Podcast Episode

Sibling Rivalry and Biblical Election

Why do God’s chosen people have just as many moral failings as anyone else in the Bible? In this week’s episode, Tim and Jon take a look at ancient sibling rivalries, divine election, and God’s determination to form a covenant people that will one day embrace and include all nations.

Episode 5
Dec 21, 2020
Play Episode
Show Notes


God keeps choosing one out of the many, but as you look at Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David, why does God keep choosing these particular people? It’s not working, and none of them are very upstanding moral examples. In fact, the narratives of every one of these chosen figures is going to highlight for the reader huge moral failings. So to be the elect does not mean that you are righteous and good...What that means is that the people who aren’t chosen are not the wicked and the evil in the story. In other words, this is not a story about the good guys and the bad guys, the chosen and the non-chosen.

Key Takeaways

  • Abraham’s many descendants remain hostile to God’s chosen people throughout the story of the Bible. Every major conflict we see throughout Scripture stems from ancient sibling rivalries.
  • God’s election of one person or family instead of others is never merited. Frequently, God’s chosen people live just as immorally as everyone else.
  • God’s plan has always been to include all nations in his covenant family. And he’ll do this through his servant, a seed that would come from the family of Israel. This was the source of hope for the prophets.

Election Apart from Merit

In part one (0:00-9:20), Tim and Jon remind us that unity is essential for humanity to bear the image of God and for God to carry out his intent to rule the world through humans.

God elects Abraham’s family as his chosen instruments to bring blessing and unity to all nations. Abraham and Sarah quickly deviate from God’s plan by attempting to achieve God’s promised blessings by their own means, including oppressing their immigrant slave, Hagar, and forcing her to conceive a child with Abraham.

Despite the mess, God reaffirms his covenant with Abraham and adds a new covenant sign, circumcision, which anyone from any family can adopt in order to become part of God’s covenant people. God also promises to take care of Ishmael, Hagar’s son.

Abraham becomes the father of many nations, among whom Israel is God’s chosen “seed” to restore blessing to all the nations.

The Father of Many Nations

In part two (9:20-19:40), the team concludes the story of Abraham with a look at Genesis 25.

By this point, God has already given Abraham and Sarah their promised son, Isaac. Then God demands that Abraham sacrifice Isaac to him. (God never intended for Isaac to actually die; it was the test of Abraham's faith). When Abraham passes the test, God reaffirms his covenant with Abraham again.

Genesis 25 introduces us to three family lines descended from Abraham, that go on to populate the biblical world. And the spotlight is now on Isaac.

Genesis 25:1-8, 11-18
Now Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore to him Zimran and Jokshan and Medan and Midian and Ishbak and Shuah. Jokshan became the father of Sheba and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim and Letushim and Leummim. The sons of Midian were Ephah and Epher and Hanoch and Abida and Eldaah. All these were the sons of Keturah. Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac, but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the east. These are all the years of Abraham’s life that he lived, one hundred and seventy-five years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life. And he was gathered to his people…It came about after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac lived by Beer-lahai-roi (“the well of the one who sees me”). Now these are the records of the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maid, bore to Abraham. And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael, and Kedar and Adbeel and Mibsam and Mishma and Dumah and Massa, Hadad and Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages, and by their camps, twelve princes according to their tribes. These are the years of the life of Ishmael, one hundred and thirty-seven years. And he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people. They settled from Havilah to Shur which is east of Egypt as one goes toward Asshur; he settled against the face of all his brothers.

Ishmael’s birth continues the motif of the divided family of humanity, and all the nations descended from Abraham remain hostile to Israel throughout the biblical story.

God’s choosing of one person or family instead of others is never merited—this is essential to the biblical design pattern of election. Frequently, God’s chosen people live just as immorally as the people God didn’t choose.

Sibling Rivalry

In part three (19:40-40:00), Tim and Jon take a closer look at election and ongoing sibling rivalry.

In every generation, God’s election sets someone apart from their family, so that they can become vehicles for blessing others. Sadly, they often become sources of cursing as much as blessing (like Abraham).

