Saturday, September 22, 2007

Jacob, Pt. 1: "Privilege Has Its Membership" (Gen 25)

Jacob was a clever and crafty, colorful and captivating, calculative and complex character. Jacob is not our model, neither are his methods and marriages. His motivation was indefensible, his mistakes were glaring and his misery dogged him.
However, readers who initially despise Jacob’s character and reject his conduct would likely identify with his strengths and weaknesses, his successes and failures, his struggles and resourcefulness later.

The father of the nation Israel was ruthless but reliable and redeemable at the same time. If faith characterized his grandfather Abraham, fairness his father Isaac, then Jacob was known for his feistiness. However, behind the tough exterior was a tender soul: he fell truly, madly, deeply in love. Of course, the highlight of his epic journey in life was a gripping struggle with God by the river of Jabbok. In the end, his biggest defeat was the scene of his biggest triumph. God eventually blessed Jacob when he sought Him for the cure to his ills, something God had patiently waited for since Jacob’s birth.

A Jewish story told about a poor man who noticed that there was a naked stranger in his house. “Hey,” he shouted, “you get out of my house, do you hear?” “Dear Sir,” said the stranger, “just look at me. How can you bring yourself to drive a naked man into the street?”

“You’re right,” said the poor man, “that would be a sin. But tell me, who
are you?” The visitor confessed, “You don’t recognize me? Well, to tell the truth, my name is Poverty.”

When the poor man realized that Poverty was living in his house, he was deeply distressed. He racked his brains for a way to get rid of him. Finally, he went to a tailor’s shop, described Poverty and ordered a suit to fit (to cover Poverty’s nakedness). The tailor wrote down Poverty’s measurements and went to work. To pay for the suit the tailor was making, the poor man had to sell everything he owned, but he gritted his teeth and bore it, because anything was better than having Poverty as a personal guest.

Finally, the tailor delivered the suit and Poverty put it on. “Sorry,” Poverty smiled. “It doesn’t fit.” The poor man turned on the tailor and cried, “How could you do this to me? I paid you good money, how could you made the suit too small?” “Don’t scold the tailor,” said Poverty, “it’s not his fault. It’s just that while you were spending the last of your money, I grew bigger.” (YIVI Institute for Jewish Research, Edited by Beatrice Silverman Weinreich, Translated by Leonard Wolf).

The debate over God’s sovereignty, fairness and choice at the twins’ birth is pointless, because the focus is strictly on the twin brothers’ independent maneuvers over each other before, during and after the moment of birth. Nevertheless, even though baby Jacob won the battle at birth, he did not win the war by himself.
No one helped Jacob more than Esau, who was irrevocably poorer when he sold his birthright to his younger brother. Esau did not lose everything, but he lost the most important treasures entrusted to him: privilege and responsibility.

A church member noted: “God gives you a personality, but you form your own character.” Hebrews 12:16-17 emphasizes Esau’s loss, and not Jacob’s gain: “See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.” Nevertheless, Esau’s loss was Jacob’s gain.

How is it possible for some people to keep, increase, and even multiply what they have, while others ignore, waste and even lose all they have? What kind of attitude should we place on spiritual things?

Choose What is Good for Yourself
27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, "Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I'm famished!" (That is why he was also called Edom.) (Gen 25:27-30)

A.B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, told of a man’s advertisement for a skilled coach driver. Among those who came were two that seemed to him to be particularly bright. He took them aside and asked them how near they could drive to the edge of a precipice without falling over.

The first candidate answered that he could go within half an inch and had frequently done so, just shaving the edge and feeling perfectly safe. He then asked the other the same question. “Well, sir,” replied the man modestly, “I really cannot tell, because I have never allowed myself to venture near the edge of a precipice. I have always made it a rule to keep as far as possible from danger, and I have had my reward in knowing that my master and his family were kept from danger and harm.”

The master had no difficulty in deciding between the two candidates. He said to the second man, “You are the man for me. The other may be brilliant, but you are safe!” (The Holy Spirit, Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1994)

The problem of Esau was that he erred on the side of danger, recklessness and indifference. He was a skillful, or the word knowledgeable in Hebrew, hunter, but he did not know what was good for himself or his family. The dark side of Esau was that he walked on the wild side and catered to every sight, sound and smell. Worse, he would give anything and everything to gratify his desires.

Temperamental, insatiable and unpredictable, Esau thirsted for temporary things, not permanent things; he lived on borrowed things, rather than earned things; and he craved for physical things, never spiritual things.

The moment he returned from the field, Esau ranted and raved about hunger pangs, lived and died over red stew, went bonkers and ballistic over soup, porridge and beans. The first word from his mouth was not the NIV translation (v 30 “Quick, let me have some”) but the one-time occurrence of the Hebrew verb “feed” which means to swallow greedily, its only occurrence in the Bible. Ironically, the hunter was the hunted; he was stalked, baited and trapped not by his brother’s guile, but by his need to be fed. The king of the jungle was an easy prey in the kitchen. Esau didn’t cook but took, but what an expensive, bland and quick snack it was!

Sympathy for Esau or blame on Jacob is natural, but unnecessary. Esau was not carefree and careless for a moment; he cared for nobody but himself for many years. When Esau was forty years old, he married not just one but two idol-worshipping Hittite women, doubling the grief of his parents (Gen 26:34-35), so much so that his mother, Rebekah, was disgusted with living (Gen 27:46) and the usually quiet father, Isaac, strictly forbade his other son Jacob from marrying a Canaanite woman (Gen 28:1). When Esau realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac, instead of seeking a bride from his mother’s family side like brother Jacob, Esau compounded his mistakes by marrying Wild Uncle Ishmael’s daughter (Gen 28:8- 9)! His choices were nothing short of rebellious.

