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On June 24, 2020, John MacArthur posted a sermon, ‘Act Like Men’, with the key phrase from the Bible, ‘be strong and courageous’:

It is one hour and six minutes long and, as you would expect, every minute is well spent watching and listening.

Without saying it explicitly, MacArthur disparages the welfare state which has caused millions of men to relinquish their family responsibilities.

Those of us who have had responsible fathers will greatly appreciate what the founder of Grace To You and Master’s Seminary has to say to men in the modern world.

In order to place this into context, you might wish to read my post from June 29, ‘John MacArthur videos about the protests’, which offers excellent advice about what to do in our journey as Christians.

Excerpts from the ‘Act Like Men’ transcript follow, emphases mine.

MacArthur begins by saying that, in the wake of the protests across the United States and the rest of Western world, he called a meeting of men from his congregation and Master’s Seminary — particularly men of colour — to enlighten him further. He asked them to give him five working points for a Christian agenda moving forward:

These are young Black men that gave up a chunk of their time to sit with me and talk through some of these issues. Thanks to Carl Hargrove for kind of leading that discussion which was powerfully fruitful for me

So I said to these men after about two hours plus of talking together, and it was a very gracious and loving communication. I said, “So give me five things that we need to do as believers in Jesus Christ to reach across racial lines and bring the gospel to these people and have it received.” So I said, “You get five shots, and I’ll have this as the introduction to my sermon.” So here we go. This is what they said to me.

Number One: “Tell people that racism is a sin.” Racism is a sin, isn’t it. Any kind of hate is a sin, and racism is an utterly irrational hate. Racism is what causes genocide, what caused the Holocaust, what causes ethnic battles all across the planet as long as there’s been human history. But then men in their natural state hate God, and the Bible says they hate each other. The first crime was a murder based upon anger, based upon hate, when Cain killed his brother.

Any kind of hate is a sin. Any kind of racial hate is an irrational expanded form of hate coming from any human heart; it is reflective of the fallenness of that heart. And we also know in our society that there are some people who have received more of that than others. We need to make it very clear that to hate anyone on any basis or any group of people is a sin against God of monumental proportions.

Secondly: “We need to show compassion, compassion to those who’ve experienced this.” And lots of people have. We need to open our hearts and weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. Jesus looked at the multitudes and had compassion. Even when He went to the grave of Lazarus, He wept; and He knew He was going to raise him from the dead, and He still wept. That’s the heart of Jesus.

Life is hard, and it has been especially hard for some groups of people; and that certainly speaks to the issue of the history of Black people in America. For those of us who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, they don’t want to hear the statistics, but they would love to know you have compassion for them.

Thirdly, we talked about the fact that, “We need to listen.” And that’s pretty much a basic principle, isn’t it: slow to speak and quick to hear. We may have all the theological answers, we may have all the statistical answers, but can we keep our mouths closed long enough to hear the heart of someone else? Engaging someone with the gospel is so much more effective if that comes in the context of having heard their heart.

Number Four they said: “Use these days as an opportunity to show the love of Christ.” This was really rich advice for me. Say racism is a sin, and it is. Any kind of hate coming from anybody in any direction and you can see that it is tearing this culture to shreds.

Show compassion, listen, and use these opportunities as an occasion to show love. That’s four; got one more. And the final one was this: “The only thing that’s going to break the cycle of our problems in this country is godly fathers. Help us develop godly fathers.” Now you might say that was a providence of God that it happened the week of Father’s Day. Sure set me up for this morning because I want to talk about fathers.

Here are the current American statistics on fatherhood. These involve the main demographics, by the way. The statistics are probably similar, proportionally, throughout the Western world. Please read these and note them well:

Here’s the current reality. Twenty-five million children in our country live without a biological father – one out of three. Grades 1 to 12, forty percent of children live without a biological father in the home. Over fifty percent currently of children are born outside marriage. Eighty-five percent of prisoners grew up in a fatherless home. Eighty-five percent of children with behavioral disorders came from fatherless homes. Ninety percent of youth who run away and become homeless come from fatherless homes. Children from fatherless homes are three hundred percent more likely to deal drugs and carry weapons.

This is a holocaust. And it’s not limited to any group of ethnic people, it is a national holocaust. The statistics I gave you are across the board for our country. Just that one statistic, eighty-five percent of prisoners grew up in a fatherless home, is a terrifying reality.

I used to hear when I was a kid that if you had a good mother you could have any ol’ schtick for a dad. That’s not true. I used to hear when I was a kid preachers say, “You men, it’s important how you live, you Christian men, because your children will get their view of God from you.” That’s ridiculous. They don’t get their view of God from me, they get their view of God from the Bible. That’s an insult to God. What they do get from me is their view of a man. Children will get their view of a man and what a man is from the father.

There, I must disagree, at least in part. I have posted a few entries on fathers and clergy who have not fulfilled their respective responsibilities, either in the family or in the Church:

Here’s what happens when Dad doesn’t attend church

Consistent churchgoing habits important for children

The Methodist Church advocates man-centredness — survey (2010)

Which is more deplorable, the gun culture or the fatherless culture?

What kind of father doesn’t protect his family? (concerns bishops)

But I digress.

Back to John MacArthur:

Sexual immorality, relentless assault of feminism, overexposure to perversion, complete collapse of homes has just produced generations of bad fathers. And the reality is nothing is more devastating to a society than that, nothing. And on the other hand, the only hope for stability and the only hope for sanity, the only hope for peace in a society is masculine, virtuous men.

Some will find that hard to absorb. However, think of the rise of the welfare state over the past half-century. That might begin to put this into context. A virtuous life is not about absentee fathers or Big Government acting as a husband or father. If you sire a child, you need to be there as part of a family unit.

Even if one disagrees with that, it is hard to disagree that, during the past 50 years or so, the further we slip into moral laxity, the more we see evil. In fact, we’re seeing unimaginable evil. We thought we would be nice and allow people to do what they please. Now we see the results of that ill-advised experiment:

Evil abounds absolutely everywhere. How men respond to its presence determines the survival and well-being of a society. Let me say that again: “Evil abounds everywhere. How men respond to its presence determines the survival and well-being of that society.” One psychologist said, “Masculinity is taking responsibility to reduce evil and produce good.”

