Will I Reap What I Sow
October 18, 2015
Obadiah 1:2-4, 10-15
WILL I REAP WHAT I SOW?
October 18, 2015
I’m not sure if you’re aware of the violence currently gripping Israel. It all began last month, after access for Muslim worshippers to Haram al-Sharif (noble sanctuary), the Temple Mount, on which stands the Al-Aqsa mosque, was limited during the Jewish high holidays.
In the resulting response, eight Jews were killed, mostly through stabbings by young men, some of them teenagers.
This resulted in rioting and in the resulting clashes between Israeli security forces and protesting Palestinians, 31 Palestinians were killed in the past two weeks alone.
The fear is that there may be another Palestinian uprising or Intifata.
As I watch this mess unfold, I am reminded of a number of brothers in the OT. There are Abraham’s two sons, Ismael, the older, born to Hagar, and Isaak, the younger born to Sarah … and particularly the relationship between Isaak’s two sons, Esau, the older, and Jacob, or Israel, the younger.
I believe the patriarchal families were extremely unhealthy and dysfunctional, in part because of the dynamics inherent in polygamy, but also, because the relationships between the various brothers were so fragmented.
The result was that the descendants of the brothers seemed to be perennial enemies throughout history, down to this very day.
One of these instances was around the year 587 BC. The Babylonian army had invaded the southern kingdom of Judah a number of times and, after the rebellion of one of its rulers, had finally besieged and taken the city of Jerusalem, and destroyed its walls and the Solomonic or first temple situated on the very temple mount in the news today.
As the Israelites fled before the army of the Babylonian emperor, the descendants of Esau, who lived to the south and south-west of Judah, in the country called Edom (= red), rejoiced at the calamity that had befallen Judah.
Edom had been a vassal to Israel during the reigns of King Saul, David, Solomon and Amaziah, but it finally was able to gain independence during the reign of King Ahaz’, never to be subjugated to Israel again.
The capital of Edom, and its major fortress, was Bozrah, also know as The Rock, in Greek, Petra, in Aramaic, Sela (= rock). Part of that ancient fortress-city wasn’t identified by archeologists until 1812 – only 100 years ago.
The capital is really a marvelous place. After traveling through a narrow fissure in the rock, an open space appears where temples have been carved out from the rock cliff with doorways 30 feet high.
Further up the mountain was a fortress. It was a place that was easily defended.
So what happened when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem? The Edomites stood by and gloated and felt good about the destruction of Judah and its capital Jerusalem.
They took the opportunity to enter the country of Judah and loot the homes left behind. They invaded the country, robbed those fleeing on the roads, or returned them to the Babylonians to be killed or enslaved.
They either stood idly by, happy at the misfortune of their distant relatives and neighbours, or, more often, actively made things worse for them.
A number of the prophets of Israel denounced Edom around that time. Jeremiah predicted that the country of Edom would become a wasteland (Jer 49:7-22). The prophet Ezekiel announces that Edom would be judged by God and destroyed because it had stretched out its hand against Judah (Ezek 25:12-14; 35:1-15). It is in this context that the prophet Malachi writes that God hates Esau but loves Jacob (Mal 1:1-4).
It was also to this situation that a prophet by the name of Obadiah responds. His name “Obadiah” means, “servant or worshipper of YHWH”. It was a very common Hebrew name and a number men mentioned in the OT had that name.
Consequently, scholars aren’t sure which Obadiah wrote this brief message, the shortest book of the Old Testament – a whole 22 verses long.
Obadiah is one of the 12 minor prophets, sandwiched between the books of Amos and Jonah, just a couple of pages long, so not easy to find in the OT.
I’ll be reading vv.2-4 and vv.10-15. So this is God speaking to Edom through the prophet Obadiah.
2 “See, I will make you small among the nations; you will be utterly despised. 3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ 4 Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” declares YHWH. …
10 “Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever. 11 On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them. 12 You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble.
13 You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor look down on them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster. 14 You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble. 15 The day of YHWH is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.”
There were a number of things that came to my mind as I read through Obadiah.
First, I think there remains to this day the DNA of Esau, of Edom, in all those who hate all that is called Israel simply because it IS called Israel. That’s not to say, that everything that the modern, secular state of Israel does is morally or ethically right or sanction by God.
