Biblical Answers for Abusers and Domestic Violence Batterers

Jacob: a Story and Model of an Abuser (from the book Transformation)


Perhaps one of the most significant problems in our society today is that of personal abuse.  Physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse is the precipitating event that underlies many psychological problems, including most subtypes of codependency.  These types of abuse have become so prevalent in our society that they have become a significant part of most counselors’ caseloads.  Fortunately, the Bible gives us excellent models for dealing with the abuser.  As already discussed, the Perizzite tribe represents the problems of people without personal boundaries who put up with the abuse, and the Jebusite tribe represents the problems of the abuser.  Jebus means “threshing place” or a place where grain is beaten to remove its husks.  The abuser verbally, emotionally, sexually, or physically abuses others to get his needs met.

Although the Bible, like life, gives us many varied examples of abusive behavior, the most comprehensive model of this psychological problem is found in the account of Jacob and his children.  Abuse, like codependency, is a generational sin.  In Genesis Chapter 25, we find the story of Jacob, an abuser.  In the following chapter we will study the story of Joseph, his son, who was abused by his brothers, as is a model for abuse recovery.

Understanding Abusive Relationships

      1.  Most abusive relationships have their origin in past abuse and power struggles.  Unfortunately, an abused person usually becomes an abuser.  Crossing another's boundaries seems to give a feeling of power.  The victim feels powerless and, consequently, learns to gain power through becoming an abuser himself.  Isaac grew up in the middle of an ongoing power struggle with Ishmael.  His wife Rebekah's name means “ensnarer.”  Her father's name was Bethuel (God destroys), and he was from Syria (exalted) possibly indicating a pride problem.  Self-enlargement or pride, which is many times an indication of low self-worth, is a root problem in power struggles.  Her brother was Laban who later abused Jacob.  Both Isaac and Rebekah were, at least somewhat responsible for the power struggle between Jacob and Esau by favoring one child over another.  However, Jacob and Esau even struggled in the womb.  I believe this is clear symbology that the competition had been passed on from previous generations.

             2.  At the most fundamental level, abuse results from an attempt to get needs met at the expense of another person.  Sibling rivalry between children of similar age is usually a competition for the love and attention of the parents and for a superior position in the family.  Jacob and Esau chose different methods of trying to meet their own needs.  Jacob looked to the Spirit, and Esau tried to meet his needs through the flesh.  When Isaac favored Esau and Rebekah favored Jacob, the conflict intensified.

             3.  Needy people who want others to meet their needs become victims of abuse.  People who are overly needy make themselves vulnerable to abuse because they allow their boundaries to be violated in order to get their needs met.  Almost invariably, an abuser marries a mate who feels inadequate.  Esau was extremely hungry when he came in from the field and wanted some of Jacob's pottage.  In spite of the fact that pottage is clearly not as valuable as a birthright, Esau accepted Jacob's offer of an exchange due to his hunger.  The flesh wants its needs met now and has little regard for the cost.  Very needy people, who want what others have in order to meet their needs, invite abuse, focus on short term needs, and tend not to heed long-term consequences. 

             4.  Abuse is a learned behavior.  One of the best indicators of whether someone will be abusive is whether they have been abused or have witnessed ongoing abuse.  Abraham had twice abused Sarah by asking her to deny that she was his wife in a misguided effort to protect himself.  Isaac did exactly the same thing to Rebekah in Gerar, with similar results (Genesis 26:7).  Esau gave up his birthright for some pottage in order to get his immediate need met, just as Sarah and Rebekah had lied to please their husbands. (Gen 25:34)     

            5.  Envy is one of the underlying causes of abuse.  Jacob wanted the blessing from his father, which was rightly Esau's.  With the help of Rebekah, he stole Esau's blessing by pretending to be Esau.  He possibly justified what he did by saying to himself that they were twins or that his brother did not deserve the blessing, because he did not value the things of God, or because it had been prophesied that the elder would serve the younger. 

