January 17, 2015

Contrasts in God’s Book

A rebellious son knows how to break the heart of his father. He just has to listen to good advice and then do exactly the opposite. Esau was one of those sons.

“Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob (his brother) and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he directed him, ‘You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women,’ and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram.

So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father, Esau went to Ishmael and took as his wife, besides the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.” (Genesis 28:6–9) Jacob may have been a trickster and devious, but he did obey his father. Esau did the opposite.

After reading this, I thought of other opposites in Scripture and realized that being a black and white person could be more of a virtue than I’d realized. The next reading pointed to more of them. It says . . .  

“A good name is better than precious ointment” and “The day of death than the day of birth” and “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting” and “Sorrow is better than laughter.” (Ecclesiastes 7:1–4)

Figuring out God’s reasons for having Solomon write these things is a bigger challenge, but it seems to me He is saying that if difficulties, grief, and sadness will make me think about the serious and eternal matters of life, then those trials are better than being happy all the time and not thinking about much at all. Happy or not, Esau seemed to be one of those people that didn’t think much.

The NT reading also contains several contrasts. First, Jesus contrasts two things when He was asked by His opponents where His authority came from. “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” (Matthew 21:24–25)

Notice that Jesus gave them only two options with no shades of gray between them. It is either God who is boss, or human beings thinking they are the boss. I cannot serve God and my own self at the same time.

In the next passage, Jesus tells a parable about a man with two sons. He told the first to go to work, and the son refused, but then changed his mind and went. He told the second to do the same, and he said he would, but did not go. Of course the first one did the will of his father. This story illustrates the importance of obedience over empty rhetoric.

Right away, Jesus contrasted the religious people listening to this parable with the sinners they despised. He said, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21:28–31) This must have angered them, but Jesus wanted them to think about their empty talk. The ‘sinners’ did the will of God in contrast to anyone who claimed to do it, but had not.

Jesus clarified this by saying, “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” (Matthew 21:32) John the Baptist stressed that genuine faith affects behavior!

Here Jesus contrasts faith with disobedience, then later shows that faith and obedience are team mates . . .  “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” (Matthew 21:43)

A professor of philosophy does a good job of bringing out the contrasts in the Bible, but he also does a good job of showing that whatever a person truly believes will be demonstrated by their lives. This is a humbling truth. It means that whenever I disobey God, I cannot claim faith, but need to examine where I’ve failed to believe Him.

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