Examples Of Biblical Family Conflicts
Soon after the fall of man, conflicts began to impact families of future generations. Many people believe that families of past generations had few significant conflicts in their relationships. They believe the family was religious and the relationships were cohesive. However, families of all times have experienced conflicts.
Adam And Eve
Many biblical families experienced significant conflicts, and the family of Adam and Eve was no exception. God clearly told Eve to be in subjection to her husband and that “he should rule over her” (Gen. 3:16 NKJV). This didn’t mean that Adam was superior to Eve, but that there were differences in their roles. However, Eve ignored God’s word, took the leadership role, incorrectly perceived her first child and named him Cain without any input from Adam. “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have gotten a man from the LORD” (4:1). Cain’s name reflects her statement, indicating she named him.
Eve reversed the leadership role, first in leading in Adam’s downfall and then in naming Cain. She claimed she received “a man from the LORD,” only to discover eventually he was a murderer who killed his brother Abel: “Cain rose against Abel his brother and killed him” (v.8).
When Eve ate the forbidden fruit and disobeyed God, she was planting seeds of jealousy, anger and malice which in turn produced the bitter fruit of great sorrow. One son murdered another, after which the murderer was banished. Her assumption of the role of leadership and independence reaped friction and conflict. Later, Adam resumed his leadership role and was responsible for naming his third son Seth: “And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth” (5:3).
Some years elapsed between the time Eve named Cain and the time Adam named Seth. Apparently, unity among husband and wife was missing for some time. However, it seems that Adam and Eve recognized the conflicts centered around role-confusion and resolved them, thus restoring unity. Seth became the first in the long line of “the seed of the woman” which culminated in that Glorious Seed, who was to bruise [crush] the serpent’s head (3:15).1
In Lot’s family system, conflicts resulted from flawed vision and breakdown in communication. Lot looked at the short-term present rather than the long-term future, at the temporal rather than the eternal and the material rather than the spiritual. “And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere … Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east” (13:10-11). He later “pitched his tent toward Sodom,” eventually moved into that wicked city and settled down in “the gate of Sodom” (19:1) even though Sodom was soon to be judged and destroyed. As a result, Lot experienced internal as well as external conflicts because Lot “tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds” (2 Pet. 2:8) while he lived in that corrupted place.
There was confusion in his communication with his family since his message about the pending destruction of the city was ignored. He attempted to tell his sons-in-law of the pending danger and the need to take immediate action. “So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who had married his daughters, and said, ‘Get up, get out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city!’ But to his sons-in-law he seemed to be joking” (19:14). How sad! The breakdown in communication resulted in serious consequences for his family. Moreover, while he was looking forward his wife was looking backward, and her flawed vision for materialism and the confusion in communication was disastrous: “His wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt” (v.26).
The development of conflicts is also seen in the family of Eli who was a priest and a judge in Israel. He was a man of prestige, power and popularity, but seemingly spent little quality time with his children. His sons had no reverence for God and minimized the significance of the offerings made to the LORD. “Therefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD, for men abhorred the offering of the LORD” (1 Sam. 2:17). When Eli was informed of the sins of his sons, he mildly rebuked them but didn’t appropriately discipline in love. Hence, his sons became more involved in immorality. “His sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them” (3:13).
Eli was so preoccupied with his profession that he neglected his role in his own family. He failed to lead, train and discipline his children when necessary. He refused to face the increasing sins of his sons and the need for appropriate discipline, which later resulted in disaster for the family. Charles Swindoll pointed out four problems in Eli’s family:
Preoccupation with the father’s profession to the exclusion of his family’s needs,
Refusal to face the severity of the sons’ lifestyle,
Failure to respond correctly to the warnings of others, and
Rationalization of wrong, thereby becoming a part of the problem.2
Isaac And Rebekah
Conflicts caused by deception and favoritism are seen in Isaac’s family. Isaac was a rich man. Rebekah, his wife, had left her home and all her loved ones to be united with him. The family started out well: they both loved each other and were blessed with twin sons, Esau and Jacob. However, after some years, Rebekah’s love grew cold and Isaac’s eyes grew dim. Both of them had a favorite child, and Rebekah deceived Isaac to obtain her goal for her favorite son, Jacob. Isaac wanted to bless Esau, the firstborn, but was deceived and blessed Jacob instead (Gen. 27:1-46). Rebekah took the leadership role, sowing the seed of deception and reaping the penalty of disobedience. This conflict resulted in serious problems for the entire family.
There are many more families in the Bible where conflicts affected the entire family. However, the examples already cited are adequate to remind us that conflicts existed in families of the past, even in families professing faith in God. These conflicts included doubts, misperception and disobedience, resulting in the loss of Adam’s two sons. In Lot’s family the conflicts of flawed vision and conflicting communication resulted in the death of even his wife. In Eli’s family the conflict of cover-up and lack of discipline resulted in judgment from God on his sons. In the family of Isaac the conflict of favoritism and deception resulted in the disintegration of the family. Such conflicts present continuous problems in family relationships, especially when they are not resolved in the early stages.
By exploring the conflicts and consequences in families of the past, there can be increased awareness of the causes of conflicts in the family system and avoidance of the serious pitfalls by resolving the conflicts as soon as they emerge. Thus, by further exploring the problems resulting from unresolved conflicts, we will better understand the need of a breakthrough to prevent a breakdown leading to a breakup of relationships. My prayer is that this concept will be a blessing to many families.
1. [A Grandfather], To The Parents Of My Grandchildren (Hong Kong: Christian, 1967) 16-20.
2. Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Wise in Family Life (Oregon: Multnomah, 1988) 30-32.
By Emmanuel V. John
(Adapted from “Resolving Family Conflicts – How To Prevent Break-downs And Breakups,” published by Overcomer Press, Owosso, MI; 1993.)
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