We continue our journey through the Bible, cover-to-cover, and we enter now into Deuteronomy, which has Israel on the edge of the Promised Land and Moses's final words. Here, Israel both looks back at what God has done for them and what He commands of them and looks ahead to what He has promised and how they are to live.
And as the people stand ready to begin to take possession of a land flowing with milk and honey, God occasionally stops them for one reason or another. One early reason is to remind them what is - and isn't - their land.
Specifically, He instructs them that they are not to attack the sons of Esau, Jacob's (and therefore, Israel's) brother. This land, He says, He has given to Esau and his descendants, and it's not for Israel. Hands off. No swords. No stones. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
It seems an interesting command, particularly from a God who is also about to walk His people through the slaughter of a lot of other nations (though really not as many as it seems, if you look at how unfaithfully Israel followed through on all of this). It also seems an interesting command from a God who says He is a jealous God, who tolerates no rivals, and who has chosen Israel as His own special people out of all the world.
If they are His special people, if they are the nation who believes in Him and carries His mercy forward, if they are the ones chosen out of all the world, and if He is the Lord of the world, then shouldn't all the world belong to them? What are these not-God's-people doing with a parcel of the land that God's people can't touch?
But it's a good reminder for all of us, and one we need to hear over and over and over again.
Most of us count ourselves as God's people. We are His chosen ones, His best bet. We are Christians, after all, and that makes us gatekeepers of God's mercy in the world. We are His land-possessors, and He's given us the world as our playground...for His glory, of course. We take this world by storm and reclaim holy ground for Him wherever we find it.
What if that's not true? What if that's not how it works? What if we don't need to be as protective of our Christianity as we think we do, if we don't have to be as staunch about preserving our beliefs, doctrines, ways of life, etc. as we convince ourselves? What if we don't have to come barging into every corner of the world and plant our flag? Er, I mean...His flag, of course.
What if those who don't believe the way that we believe, who don't worship the way that we worship, who don't love the way that we love also have a God-given place in this world? What if we aren't supposed to conquer everyone?
The truth is, we don't know what was going on in the land of Esau; that's not the story that God has chosen to tell us in the Bible. But something was happening there, something that may or may not have had to do with God. Something we probably wouldn't understand even if we did know it. Something that didn't lead to Jesus the way that Israel did, but it still might have been faithful and holy. We just don't know.
And the same is true about corners of our world that we aren't privy to. We think we know, since we are the faithful and that must mean they are not, but the truth is...maybe they are. Maybe something's happening out there in lands we don't understand, something that may or may not have to do with God. Something we probably wouldn't understand even if we did know it. Something that maybe leads to Jesus and maybe doesn't, and maybe not in the same way that the Christian faith does, but maybe it's faithful and holy all the same.
So cut "others" some slack. Consider who they are, not just who they aren't. It may be the land they're living in? God gave it to them, the same way He gave us ours. And it may just be...
...that they're still our brothers.
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