No culture will ever rise above the character of its men: fathers. The feminist lie has been that patriarchy is bad. It is tyrannical. It is toxic. It needs to be destroyed. And they’ve been doing it for decades. To destroy masculinity, to destroy strong male leadership and character leads to the current disaster: irresponsible men running loose in the streets terrorizing a society. Weak men have given us this legacy. Weak men produce the death of society. And men are in a crisis today, they are being continually told to try to get in touch with their feminine side, so they have become defensive about their masculinity.

Women rise higher and higher and higher and more frequently into positions of leadership, as men feel overwhelmed and overpowered and unable to fight against the trend. Oh, there are lots of men at the gym, pretty buff, have some muscles, but they’re doing virtually nothing to stop the tide of evil in the world. And by the way, in case women haven’t begun to realize it: weak, immoral men abuse women, and they produce more weak, immoral sons. No, children don’t get their view of God from their father, but they do get their view of what a man is. And we are in some serious trouble because the current crop of men are infecting the children.

There are two views in the Bible on generational sin. If one repents of a generational sin, one has wiped his slate clean. See Ezekiel 18:19-20:

19 “Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. 20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.

Yet, where there is no repentance from generation to generation, the sin endures as a punishable act:

Listen to the Word of God, Exodus chapter 20 and verse 5: I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me.” Listen to Exodus 34:7, “God will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.” God says it again in Deuteronomy 5:9 and 10, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

Repeatedly, God says corrupt fathers create in society a legacy of corruption that is generational. He’s not saying that a son would be punished for a father’s sin; clearly that is not the case. Deuteronomy 24:16 says, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone will be put to death for his own sin.” We’re not talking about an individual suffering punishment for another person’s sin. What we are saying is fathers – plural – who are corrupt leave a legacy that will not be overturned in three or four generations. And if the next generation is corrupt, it pushes that out another three or four, and the next generation another three or four, and it becomes an impossible cycle.

In the words of the prophet Zechariah as he begins his prophecy, “In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the prophet, son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo saying, ‘The Lord was very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Return to Me,’ declares the Lord of hosts, ‘that I may return to you,’ says the Lord of hosts. “Do not be like your fathers.”’” Something has to break the cycle.

This is what happens without repentance:

Clearly, a generation dominated by sinful fathers will bear the crushing consequence of their sinful progenitors. Their children will suffer. Their grandchildren will suffer. Their great-grandchildren will suffer. No generation exists in isolation or as an island. A wicked society defined as wicked by the behavior of the men won’t be rooted out for multiple generations. So it isn’t that people get their view of God from a father, but they do get their view of what a father is, and if it’s the wrong view, it’s just purposely repeated again and again and again.

So, as Christians, what do we do? First, we need to acknowledge that we are all prone to sin. When we give in to sin, we give in to all sorts of carnality. On the other hand, when we are alive in Christ, God’s infinite grace enables us to resist temptation through faith and the gifts of the Holy Spirit:

The default position of every man is corruption, right? It’s the most natural thing they do is sin. The most accessible affect of that sin is on the women in their lives, and then on the children in their lives, and then it extends to everybody else.

The problem is, “There’s none righteous, no, not one. They’re all evil,” as we read in Romans 3. They don’t seek after God. They hate God, they hate others, and they’re influencing their children while they’re harming their wives. I understand why there’s a women’s movement. And even though it’s wrong and totally devastates a society, pushes women into places they were never intended to be and men out of the places they were intended to be, I understand it because of the corruption of men.

So where do we begin? We have to begin as believers who have new natures, right? We are new creations in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit, and we start by breaking the cycle. It’s not going to be broken, it’s still around, right? What you’re seeing today in the chaos of this culture, what you see in the weakness and foolishness of people in high places, what you see is just the reality that corrupt fathers destroy society.

MacArthur then begins discussing one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: fortitude. As we are in the season of Pentecost — please do ignore the term ‘Ordinary Time’ — it is important that we take some lessons from the weeks from Pentecost until the end of the Church year, just before December.

Fortitude is no casual word. It is not restricted to men alone, however, it is in scarce supply these days among some of today’s men, enough to make a difference in Western society:

Fortitude. What is fortitude? It’s a great word. Firmness, strength of soul that faces danger with courage and bears loss and pain without complaint. Fortitude: “Firmness and strength of soul that faces danger with courage and bears loss and pain without complaint.” That’s not a theological definition, that’s just a definition of the word.

When you say a man has fortitude, you’re talking about someone who doesn’t compromise even when there’s danger, even when that danger escalates to fear and pain. Fortitude is a combination of conviction, courage, and endurance – conviction, courage, and endurance. It is the willingness – it is not just the willingness, I would say it’s even the desire to risk, to literally create challenges if they’re not already there, to attack difficulty, to challenge difficulty head on, to bear suffering with courage. This is what makes a man a man, and this is the kind of man in whom a woman finds her security, finds her protection; and in that kind of relationship, the woman’s femininity flourishes.

Men are those who should be the protectors, the purifiers, who secure their wives, who secure their children, who accomplish all that needs to be done to reduce evil in a society and produce good; and yet this society for years and decades has had men busy producing evil, and diminishing good. True manliness is bound up in the word “courage.” That is the virtue that marks a real man. Truth, conviction, courage.

Turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 16, 1 Corinthians chapter 16. At the end of this wonderful letter, near the end, is tucked a very important verse, actually two verses: verses 13 and 14. Listen to what the apostle Paul says: “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” “Be on the alert,” – danger is everywhere – “stand firm in the faith,” – don’t waiver in your belief and convictions – “act like men,” – What does that mean? Fortitude, uncompromising courage – “be strong.” The New King James actually says, “Be brave, be strong.” “Act like men” essentially means to conduct one’s self in a courageous way, to conduct one’s self in a courageous way.

Courage is the stock-in-trade of a man: courage in the face of danger, courage in the face of temptation, courage in the face of loss, courage in the face of suffering. This strength of verse 13, essentially four statements saying, one way or another, “Be strong.” Is then balanced in verse 14 by, “Let all that you do be done in love.” And how important is it to add that. There’s nothing more manly than a man with consummate conviction, courage, and endurance, who is marked by love. That’s a man – not weak, not vacillating, not fearful; and loving.

Real men face life with this kind of fortitude. They’re watchful of the dangers around them. They’re alert. They’re protectors of their wives and children, and of their friends and all the people over whom they have influence. They have convictions about what is true. They have courage to live out those convictions and the strength to be unwavering when those convictions will cost them everything. Your convictions, they’re only real convictions if they hold up under the most intense pressure.