We can trace this theme from the first family onward: Abel and Seth were chosen by God. Noah was chosen from Seth’s line, followed by his son Shem. Abraham is chosen from Shem’s family, followed by his son Isaac, Isaac’s son Jacob, and Jacob’s son Judah. Many generations later, God chooses David, a descendant of Judah.

Each of these chosen people has at least one un-chosen brother who becomes hostile, representing the same sibling rivalry we first witnessed in Cain and Abel. Kenites, Canaanites, Egyptians, Babylonians, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Samaritans—they’re all descendants of Israel’s siblings.

The biblical authors remind us again and again that “elect” does not equal “righteous,” nor does “unchosen” equal “unrighteous.” Because the chosen people keep failing to bring God’s blessing to others, God often elevates people from the non-chosen nations to bring blessing to the chosen:

  • Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, is a Kenite (from Cain) [Exodus 18]
  • Jael (who crushes the head of Sisera) is a Kenite (from Cain) [Judges 4-5]
  • Ruth is a Moabite (from Lot) [Ruth 1-4]
  • Caleb is a Kenezite (from Esau/Edom) [Numbers 14]
  • Rahab the prostitute is a Canaanite (from Ham) [Joshua 2]
  • David is from the line of Judah and Caleb, and thus part Kenezite (from Esau)

God chooses the elect to be the vehicle of the future “seed,” through whom he will save all humanity, but it is often the non-elect who trust Yahweh. To be non-elect, then, does not mean you are outside of God's mercy.

These stories show us that a person’s ethnicity plays no part in their value to God. What matters most to God is how we choose to relate to him.

Isaiah’s Hope in Exile

In part four (40:00-end), Tim and Jon jump ahead in the biblical story to the prophet Isaiah’s hope in God’s plan to form a covenant people that will one day embrace and include all nations. The book of Isaiah emphasizes this theme in two poems in the opening and closing sections of the book.

Isaiah 2:1-4
The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
Now it will come about that In the last days
The mountain of the house of Yahweh
Will be established as the head of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That he may teach us concerning his ways
And that we may walk in his paths.”
For the Torah will go forth from Zion
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
And he will judge between the nations,
And will render decisions for many peoples;
And they will hammer their swords into plow-blades
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they learn war.

Isaiah calls the house of Yahweh a mountain like a “head” raised high, to which many nations will come. In other words, Yahweh’s house is the antithesis of Babel.

As the book of Isaiah develops, we see that a “seed” from the line of David rules Yahweh’s house (Isaiah 11). Although Israel is hostile to the seed, Yahweh vindicates his servant, whose future is inextricably intertwined with the future of Israel and all nations.

Isaiah 60:1-7
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness will cover the earth
And deep darkness the peoples;
But the Lord will rise upon you
And his glory will appear upon you.
Nations will come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.
Lift up your eyes round about and see;
They all gather together, they come to you.
Your sons will come from afar,
And your daughters will be carried in the arms.
Then you will see and be radiant,
And your heart will thrill and rejoice;
Because the abundance of the sea will be turned to you,
The wealth of the nations will come to you.
A multitude of camels will cover you,
The young camels of Midian and Ephah; [sons of Keturah, Genesis 25:2-3]
All those from Sheba will come;
They will bring gold and frankincense,
And will bear good news of the praises of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar will be gathered together to you, [sons of Ishmael, Genesis 25]
The rams of Nebaioth will minister to you;
They will go up with acceptance on my altar,
And I shall glorify my glorious house.

Observing the family of God throughout the Hebrew Bible allows us to see the interplay of God’s will, divine election, and the true freedom God allows humans to have. Like a father who sees his two children fighting, God has no more love for one people group over another. He’s still going to do what he has always planned to do. How he accomplishes his purposes varies, as he chooses to respond in real time to the choices of humanity.

Additional Resources
Interested in more? Check out Tim’s full library here.

Show Music
“Defender Instrumental” by Tents

Show produced by Dan Gummel. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.

