Anyone hurt by a member of a different ethnic or racial group is at risk for developing prejudice against all members of that group. Even slight offenses may powerfully reinforce old biases, as the conflict between Israel and Edom shows.
The king of Edom refused to open the King’s Highway to Moses and his people, a hostile act that likely grew out of a prejudice with roots going back hundreds of years to a feud between two brothers: Jacob, the ancestor of Israel, and Esau, the ancestor of the Edomites. Jacob obtained Esau’s birthright and cheated him out of their father’s blessing (Gen. 27:36). Esau swore he would get even (27:41, 42).
Years later the brothers reconciled (33:4, 10, 11). But until this incident in Numbers 20, the Bible doesn’t again mention Esau’s descendants, the Edomites. Apparently those descendants never forgot the wrongs that Jacob had committed against their ancestor. As the Israelites struggled to traverse the desert, the king of Edom perhaps saw an opportunity for payback.
Refusing Moses’ request made life difficult for the Hebrews. Had Edom let Israel pass, the Israelites may have escaped the fiery serpents (Num. 21:4–9). Worse yet, the Edomites’ action perpetuated hostility between the two ethnic groups. Even though God commanded His people not to “abhor” an Edomite (Deut. 23:7, 8), the Israelites did not stop nursing their hurt feelings. Later, Saul harassed the Edomites (1 Sam. 14:47). David slaughtered thousands of Edomites (2 Sam. 8:13, 14, according to some manuscripts) and turned their land into a military possession. David’s general Joab then carried out a campaign of genocide against them (1 Kin. 11:15, 16).
The cycle of hate continued for centuries. Even the baby Jesus felt its impact: King Herod, who ordered the slaughter of infants at Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16–18), was descended from the Edomites.
Whatever our race or ethnic group, as Christ’s followers we are called to break the cycle of prejudice. If we are offended or attacked by someone of another race or nationality, we gain nothing by amplifying our pain into general mistrust and hatred of an entire group of people. Rather than furthering stereotypes, we can reach out and seek better understanding.
More: Christians aren’t immune to racial and ethnic biases. Christ wants us to guard against prejudice to keep it from compromising our integrity as His people.