MacArthur then goes into the many Bible verses with the words ‘be strong and courageous’:

In Deuteronomy 31, Moses is passing the mantle on to Joshua, and in verse 6, Deuteronomy 31, he says this: “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them,” – meaning your enemies – “for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” “Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land which the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance. The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” That’s the greatest transitional leadership speech ever.

Look at … 2 Samuel chapter 10 and verse 12. This is Joab to the Israelites who were facing opposition, strong opposition, tremendously strong opposition. Back in verse 6, it lays out the forces that were coming against them. But in verse 12, Joab says to the Israelites, “Be strong, and let us show ourselves courageous for the sake of our people and for the cities of our God; and may the Lord do what is good in His sight.”

First Kings chapter 2. In 1 Kings chapter 2, David addresses Solomon his son. “David’s time to die drew near. He charged Solomon his son, saying, ‘I’m going the way of all the earth. Be strong, therefore, show yourself a man. Keep the charge of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn, so that the Lord may carry out His promise which He spoke.’” Moses to Joshua, Joab to the Israelites, David to Solomon.

For another view of David’s speech to his son Solomon, look at 1 Chronicles chapter 22. I’m showing you these because I want you to see how common this is. First Chronicles 22, David calls for his son to build the house of God, and we can pick it up in verse 11: “Now, my son, the Lord be with you that you may be successful, and build the house of the Lord your God just as He has spoken concerning you. Only the Lord give you discretion and understanding, and give you charge over Israel, so that you may keep the law of the Lord your God. Then you will prosper, if you’re careful to observe the statues and ordinances which the Lord commanded Moses concerning Israel. Be strong and courageous, do not fear nor be dismayed.” All of these declarations assume that your devotion to God is going to be tested, and you’re going to have to be strong. It’s going to be tested, no way around it.

David says again, 1 Chronicles 28:20, to his son Solomon, he gives this speech another time: “Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” Just a couple more.

Toward the end of 2 Chronicles, Hezekiah is speaking to men in positions of leadership. Hezekiah, chapter 32 of 2 Chronicles, the first verse: “After these acts of faithfulness Sennacherib king of Assyria came, invaded Judah, besieged the fortified cities, and thought to break into them for himself. Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come invading Judah and he intended to make war on Jerusalem; he decided with his officers and warriors to cut off the supply of water from the springs” – this was a siege – “which were outside the city, and they helped him. So many people assembled and stopped up all the springs and streams which flowed through the region, saying, ‘Why should the kings of Assyria come and find abundant water?’ And he took courage and rebuilt all the wall that had been broken down and erected towers on it, built another outside wall, strengthened the Millo in the city of David, made weapons and shields in great number, appointed military officers over the people and gathered them in the square of the city gate, and spoke encouragingly to them, and this is what he said: ‘Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.’” That’s a great pep talk, isn’t it, for an army. Psalm 27:14 says, “Be strong and let your heart take courage.”

Men don’t give in to fear. Men don’t give in to pressure. Men don’t give in to intimidation, and they don’t give in to temptation. They don’t seek the easy way. They will take the pain, they will invite the risk, they will confront the challenge, and they will not bow to the pressure to compromise the commandments of God. Strength of a man is that he lives on principle, that he lives on conviction, that he has the courage of those convictions, stands strong against everything that comes at those convictions, bravely faces the challenges in a fortified way. Manly fortitude means contending with difficulty, facing every enemy, meeting the enemy head on, bearing the pain, maintaining self-discipline, upholding truth, pressing on to the goal. That’s what defines a man.

MacArthur cites more examples. God spoke the same words to Joshua in the presence of Moses:

I want to show you another passage back in Joshua, right at the beginning of Joshua. Moses gives this speech again as he passes the baton, as it were, to Joshua. He says to him in chapter 1 of Joshua, verse 5, “No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you.” This is God now speaking, God is the one speaking. “Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you.”

So here it comes not from Moses to Joshua, but from God to Joshua in the presence of Moses. And here’s what God says to Joshua, verse 6: “Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.”

And here comes the key to that. How do you live like that? How do you live with that strength and courage? How do you live without ever compromising? Verse 8: “This book of the law” – the Word of God – “shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” It’s an incredible speech from God.

“Be strong” – verse 5 – “because God will be with you,” – “because you’re fulfilling a divine cause, a promise from God.” Verses 7 and 8, “The only way you can do this is to submit to the Word of God so that it constantly is in your mind and you live out its truths.” You will be able to be obedient if you’re saturated by the Word of God empowered by the Spirit of God.

Can you see why this speech is repeated so many, many times? This is the mark of a man. It takes a father like that to raise a son like that. Spiritual men are courageous, strong, principled, uncompromising, and bold. This is God’s role for men to play in a society, but it is also God’s role for the men to play who are the leaders of His people Israel. And this is God’s standard for the men who lead His church.

This is what we should expect from our clergy:

When we come into the New Testament and we are introduced to the kind of men that the Lord commands to lead His church. This is how He describes them in 1 Timothy 3: “This man must be above reproach, a one-woman man, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (if a man doesn’t know how to manage his own children, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” High standards for a pastor, an elder.

To Titus, Paul says similarly, “Appoint elders. If a man is above reproach, one-woman man, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion; for the overseer” – or the shepherd, pastor, bishop – “must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he’ll be able to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict.” This is the kind of men who lead the church.

Why is the standard so high for the leaders of the church? Because the leaders of the church have the responsibility to set the pattern for what manliness looks like in a godly environment. It’s not that they alone should be like this, it is that they should be like this so the others can see what a man should be. It isn’t that the Lord wants to pick up all the pastors and elders and take them to another level of spirituality which no one could attain, it is rather that this is what God expects from every man. But it’s got to be modeled. Men like that and men, as Ephesians 5 said, who love their wives like Christ loved the church, and who are protectors of their wives and who literally are the saviors of their wives, are the kind of men who become a haven for the wife, who make her feel secure and protected, nourished, cherished. And when children grow up in a home where the man secures the woman and the children, there’s peace.

So, how have we gone so far astray?

This culture has turned on God, eliminated His Word. The bible and the gospel is an enemy.

One wonders what John MacArthur thinks of President Trump. To my knowledge, he has not been invited to the White House. I wish that President Trump would invite him. That would make for an interesting transcript.

