Lesson 6

May 5 - 11

Sibling Rivalry

Lesson graphic

Sabbath Afternoon   May 5

READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Read in context the text, or texts, at the beginning of each day's study.

MEMORY TEXT: "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity" (Proverbs 17:17, RSV).

KEY THOUGHT: The devil delights to pollute whatever has the greatest potential for good. Aware of the comfort that God intends an ideal sibling relationship could bring, Satan encourages contention to counter any positive benefits.


Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible lists about five hundred texts that reference brothers or sisters, suggesting that the relationship is important to document. One famous text stresses, by implication, the power of this genetic bond: "There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24, RSV). The proverb says, as it were, "Can you believe that in spite of the fact that fake friends do exist, it is still entirely possible to have a friend who will be more loyal than even a brother!" Notwithstanding the close genetic and environmental ties siblings share, many corrupt the relationship with strife. Even twins contend.

Using the tools of psychology, biographers debate the causes of sibling rivalry: gender issues, age differences, birth order, parental favorites, physical characteristics, personality types, natural talents, and spiritual orientations.

As you study the siblings discussed this week, analyze the causes of the contention. Then ask, "Was the one sibling totally right and the other completely wrong?"  

Sunday  May 6

CAIN AND ABEL (Gen. 4:9; 1 John 3:12).

There's an incredible irony in the Cain and Abel story, an irony brought out in Hebrews 11:4: "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh." Though Hebrews 11 is the great faith chapter, in most every instance, faith is made manifest by works. Even Abel's offering of an animal sacrifice, as opposed to Cain's offering of the "fruit of the ground," is represented as a work of faith, a deed expressing his dependence upon Another's righteousness for his own salvation. In contrast, Cain's fruit offering is rejected, not being an act of faith but an act borne out of self-dependence and self-righteousness and the idea being that our works are good enough to make us acceptable to God.

How is the gospel expressed in the Cain-and-Abel story?  

Why would Abel, trusting in the coming Sacrifice in his behalf, be described as having righteous works?  (1 John 3:12).  Did his works make him righteous, or were they merely an expression of the righteousness he had by faith?  

Except for three negative New Testament references (Heb. 11:4; 1 John 3:12; Jude 11), Cain is mentioned only in Genesis 4. One chapter, one deed . . . how tragic to be defined for eternity by an action that probably took less than a minute.

By comparison, except for four positive New Testament references (Matt. 23:35; Luke 11:51; Heb. 11:4; Heb. 12:24), Abel is also mentioned only in Genesis 4, where he's depicted as the victim of a vindictive and guilty sibling.

Scripture doesn't detail the story of Cain and Abel; it focuses mostly on the murder.  Yet the murder didn't happen in a vacuum: many other less dramatic things preceded this sad climax.  In other words, years of events led up to each brother playing his distinct role.  Read as much as possible the chapter "Cain and Abel Tested" in Patriarchs and Prophets (pp. 71-79), to see just how this principle was manifested in this tragic tale.
Cain and Abel symbolize two classes of people: the saved and the lost.  What aspects of Cain do you see in yourself?  What aspects of Abel?  Remembering that sooner or later one aspect will ultimately rule over the other, what right choices can you make now to ensure you're symbolized more by Abel, not Cain?  

Monday  May 7


"The first came forth red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they called his name Esau.  Afterward his brother came forth, and his hand had taken hold of Esau's heel; so his name was called Jacob" (Gen. 25:25, 26a, RSV).  

Their differences showed early, as did the parental preferences:

"When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he ate of his game; but Rebekah loved Jacob" (Gen. 25:27, 28, RSV).

Though we can't do anything about genetics, environmentto a large degreehas a big role to play in child development.  What mistakes did the parents make that led to such a rift?  

Review the details of the plot Rebekah and Jacob devised to trick Isaac (Gen. 27:5-29). When Jacob expressed disdain for the plot, his mother said, "Let your curse be on me, my son' "(Gen. 27:13, NKJV). When the plot didn't turn out as planned, she later on cried out, "Why should I be bereft of you both in one day?" (Gen. 27:45, RSV). Though Rebekah managed to spare Jacob's life by urging him to flee, she probably never saw him again. What a sad price a doting mother had to pay for her deceit!

Give other examples from the Bible where those who sought to obtain blessings through deceit reaped only sorrow.  

