The Concise Oxford English Dictionary offers the following definition of “contrast:”
The noun refers to “the state of being strikingly different from something else in juxtaposition or close association; a thing or person noticeably different from another.”
The verb means “to compare so as to emphasize differences.”
The Book of Proverbs, for example, contrasts the voice of wisdom with folly’s siren call (Prov. 8:1-6, 32–36).
Does not wisdom call, And understanding lift up her voice? On top of the heights beside the way, Where the paths meet, she takes her stand; Beside the gates, at the opening to the city, At the entrance of the doors, she cries out: “To you, O men, I call, And my voice is to the sons of men. “O naive ones, understand prudence; And, O fools, understand wisdom. “Listen, for I will speak noble things; And the opening of my lips will reveal right things (Prov. 8:1-6).
“Now therefore, O sons, listen to me, For blessed are they who keep my ways. “Heed instruction and be wise, And do not neglect it. “Blessed is the man who listens to me, Watching daily at my gates, Waiting at my doorposts. “For he who finds me finds life And obtains favor from the LORD. “But he who sins against me injures himself; All those who hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:32–36).
The example of Cain and Abel provides a striking contrast between acceptable and unacceptable worship in the early stages of human history (Gen. 4:1-5; Heb. 11:4).
Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the LORD.” Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell (Gen. 4:1-5).
By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks (Heb. 11:4).
The contrast of Israel and Nehemiah provide a striking contrast in the latter stages of Jewish history (Neh. 13:10-14; Mal. 3:8-12).
I also discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given them, so that the Levites and the singers who performed the service had gone away, each to his own field. So I reprimanded the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” Then I gathered them together and restored them to their posts. All Judah then brought the tithe of the grain, wine and oil into the storehouses. In charge of the storehouses I appointed Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and in addition to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah; for they were considered reliable, and it was their task to distribute to their kinsmen. Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out my loyal deeds which I have performed for the house of my God and its services (Neh. 13:10-14).
“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes, says the LORD of hosts. “All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,” says the LORD of hosts” (Mal. 3:8-12).
Ananias (along with his wife, Sapphira) and Barnabas provide a striking contrast in the early days of Christian history (Acts 4:32-37; 5:1-11).
And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:32-37).
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things (Acts 5:1-11).
As we conclude this series of contrasts, let us engage in honest self-examination: Are we more like Cain or Abel? Are we more like Israel or Nehemiah? Are we more like Ananias or Barnabas?
Soanes, Catherine and Angus Stevenson, eds. Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.