However, the rhetoric that comes, among other places from Iran and other countries against the very notion of the existence of a Jewish state, at times borders on the ridiculous.
Secondly, I am reminded that the prophets were right. While the inhabitants of Edom felt secure; their nation and their cities did in fact disappeared forever. They were displaced by the invading Nabateans and had to abandon their towns and migrate West, but were never heard from again as a nation.
While at the time of Obadiah, Edom stood a better chance of surviving than Israel, today what remains of Edom is nothing more than an archeological tourist attraction, while the nation of Israel has been reestablished – one of the political miracles of the 20th century.
The third observation was that Obadiah lists arrogance and what the Germans call Schadenfreude, the sense of joy at the misfortune of others, at the very root of its actions.
A few weeks ago I spoke about the seven things that God hates … and loves. One of the lists I used is found in Proverbs 6.
The very first item on that list is “pride.” I mentioned that they contrasted with the beatitudes, and Jesus said, “blessed are the meek (or humble), for they will inherit the earth.”
Pride is so damaging because it hardens us, it causes us to feel self-important and conceited and arrogant. Pride is really a sign of emotional infancy – emotional immaturity. Which is one of the reasons that we have such a hard time recognizing it in ourselves.
Let me give you a quick test:
Are you easily exasperated by other people who you don’t think are doing things as they ought?
Are you by and large critical of others – seeing their faults more than their good points?
Do you think that you are smarter than most people, more rational, more realistic?
Do you think that you have it more together than most people you know?
Do you have a hard time taking advice or constructive criticism?
Do you become defensive quickly?
Do you feel that arguments are a contest to be won – that you have to prove that you’re right?
Are you constantly complaining about the food or service at restaurants?
Do you feel it’s your job to point out where others have got it wrong?
These are just some of many, many indicators that you may have an issue with pride.
The third thing that came to mind, and it was really more of a question than an observation arose from the last verse I read: As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.
What Obadiah was saying is that the way that the Edomites treated the Israelites will be the determining factor of what their own future will be like.
The question that came to my mind is the one found in the title of this sermon: Will I Reap What I Sow?
The reason why I ask this question is perhaps the same reason why someone authored the book of Ecclesiastes or Psalm 73, or the prophet Jeremiah.
In my meaningless life I have seen the wicked who prolong their lives despite their evil actions and the good man who is killed despite his integrity. Ecclesiastes 7:15
I envied the arrogant when I saw how they prospered in their wickedness. Psalm 73:3
YHWH, I want to discuss matters of justice with you: Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why do evil people thrive? Jeremiah 12:1
The reality is, there is injustice in this life. Bad things happen to good people, and good things to bad people.
Jesus said that God lets the sun rise and the rain fall both on the good and bad, the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45).
So today, if you can afford to hire a very, very, good defense attorney, you might just get away with murder.
Or you might get 5 years for manslaughter (culpable homicide) and get out on parole after 10 months, two days from today (Oct. 20th).
John Oliver, a British comedian and journalist, widely known for his news stories on HBO, called “Last Week Tonight,” (a satirical late night talk show) did a number of stories where he pointed out the absolute bankrupt system of the right to legal council (public defenders) in the US, and gave some absolute horror stories on the kind of injustice that resulted because of it. This is a short clip that summarizes some of the things he found out:
Lest we think that it somehow is better in Canada, in a Canadian Bar Association report published in August 2013, we are told that most people in Canada can no longer afford to hire a defense attorney on the one hand, while at the same time not qualifying for legal aid on the other.
As a result, 80% of individuals in our court system end up without any lawyer at all.
Sometimes politicians or corporations or individuals can get away with some pretty awful things – as long as it’s all covered up and no one finds out about it.
Which reminds me, make sure you take your civic duty seriously and vote tomorrow for the party that you think will guarantee the most just society for you, your children and grandchildren.
Justice may seem lacking. Human traffickers get rich. Crime sometimes really does pay. The overtly violent flourish. The reality is that our sense of fair play will be offended whenever we open our eyes to the injustices of our world.
So does the principle of reciprocity actually hold true?
