(October 17, 1990)
The old crab apple tree was dead, an eyesore in the back yard. It’s owner remembered years of fruit-bearing as he sadly axed the tree and cut it into firewood for his barbecue pit. While he chopped, an elderly neighbor dropped by. The owner remarked how his tree was rotten to the core and no longer useful. The neighbor looked through the growing pile of wood, selected a few pieces, and asked if he could borrow them. The tree owner nodded and went back to his axe.
A few days later, the neighbor came to the door. In his hand was a small wooden plate and an intricately carved wooden gavel. “Just thought I’d return your ‘useless’ firewood,” he said.
“Rotten and useless” is sometimes a matter of “Sez who?” The peach I refuse to eat may be perfectly acceptable to a pig who isn’t quite as fussy. What I might save for recycling, someone else would toss out. And how about people? Are some really rotten through and through? When it comes to evaluating folks, our estimation might be just a matter of opinion.
There were some definitely rotten characters in the Bible. One was Cain, who murdered his brother Abel — because he was jealous. Another was Judas Iscariot, who sold Jesus Christ for 30 pieces of silver. We might expect God to put these on the discard pile.
Or how about Jacob? He duped his older brother into trading a bowl of porridge for his birthright, an important status in a Jewish family. Not only that, he dressed up in his brother’s clothes and fooled his father into giving him the blessing that didn’t belong to him. He wrangled and dealed for years and had he lived today, he would have been labeled a no-good cheat.
Then there was a king named Manasseh, who “seduced (the people) to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD destroyed... he did wickedly above all that the Amorites did... made Judah sin with his idols... shed innocent blood... till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another... made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem do worse than the heathen, whom the LORD had destroyed...”
Sounds like four rotten-to-the-core people. Would God discard all four? Surprisingly not; two of them were redeemed. That is, two were forgiven and became righteous, useful citizens.
At first, it appears the other two, who didn’t rate, were tossed aside because their sins were worse. However, when examining Scripture, the degree of sinfulness is not a significant factor to redemption. Instead, it appears God reached out His loving hand to all four, but only two reached back.
Jacob literally wrestled with God, not to get away from Him but with a strong effort to obtain a blessing, something he definitely didn’t deserve. God touched Jacob’s life and changed him from a scheming cheat to a godly man. Manasseh wrestled in a different way. God sent an enemy nation to destroy his reign. As the Assyrian army carried Manasseh off to Babylon bound in chains, he “humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto Him.” God heard his prayer and brought him back to reign again. Manasseh took away the idols and restored worship. He was a changed man.
Cain and Judas didn’t fare so well. Neither one sought the Lord with humility or a contrite heart. One “went out from the presence of the Lord” and the other tried to deal with his guilt by destroying himself.
When it comes down to it, most of us evaluate “rotten people” like the man with the axe and the crab apple tree. We too easily see only useless lives, whereas God can see potential and purpose. Not only that, when yielded to Him, uselessness can become something beautiful in His hands.