But I digress. MacArthur says:

The leaders of this nation have no interest in God or in His Word, and they are basically running this country right into hell as fast as they can. The only thing that’s going to stop this is not a group of feminized men who thinks God just wants to give them what they want so they can be happy. What this world needs is not sensitive men, it needs strong men. We live in a world of compromise, more than compromise. You could barely call it compromise because there’s nothing left of that which is good, so what are they compromising with.

That said, it is clear that MacArthur, a Californian, disapproves of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s views. Newsom is a self-proclaimed Catholic. Here’s a 2008 video of the two of them on the old Larry King Show on CNN when Newsom was the mayor of San Francisco and married to his second wife at the time:

Now on to the word ‘integrity’:

To add another word to your thoughts about this, I would say that people who have no price have integrity, integrity. So we talk about fortitude, let me talk about integrity. “People who have no price have integrity.”

What is integrity? It is essentially unbreakable fortitude. Integrity is defined as steadfast adherence to a moral code. It comes from “integer,” which means “whole” or “complete.” Its synonyms are “honesty,” “sincerity,” “simplicity,” “incorruptibility.” It’s antonym is “duplicity” or “hypocrisy.” A person who lacks integrity is a hypocrite. Integrity means that you live by your convictions: you say what you believe, you hold to what you believe, you’re immoveable. That’s wholeness. That’s integrity: you are one. It was said long ago of a preacher that he preached very well, but he lived better. The world is a seducer, and Satan is a seducing deceiver, pushing us into compromise, and therefore into hypocrisy.

When our Lord indicted the scribes and Pharisees who were the frequent objects of His blistering attacks. Inevitably it was on their integrity that He assaulted them. For example, in Matthew 23:3, He said, “They say things and do not do them.”

MacArthur, who is truly blessed, has a number of additional observations. As such, I would invite you to read or watch his sermon in full.

In short, manliness does not involve belonging to a street gang.

Each man, at some point, will have to rely upon his own wits, determination and fortitude to resolve his own trials, whether they be his own or those of his family.

We need to recover the biblical ideal of manliness, which has kept Western society protected for centuries. It hasn’t always succeeded, but we are fallen people, susceptible to temptation and sin.

Men have been beaten into the ground for decades. This must be remedied:

We need a generation of men who are alert to danger, who stand firm in the faith, who are courageous with the Word of God, uncompromising and strong.

And, listen, everything about this that I’ve said indicates they will be tested. Manliness will be tested. Conviction will be tested. Courage will be tested. Strength will be tested. The pressure will come, it’ll come in unexpected ways, but it’ll come. You may get away with your statement of conviction for years, but there will come a test, and many men will shock the people who knew them by selling out, compromising, abandoning their integrity, playing the hypocrite out of cowardice. This falls into a translation of Romans 12:2. Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.

Stay strong. Stand firm in the faith, as Saint Paul did.

The world needs real men now more than ever, especially to stand by principled women.

Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as cited below).

Hebrews 11:4-7

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

—————————————————————————————-

In last week’s passage, the author of Hebrews encouraged his audience to rediscover the joyful confidence they initially had as converts. That was a positive warning against apostasy.

Hebrews 11 is all about faith, illustrated with the deeds of famous persons of the Old Testament.

The first few verses are in the three-year Lectionary, but it is important to read them to appreciate the rest of the chapter (emphases mine below):

11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

John MacArthur explains why a discourse with scriptural illustrations on faith was necessary for the Hebrews. MacArthur refers to the Holy Spirit below, hence the ‘He’ in the second paragraph:

Their whole concept of religion was founded upon a works system or a merit system. They had the idea, wrongly so – they had perverted their own testament, but they had the idea that God kept score. And if you had more brownie points than negative points, you got in. And if you were sort of good, then that was all God expected – if you followed the prescribed ritual.

And so, when He’s talking to them about faith, it’s really a commodity they don’t quite understand. They don’t quite see – watch this – the absolute independence of faith from works as a way to God. You see? They may have understood a mixture of faith in works, but that’s abominable to God. They had to understand the absolute isolation of faith, apart from works, as a way to God.

Now, faith, having been pure, will produce works. But faith mixed with works as a way to God is invalid. And so, they needed to understand very clearly the absolute character of faith; that it had nothing to do with works in any way, shape, or form; that none of their ritual and none of their ceremony and none of their prescribed feasts or festivals had anything to do with satisfying God. Only by believing in Jesus Christ could that satisfaction come and therefore could they participate in the new covenant.

Pure faith produces good works on its own. One feels inclined to act out of genuine love for another — and for God.

Matthew Henry has a long analysis of Hebrews 11:1-3, however, this is his key takeaway:

Faith is not a force upon the understanding, but a friend and a help to it.

His commentary encourages us to read the Bible often to understand how God works in the world and has done since the dawn of time.

Moving on to Abel, who suffered death at the hands of his elder brother Cain, there is much to be said. Genesis 4 has the story. Cain brought a ‘fruit of the ground’ and Abel brought the firstborn of his flock, including the fat portions (verses 3 and 4).

Henry points out that their parents, Adam and Eve, have no feast day in the Christian calendar:

It is observable that the Spirit of God has not thought fit to say any thing here of the faith of our first parents; and yet the church of God has generally, by a pious charity, taken it for granted that God gave them repentance and faith in the promised seed, that he instructed them in the mystery of sacrificing, that they instructed their children in it, and that they found mercy with God, after they had ruined themselves and all their posterity. But God has left the matter still under some doubt, as a warning to all who have great talents given to them, and a great trust reposed in them, that they do not prove unfaithful, since God would not enroll our first parents among the number of believers in this blessed calendar.

He introduces Abel as follows:

Abel, one of the first saints, and the first martyr for religion, of all the sons of Adam, one who lived by faith, and died for it, and therefore a fit pattern for the Hebrews to imitate.

MacArthur says this of Abel:

Abel’s faith led him to do three things. Number one, to offer a more excellent sacrifice. Number two, to obtain righteous[ness]. Number three, to openly speak though dead. Because he believed God, he did those three things, and they’re progressive. Because he believed, he offered a better sacrifice. Because he offered a better sacrifice, he obtained righteousness. Because he obtained righteousness, he is for all the ages a living voice saying righteousness is by faith. You see? So, it’s progressive.

Verse four tells us those things, saying that God approved of his sacrifice. Abel followed God’s commands on sacrifice to the letter. Cain, on the other hand, did it his way, which led to a jealous murder.

