Brother v. Brother

Brother v. Brother January 28, 2015

When the original creation is set up, there are three zones in the material creation: heaven, earth, and sea. Corresponding to this threefold classification are the three zones on the land: garden, land, world.

These are already mapped in the creation before sin, and especially after the fall they are the sanctuary as the place of worship, the land as the place of work, and the world as a place of witness.

This Genesis pattern is hugely important for what follows, and we are especially interested here in the brother-brother conflict that centers on the land. In genesis, that is a conflict between Jacob and Esau, and in Israel’s history that family conflict turns into an international struggle, in two distinct threads of development.

-On the one hand, we have the descendants of Esau who bear Esau’s nickname (Genesis 25:30), the Edomites. These are a source of constant affliction for Israel.

Because the Edomites were brothers to the Israelites, they were not permitted despise or detest them (Deuteronomy 23:7). When Israel came out of Egypt and was ready to enter the land, Edom refused them passage. Instead of fighting, Israel turned away and went by a different route (Numbers 20:14-22; Judges 11:17-18). Israel did not fight with Edom even when Edom was hostile.

Edom did not return the favor. In various places, the Edomites are depicted as hostile brothers to Israel. Doeg the Edomite is an ally of Saul and a foe of David, who informs Saul that the priests helped David, which leads to a slaughter of priests (1 Samuel 21). Edom is among the Ishmaelites, Moabites, and others who conspire against Israel (Psalm 83). Psalm 137 depicts the Edomites as scavengers, urging on the destruction of Judah and picking over the corpse (Psalm 137). Prophets describe Yahweh’s vengeance against Edom (Isaiah 21; 34; Jeremiah 49; Ezekiel 25).

Genesis 36 tells us about the origins of the Amalekites. They were the descendants of Esau by his son Eliphaz and the concubine of Eliphaz, Timna (v. 12). There was an earlier Amalekite clan in the time of Abraham, but the Amalekites that play an important role in Israel’s history are a subclan of the Edomites. Genesis 36 also shows the Edomites, descendants of Esau, hooking up with the Horites of Mount Seir. So the Edomites are brothers, but they are brothers who have compromised by intermarrying with Gentiles. That is an important dimension of the conflict. This is not simply a brother-brother conflict, but one overlaid with the conflict with the world.

Amalekites play a critical role at various junctures of Israel’s history. They attack the stragglers among the Israelites as Israel comes out of Egypt (Exodus 17), and Joshua defeats them while Moses prays above on the mountain. The Amalekites appear again during the time of Saul, led by King Agag, whom Saul spares and Samuel slices to pieces (1 Samuel 15). David has to fight Amalekites as he comes out of Philistia and inherits the kingdom after Saul’s death (1 Samuel 30). The final conflict in the Old Testament is in the book of Esther, when Haman, an “Agagite” tries to wipe out the Jews. Mordecai, a Benjamite, corrects Saul’s failure, and carries out a war against the Amalekites. The Amalekites do not appear again by that name in the Old Testament. (Jordan thinks the prophecy of Gog and Magog is about the book of Esther, Gog a variation of Agag.)

Not only do the Amalekites appear periodically, but they appear at the same juncture each time. They are the test for Israel as Israel comes out of slavery. Abraham comes out of Egypt and has to fight the kings , which includes the Amalekites (Genesis 14:7). Israel faces Amalekites on the way out of Egypt; Saul faces them after defeating the Philistines; David faces them as he is making his way out of exile in Philistia; the book of Esther takes place when Israel has been released from bondage by the decree of Cyrus. In each case, the people of God enjoy a great deliverance, and then there are Amalekites there waiting to pick off the stragglers.

Once the Amalekites are overcome, there is an advance, especially in the relation with Gentiles. Abraham overcomes the kings, and Melchizedek meets him with bread and wine. David overcomes Amalekites and rises to the throne, and is assisted by Hiram of Tyre. Mordecai’s resistance to the Amalekite Hanan leads to great favor with the Persians.

We can see this same pattern happening in the New Testament, and it happens with the Edomites, not the Amalekites per se. That is, it takes place with the Herods, who are Edomites or “Idumeans.” Jesus is born, the great deliverer, but an Edomite/Amalekite, Herod, tries to take him out at the beginning; Jesus is rescued to safety in Egypt. After Pentecost, another Herod attacks the church, killing James, and in the immediate aftermath, Herod dies and the Gentile mission starts in earnest (Acts 13). Conflict with the brother lead to witness in the world; once the brother is overcome, there is an open door to the world.

This still happens in churches. There are still Amalekite/Edomites who pick off the weak and faltering, who urge on the wicked to attack the church so they can pick over the carcass. These are brothers – fellow Christians, not unbelievers – and they have to be battled in order for the church to survive and expand its mission. 

The faithful still, in short, has to battle not only with the world but with brothers. We still live, like Adam, in a world mapped as garden, home, and world.

(This is taken largely from James Jordan’s lectures on Revelation 13.)


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