I actually think it does … even in the smallest instance: You are what you eat …. But also in the most important instance … even if it may not always seem to be the case.
We can sow to what is best within us, and we can reap a harvest of goodness, integrity, character and self-respect.
We can sow courtesy, forgiveness, mercy, loving honesty, understanding, patience, gratitude, respect and appreciation, and we will reap within ourselves a harvest of joy, peace, contentment, and happiness.
Of course there will be those who will try to take advantage of our goodness … but I never hear Jesus calling us to be gullible. But in general, if we treat other people with love and respect – there is a good chance that we will be treated likewise in return.
Kathy and I were at a memorial service for a friend yesterday and we were reminded again of the many, many small ways he helped others, as neighbours came forward and told of the ways that he helped them out.
On the negative side, we can sow to our flesh, our desires, our whims, our selfishness, and our greed, and we will reap worry, addiction, sickness and guilt.
If we treat people hatefully, or with distain, disrespect, or indifference, we may be able to reap fear, but also anger, dislike, and ill-will in return.
We can sow discord, contempt, unforgiveness, stubbornness, hurt, gossip, sarcasm, impatience and condemnation, and we will reap within ourselves a harvest of anger, bitterness, loneliness, frustration and unhappiness.
Just think, for a moment, about the dynamics within family relationships, for example, how you handle conflict. Do you even think about the way that you act and react within your marriage or with your kids or parents? Or, do you ever give any thought to the consequences of how you deal with conflict on those who you love the most in this life?
If you’re just blaming your spouse or your children or your parents while your relationships are going into the toilet … stop it. Stop blaming, deflecting, rationalizing and excusing. Look at yourself. Look up conflict resolution on line – there’s more out there on that one topic alone than you can shake a stick at.
There is a principle of payback, of reciprocity, of reaping what we sow in our relationships.
But this principle of payback holds true on a much larger level as well, one that we often don’t think about – on an eternal level, if you will. For example, the apostle Paul, writing to the churches in the Roman province of Galatia, wrote:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Galatians 6:7-8
God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. Romans 2:6-8
One of the recurring themes in Jesus’ teaching was that the way that we treat others will be the same way that God will treat us. One of these ways was in our willingness to forgive those who have hurt us.
If you forgive others their sins (against you), your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you will not forgive others their sins (against you), neither will your Father forgive you yours. Matthew 6:14-15
And when you stand in prayer, forgive if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your sins. Mark 11:26
With the judgement you pronounce on others you will be judged (by God), and with the measure you use for others will be the measure used for you (by God).
By the way, this begs the question: Does God forgives us if we don’t even ask for forgiveness, if we feel no remorse and if we have no desire to do better?
If not, does that mean we should or shouldn’t forgive those who have hurt us but never felt the need to apologize or ask for forgiveness? Is there another way that we can get passed the bitterness that can fester inside of us even years after a perpetrator has died?
I’m still chewing on this one, particularly since the story that Jesus told Peter to illustrate the point that one should forgive someone 7x70 times, the person who was to be forgiven went and asked to be forgiven (Matt 18:29).
In any case, what Jesus was pointing out, is that our behaviour here on earth with regard to others determines to some extent how God behaves toward us. Nowhere does this become more apparent than when Jesus relayed the parable of the sheep and goat in Matthew 25(31-46).
The parable is about an eternal destiny facing all human beings … either one with God (eternal life), or one without God (eternal punishment).
Those who had shown compassion on others, who had fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed those who had no clothes, and in general, was a friend to the needy, they received eternal life from God.
But the calloused, uncaring, inactive and self-absorbed toward others, whether they realize it or not, are in essence choosing a life without God both in the here and now, and subsequently, in eternity.
Yes, we may seem to get away with things. Yes, there are very bad people who seemed to have it all. But the reality is that we reap what we sow. There are consequences to our actions and attitudes – both temporal and eternal, both in this life, and the life to come.
By the way, I don’t think the principle of reciprocity should be our primary motivation when it comes to making good choices in life. We shouldn’t simply be motivated by fear of punishment or desire for blessing.
Never-the-less, it may not hurt us to ask ourselves once in a while:
IF IS REAP WHAT I SOW, WHAT AM I SOWING?