MacArthur has a lengthy discourse of not only Adam and Eve but also their sons, excerpted below:

Now, it says that Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain was a tiller of the ground. One was a shepherd, the other was a farmer. Both were sinners. Both were conceived after the fall. Both were born outside of Eden, so they were born in sin …

Now, the central theme of Hebrews 11:4 is faith, and that’s the whole key to the chapter. And that’s what we want to find out here. Now, we read here that they both brought a sacrifice. Now, this tells us several things, and I want you to get this; this is interesting. Number one, it tells me that there was a place where God was to be worshipped. They had to bring that sacrifice to somewhere. Right? In verse 3, “Cain brought,” in verse 4, “he brought.” And it says, at the end of verse 3, “unto the Lord,” indicating that the Lord was somewhere where you could bring something. There had to be somewhere, someplace where they brought. I think that it’s very possible that the place was at the east of Eden, and perhaps there was an altar there. Verse 4 says that Abel brought an already slain animal, and the Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering. And so, there’s at least a good indication that there was already a place to make an offering, or an altar was already in that place. And it’s very likely that at the place where they had – where God had placed that angel – you remember at the east of the garden, with the flaming sword, to keep them from coming back in? – that that was the established point of contact with God …

Second thing I noticed, there was a time for worship

Thirdly, I think there was a way to worship. Not only a place and a time, but a way. God could be approached – now mark this – God could be approached only by sacrifice. The children of Adam and Eve had been definitely instructed that there was a place, that there was a time. And I believe that presupposes that they had also been instructed that there was a way to sacrifice. Now, Cain and Abel wouldn’t have known anything at all about doing this if God hadn’t told them. Right? Because the concept of sacrifice appears here for the very first time. And so, they must have had some information from God about time, place, and how to. It’s presupposed by the very nature of the situation. They came to a place ready to make a sacrifice. There must have been something there for which they could – which they could use to do it. They came together, at the same time, to the same place. And they came with differing offerings, but God only accepted one of them, which indicates God had already established a pattern for them.

In 11:4 of Hebrews, as we read earlier, we learned that it was by faith that Abel offered sacrifice. Now, where does faith come from? Well, Romans 10 – 10:17 says, “Faith comes by” – what’s the next word? – “hearing.” You cannot put your faith in what you do not know. Therefore, to assume that Abel offered a sacrifice by faith is also to assume that he heard from God what God wanted, and he believed God and obeyed God. You see? If faith then comes by hearing, Abel’s faith must have come by information from God. Therefore, he must have known the set pattern that God designed. He had heard that God required a sacrifice. He believed, and he evidenced his face by doing what God said to do.

Therefore, even then, with that first sacrifice, blood was required. God hates sin, and the only way it could be expiated was through blood. Thankfully, our Lord Jesus Christ accomplished that once and for all on the Cross. May we be ever grateful.

Returning to Genesis 4, a blood sacrifice started with Abel, through an instruction by God presumably, and Cain’s offering from the ground did not meet His requirement.

Henry adds that Cain’s offering was more of thanks than of atonement. God expected atonement, which Abel acknowledged. Henry posits that perhaps Cain did not know what God wanted:

Abel brought a sacrifice of atonement, brought of the firstlings of the flock, acknowledging himself to be a sinner who deserved to die, and only hoping for mercy through the great sacrifice; Cain brought only a sacrifice of acknowledgment, a mere thank-offering, the fruit of the ground, which might, and perhaps must, have been offered in innocency; here was no confession of sin, no regard to the ransom; this was an essential defect in Cain’s offering.

MacArthur disagrees with the premise that Cain did not know what was expected in a sacrifice:

Cain had the same information, brought what he wanted to anyway. He did his own thing in the great tradition of his mother. Did his own thing. And his father, for that matter. Cain didn’t believe God, thought he could approach God in his own works, thought he’d gather up the goodies that he’d collected and show God how wonderful they were, how he had tilled the soil and grown all this, and he said, “Here it is God, isn’t it terrific?” And you know what? Cain stands as all time “father” of false religion. You know what false religion is? Coming to God by another way than that which God has prescribed. Right? That’s all false religion is.

God cursed Cain by depriving him of further fruits of the ground at that place. Cain left His presence and settled in the land of Nod — ‘wandering’ — in the East of Eden (Genesis 4:16). His wife gave birth to the first Enoch, which is not the one discussed here, then built a city by that name.

Abel, according to the author of Hebrews, ‘still speaks’. Henry explains why:

He had the honour to leave behind him an instructive speaking case; and what does it speak to us? What should we learn from it? [1.] That fallen man has leave to go in to worship God, with hope of acceptance. [2.] That, if our persons and offerings be accepted, it must be through faith in the Messiah. [3.] That acceptance with God is a peculiar and distinguishing favour. [4.] That those who obtain this favour from God must expect the envy and malice of the world. [5.] That God will not suffer the injuries done to his people to remain unpunished, nor their sufferings unrewarded. These are very good and useful instructions, and yet the blood of sprinkling speaketh better things than that of Abel. [6.] That God would not suffer Abel’s faith to die with him, but would raise up others, who should obtain like precious faith; and so he did in a little time …

The next Old Testament person the author of Hebrews mentions is Enoch. His story is in Genesis 5:21-24:

21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. 22 Enoch walked with God[b] after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23 Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. 24 Enoch walked with God, and he was not,[c] for God took him.

Verse 5 of Hebrews 11 says that Enoch never experienced death. This was because he pleased God exceedingly as he lived so profoundly in faith (verse 6).

MacArthur explains:

Notice verse 5 of Hebrews, and let’s just read these two verses. “By faith Enoch was translated that he shouldn’t see death.” In Genesis, it says, “He was not, for God took him.” Here it says, “He was translated that he should not see death; and was not found” – I mean there weren’t any remains; he just took off – “because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”

Now, Enoch pleased God. Enoch lived by faith. And that’s the equivalent. In the Hebrew it says, “He walked with God.” In the Septuagint it says, “He pleased God.” They’re used interchangeably because what pleases God is when you walk by faith. Coming to God by faith and walking with God in faith pleases God. Enoch pleased God. Enoch lived in faith, believing God.

Now, there are five features, I think, that pleased God, and they’re in these two verses. First of all – the first of the five, Enoch was believing that God is. Notice verse 6, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is.” The first feature that pleased God was he was believing God is. Secondly, he was seeking God’s reward. He must believe not only that He is, but that He’s a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Thirdly, he was walking with God. Fourthly, he was preaching for GodFifthly, he was – and this is the result of it – entering God’s presence.