Safely away from Esau, Jacob's problem goes on hold for twenty years; however, the inevitable reunion with his brother comes. Review the account of their meeting, as depicted in Genesis 32 and 33, looking specifically at Jacob's night of wrestling with the Angel (32:22-32) and discuss the ways in which that incident helped prepare Jacob for the meeting with his brother (read "The Night of Wrestling" in Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 195-203). What elements caused this story to have a happy ending? In many ways, it's a testimony to the grace of God working in the lives of repentant sinners.

Few people ever escape the grip of guilt, especially when their sin causes pain to others.  What lessons can we learn from the story of Esau and Jacob to help those struggling with guilt because of sin?  

Tuesday  May 8


Though this lesson focuses on an unfortunate incident between Moses and his siblings, prior to that time the Bible shows them in moments of great harmony. Look at the courage of Miriam in saving the life of her baby brother (Exod. 2:1-10). Likewise, Aaron and Moses did great things together: "And the Lord said to Moses, 'See, I make you as God to Pharaoh; and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you; and Aaron your brother shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land" (Exod. 7:1, 2, RSV). Also it was Miriam, now a prophetess, who led out with music and dance in celebration of the great victory over the Egyptians at the Red Sea. And it was Aaron who held up Moses' tired hands during battle (Exod. 15, 16, and 17).

Unfortunately, as in all relationships, the good times don't always last. See Numbers 12:1, 2. Though Aaron and Miriam spoke against Moses' wife, a deeper issue comes to the surface in this confrontation. What is it, and why is it so bad?  

We tend to think of sibling rivalry as something that happens between children, not married adults; yet, clearly, in this incident both Aaron and Miriam show jealousy regarding Moses' exalted position. What made their actions even worse was that both had already been greatly favored by the Lord. Yet even amid all the miraculous events, Aaron and Miriam allowed themselves to be caught up in the original sin (Lucifer was jealous of Christ's position). In contrast, see what Numbers 12:3 says about Moses and his character. In many ways this simple verse explains why Moses, not Aaron nor Miriam, was chosen for the exalted position he held.

When the Lord decided to punish Miriam by giving her leprosy, who interceded for her?  Mosesthe one whom they originally sinned against.  "So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, 'Please heal her, O God, I pray!'" (Num. 12:13, NKJV).  What lessons can we learn here about forgiveness of those who sin against us?

What was it about Moses that enabled him, immediately after being so offended, to nevertheless seek forgiveness for his sister?  In what ways was Moses acting as a "type" for Christ?  

Wednesday  May 9

MARY AND MARTHA (Luke 10:40).

"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus" (John 11:5, RSV).  

Through the brief account of the minor contention between Martha and Mary during one of Jesus' visits to their home, an important spiritual lesson is given.

Read Luke 10:38-42 carefully before noting these comments that flesh out the significance of the brief story.  

Verse 38: "Though Luke does not name it here, the 'village' was clearly Bethany (see John 11:1), and this was Jesus' first visit to it (see DA 525).

Verse 39: "Whereas Martha, being in charge of the home, was by nature of a practical turn of mind, Mary was less concerned with material things than with spiritual things.

Verse 40: "Martha probably realized from past experience that nothing would be gained by an appeal to Mary directly. . . . In appealing to Jesus, Martha not only blamed Mary but indirectly censured Jesus as well. The real trouble, she implied, lay in the fact that He did "not care" about the situation or intend to do anything about itthat He was more pleased to have Mary listen to Him than to have her assist in preparing the meal.

Verse 41: "Repetition of a name implies affection and sometimes concern. . . . Those who become followers of Jesus should avoid the spirit of anxious care that moved Martha in her petulant appeal to Jesus.

Verse 42: "Martha was diligent, prompt, and energetic, but lacked the calm, devotional spirit of her sister Mary (see DA 525). She had not learned the lesson set forth in Matt. 6:33, of making the kingdom of God first in her interests and endeavors, and of allotting material things a subordinate role (see vs. 24-34). . . . The material things in which Martha interested herself could be taken away (see chs. 12:13-21; 16:25, 26). Mary was storing up 'treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth' (Luke 12:33; see on Matt. 6:19-21)."The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, pp. 785, 786.

Martha was attempting to serve the Lord by being diligent at work.  Yet she was the one whom Jesus had to correct.  How can we avoid being so busy "working for the Lord" that we neglect other important matters (such as family)?  On the other hand, think of a parable or biblical story in which those who neglect the Lord's work are rebuked.  How do we find the proper balance?  

Thursday  May 10


One of the most moving sections in all Scripture is the story of the prodigal son. What a powerful representation of God's love for repentant sinners.

