Isaac and Rebekah were married for twenty years and had no children. Like Isaac’s mom, Rebekah was unable to have a baby until God made it possible. Jacob prayed and prayed for a child, and God answered that prayer. Rebekah would not only have one child; she would have twins. The Bible tells us that even while they were still in her belly, the two babies would wrestle and fight. As you can imagine, this upset their mother quite a bit, and so she too went and prayed, asking God what was going on.
God told her that she had two babies and that they would grow up and each begin a new nation. These nations, like these babies in her belly, would constantly be fighting. One of her children would be stronger than the other and the older would become the servant of the other. The stronger one and the older one were the same child: Esau. Esau meant hairy. He was born with hair all over his body, like a fur coat almost! The other one, the younger and weaker one was named Jacob. Jacob means heal-grabber, because when Esau was being born, Jacob was holding on to his heal. This meant that Jacob was always trying to “trip” people up; he was a deceiver.
Malachi revealed to us that God had a special plan for each child. “The LORD said, “Esau and Jacob were brothers. I loved Jacob, but hated Esau,” (Malachi 1:3, NCV). Those are some pretty harsh-sounding words. The apostle Paul also tells us that this was before either one of them was even born, before they did any good or bad. So why did God love one and hate the other?
What God meant, and Malachi wrote, is that God had a covenantal love for Jacob, but did not have one for Esau. That’s a big word, but it means that God’s love was focused on the people of Israel (Jacob’s other name). With that love came promises and protection. So when God said he hated Esau (and the people of Esau), he meant that He had never and would never love them in a way that would bring promises or protection. God’s love was specifically given to Jacob and his people. The apostle Paul tells us that we who believe in Jesus are also part of the covenantal love of God.
It is all too easy to seek out vengeance. It seems to be in most people’s DNA. Someone says something against us and we retaliate. Someone makes a crude gesture on the road and we cut them off. Someone hits us and we hit them back. Often we do these type of things without even giving a second thought to them (or even thinking about our response at all; we just act on instinct). But as Christians, we are called to live above instinct, and to take every thought captive to obey Christ.
One reads from Solomon, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you,” (Proverbs 25:21-22, ESV). Paul repeated these words in Romans 12:20. The concept is clear, or should I say that the command is clear. This isn’t a suggestion, but a mandate to the one who follows Christ. As Paul finished his quotation he did so with a follow-up command, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” (Romans 12:21, ESV) . That is a flat-out command. It’s not optional.
The evil of others against us never gives us the right to respond with evil and that includes evil intentions. I have often heard people use these words as a weapon, explaining that God wants us to “kill them with kindness. That’ll show ’em.” Those are not the intentions of these words. This is a cause and effect verse. Giving him bread to eat and water to drink will bring about a change of heart. In ancient Egypt (remember Solomon had much contact with the Egyptians–1 Kings 3:1), those who showed genuine repentance would walk around with bowls of hot coals upon their heads. Thus to show kindness and love to one’s enemies is to treat them as a neighbor and is done in hopes of showing them that you and they are not enemies at all.
Do they get away with all the evil things they have done to you? Not at all. That was Paul’s point in Romans 12. Let God deal with the evil acts in His just way. We seek to bring them to a heart of repentance. We are not to do God’s work. Only God can do His work perfectly; when we seek to do His work, we do it imperfectly. We do it in sin.
Paul promises (thus God promises) that God will reward you. That’s because this is faith in action. Do we truly believe that God is just? Do we honestly believe that we mean much to God and that God will deal justly with our enemies? If so, then we live out what we believe: turn from vengeance and turn toward love and neighborliness.