April 26, 2015
Where Did All That Venom Come From?
Where did all that venom come from?
April 26th, 2015
As we enter into a series in the OT, I wanted to begin by giving you a brief introduction to it. The Old Testament or Old Covenant consists of 39 books. In the RC Bible there are a few more books and some additions to existing books, because the Greek translation, known as the LXX or Septuagint that was available to the early Christians had that additional material in it. It is known as the Apocrypha, and the RC church considers them semi-canonical or deuterocanonical, even though Jesus and the NT writers never directly quoted from this additional material.
If we look at 39 books in the OT we can see that they break down into a number of categories.
The first five books are known as the Law or the Torah (= instruction). They are also known as the books of Moses or the Pentateuch (= five scrolls). They are historical books in that they outline history from the creation of the universe to the nation of Israel about to enter Canaan to conquer it.
They are Law, in that they include the Law of Moses that the Israelites were to live by. A quick closer look at Genesis -
GENESIS – the beginning of creation
- The rise of humanity
- The beginning of the nation of Israel
(Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, Joseph)
Genesis is mostly concerned with God steering the course of history beginning with the creation of the universe, to the rise of early humanity, and, beginning in Genesis 12, with the beginning of the nation of Israel through the patriarchs Abraham, his son Isaac, his son Jacob/Israel, and his son Joseph. Genesis ends with the death of Joseph.
EXODUS – Israel out of slavery in Egypt
- the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai
Exodus tells the story of the nation of Israel under the leadership of Moses as they leave Egypt and travel to Mount Sinai, where Moses records the Laws and the construction of the tent of meeting and the tabernacle and its various components and utensils.
LEVITICUS – the establishment of the priesthood and the sacrificial system
Leviticus focuses on the institution of the Levitical priesthood and the associated offerings, including those concerning purification, the Day of Atonement, and the Sabbaths, feasts and seasons.
NUMBERS – the counting of the people (2x)
- 40 years in the wilderness
- preparation for conquest
DEUTERONOMY – the giving of the law for a second time
The second group of 12 books in the OT are the historical books, beginning with the conquest of Canaan by the Jews and ending with the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and the temple after the Babylonian exile.
The third group of books consist of poetic books. However, these can be further divided into two subsections (not on the overhead).
For one, you have two books that contain songs, Psalms and the Song of Solomon. For another you have ancient wisdom literature in the books of Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
The last number of books are prophetic. They are roughly listed in order of length, the 5 longest are known as the Major Prophets, while the 13 shorter books are grouped together as the Minor Prophets (in the Heb OT grouped as one book).
The whole collection is known as the OT, however, a much more accurate translation would be, “the Old Covenant.”
In Moses’ day, a covenant was a contractual agreement between two individuals or two nations. For example, a larger nation would promise to protect the smaller nation from foreign invaders and, in return, the smaller nation would promise to pay a yearly tribute.
In the case of the covenant between God and Israel, it also included the concepts of allegiance and relationship. The covenant formula, I will be your God and you will be my people, is repeated throughout the OT books (see Lev 26:12).
When the covenant between Israel and God was initiated at Mt. Sinai, all of the Israelites made this promise with regard to the Law that Moses had brought to them from the mountain:
Everything the YHWH has said we will do, and we will obey. Exodus 24:7
Moses then slaughtered some animals, took half the blood and threw it against the altar and the other half he used to throw over the people, and said,
This is the blood of the covenant that YHWH now makes with you on the basis of your words. Exodus 24:8
Very reminiscent of Jesus’ words at the last supper, if you remember.
Up to that point, Israel has always been a homeless people, first as a group of nomads in Canaan who had come from Mesopotamia, and then, as foreign slaves living in Egypt.
The agreement was that God would give them the land of Canaan, and protect them so that they could live in peace and prosperity within the land. Often the word that was used to describe this situation was REST. The once homeless people would receive a home.
In return, the Israelites would obey God’s will … his commandments. The two major commandments had to do with worshipping God only. No idols, no foreign gods or goddesses. Total allegiance.
The second major command revolved around the idea of social justice. The most vulnerable in the society, those who could easily be oppressed or taken advantage of, had to be protected. The recurring terms used to describe these people groups are “the orphan, widows, and foreigners.”
However, if the Israelites were not careful in following the terms of the covenant, they would not prosper.
In a covenant agreement, the negative consequences for breaking the covenant are also spelled out. These are known as the curse of the Law. If the Israelites should worship pagan gods and if they oppressed the vulnerable, then God would remove his blessing and his presence from them.
This would initially mean that they would be at the mercy of the nations surrounding them, who would invade and oppress them. Eventually, it would mean losing the land altogether as the Israelites would be taken into captivity, also known as Exile.
God tells them that he will hide his face from them at that time and they will cease to exist as a nation in their own land (Deut 31:17-18).