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Scripture References
Genesis 11:4
Genesis 25:1-11
Genesis 21:19
Genesis 25:12-18
Genesis 10:2-13
Exodus 18:1
Judges 4:4
Judges 4:21
Ruth 4:17
Numbers 14:24
Isaiah 2:1-4
Revelation 21:24
Isaiah 11:1
Isaiah 60:1-7

12 Episodes

Episode 12
Does the Church Supersede Israel?
How can the book of Ephesians contribute to conversations surrounding modern race and justice issues? Tim and Jon interview New Testament scholar Andrew Rillera and discuss Ephesians 2 and the unified, diverse family of God.
1hr 12m • Feb 15, 2021
Episode 11
Reading While Black
From biblical deconstruction to the responsibility of Jesus followers in government and social justice, we’re looking at what the Bible has to say about some of society’s biggest questions today. Join Tim and Jon as they interview New Testament scholar Esau McCaulley, author of *Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope*.
52m • Feb 8, 2021
Episode 10
Why Do Cain's Descendants Show Up After the Flood?
Thank you to our audience for your incredible questions. In this week's episode, we tackle questions like: Did Adam represent a male human? Where did Cain’s wife come from? And what is the relationship of the Church to Israel? Listen in to hear the team answer your questions.
1hr 1m • Feb 1, 2021
Episode 9
One Family Once More
God’s plan has always been to bring all of humanity into one diverse and connected family. Jesus carried forward this mission in his teachings, calling God’s people to look past societal divisions and be unified in him. Join Tim and Jon in this week’s podcast episode as they look at the theme of unity in the New Testament.
1hr 5m • Jan 25, 2021
Episode 8
The Powerful and Not Powerful
In the book of Romans, Paul talks about humanity being justified by faith, but what does this have to do with the family of God? In this episode, Tim and Jon look at Paul’s letter to the Romans and unpack what it looks like to unify a diverse group of people into one family.
1hr 6m • Jan 18, 2021
Episode 7
Who’s In?
God wants people from all nations to be a part of his family, but Jesus’ mission was focused on Israel. So how did the Gospel message move out from Israel to the rest of the world? Join Tim and Jon as they unpack the arrival of the Spirit and Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples.
52m • Jan 11, 2021
Episode 6
Jesus and the Gentiles
Who did Jesus come for? Throughout the Gospel accounts, Jesus is laser-focused on Israel. Yet his ministry and even his family tree include many non-Israelite people. In this week’s episode, join Tim and Jon for a look at the family of God in the life of Jesus.
1hr 2m • Jan 4, 2021
Episode 5
Sibling Rivalry and Biblical Election
Why do God’s chosen people have just as many moral failings as anyone else in the Bible? In this week’s episode, Tim and Jon take a look at ancient sibling rivalries, divine election, and God’s determination to form a covenant people that will one day embrace and include all nations.
57m • Dec 21, 2020
Episode 4
Abraham, the Immigrant, and Circumcision
What does divine election have to do with God’s blessing for all nations? In this week’s episode, we’re picking up the story of the family of God with Genesis 12-17, God’s calling of Abraham. Join Tim and Jon to see how God responds to Abraham and Sarah’s bad choices and turns them into something good for all people.
1hr 6m • Dec 14, 2020
Episode 3
What’s So Bad About Babel?
What was so bad about the Tower of Babel? In this episode, Tim and Jon examine the cycle of division within the human race in Genesis 1-11, the violence that occurs when humans unite apart from God, and God’s plan to use one family to redeem all families in the end.
1hr 5m • Dec 7, 2020
Episode 2
Our Collective Identity
What is God’s picture of an ideal humanity? In this podcast episode, Tim and Jon look at Genesis 1-2 and talk about how God makes one humanity, divides them, and purposes for them to be one again. And this oneness that God brings doesn't erase personal and cultural differences. Rather, it completes them.
56m • Nov 30, 2020
Episode 1
God’s Global Family
Jesus unites his followers across cultural and ethnic lines as members of his global family. But that doesn’t mean cultural differences disappear. In fact, Jesus resurrects and glorifies what is unique and beautiful about every culture. In this episode, listen in as Tim and Jon discuss what it means to be part of the family of God.
1hr 1m • Nov 23, 2020
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