Cherish What is Given to You
31 Jacob replied, "First sell me your birthright." 32 "Look, I am about to die," Esau said. "What good is the birthright to me?" 33 But Jacob said, "Swear to me first." So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. (Gen 25:31-33)

Fans of the Peanuts comic strip know that Charlie Brown has a sister by the name of Sally, who looks to her big brother for advice. One day while Charlie Brown was lounging comfortably in his big round chair, in came Sally.

The big brother instinctively asked the little sister, who is not a big fan of school, about her progress in school: “Have you done your homework yet?” Sally countered, with a piece of paper in her hand: “No, I have a new philosophy.” She looked at the piece of paper in her hands and said with a blank expression on her face: “I’ve decided to put everything off until the last minute, and to learn everything in life the hard way.”

Charlie Brown wished her sister, who was walking away from his brother and the conversation: “Good luck.” Sally promptly answered, “Thank you, that’s what my teacher said.”

British pastor Rev. Billy Strachan once challenged his congregation with a set of thought-provoking service-related questions. The four questions all contained five words. The first question was, “What Gift Do You Want?” Another question he asked was “What Gift Did You Get?” The next was “What Gift Do You Need?” and the last “What Good Did It Do?” (Keswick, 1990)

A birthright was a privilege that involved responsibility. Esau, as the heir, stood to gain twice as much inheritance as anyone in the family (Deut 21:17), but he had a cavalier attitude toward his favored status. It is doubtful if Esau knew how valuable the birthright was, how privileged he was and how important his role was in the family. He was the type that would bankrupt and sell what was priceless to his parents, family and clan. Clueless and dense, Esau could not guard what he had, never mind what was communal. Not only did Esau not guard or increase what he had, he did not know much he was worth, how much he would need and how much it affected others.

Jacob, on the other hand, for all his faults, was poor, hungry and resourceful. He was number two son – second string, second banana, second in line - but he was second to none.

Esau was not the only person in the Bible to lose the right to lead the family. Jacob's three oldest sons – Reuben, Simeon and Levi (Gen 49:3-5) – also lost the respect of their father, their reputation within the family and their standing in the nation. Like the three oldest sons of Jacob, Esau lost his birthright because he was an obsessed, a carnal and an ungodly man. His stomach was his god, his mind was on earthly things and his taste was poor.

Esau fell into the entitlement trap. Conditions and duties were alien to him as the firstborn. He thought he was set for life even though he just was older by a few seconds. Like the Chinese say, he thought he could “eat on even if a leg is broken.” The ungodly think they are entitled to spiritual service pensions and benefits from the Heavenly King all their life on earth. Esau lost everything because he did not treasure, keep or realize what he had in the first place.

Jacob, on the flip side, was the underrated 100-pound weakling with insatiable appetite and relentless drive. He was the soul, symbol and stock of an emerging nation. The younger, lesser, and poorer brother did not just grab his opportunity one-time at birth; more importantly, he guarded and multiplied everything he had for the rest of his life.

Count What is Gone from You
34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright. (Gen 25:34).

A very successful businessman had a meeting with his new son-in-law. “I love my daughter, and now I welcome you into the family,” said the man. “To show you how much we care for you, I'm making you a 50-50 partner in my business. All you have to do is go to the factory every day and learn the operations.” The son-in-law interrupted, “I hate factories. I can't stand the noise.”

“I see,” replied the father-in-law. “Well, then you'll work in the office and take charge of some of the operations.” “I hate office work,” said the son-on-law. “I can't stand being stuck behind a desk all day.”

“Wait a minute,” said the father-in-law. “I just make you half-owner of a moneymaking organization, but you don't like factories and won't work in an office. What am I going to do with you?” “Easy,” said the young man. “Buy me out.”

It’s been said, “There are three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who have no idea what happened.”

The reason for Esau’s rejection was due his passive-aggressive rejection of his birthright. He was an indifferent, ignorant and irreligious man, passive and poor in retaining and nurturing of what he had, but eager and prepared to sell his birthright. He did not blink an eye, sit on it or doubt for a moment his decision.

Esau was ignorant of what he had, what he lost and why. In other words, he did not care one way or another; he just gulped down the food and drink, dust the dirt off his pants and left looking for the next adventure. It was a good deal and a great bargain to him. He must have been amused by the worth of his birthright, the request of his brother and the absurdity of even bargaining.

Jacob, on the other hand, believed, valued and pursued what he did not have, but not what he could not have. Someone suggested that Jacob valued the birthright so highly that he was willing to stoop to the level he did to obtain it.

I believe Esau is the type that would lose what he had to others, sooner or later, fairly or naively, if not to Jacob, then someone else. God had disclosed the flaw and the ruin of Esau to Rebekah: the older will serve the younger (v 23). Note that God did not condemn Esau to his fate; He just unmasked his future. Esau was the No. 1 pick who did not bother to train, listen to instructions or play his part. His life was characterized by excesses, exaggerations and excuses. The writer of Hebrews called Esau a godless man, the type that live and die by the senses (Heb 12:16).

Conclusion: It’s been said, “When a man with money meets a man with experience, the man with the experience ends up with the money and the man with the money ends up with the experience.” (Live and Learn 95). God has given us much, but have you returned as much in terms of your faithfulness, dependability and usefulness to Him? Have you taken for granted God’s gifts to you, His guidance in your life and His grace for your weaknesses? Have you made good choices, demonstrated godly character and genuine commitment?


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