Then we come to Noah (verse 7). Noah did not know what exactly would happen regarding the flood, but he heeded God’s warning and built the famous ark, all according to God’s specifications, including the humans and animals on it. God saved Noah, his family and his fauna. Everyone and everything else was destroyed. Through his obedience to the letter, Noah obtained God’s righteousness.

MacArthur explains that it took several decades for Noah to finish the ark. Noah lived far away from any coastline:

Now, it may have appeared on the surface to be somewhat foolhardy, and we all can imagine what went on with his neighbors, and the laughing and all of that that was going on as he was out here building that thing. But God said to Noah, “Noah, judgment is coming. I am going to destroy the world by water. You better build a boat.” And do you know what Noah did? He dropped everything and spent over a hundred years building a boat. Somewhere in Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and the Euphrates River, miles and miles from any ocean. I don’t know about you, but after 70 or 80 years, I’d begin to wonder. It would get a little old working on the same boat. But that’s faith. Faith responds to God’s word

Now, Noah was a man like we are. He had a lot of things to do to occupy his time. And for him to give up his great gap of life and just spend his time building a boat took some kind of commitment. And it’s very likely that he never even understood much about boats, because he didn’t live in an area where there were ships that went in the sea. But he listened to God, and he spent his life obeying what God said. Isn’t it amazing? It would have been one thing for him to run out and order the lumber, but it was something else to see him, a hundred years later, still putting the pitch on.

I mean I think some of us believe God, and we run out, and we start, and then that’s it. It never gets much past that. Noah did it, and he continued.

Now, you’ll notice it says, “By faith Noah, being warned” – and the terms “of God” do not appear in some of the best manuscripts, but certainly should be included, if not in the manuscript, in italics, because obviously it was God that spoke. He was warned of God of things not yet seen. That’s the test of faith. What does verse 1 say faith is? “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things” – what? – “not seen.” He didn’t see any water. The Lord didn’t rain on him a little bit for an afternoon so he’d get the feeling. He had no idea what was going on. But it says, “He was moved with fear.”

You say, “Aha, that’s why he did it. God held a big stick over him and said, ‘You better do this or I’ll let you have it.’”

Not that. The word “fear” may give you an erroneous impression that Noah acted under the influence of fright. But the Greek word means to reverence. He did it because he reverenced God’s word, and God told him to do it.

You know what the Bible says? “God commands all men everywhere to” – do what? – “repent.” Some people believe that, and they repent. Some people don’t believe it. Noah believed God’s word.

Faith can accomplish amazing things. These stories give us much upon which to reflect.

Next time — Hebrews 11:17-22

This week’s posts have centred on the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Monday’s looked at the elder brother. Tuesday’s addressed misapplications of the parable to public policy and the church environment. Yesterday’s entry addressed the way Jesus’s audience would have understood the story. Today’s discusses the parable in light of the examples of conflict, forgiveness and blessing in the Book of Genesis among brothers.

Brothers in Genesis

Some of the most dramatic Bible stories concern relationships between brothers in the Book of Genesis.

The Revd James Crampsey SJ, superior of the Jesuits in Edinburgh, wrote a considered analysis of three sets of brothers in Genesis in light of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

In anticipation of the reading of this parable on Laetare Sunday in Lent 2013, he wrote ‘The Transformation of Esau and the Parable of the Prodigal Son’:

I would like to suggest that there are stories about brotherly relationships in the book of Genesis that may provide a fruitful context for the interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son: the well-known stories of Cain and Abel, and of Joseph and his brothers; and the perhaps less familiar one of Jacob and his brother, Esau. In this article I will give a close reading of the latter story, and suggest how the reconciliation between the two brothers points forwards and backwards in the Book of Genesis, and also evokes the parable of the Prodigal Son.

It is a thought-provoking essay and I highly recommend it. Excerpts aid my exposition below, emphases mine.

Cain and Abel

Genesis 4 tells the story of Cain and Abel. Cain was consumed by raging jealousy when God rejected his sacrifice but accepted Abel’s. Cain tilled the soil and offered God some of his crops (verse 3). Abel was a shepherd and offered the firstborn of his flock and the fat portions (verse 4).

God spoke to Cain afterward:

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?[b] And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for[c] you, but you must rule over it.”

As we know, Cain did not rule over sinful desire but succumbed to it by murdering Abel (verse 8). When the Lord asked him where Abel was, Cain lied (verse 9):

“I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

Although God deprived Cain from continuing to grow productive crops (verse 11), He did prevent Cain from being killed in revenge. Cain expected to die at another man’s hand:

15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod,[f] east of Eden.

Nod means ‘wandering’. Once there, his wife gave birth to Enoch (verse 17), who later began his own family (verses 18-24). Meanwhile, Eve gave birth to Seth, God’s gift to fill the absence of Abel (verse 25). Seth’s wife gave birth to Enosh and (verse 26):

At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.

Jacob and Esau

Genesis 25 begins the story of Jacob and Esau, twins born to Isaac’s wife Rebekah in a difficult pregnancy (verses 22, 23). They were Abraham’s grandsons.

Esau was red and hairy (verse 25). Jacob was holding onto his heel when they were born (verse 26). Jacob means ‘take by the heel’, which means ‘to cheat or to trick’. The Lord later changed Jacob’s name to Israel and Esau’s was later changed to Edom. In verse 23 the Lord told Rebekah that her pregnancy was difficult because:

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you[c] shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.”

These people were the Israelites and the Edomites.

Isaac favoured Esau because he hunted game which provided tasty meat and Rebekah preferred Jacob who dwelled in tents (verses 27, 28).

Esau lived by his appetites and sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew because he was dying of hunger one day (verses 29-34). The rest of their story continues through Genesis 33. It involves deception, when, as Isaac was going blind and nearing death, Rebekah put animal skins and Esau’s clothes on Jacob to fool her husband into giving Jacob the blessing owed his elder son (Genesis 27:18-29). By the time Esau entered for his blessing, Isaac said, essentially, that he had nothing left for him except to say that he would serve Jacob until he tired of it and broke away (verse 40).

Esau vowed to kill his brother after Isaac’s death (verse 41), but word got to Rebekah (verse 42). She told Jacob to go to her brother Laban’s house and stay there until Esau calmed down (verses 43-45).

