In his book, Seven, author Jeff Cook describes envy as exile. He traces the envy the Israelites had for other nations and the dramatic effects it had on their lives. In 1 Samuel, the Israelites reject God as king in favor of a human one, so they could be like all the other nations. Cook says,
“It may be one of the most important passages in the Old Testament, for the remainder of the Hebrew Scriptures shows a tragic downward spiral…The envy of the Israelites led them to reject their identity, and when they no longer knew who they were, the nation split and was conquered, and the people were led off into foreign lands. Whenever the Bible speaks of this kind of movement to foreign lands–either forced or chosen–it is called exile…Exile took everything a person had. Exile was separation from all that was good. And each time the Bible describes an exile, it always begins with envy.”
It’s true, by the way.
Adam and Eve envy God’s knowledge of good and evil…and their envy led to exile from paradise.
Cain envied Abel to the point of killing him…and his envy led to exile.
Jacob envied Esau’s status as first born, so he tricked him and took his birthright and blessing…and his envy led to exile.
And on and on it goes, right up to the present day. Different characters, different circumstances, yet the same results. Our propensity to envy, whether we know it or not, leads us into exile. It poisons our hearts. It spreads into our relationships, fracturing and breaking them, as we lust after what others have to the point of hatred.
Envy sends us into a lonely exile.
That’s why we must take it so seriously.
The only clear antidote for the poison that envy injects is celebration and contentment. We must learn to celebrate all the blessing that God has given others…and all that he has generously, lavishly poured on us. And he has, hasn’t he?
And then there’s contentment. Contentment makes what others have irrelevant. Not because you don’t care about them [we’re celebrating for them, remember?], but because you aren’t measuring your life by theirs. Contentment is finding the joy in who you are, where you are, with the people whom God has given you to live life…together, not in the loneliness of exile.
So, may we all open our eyes to God’s goodness all around us. Each moment is a gift. And may we leave behind the exile of envy, for the community of celebration and contentment.