Rejected by Brothers
Christianity is about family. Christians, corporately, are recognized as the church of Jesus Christ, which according to the apostle Paul, is the Israel of God (Gal 6:16). Israel is the name given to God’s holy nation of God’s chosen people in Christ, by faith. Israel is a people of God’s own possession, a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9). It consists of born again Jews and Gentiles from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Jn 3:1–8; Acts 10; 15; Rev 5:9). The children of God (1 Jn 3:10), born of God (1 Jn 5:1), born of the Spirit (Jn 3:6), have one Father, who is God (1 Jn 3:1).
Yahweh is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is Himself, the only begotten Son of the Father (Ps 2:7; Jn 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18). The rest of God’s elect ones are adopted into God’s family, by His will, and through the Spirit of adoption (Rom 8:11). Adopted children are chosen by the will of the One who has decided to be their Father (Eph 1:4–5). He procures them, and then He protects and provides for them. He makes many promises to them, and He gives them His Word to encourage and assure them of His good intentions for them (Rom 8:28).
Each child in God’s family is unique. God gives each one his or her name, and He gives each one a new life in His family. God the Father shows no partiality, so there is no favoritism (Rom 2:11). Our Father measures out certain gifts to His children (Rom 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4:8), and they accompany the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9, 11), who is Himself the gift of God to His chosen, covenanted race of children. By this new covenant in Christ’s blood (1 Cor 11:25), God has put His Spirit into His children, according to His promise (Jer 31:31–34; Ezek 36:27).
Jesus, our Elder Brother and High Priest, prayed for His church, “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You (Jn 17:21).” Paul encouraged the Ephesians to understand the practical working out of these relationships, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:1–6).” The psalmist said it this way, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell in unity (Ps 133:1).”
Wisdom says, “A house divided against itself cannot stand (Mk 3:25).” If this is true for the Father of lies, and the children of the devil (Jn 8:44; 1 Jn 3:10), then it is true for the God of Light and the children of light (Eph 5:8; Phil 2:15). With these principles of unity and discord in view, we turn to the biblical examples of brothers in action. What we find is stark contrast. Brother troubles began at the beginning, and there has been a long, sordid history. We will survey a few examples, consider a remedy to our unity malady, and end with an encouragement.
Abel’s brother Cain rejected him (Gen 4). This is the beginning of brotherly disunity. What we discover on closer observation is the split lines of Adam’s progeny (Cain and Abel/Seth). Genesis 5 shows us the genealogy of the righteous, while Genesis 10 reveals the genealogy of the unrighteous. The continuing line of the righteous is observed in Genesis 11, after the Great Flood and reduction of humanity to one family (Gen 6–9). Through Noah’s son, Shem, came a line leading to Abram, a man chosen by God for covenant grace and faith (Gen 12).
Cain killed his brother because of issues regarding worship of God. God accepted the animal sacrifices of Abel, but God did not regard the plant sacrifices of Cain. This previews the need for blood atonement for the forgiveness of sins (Heb 9:22; Rev 1:5). The point: the sons of Adam, progenitors of large populations of people, were divided because of sin and acceptable sacrifice, which was clearly revealed to them by God. One son, and his line, was disobedient to God’s Word of revelation; and one son, and his line, was obedient to what God had commanded in His Word of revelation. The principle: the righteous are forgiven of their sins by acceptable sacrifice, offered by faith in God’s Word.
Isaac’s brother Ishmael rejected him (Gen 21:9). Ishmael, sixteen years older than Isaac, mocked his younger half brother, which incited Sarah to demand the removal of Hagar and Ishmael from the family dwelling. God approved of this separation (Gen 21:12).
Next, the twin sons of Isaac, Jacob and Esau, were fighting each other in the womb (Gen 25:22–23). They continued in conflict over birthrights (Gen 25:27–34) and blessings (Gen 27). Esau intended to kill Jacob (Gen 25:41) because of the younger twin’s deception of their father, Isaac, in order to steal the blessing. Jacob was sent away to separate the brothers (Gen 28).
Esau went to his uncle Ishmael for his future family plans, and Jacob went to his uncle Laban at Haran for his future family plans. God enriched them both with children and wealth. Jacob had twelve sons from his two wives, the daughters of Laban, and their two handmaids.
Joseph’s brothers rejected him. Jacob, who is called, “Israel” had a son named, “Joseph.” Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son (Gen 37:3). Joseph’s brothers hated him because of their father’s obvious preference of their younger brother. Jacob gave Joseph a special tunic (Gen 37:3), and Joseph had dreams pertaining to his future place over his brothers. They hated Joseph all the more for these things (Gen 37:8).