However, with God there is always hope and so he promises them at the end of Deuteronomy that when the Israelites return to God will all their heart, then God will gather the exiles back into the land … in fact, at that time God himself will do something previously unheard of. He will circumcise their hearts and the hearts of their descendants so that they will once again live whole for him.
Exile (either oppression in the land or loss of the land)
Repentance (return to wholehearted obedience to God
– also the reason why the Pharisees thought that God would act to overthrow Israel’s enemies if they kept the Law perfectly)
Restoration (either peace in the land or return to the
We can find this pattern in the history of Israel, in the Psalms, in the prophets, over and over again.
After this introduction, I want us to go back to the book of Genesis and briefly look at part of the story that deals with the beginning of humanity which stretches from Genesis 2 through Genesis 11. It is the story about two brothers, Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, and Abel, the second born son.
In Genesis 3, we read of the fall of humanity and the exile from the Garden of Eden. It is an important reminder of the fallen nature of humanity. As the apostle Paul wrote,
Death is the result of sin, and sin entered the world because of the one man. In the same way, death comes to all because everyone sins. Romans 5:12
So what is the definition of sin? In essence it is disobeying God’s will. For Adam and Eve, sin consisted of eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Adam and Eve’s desire for the taste of the fruit and the promise, that it would give them more knowledge and wisdom, was enough for them to turn their back on God’s will.
For the Israelites, sin was disobeying God’s will as codified in the Law as given by Moses. So let’s look at the beginning of Genesis 4.
1 Adam slept with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of YHWH I have given birth to a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.
As you can tell from the passage, Abel grew up to become a nomad who moved around with his flocks of animals. Cain had settled as a farmer who grew crops.
You would think that the first family would have it pretty well together, particularly since God had not stopped communicating with them. But they didn’t.
3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to YHWH. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. YHWH looked with favour on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
It is natural that both brothers would want to bring some sacrifices to God. It was their way of “going to church,” of worshipping God. Cain brought some of his crops and Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. They likely placed it on home-made altars of crude stone in order to burn what they had brought.
In this passage we are not told directly how Cain and Abel knew that Cain’s sacrifice was not acceptable to God. It may be that God’s pleasure at the one and his displeasure with the other was voiced audibly (God spoke well of his offering – Heb 11:4). Or perhaps one sacrifice was burned up quickly while the other just smoldered away. In any case, Gods favour and disfavor was apparent to both men – and as a result Cain was livid at having his sacrifice rejected.
What should be obvious is that the anger that Cain experienced wasn’t simple annoyance. He wasn’t simply upset or aggravated or indignant or exasperated. He was VERY angry.
What we are talking about is the kind of anger that burns hot in our stomachs and thoughts and keeps us up at night. It is that deep and bitter resentment that leads us to wish harm, including death, on another being. It is aggression fueled by fury and rage. It is the kind of anger that is caustic and spiteful and malicious. It is the temper that blindly or purposefully strikes out in the attempt to hurt or destroy another human being.
As James puts it, words spoken when this angry are a world of evil, set on fire by hell itself. They will corrupt the whole person who speaks and will set on fire his or her whole course of life on fire (Jam 3:6).
The fallen human condition is such, that any and every human being can get to the point where they strike out in anger against someone else. It can begin with toddlers and preschoolers in Kindergarten.
That hot, burning, violent anger will run contrary to everything that God wants for us. In James we read:
Everyone should be … slow to become angry because human anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19-20
Jesus himself comments on this kind of anger as well:
As you know, a long time ago the people were told, “Do not murder!” And those who did murder were subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement.
Jesus himself got angry with the Pharisees when they decided that doing good and healing people on the Sabbath day was “work” that was forbidden in the Mosaic Law. He got angry with the priests who allowed the sacrificial animals and money changers greater egress into the temple.
In fact, God himself is angry at the injustice in the world. And unless we become upset with such injustice, we remain inactive, unconcerned, self-absorbed. Need to be shaken out of our stupor.
So Jesus is not commenting on all forms of anger, but on the kind of anger that can lead to violent words or actions, the kind of anger that every one of us can have if we allow false pride, insecurity, jealousy and resentment to take root and spread out in our hearts, eventually turning it into hate and loathing.
And so Cain was very angry. Literally, the Hebrew reads that Cain’s face fell. But we are not talking about a sad look. Cain’s face wasn’t simply sad. It was twisted with anger.
6 Then YHWH said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching [or: the croucher] at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
We are not told directly in our passage what displeased God about Cain’s sacrifice. The author of the book of Hebrews indicated that the reason for God’s acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice was based on Abel’s faith (Heb 11:4), implying that Cain may not have had a lot of belief.
Some commentators suggest that Abel had killed the very best of his flock to give to God, while Cain may have only brought whatever he felt like.