            6.  Abuse leads a victims to a desire for revenge.  Aggression, that is the desire to cross another's boundaries because our boundaries have been violated, is one of the most common responses to abuse.  The other most common response is to become passive and do nothing.  This leads to anger which leads to bitterness.  When abuse has not been rectified, long term damage is inevitably done to the relationship.  Esau hated Jacob and planned to kill him after Isaac died. 

            7.  The abuser will eventually be abused.  The Bible tells us that what we sow we will reap.  Jacob escaped to Laban only to find himself on the receiving end of abuse.  As recorded in Genesis Chapter 29, he served Laban for Rachel and was given Leah.  After serving another seven years, he finally was allowed to marry Rachel.  In the years that followed, Laban changed the wage agreements with Jacob many times in order to take advantage of him.  

            8.  Unresolved issues from the family of origin will recur in the following generation.  The abuse of the previous generation will be repeated again and again.  Jacob favored Rachel over Leah, setting up a competition for his love that would ultimately result in the abuse of Joseph.  Even the children of the family were named according to the current status of the power struggle between Leah and Rachel! 

            9.  God is on the side of the abused.  Through a dream, Jacob was given a strategy from God, which resulted in Jacob obtaining most of Laban’s wealth reversing the effect of the abuse.  No matter how hard the abuser tries unfairly to get his needs met, in the end abuse always results in a loss for the abuser. 

            10.  It is God's will that abusive relationships be appropriately resolved, but many times a time of separation is required as part of the resolution.  After Jacob noticed that Laban had turned against him, God directed him to leave.  In this case, he was leaving one abusive relationship to resolve his abusive relationship with Esau.  

            11.  Separation is designed to help resolve the relationship, not avoid it.  Jacob's separation from Laban forced Laban to deal with the problem.  Many times, the abuser will simply escalate the abuse in order to get the victim to return.  Here God intervened in a dream warning Laban not to abuse Jacob again.  Unfortunately, many times a victim will then respond by becoming an abuser.  Rachel paid her father back by stealing his gods (Genesis 31:19). 

            12.  Appropriate boundaries are the answer for resolving abusive relationships.  After both Laban and Jacob communicated their respective perceptions of the situation, they established a boundary covenant. (Genesis 31:44-55)  We see here the three parts of a boundary: 1. A clear line that they agree not to cross.  They agreed not to pass the monument at Mizpah for harm.  Jacob also agreed that he would not harm Laban's daughters or take any other wives.  2. Specific consequences for violating the boundary (In this case that God would judge them).  3.  A normalization of the relationship (they ate together) with the understanding that the other would not violate the boundary. 

Recovery for the Abuser

In Genesis Chapter 32, the Bible gives us a model for the recovery of the abuser as we continue the story of Jacob’s life.

             1.   The first step for assisting the abuser is to help him break through his denial and face the fact that he is an abuser.  Sometimes this starts when he is confronted by the victim.  This is one of the hardest steps for the abuser because he must face the shame he feels and his fear of retribution.  Jacob sent messengers to Esau asking for favor.  The abuser should take the first step as a means of demonstrating repentance.

             2.  Even after a long time, abuse does not resolve itself without facing the abused person's anger.  The messengers returned with the news that Esau was coming with 400 armed men.  If not resolved, bitterness over abuse can last a lifetime.

             3. The abuser needs to carefully take responsibility for what he has done.  He must realize that he deserves nothing but abuse in return.  Jacob separated his herds and family in case Esau retaliated.

             4.  The abuser needs God's help in the reconciliation.  He needs to realize that God owes him nothing.  Jacob appealed to the fact that it was God who had directed him to return home.  He needed God to give him favor and to change him, so that he would no longer try to meet his needs at another's expense.  He must learn to trust God to meet his needs.

             5.  The abuser needs to offer restitution.  In this case, Jacob prepared an elaborate present for Esau.  The abused will be looking for signs that real repentance has occurred.  Jacob hoped to appease Esau with a present.