From there, Crampsey tells us:

Jacob is tricked by his father-in-law, Laban, to serve for fourteen years to secure the hand of his true love, Rachel, the younger sister of his first wife, Leah. The unloved Leah gives birth to four sons, but Rachel is barren. The sisters’ servants provide Jacob with another four sons; Leah then has two more sons and a daughter. With strong echoes of Sarah, Rachel remains childless. And despite all these births, is there still a threat to the promise? Surely God’s faithfulness to the promise must be bound up with Jacob and Rachel.

Finally, after a long, heart-rending wait for Rachel, who had to live through the experience of Leah and female servants giving birth to Jacob’s children (Genesis 30:22-24):

22 Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. 23 She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” 24 And she called his name Joseph,[j] saying, “May the Lord add to me another son!”

That is the Joseph of the ‘Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’. His story is below.

Once Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob asked Laban to release him from service. He had fulfilled his commitment to his uncle and wanted to return home (verses 25, 26):

Laban is not enthusiastic, but Jacob (whose name means ‘tricky’) out-foxes his wily father-in-law, having acquired Laban’s daughters, and true to character steals what is due to Laban’s sons. It is time to get out of town (again!).

Genesis 31 describes Laban’s coldness towards Jacob as well as his own daughters Rachel and Leah. It’s understandable. Rachel then stole her father’s household goods (verse 19). Afterwards, they all left. Laban was furious and left with his kinsmen in hot pursuit. On the third day after their departure, God appeared to Laban in a dream and told him to say nothing at all to Jacob (verse 24). When Laban finally caught up with Jacob and his daughters, the two men reconciled (verses 43-54). Before leaving the next day to return home, Laban kissed and blessed Rachel, Leah and their children (verse 55).

The next chapter in Jacob’s story, told in Genesis 32, was to reconcile with Esau:

When we remember the last words of Esau, ‘The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob’, God’s promise of presence and protection needs to take concrete shape, and it does:

Jacob went on his way and the angels [malachim] of God met him; and when Jacob saw them he said, ‘This is God’s camp!’ (32:1-2)

(Remember Psalm 34: ‘the angel of the Lord is encamped around those who revere him to rescue them.’)

This encourages Jacob to send his own messengers (malachim) to Esau to announce his arrival with a hint that he is now rich, and that it might be in Esau’s interests to receive him. The messengers return, and strike fear into Jacob’s heart: Esau is coming to meet him with four hundred men. With his brain working overtime (what would someone need four hundred men for?), Jacob first splits his caravan into two in the hope that one of the two of them might escape.

In fear and humility, Jacob prayed for God’s continued blessings, especially safety for him and his family (verses 9-12).

After splitting his caravan up, Jacob and his family crossed the stream of Jabbok. From there, he sent them on ahead and camped out alone. That night, a man wrestled with him until dawn (verse 24). Jacob prevailed throughout. Finally, to stop the struggle, the man touched Jacob’s hip socket and put it out of joint (verse 25). The man told him that from henceforth his name would be Israel, as he had prevailed against God and man (verse 27). It was at that point that Jacob — Israel — realised he had been wrestling with God. After God blessed him, Jacob named that piece of land Peniel — ‘the face of God’ (verse 30).

Now we understand how and why the tribes were called the tribes of Israel, Jacob’s descendants.

Genesis 33 recounts the meeting and reconciliation between Jacob and Esau. Instead of the violence Jacob expected, his elder brother rejoiced:

 But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.

Yesterday’s post on the actions of the father towards the Prodigal Son mentioned what the embrace and kiss on the neck meant to the Jews; not only was it a loving greeting but, where there had been separation or discord, it also signified forgiveness.

Jacob brought with him servants and livestock whom he planned to give to Esau as a gift of reconciliation. He had sent messengers ahead to give Esau the message, after which Esau set off to journey to meet him with 400 men (Genesis 32:3-6).

Once the brothers were face to face, Esau initially graciously declined the offer, saying he had his full share already (Genesis 33:9). Esau was so godly at that moment that:

10 Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. 11 Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.

In return, Esau offered Jacob some of his servants, but Jacob declined, equally graciously (verse 15).

The brothers left each other’s company and each group returned to their respective homes, with Jacob journeying on, ultimately to the city of  Shechem in Canaan (verse 18).

Joseph and his brothers

Thanks to the superb musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, most of us are familiar with his story, told in Genesis 37-50.

Crampsey reminds us:

The spectre of fraternal murder hovers over the Joseph section of the book of Genesis. The coat of many colours has been interpreted as Jacob’s public declaration of Joseph as his heir, even though he is the youngest of eleven brothers. The brothers’ seething animosity towards Joseph increases as the dreamer, rather naively, tells them of his dream about the sheaves of corn. Then he has a second dream in which the sun and moon and eleven stars are bowing down to him. Jacob rebukes him for this but keeps it in his mind; the brothers are consumed by envy. Their chance comes when Joseph is sent out to them as they pasture their sheep.

They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another,

‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.’ (Genesis 37:18-20)

Reuben persuades them to put him in a pit but not kill him, as he intends to rescue him later. But while Reuben is out of the picture, the other brothers sell him to the Midianites. Joseph is taken to Egypt as a slave, while his brothers return with the blood-dipped garment to a distraught Jacob.

I wrote last month about Joseph’s amazing success in Egypt managing grain stores for the Pharaoh (as well as advising him) and how this gave rise centuries later to the pyramid-as-grain-silo theory.

As Joseph was stockpiling grain for the people of Egypt to keep the people fed during the famine, it spread to Canaan. Jacob sent his sons to buy grain from Egypt twice (Genesis 42 and Genesis 43). On the second occasion, Joseph and his brothers were reconciled (Genesis 45). Pharaoh was so delighted that he invited all of them and Jacob (Israel) to move from Canaan to Egypt so they could all be together (verses 16-20). This is how the Israelites came to be in Egypt.

They settled in the land of Goshen (Genesis 46:28). Joseph was finally able to see his father once again:

29 Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. 30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.”

Joseph took Jacob to meet Pharaoh. Israel blessed him (Genesis 47:7). Pharaoh told Joseph to settle Israel, his sons and their families in the land of Rameses — Goshen — the best area in Egypt (verse 11). Israel lived there for 17 years (verse 48).

Before he died at the age of 147, Israel asked Joseph to take him back home to be buried with his ancestors (verse 30). He also blessed Joseph’s sons (Genesis 48). Finally, he gathered all his sons to give them his final blessing and foretelling of their futures, some of which were less than favourable (Genesis 49). He left his most fulsome blessing for his favourite son, Joseph.

