Saturday, October 6, 2012

Lessons from Esau

Pursue peace with all, and holiness, apart from which no one shall be seeing the Lord; supervising, that no one be wanting of the grace of God...and through this the majority may be defiled, nor any paramour, or profane person, as Esau, who for one feeding, gave up his own birthright. For you are aware that afterwards also, wanting to enjoy the allotment blessing, he is rejected, for he did not find a place of repentance, even seeking it out with tears.   -Hebrews 12:14-17

When we read this passage from Hebrews, Esau's foolishness seems downright absurd.  Who on earth would give up his own birthright for one short meal?  Esau's stupidity is so extreme that even a toddler would laugh at it.  No one in his right mind would give up so much for so little...or so we assume.

Watch the news, visit a friend, or talk with a neighbor, and you will quickly discover that there are more "Esau"s in the world than you may think.  Esau's ignorance was not rooted as much in his love for food as it was in his love for short-term gratification.  He was well aware of what giving up his birthright entailed, but he ignored the consequences in order to satisfy a temporary craving.  The intense appeal of the "here and now" overpowered the array of future blessings his birthright would have afforded in the long-term.

In the Hebrews passage, Esau is termed a "profane person," and this rendering provides an interesting insight.  The Greek here is bebelos and, according to Strong's, means "profane because of improper entrance" or someone "unfit to access God because of approaching Him apart from faith."  Bebelos is derived from baino, meaning "go," and belos, meaning "a threshold to enter a building."  The general meaning, then, is "improper entrance."

Knowing this, we see that Esau's error stemmed from the fact that he approached God apart from faith.  His lack of faith, in turn, caused a lack of wisdom.  

How often do we act just like Esau?  I used to be a financial advisor, and it never ceased to amaze me that the majority of retirees I advised purchased large, brand new homes and started all over with a new thirty-year mortgage right after paying off their previous home.  When they could have (and should have) been living debt free and enjoying their twilight years, they opted instead to burden themselves with a massive and unnecessary debt.  They reasoned that they had "earned" it from all their years of hard work.  Not surprisingly, all of them regretted it within a month after the first mortgage bill arrived.

Like Esau, their foolish decision resulted in a long-term, permanent consequence.  They too wanted to "enjoy the...blessing," but were "rejected...even seeking it out with tears" (v.17).  Even if they sold the new home, they would make nothing on it and certainly not enough to pay in full for another house as they had with the home they paid off over so many years.  Their foolish decision resulted in very real and irreversible consequences.  It was too late to go back and correct their mistake.

Likewise, many of the younger clients I advised refused to save any money for their retirement because they wanted to use the money right away on things that brought them immediate pleasure.  Excluding any unforeseen inheritances or lottery winnings, every one of them will be forced to work far longer than they would prefer when they reach the standard retirement age.  The concept of retirement is not a biblical one, but saving is no less important considering how physically limited we become in older age.  In any case, the naive decision of younger people to focus on the present instead of the future results in undesirable, permanent consequences.

Foolishness like Esau's extends far beyond money, though.  The majority of marriages end, in large part, because people value the short-term qualities of a mate more than the long-term qualities.  They become infatuated with physical appearance and find excuses to justify the many less desirable traits.  Instead of looking for a wife who is faithful, hard-working, and generous as described in Proverbs 31, a man takes only physical beauty into account (which the Proverbs passage reminds us is "fleeting").  As the couple ages and his wife's physical beauty diminishes, the lack of other qualities suddenly becomes more significant.  

We can learn a lot from Esau - especially that faithlessness leads to foolishness while faithfulness leads to wisdom.  Living in the moment and basing our decisions on the temporary gratification of the here and now is a recipe for disaster.  Contrary to Esau, we need to walk by faith in order to obtain wisdom and live with the long-term always in primary focus.  A key ingredient of wisdom is patience, and when we patiently wait as God works in our lives we will avoid the tragic consequences of feeding our immediate desires.

When you encounter those frequent urges to dismiss future blessings in favor of immediate gratification, consider the example of Esau.  Realize that your current craving is like the short meal Esau gave into while the future reward is like the birthright.  If you are searching for a mate, look for a woman or man who possesses maturity and biblical qualities above physical beauty alone.  If you get a tax return, save it instead of blowing it on a new big screen.  If you have paid off your house, enjoy a more debt-free life instead of committing to a new thirty-year loan on an unnecessary mansion.  Walk by faith and act wisely, willing to wait patiently for Father's plan for your life to unfold.

© 2012 by Stephen Hill

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