It is a qualitative difference, like that story about the pig and the chicken. They saw a sign requesting donations toward a benefit breakfast. The chicken suggested they help out. “That‘s easy for you to say,” replied the pig. “For you that’s a donation. For me it’s self-sacrifice.”
But there may be another explanation. In v.7 God seems to indicate that his rejection of Cain’s sacrifice is due to Cain having done something wrong. If Cain should start doing what is right, then his sacrifice would be as acceptable as Abel’s.
So while we may not be certain what Cain had done wrong, there are numerous passages in the OT that speak about God rejecting sacrifices by those who reject doing his will, particularly when it comes to how others are treated.
Does YHWH delight as much in burnt offerings and sacrifices than he does in obedience to his word? Indeed, to obey is better than sacrifice. 1 Samuel 15:22
I want you to show love (or: mercy), not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.
(Jesus quoted this passage in Matt 12:7 – rebuking the hard-hearted Pharisees).
And so, perhaps Cain’s sin was a lack of concern, compassion for or loving action toward others. That also seems implied by another NT passage about this event.
This is the message that we have heard from the beginning: We should love one another. So do not be like Cain. He belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. 1 John 3:11-12
It seemed obvious to the NT writer that Cain lacked love for others, even for his physical brother. This is the very antithesis of what is to mark out the followers of Jesus.
Rather than take responsibility for righting his own actions, he blames Abel for what had happened. I personally believe that …
The man who blames others for his problems is an emotional infant.
The man who condemns himself for his problems is an emotional adolescent.
The man who neither blames others nor condemns himself, but simply takes responsibility for his actions and moves on, is an emotional adult.
In the second half of v.7, Cain’s sin is personified as an animal of prey, a lion perhaps, crouching and ready to pounce, kill and devour.
It is reminiscent of the passage in 1 Peter and James, where we read,
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him. 1 Peter 5:8
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Therefore, submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. James 4:6-8
This connection is particularly apropos, if the author of Genesis was speaking of a croucher, an Akkadian term used to describe demons who guard the entrances to buildings.
God’s tells Cain, that he has to rule over or control sin. While the demon may be attempting to get Cain away from God, it really has to do with Cain’s willingness to resist this in his life by choosing to practice self-control, particularly when it comes to his own emotions and actions. And that is possible for those who draw near to God and seek to love others.
Unfortunately, Cain wanted to indulge his anger, rather than draw near to God and change the actions that caused his offering to be unacceptable to God.
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
The fields that Cain had tilled had become the very fields where he had killed.
In Cain’s case, the SERR pattern is short-circuited because Cain never repents. When confronted by God about his conduct, he first tried to pretend that he had done nothing.
9 Then YHWH said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain replied, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” YHWH said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”
This is where the famous line that excuses a lack of concern for another person as minding one’s own business. Of course there are times when we should mind our own business. I saw this sign once that read:
Hey I found your nose. It was in my business again.
But that’s not really the point here. Cain wanted to deny his own behaviour by divesting himself of any responsibility for his brother. And of course, just as we can become furious with others, so we can hide our unconcern or inaction by saying that it’s none of our business.
We cannot abdicate our conscience to an organization or a government. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Most certainly I am. I cannot escape my responsibility by saying that the State will do all that is necessary.
Of course God knew what was going on with Cain’s excuse.
And just as Adam and Eve were cursed because they ate of the forbidden fruit, and just as the Israelites will be cursed because they will worship idols and will not protect the vulnerable, so Cain is cursed by God.
10 “Now you will be under a curse. You will be driven from the land where your hand spilled your brother’s blood. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
The very land from which Cain made a living would no longer produce any harvest for him. And he is sent out from the land and from God’s presence, becoming a wanderer without home and without a good way to sustain himself.
There is no happy ending to this story, even though Cain eventually married and had children and becomes the ancestor of nomadic herdsman, blacksmiths and musicians.
Cain apparently was never remorseful for what he had done. He was never restored. He never returned from the East. He never again came again into God’s presence.
There are all kind of reasons why we may have a short fuse, why we get so hot under the collar, why we are so easily angered, or why we lash out from our hurt or frustration. And it may be worth exploring those reasons, or of finding help, and coming to a place where we are more at peace with ourselves, and so with others.
But ultimately, we still need to take responsibility for our violent temper, our impatience, our mean and cutting and hurtful words. And we need to change, to resist the urge to go off simply because we are ticked off, to strike out, to hate and resent and wish others dead.
We need to turn from our evil ways and return to our God in humility and remorse and with a desire to be the person he intended us to be. And that is where restoration and wholeness takes place.
DO I ALLOW MYSELF TO GET FURIOUS WITH OTHERS?
IF SO, WHAT MUST I DO TO CHANGE?