The Principle Of Return: I Will Reap What I Sow
November 12, 2017
THE PRINCIPLE OF RETURN:
I WILL REAP WHAT I SOW
November 12, 2017
Obadiah 1:2-4, 10-15
The title of our sermon comes from a passage in Galatians 6:7 where the apostle Paul writes:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Galatians 6:7
The agricultural principle is straight forward. If you sow wheat seeds, you’ll grow wheat, not barley. If you sow barley seeds, you’ll grow barley, not something else.
When Paul spoke of reaping that which is sown, he meant that good actions lead to good results, while wrong actions lead to bad results, in particular when it comes to our eternal destiny.
A very similar point with regard to the Law of Return or the Law of Reciprocity, is made in the OT:
When they sow the wind they will reap the whirlwind. Hosea 8:7
To use a more recent, if older idiom, what you do will come back to you in spades. Here are a few more passages:
Then Jesus said to him, “… all those who take up the sword will die by the sword.” Matthew 26:52
He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made. The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head. Psalm 7:15-16
So you may not know that you are quoting the Bible when you say: Those who live by the sword die by the sword. He who digs a pit will fall into it.
We see the principle of reciprocity in even the simplest things - for example, “you are what you eat.”
The concept of reaping and sowing may seem very similar to the way that people understand Karma today, but it’s not quite the same. The actual concept of Karma is, that how you live your present life will determine who you will be in your next life - if you presently live good, you will born into a higher caste. If you presently live bad, you will you be born into a lower caste. If you live really bad as a man, you might come back as a woman. If you live really, really bad, you may come back as an animal or maybe even a plant, never to be reincarnated back to a human.
Stated another way, whatever caste you are born into is determined by how you lived your past life or your past lives.
Logically then, you deserve whatever your personal status is. If you are poor and mistreated, it’s because you’ve made a lot of bad decisions in your previous life. If you’re rich and privileged, maybe even to the point where you don’t have to work, you will have been a prince of a person in your previous life.
The belief in Karma often results in a general lack of compassion for people who are abused and hungry and suffering - after all they deserve whatever they are being dished out in this life.
Karma is also considered an inviolable law that will always hold true no matter what, while the concept of reciprocity as found in the Bible is like a proverb ... it is something that generally holds true. Karma is NOT the same as the biblical concept of reaping and sowing.
Once in a while it may seem that we can “get away” with things, ... that we do NOT sow what we reap.
For example, most of the time when we speed there are no negative consequences. However, if driving 20 km/h above the speed limit is something we do often, then eventually, inevitably you might say, we will get a speeding ticket.
Or it may seem that our volatile temper is simply accepted by our family members or co-workers but eventually, those relationships will suffer, one way or another.
This principle of reaping what we sow can be seen in 100 different ways in the biblical stories. Today I want us to briefly look at just one example, during the time of the prophet Obadiah.
Obadiah is a biblical book not easily found. It is one of the so-called 12 “minor prophets” (“minor” in that they are shorter than the “major” prophets). Obadiah is the shortest of these, in fact, it is THE shortest book of the Old Testament – a whole 22 verses long. In most of your Bibles Obadiah will consist of just one or two pages between the books of Amos and Jonah.
The name, Obadiah, literally means “servant of YHWH” or “worshipper of YHWH”. It was a common name - a number of men mentioned in the OT had that name. Consequently, scholars aren’t sure which Obadiah wrote this brief message.
The content of Obadiah seems to indicate that the book was written close to the year 587/86 BC, the year that Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians.
The message of the book was directed at the kingdom of Edom, a nation just South-East of Judah, on the far side of the Dead Sea. The nation of Edom was considered to be the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob.
After the first invasion by the Babylonians around 605 BC, Edom began expanding into the southern portion of the kingdom of Judah. They took advantage of Judah’s weakened position due to the Babylonian conquest of Judah.
So this is God speaking to Edom through the prophet Obadiah. I’ll be reading vv.2-4 and vv.10-15.
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 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.”
Perhaps you’ve been to the country of Jordan and are a bit familiar with the topography of what once was Edom. Especially in its Eastern portions, Edom was a very mountainous region.
Maybe you’ve visited the ancient city of Petra. Also on the overhead map is the location of the capital city of Bozrah. The reference in Obadiah v. 3 speaks of the safety that the mountains afforded the nation of Edom:
... you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, .... Obadiah 1:3
The clefts of the rock bring to mind the fortress-city of Petra, which archeologists did not discover until 1812, just over 100 years ago.
It 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.
It was a place that was easily defended.
Obadiah also mentions that the Edomites made their homes in the heights, that they thought would guarantee them safety. In fact, their capital city, Bozrah, was on top of a mountain – yet nothing remains there today but a few ruins.
Despite the topography of the land, in the past, during the reigns of Kings David, Solomon and Amaziah (802 - 769 BC), Edom had been under Israel’s rule. (As such, Israel was a traditional enemy). However Edom shook itself loose from Israel when King Ahaz reigned in Judah (732 -716 BC), never to be subjugated to Judah again.
