blessing is because they point us to the blessing and approval which we long for, from our Heavenly Father, as we are made in His image.
Parents, do you repeatedly tell your children, your adult children, “I love you”?
Adult children, will you forgive your parents, and allow God to bring healing to your relationship?
2. Loving Discipline
The second thing that we long for from our parents and from our Heavenly Father is loving discipline. Strange as it may seem, we actually long for loving discipline from our parents. Watch a 2 year old who has been warned by her parents to stay away from a hot stove, and see how they will get close to the forbidden object, and then turn back to look at her parents, to see if they care enough to stop her. A child wants to know that there are loving limits, that there are blessed boundaries, and they actually desire to have them enforced.
Now we usually think of loving discipline when the children are younger and need their parent’s corrective love, but there may be times, as here with Jacob and his adult sons, where verbal correction and discipline needs to be given to adult children.
The writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us in 12:5-11 that every loving father will discipline his son, for his good. Even though that discipline may be painful for a short time, in the long run it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace, for those who have been trained by it.
This is what Jacob is doing here: administering verbal rebuke, correction, and discipline to his sons who needed it…for their good, their growth, and their blessing.
H.C. Leupold comments that “rightly considered, these criticisms are blessings in disguise, for they point out to the tribes involved the (particular) sin that the tribe, as a whole, is most exposed to, and against which it should be particularly on its guard: Reuben is warned against moral instability and licentiousness; Simeon and Levi are rebuked for their hotheaded violence; and Issachar is corrected for his laziness. Yet, for all that, not one of the tribes is removed from the blessing of the Promised Land. The blessed land is denied to no one. The benefits of the covenant of the Lord are cancelled for none. For Jacob recognized that what some of his sons needed was not further gifts, but restraint in the use of what they already possessed.”
The application to younger parents with children at home is obvious, though counter-cultural, in today’s “give them everything they want” world. They really crave loving limits…and so do each of us!
But this principle applies to older parents as well. We don’t live in a patriarchal society, but still there are times when an older parent needs to give wise and loving words of discipline to his adult child, just as God the Father does that to us. What adult children need to hear from their parents is the same thing we need to hear from our Heavenly Father: that because He loves us, He will not indulge our self-centeredness and our sinful choices, but will use hardship, suffering, and even persecution to mature us and make us more like His own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Are you listening to your Heavenly Father, when He corrects you, rebukes you and disciplines you, for your good? And how does He do this? He does it through (1) His Word, (2) His Spirit speaking to our spirit, (3) His church (other believers), and (4) His acts of providence.
3. Hopeful Encouragement
The third thing that we long for from our parents and from our Heavenly Father is hopeful encouragement. You and I cannot live without hope. If you are hopeless, you will give up. I just read the true story of a man whose plane went down in the frozen forest of Alaska during WWII, entitled “81 Days Below Zero.” It was the dead of winter and the temperature often went down to minus 40 degrees. He had almost nothing with him; even his gloves were gone. Yet he had hope that he could find help and be rescued; he had hope that he would see his parents in Philadelphia again, so for 81 days he trudged through knee-high snow; he pulled himself out of icy rivers; he went for a week without food, until he found a cabin and got help. His hope kept him going.
Now the tribes of Israel were going to need a lot of hope and encouragement, when in a few years they would suffer under a different pharaoh. They would endure 400 years of harsh bondage and oppression as slaves. And it was during those dark centuries that these specific blessings, spoken by Jacob, would be used by God to give them hope and encouragement. Jacob’s detailed prophetic blessings would give the tribes of Israel the hope they needed during their dark times. For as they were enslaved in this foreign land, they could recall these prophetic blessings, and have hope in God, that one day they would be safely established in the Promised Land, with every tribe enjoying its inheritance.
Note: Jacob’s prophetic blessing were not like the impersonal words of a Chinese fortune cookie, or the generalized, one size fits all predictions of a horoscope. No. These were personalized and prophetic truths that God gave them, through Jacob. They could cling to specific and authoritative promises that literally had their names on them, and derive hopeful and certain encouragement from these words.
Two applications as I wrap up for today (we’ll look at two more aspect next Sunday.)
First, adult children need to hear words of hopeful encouragement from their parents. Even grown up children want to hear that their parents believe in them, that they are for them, and that in God’s sovereign grace, they can receive good encouragement and hope in the Holy Spirit, through the words of mom and dad. Think about what the Lord tells fathers in Eph. 6:4 “Fathers, do not exasperate your children” (literally: “Don’t take the wind out of their sails!”). One of the worse things a parent can do to their child is to tell them that they’ll never succeed, that they will never amount to anything, or to fail to give one ounce of unbridled encouragement! Therefore purpose never to do that to your children/ grandchildren, and if this happened to you when you were growing up, ask God for grace to forgive your parents.
Second, adult children (and all of us) need to hear words of hopeful encouragement from God, in His great and precious promises. And unlike Jacob’s words to his 12 sons, where only a small portion of his encouragement went to each son, in Christ, each of us inherits every one of God’s promises! So what promises are you living in today, to give you hopeful encouragement? [Stop and write down a few promises right now/]
Of course for each of us, we can rely on the hopeful encouragement that Jesus is both with us (always!) and that Jesus is coming back for us (soon!)
In due time the Promised One will come again; not on a donkey (Gen. 49:11), but on the clouds in glorious triumph, to consummate his marriage to His bride, the church.
Are you waiting in hope for that return? That “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13) should sustain us through all our troubles and suffering.
Next Sunday we’ll look at the remaining thing we need to hear, including redemptive restoration. But for now, let’s mediate on these three things: Blessed Assurance (I Love You); Loving Discipline; and Hopeful Encouragement. If you are a parent (or uncle, aunt, etc.), then speak these words to your children/ nephews, etc.
And for each of us, remember that what you crave from your parents is a faint reminder of what you ultimately crave from your Heavenly Father. Come to Jesus Christ, in repentance, in faith, by grace, and you will find it.