One of the most hurtful struggles in life occurs when strife divides the community of faith. The apostle Paul teaches that we are one body (1 Cor. 12:12), that we should pursue unity through the Spirit (Eph. 4:3), and that as we are able we should live in peace with all men (Rom. 12:18). But even Paul, it seems, was not spared a quarrel with Barnabas that led to their separation over the matter of John Mark (Acts 15:36–41). Only many years later was Paul’s offense regarding Mark resolved, for just before his death the apostle acknowledged that Mark had become
profitable for the ministry (2 Tim. 4:11).
Another dispute between covenant brothers occurred in the family of Jacob. Joseph’s brothers hated him and plotted to kill him (Gen. 37:18). But after many years God had so worked repentance in the lives of his brothers that Joseph was able to receive them in love (Gen. 45:4–15). Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers became a picture of heaven itself, for just as the twelve sons of Jacob at last stood together in the embrace of a full forgiveness (Gen. 45:4), so the gates of the heavenly city, bearing the names of these same twelve sons of Jacob, imitate that embrace as they surround the holy city, New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:12).
Sadly, sometimes quarrels with our brothers in the faith are not resolved in our lifetime. How are we to understand these long lasting divisions within the body of faith, schisms that seem to become permanent when healing does not come before death? Surely we will be unified in our love in heaven, but is there no emblem of our unity on earth? Is the triumph of truth reserved for eternity only, or is there the hope of healing in time?
One quarrel in Scripture that was apparently unresolved was the dispute between the herdsmen of Abraham and the herdsmen of Lot. The blessing of God was so abundant upon both of them that the land could not bear their possessions. It was a bitter irony of that blessing that they could no longer dwell together in peace (Gen. 13:6). Abraham was greatly grieved at this division. He knew that such strife was unseemly because they were brothers. So Abraham suggested a separation, but yielded his prior right and title to the land of promise to give Lot the choice of the best of the land.
Although Abraham proposed the separation, he never wavered in his love for his nephew Lot. Abraham did not seek his own advantage, but deferred his right of first choice to Lot. After Lot was later carried away captive by the kings from the east, Abraham took no account of the wrong he suffered, but bore all the challenges of believing that he was able to rescue Lot, and so he hoped for victory and endured all the challenges of a great campaign to bring his nephew home (Gen. 14:14–16). After Abraham later learned that Lot was in jeopardy in Sodom, he did not fail to intercede with God for Lot and his family, in faith believing that God would spare the righteous from among the wicked and that his prayers would prevail to deliver Lot from judgment (Gen. 18:23, see 1 Cor. 13). And yet, for all that Abraham loved Lot, the Scripture does not tell us that they ever dwelt together again in peace.
In fact bitter strife describes the subsequent history of Israel, the sons of Abraham, and Ammon and Moab, the sons of Lot. So notorious was the enmity between these nations that the law of Moses forbade any descendant of Lot from entering into the assembly of the Lord, even to the tenth generation (Deut. 23:3). Moab especially resisted Israel’s inheritance in the land after the exodus from Egypt. Balak, king of Moab, charged Balaam to curse Israel (Num. 22:1–6), and the daughters of Moab enticed the sons of Israel into harlotry at Baal Peor (Num. 25:1–3).
The pattern of enmity between Moab and Israel continued for many centuries. But in the tenth generation from Abraham, according to the prophecy of the law (Deut. 23:3) and as recounted in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt. 1:2–5), something wonderful occurred. God healed the ancient quarrel between Abraham and Lot when Ruth, a daughter of Moab, married Boaz, a son of Abraham (Ruth 4:10).
What redemption was represented in the marriage of Ruth and Boaz, the covenant children of Lot and Abraham! As Boaz acquired the property of Elimelech of Bethlehem through Ruth, the descendants of Abraham and Lot once again dwelt together in the land of promise, sharing in the blessing of the inheritance of the Lord. And Ruth, the bride of Boaz, became the mother of Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David, the king (Ruth 4:22). Thus this humble Moabite mother, who in the law was forbidden entry to the tabernacle of God, became the ancestress of Christ, who is the true tabernacle (John 1:14). At the marriage supper of Ruth and Boaz, celebrating the union of Moab and Israel, God ordained on earth a glimmer of the unity of a renewed heaven and earth, for Christ foretold that the
nations would come from east and west to enjoy the marriage supper of the Lamb, where they will sit at supper together for all eternity — along with faithful Abraham (Matt. 8:11) and righteous Lot (2 Peter 2:7).