On the verge of murdering their brother, they opted to sell him into slavery, instead. As the caravan of Ishmaelites headed for Egypt, the leaders of the tribes of Israel thought they were done with their younger brother. The rest of the story is one of great providence, which included reconciliation years later. God proved faithful in providing for his chosen people in the midst of fraternal treachery and difficult circumstances for all of them.
Moses’ brothers rejected him. There is no better way to track the difficulty Moses had with his family than to search the word, “grumbling.” Immediately following the song of salvation (Ex 15), the grumbling began, and it did not stop until Moses died in view of the Promised Land just beyond the Jordan River. There was the water incident, the failed spy mission, the manna issue, the quail issue, Korah’s rebellion, the strange fire, the golden calf incident, etc. Sometimes the rebellion was intimate, like when Aaron and Miriam tried their coup d’etat (Num 12:1–10). Korah was the worship leader, and he tried the same thing (Num 16).
David’s brothers rejected him. Imagine standing in the line of brothers, the sons of Jesse, the Bethlehemite, when Samuel said, “There must be another one. Do you have any more sons?” The sons of Jesse witnessed the prophet and judge of Israel anoint their youngest brother to be King of Israel (1 Sam 16). Envy, jealousy, and strife were now exacerbated in the family dynamic. This tension was observed as Jesse sent David to the Kishon Brook where Goliath was taunting King Saul and the armies of Israel (1 Sam 17). Against all odds the shepherd boy of Bethlehem would wrangle with his brothers, kill the wicked Philistine champion, only to spend years avoiding his father-in-law, King Saul, who was trying to kill him. This is all in the family.
Jesus’ brothers rejected him. In John 7, we observe Jesus’ blood brothers, who were not believing in Him. Further, the brotherhood of Israel had numerous, factious political groups vying for power and influence. Jesus upset them all. He was a prophet, and that is what prophets do. They tell the truth and suffer for it. It is the history of the prophets of God. As the bridge between the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles, Jesus showed by example that His followers would suffer in like manner to their Messiah. This has been true in every generation since the Cross.
So, we have seen throughout the history of Israel, the repeated story of God’s chosen one to lead being rejected by his brothers. The doctrine of rejection by brothers is a common theme in Scripture, but it is not common enough in our teaching. This could surely be the subject of a seminary chapel sermon, entitled, “This could happen to you!” With one thousand five hundred pastors leaving the ministry in the United States each month, there are obviously diverse reasons for departure. One reason, as we have seen, is rejection of the pastor/leader/shepherd by his brothers.
Pastor resignations and firings remain problematic for the church. It could even be argued it is scandalous because it is epidemic. Many able men avoid local church pastorates in favor of para-church ministries, in an attempt to avoid these notorious conflicts and confrontations. If Jesus promised his disciples they would have trouble in the world (Jn 16:33), this would certainly include the church (Rev 2–3)…and the para-church.
The construction of denominations has historically tried to remedy this situation. However, corruption is found from the papacy through the bishopric, across the presbytery, and down into the autonomous local church congregation. Attempted allocations of power, within these structures, has also failed to produce what we are longing for in the church: unity in a bond of peace.
So, we see, first, rejection by brothers is a consistent theme in the Bible. We also know this is true in the churches in our communities. Organizational structure matters little, and the right allocation of power is of limited significance. The only thing that will remedy these factious disputes is the acceptance of one another in deeper commitment to one another, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:1–6. Yielding to the Holy Spirit means humbling ourselves in these matters. Loving one another, once we have made a covenant commitment to one another, is essential. Still, factions do serve God’s purposes (1 Cor 11:19).
The common denominator, in the biblical examples given, is the prevalent error of resisting or removing the called man of God. Killing Abel was not a good choice for Cain. Ishmael would have been blessed without making life hellish for Isaac. Esau should have seen providence in his repeated losses. Joseph’s brothers finally prospered in Egypt, but eventually their tribes were enslaved. Making life miserable for Moses was costly for an entire generation. When it was clear God was with David, Israel could have prospered all the more, but the ten northern tribes resisted. The seed was planted for hundreds of years of subsequent division and demise. Paul encourages us to learn from Israel’s mistakes (1 Cor 10).
With Jesus, we learn a great lesson. God has a predetermined plan and foreknowledge, even for the suffering and death of His Son (Acts 2:23), and for those who take up their cross (Lk 9:23), following Him and suffering for the sake of the elect (2 Tim 2:10). All of the resistance, against all of the leaders in the history of Israel, was ultimately taken by God, who worked it all together for good (Rom 8:28).
The Bible says it simply, yet repeatedly regarding these men, “The Lord was with him.” This is a great encouragement to all of us who love the name: Jesus Christ, who was despised and rejected by men, who happened to be His brothers. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity. Let’s do this.
Spokane Valley, Washington
April 7, 2021