Cain and Esau: a Lesson in Rebellion, Protection, and Provision

Cain and Esau are the quintessential bad brothers of the Bible.

Cain sets the ill standard right of brotherly love right from the get-go (Genesis 4). In fact, he’s the first brother on Earth. Abel comes along and God shows favoritism towards him, and Cain is pissed. But it’s important to note that Cain is still the firstborn. He’s entitled to all the cool stuff his parents have to offer. But that’s not good enough. So, he kills his brother. God calls him out on it. There’s nowhere for Cain to hide. The LORD of the Universe has caught him red-handed. He sends Cain into exile and Cain now is afraid. But God does not lead him hanging. He slaps the “mark of Cain” on him, not a sign of condemnation, but of protection. No harm is to come of Cain outside the punishment God had prescribed for him. So, Cain loses his birthright, but he goes on to have a big family of very successful offspring. The condemnation of Cain is counterbalanced by the mark.

Esau, who comes generations later, is also a big brother with an attitude problem (Genesis 25:19-34, 27). He sells his birthright to his little brother, Jacob, for a bowl of soup. Once Esau calms down and realizes what he’s done, he threatens to kill Jacob. Jacob flees. Years go by. Esau never gets his birthright back. But he manages to build up a sizable family for himself. When Jacob meets Esau again, Esau is in fact much stronger in numbers than his little brother (Genesis 33). Upon Jacob’s shoulders, the nation of Israel is built. Still, God keeps a place for Esau in His heart. When the Israelites are coming back from Egypt towards Canaan, intent on clearing land for their new home, God tells them to leave the nation of Edom (Cain’s people) alone, for Jacob and Esau were brothers.

I love that God does not just let things slide. He holds us culpable for our actions. But even in our sin, He watches over us, not because we deserve it, but because He is God. He does not forget our past, but neither does He hold it against us. And He calls us to do the same. So, where you have erred, know that it is not forever. Where you have been wronged, know that God sees. Nothing escapes His sight. We are all His children, born into the family of God through Christ, who makes us all one.

 

Solomon Christens the Temple

In 2 Chronicles 6, Solomon christens the temple. After all the hard work, the generations that have passed, finally the temple is built. Solomon takes the moment to pray, and what a prayer at that!

When we are strangers in a strange land, when we are defeated, when we are sick or starving, when we are riddled with guilt and shame Solomon asks God that we might be able to turn to the temple and be healed. When we lay ourselves at His feet, Solomon asks that mercy and grace be poured down upon us. No matter who we are. No matter where we are. Look to the throne room of God and be healed.

Like Moses and the snake (Numbers 21:8). Like Christ on the cross. We look to God, recognize what He has done for us, and God meets us in that place. What a blessing to receive!

God, hear us now, this silly and wandering bunch. Receive us into Your open arms. We are ever loved and ever cherished by You. We’re coming home. Get the welcome mat ready!

Love Your Enemies

There is a natural survival reflex in all of us. If we are hurt, we strike back. It’s counter-intuitive not to. I love how God always asks for the counter-intuitive from us (Matthew 5:38-48, Leviticus 19:18).

Now, when I say “enemy,” that immediately conjures up ideas of arch nemesis. An enemy is classically seen as some melodramatic super villain out to do us harm. But I’d argue that the Biblical concept of enemy goes much deeper than that. Maybe it’s not somebody you wish ill of. Maybe it’s just somebody whose very name causes you to fume and tense of. Maybe it’s not just one somebody but a group of people. People who you speak condescendingly of. People who you find yourself thinking, those dumb (fill in the blank)s.

Jesus knew all about enemies. Yes, there was the obvious ones. The religious zealots and Roman rulers that incessantly mock him and eventually nailed Him to the cross. He could have smote them. He could have brought an army of angels to show them what’s up. Instead, he forgave them, for in His own words, they knew not what they did. He loved them to the end and beyond.

Jesus also had His cultural enemies as well. Jews and Samaritans did not get along. Jews thought the Samaritans were garbage, being traitors to the faith and a generally confused and backslidden people. Jesus was a Jew. He knew exactly how a Jew should feel. Yet, when presented with the opportunity to avoid Samaria, go right around it just like everyone else, He chose to go right straight through. It saved time and gave him a chance to interact with the woman at the well (John 4), a social pariah even by Samaritan standards.

Jesus’ counter-intuitive love changed lives.

When Jesus shared his moment with the woman at the well, she ran to the people of her village, telling her story, about how He loved her though He knew all her dirt. People flocked to Jesus, for who wouldn’t want to know the kind of person who loves everyone unconditionally.