The prophet Obadiah issues a clear and brief appraisal of the performance of the nation of Edom. And Obadiah’s message is simply this:
You are gloating over and participating in the destruction of the nation of Judah by taking advantage of the situation. Stop it or you will be destroyed as well.
There are a few questions that came to my mind as I read through the book of Obadiah, and particularly the passage we read this morning.
Let’s quickly review verse 3 again:
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? Obadiah 1:3
1. The negative consequences of PRIDE
Let me qualify here. It is OK to feel good about an accomplishment – about having created something of beauty, or fixed something. It is OK to feel good when our children do things that make us proud and it’s good to praise them for doing something well or unselfish.
The pride that the Bible condemns is arrogance, conceit, vanity, and self-importance. It is the kind of pride that makes us feel that we are somehow better than others, that we have it more together, that we know better, that we’re always right, that gives us the right to treat others poorly or with contempt … that kind of pride.
It’s the kind of pride Edom felt, safe in its mountains, while Babylon repeatedly invaded Judah and finally conquer Jerusalem. And God says to Edom: “The pride of your heart has deceived you” (Obadiah 1:3).
In other words, the pride that you feel about your own position, the pride that makes you feel that you are better off than your northern neighbours, is giving you a false sense of your own security. And that will end up biting you.
Here is a verse out of Proverbs that tell us that pride will have negative consequences in our lives.
Pride goes before destruction, a proud spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18
You sow pride, you reap a fall. The pride of the Edomites went before their destruction as a nation.
On a personal level, if we think that we’re so great, that we are so much better than others, that we have the right to constantly judge others or put them down, or to tell them what to do, ultimately, people will lose respect for us. They will stop trusting us. They will even begin to resent us or avoid us.
A few years back now I read an article about people who have to work under domineering and abusive bosses.
The point of the article was that people who work under managers who are proud and loud and a bully, log many more sick days and are much less productive than those who have good managers or bosses.
Pride also leads to conflict. Inevitably. You sow pride, you reap conflict.
Pride only breeds quarrels .... Proverbs 13:10
Take two people with big egos, who both feel entitled, and both are used to getting their own way ... and have them get married to each other. How many fights do you think will ensue? Why do you think that celebrity marriages are notoriously short-lived? It’s because pride leads to conflict.
In Proverbs 6:16-19, there are seven things listed that God specifically hates – that he absolutely detests.
A willingness and desire to do evil,
Giving false witness in court, and
Creating conflict among others.
But what heads the list of what God detests is Pride.
Why? Because it often leads to all those other things – it leads to exaggeration, lying, violence, abuse and conflict.
Pride hardens us, not only toward others, but also toward God. It causes us to think we’re right, that we know better. It makes us judgmental. It causes us to feel self-important and conceited and arrogant.
Pride is really a sign of emotional immaturity ... and it makes us act and react in immature ways. Which is one of the reasons that we have such a hard time recognizing it in ourselves.
Pride has negative consequences in my life because it negatively affects my character, negatively affects my relationships, and negatively affects all of the decisions I make. It does lead to conflict and a fall.
Edom was not only guilty of pride. But it was also guilty of Schadenfreude over Judah’s plight.
2. The negative consequences of SCHADENFREUDE
Schadenfreude is a German word that speaks of feeling delight or joy at the misfortune of another person. Maybe the closest English word is “gloating over” someone else.
You may not think that you experience Schadenfreude. But think about what would make you smile at the following pictures?
Aren’t you are embarrassed for the girl holding the “go” sign up-side-down. But you’re still smiling. What about the following pictures.
Aren’t you happy for the fork-lift operator that the bomb didn’t go off? But that’s not why you’re smiling, is it?
Maybe when it comes to kids and animals we won’t experience Schadenfreude ... or will we? By the way, the cat is photo-shopped into the picture. You didn’t seriously think a parent would allow their kids to bring along the family cat tubing, did you?
The point is that most people stop feeling Schadenfreude at some point. Often it is when something REALLY bad happens to someone else. If not, there is a very dark side to their joy at the misfortune of others.
I thought about some of the photos I’ve seen where of people being overjoyed when they heard about 9/11.
Yesterday was Remembrance Day. Do you think that anyone, even Pacifists, would stand for someone haranguing a war veteran for his service - or feeling any joy at the physical or emotional scars that a veteran might carry?
Some things civilized people wouldn’t wish on their worst enemies. In a war situation they may wish the enemy soldier dead so their own life and the lives of their fellow soldiers are spared, but they generally do not wish them to suffer.
Now Edom was not at war with Israel. And yet, they rejoiced at the calamity that had befallen Judah. They were happy at their misfortune. They gloated and felt good about it all.
The Bible actually speaks to the issue of Schadenfreude at the real misfortunes of others.
Do not gloat when your enemy falls. Don’t allow yourself to be happy at their misfortune.
The one who is glad at the misfortune (calamity) of others will not go unpunished. Proverbs 17:5b
Proverbs does not spell out what that punishment would consist of.
