If you missed part 1, go here first
By Joy LaPrade
In the church, we know and affirm that in Christ Jesus we are all sons of God, but we have seen (in the previous blog post) that merely acknowledging a shared Father does not guarantee we will love our brothers. Like Abimelech, we are in danger of closing our eyes and hearts to our family, consuming them as we seek to satisfy our hunger for security, power and glory.
Abimelech’s problem began in his relationship to Gideon, and we will follow Abimelech into rivalry and violence if we do not first know our Father. We cannot see each other as brothers and sisters without first seeing Him.
For Abimelech, Gideon’s fatherhood was a distant concept, not an immediate reality. Growing up away from the rest of the family in Shechem, Abimelech bore a name that (as Brian pointed out) was a continual reminder of all that was wrong in the family. When he heard his name spoken, he heard a lie: “My father is king.” Gideon was in fact not the king, and he was father to Abimelech in name only, not part of his daily life.
Instead of the prestige, power and security that belong to a royal heir, Abimelech grew up knowing he was the second-class son of a concubine. Gideon’s death drove this bitter truth deeper into Abimelech’s heart, as the 70 sons received their father’s status and power and ruled over Israel. Abimelech’s only inheritance was his name, which was now utterly devoid of meaning. He had no father, no wealth, no reputation.
When he slaughtered his brothers, it was the expression of an empty heart grasping desperately after a promise of significance, safety and success. These things ought to have been his birthright through Gideon, but having never known his father, Abimelech did not know his brothers. Instead of growing up with them as beloved fellow heirs, he knew them as rivals. They belonged to one another; Abimelech was an outcast.
Like Abimelech, we bear a name that declares our Father is king. What do our hearts toward one another reveal of our knowledge of Him? Is His fatherhood an empty title that describes a distant relationship? Are we aware that He possesses power and glory, but feel He has not shared it with us?
Our daily sins are the expression of hearts that have forgotten our Father. We act as orphans or slaves instead of beloved children. We do not know the security that comes from our Father’s strength, so we trample our brothers as we grasp for power. We do not know the peace that comes from our Father’s presence, so we fight desperately for control of our circumstances. We do not know the rest that comes from our Father’s love, so we anxiously work to earn the approval of others.
Wherever we lack knowledge of our Father we will be left empty, and our needs will drive us to consume our brothers, turning them into objects to be used or rivals to be destroyed. Wherever we truly know our Father, our hearts and lives will overflow with the fruit of the Spirit, the expression of a heart that has received the spirit of adoption. When we bear His name in truth and rest in His love, we have confidence and peace with one another. This is the birthright of royal children beloved by their Father and assured of their inheritance.
How then can we know God as Father in this way?
It cannot be achieved simply by an act of mental assent to this relationship, as Abimelech would have labeled Gideon “father.” Many of us who affirm God’s fatherhood still see Him as distant and removed, perhaps waiting angrily to return on our head the evil we have committed. He may even seem to us a wealthy king who will give us our inheritance one day, but who is otherwise absent from our day-to-day lives.
If we recognize that our vision of the Father has been distorted in these ways, we have reason to rejoice, because in Christ He has made a promise: “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.” He has come to us, first in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through Him and in Him, we slaves and orphans have been much more than forgiven our sins, but made sons and heirs. He has come to us in the Spirit of adoption, by whom we call out in weakness to a Father who is near enough to hear; loving and powerful enough to answer.
He also comes to us in His word. Here, He reveals Himself as a tender shepherd, a wealthy and generous ruler. He shows himself as a victorious king who invites us to come near, not in fear but with the boldness and confidence of a beloved child.
We need not anxiously strive to earn His attention. Our Father is king, and from before the foundation of the world He has been at work to make Himself known to us.
We do not have a father like Gideon. Our Father comes to us.
Day by day, we run from him to the promises of sin, returning only when we have chased them to the end of ourselves. Weary and discouraged, we trudge back to see what more we might be able to earn from Hhim. But when we look up, we discover that He is the one running out to meet us, telling us what it means to be our Father’s child: “I am always with you, and all I have is yours.”