Even after His death and resurrection, Christ’s legacy of love continued.  Peter turns to the people who murdered God incarnate and offers them a chance to repent (Acts 2). They flock to Christianity in droves, for Christ had met their hatred with His love. I think it’s important that Peter is the one to extend the olive branch to them, for he too betrayed Christ. He, too, was an enemy of God. So, for us, practicing agapē love towards others is simply paying forward God’s redemptive love for us.

So, the next time you feel that ill intent brewing up in your heart, give it up to God, who loved us when we were yet enemies to Him.

 

Worst. King. Ever.

So, today we’re gonna brush off the cobwebs and wander over into the Old Testament.

In 2 Chronicles 33 (and 2 Kings 21), we meet a guy named Manasseh. Despite having a pretty solid role model for a dad (yay, Hezekiah), Manasseh turns out to be a pretty rotten king. Idolatry, demon worship, the wholesale slaughter of innocents. He basically trained the nation to flip God the bird, and God wasn’t having any of it.

After a time, God lays the smack-down on Manasseh, bringing in the Assyrians to take over his kingdom (Judah).

Then, things get interesting. Manasseh, now in Assyrian jail, repents. And God hears him. Not only that, but God restores Manasseh to the throne and the man finishes off the rest of his term in relative peace.

Just goes to show you: God is does not tolerate fools, but He is quick to redeem where there is true forgiveness being sought. No, not all of us will experience such a quick and whole return. Sometimes, the consequences are paid in full.

But how cool is it to believe in a God who cares about us enough both to correct us when we have wronged and to lift us up when we are ready to rise again.

 

God LOVES You!

God loves you

You may or not have been told this before

It may or may not have been reflected back to you by others,

but it’s a fact.

God came to Earth

endured inexplicable pain

and was murdered at the hands of double-faced fans

so that death could die with Him,

before rising again

leaving our hurt and pain and past buried and burning in hell,

where it belongs.

He lifted us up with Him

and gave us His Spirit

so that we could live an abundant life.

How’s that for a rallying cry?

All praise to God,

who love you and me

and everyone so very dearly.

Amen.

A Seat for Judas

So we all know Judas as the man who betrayed Jesus, but did you know he served as the treasurer for Jesus’ earthly ministry and sat in the seat of honor at the Last Supper? This was not an accident. Jesus loves His prodigals. He is constantly holding them near. Peter who denied Jesus three times was given the keys to the church of Jerusalem. Paul who outright persecuted the early church was chosen as the main witness to the Gentiles. Just when we think we are furthest from God, God is closest to us, calling us to come home.

Jonah 4

You may or may not be familiar with the life of Jonah.

Jonah was a prophet way back when. God tells him to go to a place to Ninevah to preach to the people there, that they would stop doing all the bad stuff they were doing and instead do good. Jonah receives his mission and runs away, taking the soonest ship to the furthest town. En route, he hits a storm and, in a moment of conviction, asks the crew to throw him overboard. Not knowing what else to do, they do just that. Jonah is swallowed by the sea creature a la Pinocchio and spends three days in the belly of the beast. At that point, he has a change of heart, asks God for a hand out, and God does just that. The creature spits him out and he high-tails it over to Ninevah to ask them also to turn their lives around. In no short time, they do.

And all ends happily ever after, right? I wish. No. Many retellings of Jonah’s life end there, but his life extends to another chapter. In this chapter, he is sitting on a hill looking over the just-saved city of Ninevah, hoping that God will change His mind and blow it up. “Please, Lord, isn’t this what I thought while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and one who relents from sending disaster. And now, Lord, take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live,” says the prophet. Despite all that Jonah has been through, he still wants the Ninevites to die and for God to take him with them.

Fortunately, God doesn’t grant Jonah’s request. Instead, he lets Jonah sit in the hot sun for a good, long while until Jonah is about to faint. Then, He grows up a plant to cover Jonah’s head. Jonah loves his plant because the comfort it provides him. God allows him a moment of solace than kills the plant.

Jonah flips out. When God asks him if his anger is justified, Jonah is 1200% sure that it is. At this, God asks a follow-up question, “You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in the night and perished in the night. But may I not care about the great city of Ninevah, which has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?” With that, God drops the mic and Jonah’s story ends there. We don’t know how he responded. In truth, we don’t need to. This is God’s question to us. We all have plants in our lives, things we put in priority over the people all around us. Are we brave enough to let them go and selfless enough to see the needs of others, even if those needs belong to those we don’t see eye to eye with?

The challenge is simple. God is waiting for the answer. Don’t be a Jonah. Answer the call.