The Edomites not only were happy at what was happening to Judah, they also actively made things worse. They invaded the country. They looted the homes left behind. They robbed and killed those fleeing on the roads or returned them to the Babylonians to be killed or enslaved.
And they were told what would happen as a result ... their own nation would be destroyed permanently.
And that is what in fact took place. The Edomites were displaced by the Nabateans and ended up abandoning their towns and migrating, never to be heard from again.
3. What does the concept of reciprocity mean for ME?
As I already read, but want to repeat again, in v.15 of Obadiah, we find the concept of reciprocity:
As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.
As I already have pointed out, many similar statements are found throughout the Bible. Here are three more on the results of having a short fuse when it comes to our personal relationships.
A hot-head will provoke conflict while a patient person will calm a situation. Proverbs 15:18
Just like the churning milk will result in butter and a punch to the nose will result in a nose bleed, so being angry will result in conflict. Proverbs 30:33
Whoever troubles his own family will inherit the wind. Proverbs 11:29a
So the positive side of the law of sowing and reaping: if we treat another person with love and respect – generally speaking we will be treated likewise, at least, it will positively impact our relationship with that person - unless they are incredibly selfish or have no ability to empathize.
On the negative side, if we treat another person with distain or in a hateful manner – generally speaking we will be treated likewise, or at least it will negatively impact our relationship to that person - even if they seem to put up with it and don’t hate us because of it.
This is why Jesus told us that we should treat other people the way we would want to be treated ourselves.
This is why Jesus said numerous times that if we show mercy and forgiveness toward others, God will likewise show us mercy and forgiveness, but if we judge and condemn others, God will likewise judge and condemn us.
For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:2
We reap what we sow. There are consequences to our actions and attitudes.
We can sow discord, contempt, a lack of forgiveness, stubbornness, hurt, gossip, sarcasm, impatience and condemnation, and we will reap within ourselves a harvest of anger, bitterness, loneliness, frustration and unhappiness.
We can sow to our flesh, our desires, our whims, our selfishness, and our greed, and we will reap worry, addiction, sickness and guilt.
Or 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.
We can sow to our soul, to God’s Spirit, to that what is best within us, and we can reap a harvest of goodness, integrity, character and self-respect.
But there is also an eternal dimension here as well, one which Jesus often alluded to. Paul also wrote:
God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour 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
I don’t think Paul was being unkind or harsh or judgmental. He was simply saying that there the principle of reciprocity holds true even when it comes to our eternal destiny. I once heard it said that there won’t be anyone in hell who didn’t chose to be there.
Many of us forget that we have a choice here. We can live a life without God, be self-seeking and follow only our whims and desires, and reap an eternity without God. Or, we can live a life with God, we can sow to God and goodness, and reap an eternity with God. In each case there is a choice and there is a consequence. We reap what we sow.
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 – even though in essence that is what Obadiah is telling the Edomites.
I think there have to be more profound reasons to do what is right. Let me give you three:
Love for God. If we are full of the love that God has for us, we will respond in love to Him.
Love for others. If we cherish the people in our lives and the relationships we have, we will seek to treat them with love and respect.
Love for myself. By this I don’t mean a self-centered, self-absorbed, narcissistic love, but the ability to genuinely like and care for and even cherish ourselves.
I will always have a hard time treating others right if I dislike myself. Part of the maturing process is getting to the point where we accept and like ourselves. But even that depends to a large extent on the choices that we make in life.
IF SO MUCH OF MY OWN HAPPINESS AND THE HAPPINESS OF OTHERS DEPENDS ON THE CHOICES I MAKE – WHERE IS GOD TELLING ME I HAVE TO MAKE DIFFERENT CHOICES?
What do you need to do in order to weed out pride in your life? What do you need to do when you gloat over the misfortune of others? What do you need to sow into your life so that you will reap goodness and integrity?
Or maybe the real question has to do with your life with or without God.
 Paul goes on to contrast sowing to the “flesh” and sowing to the Spirit, the first leading to corruption, the second to eternal life (and consisting of doing good at every opportunity).
 An expression from the card game Bridge. If you have something in spades you have a great abundance of it.
 This is the reason why Hindus believe that animals (and plants) have souls.
 1 Kings 18:3ff.; 1 Chr 3:21; 7:3; 8:38; 9:16,44; 12:9; 2 Chr 17:7; 34:12; Ezra 8:9; Neh 10:5; 12:25.
 Petra may not have existed at the time of the Edomites as it may have been built by the Nabateans.
 Nabateans were an Arabic people group, mostly nomadic or living in tents, whose first city and capital was Petra. It is unclear when they displaced the Edomites. They were firmly established prior to the time of the Maccabean revolt, possibly as early as 300 or 400 BC.
 This last one could be understood to state that a nasty child won’t receive any inheritance, literally, or it could be pointing out that the person who causes trouble in his own family will end up on his own.
 Matt 6:14-15; 18:23-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37