Yet there's also another message found there; it comes from the words and attitude of the elder brother, who is determined to squash the joyous celebration of his younger brother's return. Confronting his father, the older brother lets loose with a list of complaints (Luke 15:29, 30, RSV):

"Lo, these many years I have served you"the argument of length of service.

"I never disobeyed your command"the argument of obeyed orders.

"Yet you never gave me a kid"the argument of unequal remuneration.

"But when this son of yours came [note he does not refer to him as his brother], who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!"the argument of not only did I not get equal remuneration, but the scoundrel who deserved to get less instead got more.  

From a human perspective, the brother had many valid complaints.  What the father did was not, in a sense, fair.  Yet this is precisely what the gospel is about, that of God not being "fair. "  After all, a person suffering for the misdeeds of another is hardly what one would call fair.  And yet that is exactly what Christ didsuffer for the sin of others.  We should be thankful; for because if God were "fair" and gave us what we deserved, what would be our fate?

The complaints of the elder brother were natural, if not right. How easy it is to throw in the faces of sinners their sins. Those who have erred often (but not always) need pity, help, sympathynot stern rebuke. If ever there were a time to reflect the character of Christ, it is in showing mercy to those who have fallen short because we all have fallen short ourselves.

Anders has sinned grievously against his wife, his children, his church, and His Lord.  Though he showed true repentance for his sin and was forgiven by all involved, when told that he could not retain his previous church position, he bitterly complained that the forgiveness given him was not true forgiveness.  Explain how a person can be truly forgiven and yet still bear certain consequences of his or her sin.  

Friday  May 11

FURTHER STUDY:  Other Contentious Pairs (study in context the scriptural references below).  

Additional siblings in contention:

    Circumstances Outcome
Rachel and Leah
(Gen. 30:15)
______________________________________ ______________________________________
Er and Onan
(Gen. 38:3-10)
______________________________________ ______________________________________
Jotham and
(Judg. 9:21)
______________________________________ ______________________________________
Ammon, Tamar,
and Absalom
(2 Sam. 13:14, 15, 32)
______________________________________ ______________________________________

We have studied genetic siblings. By spiritualizing the relationship, Jesus enlarges the definition of brother and sister to include more than blood relatives:

"And he [Jesus] replied, 'Who are my mother and my brothers?' And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother'" (Mark 3:33-35, RSV).

"If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (James 2:15, 16, RSV).

In how many of the relationships studied this week were the contentions settled according to Jesus' command?  "'If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Matt. 18:15-17, RSV).  

SUMMARY:  Family quarrels seldom impact just the two people in contention. The negative outcomes ripple out, impacting numerous other lives, sometimes for generations.  

InSide Story

Transformed Lives

Cristita Bandalan Garnado

My father was much feared in our mountain village in the Philippines. Nobody dared cross him. A datu (chief) and a fierce headhunter, he often joined in bloody tribal conflicts with other Manobo villages. I remember my father hiding by the window in our hut and shooting passersby with his bow and arrows. When he hit one, he would laugh with pleasure as the victim crawled away in pain. To my father, this was a game. His family did not escape his heartless ways. We children trembled when he roared at us like a lion.

Then student missionaries from Mountain View College came to our village to open a school and teach the children to read and write. My father was not interested in the school or the missionaries, but other villagers were glad for a school to teach their children.

Eagerly the villagers worked to build the schoolhouse. Women and children gathered grass for the roof, and the men cut wood for the walls. It took us just a week to finish our school.

Our new teachers did not smoke like most lowlanders, and they loved to sing. They made school fun, and we learned many things. I was so shy that I hid in the corner of the school room during classes, but I listened attentively to the lessons and Bible stories they told. I admired the teachers for their good example and kindness to us. Secretly I dreamed of becoming a teacher one day.

When my brothers and sisters and I wanted to be baptized, we had to ask our father. To our surprise, he did not object.

My father objected when I wanted to go away to high school, but my mother persuaded him to let me go. On my visits home I began to sense changes in my father. He seemed gentler, and his prejudice against the missionaries was fading. At my graduation he stood proudly beside me, and on the way home he told me he wanted to be baptized. What a miracle God has performed to transform him from a fierce headhunter to a follower of gentle Jesus!

I enrolled at Mountain View College, where our school's missionary teachers had attended. I studied hard while there and graduated with a degree in education. I have dedicated my life to teach my own people about the transforming love of Christ. Today I am a missionary teacher in another Manobo village that is just now hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.

Cristita Bandalan Garnado and her husband teach in a Manobo mission school in the mountains of southern Philippines.

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