Darrow Miller and Friends

Envy, Emulation and Racism

  1. Racism and Black Lives Matter: Worldview Reflections
  2. The Human Race, Antidote to Racism!
  3. Two Forms of Racism
  4. Postmodern Racism: Ideological Social Justice
  5. What is “Whiteness”?
  6. Racism Is in the Human Heart
  7. Three Important Distinctions Regarding Racism
  8. Hope in the Midst of Racist Despair
  9. Envy, Emulation and Racism
  10. Envy, Emulation and Racism, part 2

Racism is manifested in personal and institutional evil. Its ultimate cause is found in the sin deep in the human heart. Racism flows in many streams, one is envy, a pathetic contrast to love.

Envy appears at multiple levels: individual, family, tribe or race. We envy the talents of others, their achievements, wealth, recognition, knowledge, skills, or any number of things.

Love celebrates the achievements of others, but envy strives to surpass others, or pull them down to one’s own level, or to destroy them.

Envy seeks to punish those deemed more “successful”, love admires and even emulates them.

The subject of envy comes up repeatedly in Scriptures because envy is one manifestation of our sin nature. It is man’s rebellion against God. In one sense it began with the first couple’s desire to “be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Biblical examples

The book of Genesis opens with a series of jealous behaviors, so characteristic of the fallen human condition.

Genesis chapter 4 opens with a bang in the story of Cain and Abel. Cain envied Abel, whose sacrifice God accepted. Cain ended up killing his brother.

Genesis 16 records the story of Rachel and Hagar. Rachel is unable to conceive and offers her Egyptian servant, Hagar, to Abram in her place. Hagar conceives and, in envy, Rachel drives Hagar and her son into the wilderness.

A third picture of envy is found in Genesis 26, the story of the Philistines’ envy over Isaacs’s prosperity.

And Isaac sowed in that land and reaped in the same year a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, and the man became rich, and gained more and more until he became very wealthy. He had possessions of flocks and herds and many servants, so that the Philistines envied him. Genesis 26:12-14

Verse 15 reports that the Philistines were so inflamed by Isaac’s success they filled in the family’s wells, forcing Isaac to move and dig new wells.

Fourth is the story of the sisters Rachel and Leah in Genesis 29, the first “love triangle.” The younger, more beautiful Rachel and her sister Leah are married to Jacob. Rachel, unable to conceive, flames with envy toward Leah who bears four sons to Jacob. This results in conflict between Rachel, Jacob and Leah. An ugly competition ensues to see who could have the most children through their respective maids, Bilhah and Zilpah.

Genesis 31 relates the fifth story, Laban’s jealousy of Jacob’s larger and healthier flock of sheep. In response to Laban’s mistreatment, Jacob takes his family and herds and leaves the land he helped Laban develop over 14 years of labor.

Why all this envy in the Bible?

A sixth story, in Genesis 37, tells of Jacob’s 12 sons, centering around his favorite, Joseph. In envy of their father’s treatment of Joseph, his brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt and deceive their father into believing Joseph had been killed by a wild beast.

Why all the envy in the scriptures? Because the Bible is a true account of real human struggles. It takes human depravity seriously, and envy is a mark of depravity.

In each of these stories, the envy leads to further sin. Jewish scholar and Genesis commentator Dennis Prager says simply, “Envy is poisonous. It almost always leads to bad behavior.” Beginning with Cain killing Abel and continuing to the present day, envy is one of the worst vices. It has brought horrendous consequences until this day. Some forms of racism spring from envy.

Envy is prohibited by one of the 10 commandments.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s. Exodus 20:17

Etymology

The Hebrew word translated envy is חָמַד (ḥā·mǎḏ), meaning “desire, take pleasure, treasure, covet; from the concept of the mind being inflamed and burning with jealousy.”

The Greek New Testament has two words translated envy. One is phthonos, “the feeling or displeasure produced by witnessing or hearing of the advantage or displeasure of others.”[1] For example, “And he answered them, saying, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead.” Mark 15:9-11

The other Greek term is epithymeō, “to desire greatly, long for, desire.” Paul uses this word in Romans 13:9, “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Webster’s 1828 captures the sense of envy in this definition: “To feel uneasiness, mortification or discontent, at the sight of superior excellence, reputation or happiness enjoyed by another; to repine at another’s prosperity; to fret or grieve one’s self at the real or supposed superiority of another.”

In 2020, we are seeing the effects of envy combined with zero sum economics. (The view that wealth is limited by the volume of natural resources in the ground and thus one person’s success comes at the expense of another person. Read more about that here.)

to be continued

  • Darrow Miller

[1] W.E. Vine An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words

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