Genesis 50 records the burial of Israel and the fear Joseph’s brothers had that he might seek revenge. They asked for his forgiveness:

19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[b] should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Crampsey explains:

As Esau had promised himself revenge when Isaac died, so the brothers think that Joseph will do. They manufacture a word of Jacob to persuade Joseph to re-write his narrative. But like Esau, Joseph has already freed himself from the need for vengeance. And despite his disclaimer about being in the place of God, Joseph aligns himself with God’s plan ‘to preserve a numerous people’, and says, ‘I myself will provide for you and your little ones’.

God’s promise is fulfilled by Joseph’s refusal to take vengeance on his brothers, by Esau’s magnanimity toward Jacob. The curse of Cain is not inexorably written into the script of the people of Israel.

When Joseph died, his sons embalmed him and placed him in a coffin in Egypt (verse 26).

Isaac and Ishmael

Crampsey does not go into their story, but Genesis 16 tells us that Abram’s wife Sarai was infertile and that, in order to have a son, he slept with her servant Hagar, an Egyptian. When Hagar conceived, she lorded it over Sarai, who threw her out of the house.

An angel of the Lord told Hagar to return to Sarai and Abram, adding that the boy would be called Ishmael and that:

12 He shall be a wild donkey of a man,
    his hand against everyone
    and everyone’s hand against him,
and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”

Genesis 17 relates the circumcision of Abram and Ishmael, then aged 13, and God’s covenant with Abram, whereby his name is changed to Abraham. God also promised Sarai — now Sarah — would bear Abraham’s son Isaac.

Genesis 21 tells us that, once Isaac was born, Hagar laughed at Sarah. Not surprisingly, she told Abraham to throw Hagar out of the house. He was reluctant to do so but God spoke to him and told him to follow his wife’s wishes. There was more:

13 And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.”

When Abraham died (Genesis 25), Isaac and Ishmael buried him together:

Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi.

17 (These are the years of the life of Ishmael: 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) 18 They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled[a] over against all his kinsmen.

Parallels with the Parable of the Prodigal Son

Until this week, I had considered the Prodigal Son rather a stand-alone parable.

Now — and particularly with today’s day-long research and writing of this post — I have come to see it as a continuation of God’s infinite love and forgiveness.

I have an old post or a comment from a few years ago which explains that when the word ‘hate’ is used in the Old Testament, in ancient Hebrew it means ‘less loved’, therefore, not ‘loathed to the point of wishing death’, the way it is understood in many languages today.

We see this in the examples above. God loved everyone in different degrees.

God allowed Cain to stay alive and have his own family. He blessed him with life and told him that if anyone tried to kill him, that person would meet with His vengeance ‘sevenfold’. He also blessed him with a wife and a son, Enoch (a different Enoch to Noah’s ancestor).

With Ishmael and Isaac, God sent blessings of descendants and foreign lands to the former. So, although He loved and blessed Isaac more because he was Abraham’s son with Sarah, Ishmael did not want for anything. On a brotherly note, the Bible records that when Abraham died, the two sons buried him together.

Esau was impetuous. Through Rebekah, God punished him for selling his birthright for a plate of stew and for marrying the wrong women. Esau also married Hittites, who caused no end of grief for Isaac and Rebekah.

We have an example of the context of ‘hate’ in Esau’s — later Edom’s — life. Got Questions has a great explanation of how it unfolded. In Malachi 1:3, the Lord told the prophet (Malachi 1:2-3)):

“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”

St Paul refers to this verse in Romans 9:10-13.

Got Questions explains:

God chose Jacob (whom He later renamed “Israel”) to be the father of His chosen people, the Israelites. God rejected Esau (who was also called “Edom”) and did not choose him to be the father of His chosen people. Esau and his descendants, the Edomites, were in many ways blessed by God (Genesis 33:9; Genesis chapter 36).

So, considering the context, God loving Jacob and hating Esau has nothing to do with the human emotions of love and hate. It has everything to do with God choosing one man and his descendants and rejecting another man and his descendants. God chose Abraham out of all the men in the world. The Bible very well could say, “Abraham I loved, and every other man I hated.” God chose Abraham’s son Isaac instead of Abraham’s son Ishmael. The Bible very well could say, “Isaac I loved, and Ishmael I hated.” Romans chapter 9 makes it abundantly clear that loving Jacob and hating Esau was entirely related to which of them God chose. Hundreds of years after Jacob and Esau had died, the Israelites and Edomites became bitter enemies. The Edomites often aided Israel’s enemies in attacks on Israel. Esau’s descendants brought God’s curse upon themselves.

Therefore, what the Edomites did long after Esau’s death was less to do with him and more a result of their own sin.

Also remember how Esau embraced and kissed Jacob so warmly when they finally met up years later before going their own ways. Esau also offered Jacob the gift of servants by way of return for Jacob’s gift of servants and livestock.

And then we have Joseph who took care of his brothers and their families after Jacob’s — Israel’s — death. He bore no ill-will towards them. He loved them and their families.

Crampsey ties Cain’s, Esau’s and Joseph’s stories in this way with the Parable of the Prodigal Son:

I would suggest that the murder of Abel is redeemed by the transformation of Esau and his reconciliation with Jacob. This allows the sons of Jacob to grow up in the land of the promise, and even if they mimic the fratricide of Abel with what they plan for Joseph, the spectre of retaliatory homicide at the death of Jacob is removed by the magnanimity of Joseph. It is in refusing the temptation to fratricide that Esau and Joseph are god-like, are in the image and likeness of God, and allow God’s plan to take root. It is almost as though the first verses of the book of Exodus are the conclusion to the book of Genesis:

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy. Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. (Exodus 1:1-7)

I would also suggest that these stories of brothers in the book of Genesis may be a fruitful context for the interpretation of the Prodigal Son. And is there anything to think about soteriologically [in terms of salvation through Christ] when reconciliation with the brother is more challenging than reconciliation with the father?

It is very rare for me to praise a Jesuit, but this time I will. Today, the Revd James Crampsey SJ has taught me about the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Far from being an outlier parable, it ties together the loving-kindness and mercy of God to brothers in the Old Testament, their many blessings, their reconciliation and to redemption through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do keep in mind those first seven verses of Exodus. Those are the subject of tomorrow’s post. I meant to post on it today, but today’s topic needed more exposition than expected. If you have read this far, many thanks.

Tomorrow: The Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Twelve Tribes of Israel

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