             6.  Most of all, the abuser must face himself!  He has selfishly tried to force others to meet his needs.  He has violated others.  Jacob wrestled with the angel all night.  The result was that the angel put his thigh out of joint.  The thigh stands for strength.  The abuser must wrestle with God until God convinces him to quit trying to do things in his own strength and look to God to be his strength and his provision for life.  Only when we believe that our needs will be met by God will we be set free from the temptation to meet our needs at the expense of others.  The abuser must learn to want to respect other's boundaries just as he desires others to respect his boundaries.  This event resulted in the transformation of Jacob (supplanter or abuser).  Because of this transformation, he was renamed Israel (one who prevails with God).  It is faith in God to meet his needs that changes the abuser into one who wants what is best for the other person and leads to the mutual respect of personal boundaries. 

            7.  True repentance by the abuser is the answer to reconciling abusive relationships.  Without it, the abuse will recur.  True repentance is demonstrated by actions.  Jacob truly sought his brother's forgiveness through humility, gifts, and a plea for mercy.  Even when given the chance to keep the present, he insisted on giving it.  Restitution is important, not just to the abused but also for the healing of the abuser.

             8.  Even when true repentance has occurred, it is still wise to keep a safe distance between the abused and the abuser.  Trust takes time to develop and must be based on a lengthy history of non-abuse.  Jacob discretely chose to not have Esau directly accompany him lest some other conflict occur which might disrupt the frail re-established relationship.  (Gen 33:15)


            The underlying cause of abuse is clear.  People abuse others in order to get their needs met at the expense of the other person.  This is also true of power struggles.  The underlying fear that needs will not be met leads the abuser to try to force other’s to meet those needs.  Faith is the fundamental answer for the abuser.  If he can actually trust God to meet his needs, the underlying cause of the abuse — fear that, his needs will not be met—will be overcome through faith in God's provision.  In actual practice, physical, emotional, and verbal abusers need additional help learning how to manage their anger, get in touch with their innermost feelings, understand boundaries, deal with the root problems in their families of origin, remove their facades and respect other’s right to be in charge of their own lives.  Sexual abusers, especially pedophiles, need very significant help in breaking down their denial, dealing with the lusts that they have developed, unlearning their sexual myths, and developing biblically healthy sexual interactions.  In fact, denial and lying to cover up their abuse of children is so prevalent that therapy should not be attempted for pedophiles without the aid of a lie detector or other means of detecting deception.


               Classical Domestic violence perpetrators are ususally so insecure that they fear their mate will leave them and so do everyting in their power to control them and keep them insecure and dependent.  Usually they will have to be arrested or at least have their mate leave before they will enter treatment.  The wictim will also have to set set and maintain excelent boundaries and test for true change before becoming vulnerable and attempting reconciliation.  Marraige counseling is many times descouraged before true change has occured in the abuse in order to protect the victim.  For more on this subject watch the videos below on Domestic Violence and see the topic on abuse recovery.


Steps for Recovery


 1.   Abuse is an attempt to alleviate fears that the client’s needs will not be met through forcing, controlling, or manipulating others to meet those needs.

 2.   All abuse or offense is a violation of the personal boundaries of the abused.

 3.   Although many abusers have been abused themselves, this fact can never justify abuse because assertive options always exist.

 4.   The abuser must break through his denial, take responsibility for his actions, and face the fact that he is an abuser.

 5.   He must learn that his attempts to control other people or his circumstances will fail and that they are at the root of his anger cycle and violence.  He must turn control of his life over to God believing that God will provide for all his needs.

 6.   He must repent, face those he has abused, ask forgiveness, and make restitution when possible.

 7.  He must agree to establish and respect healthy mutual boundaries in order to prevent continued abuse.  True repentance always results in changed behavior. 

Understanding Abuse and Verbal Abuse

from the course Anger Management, Domestic Violence and Abuse below:

Understanding Violence from the course Anger Management, Domestic Violence,

and Abuse on the screen below:

Treating the Domestic Violence Batterer

from the course Anger Management,

Domestic Violence and Abuse on the

screen below:

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