Living in a material world in a body-tent, the tangible looms large in our focus like the objects in the rear view mirror, and can obliterate the view of eternity. For those who have been convinced that Jesus and His message embody the ultimate reality, eternal life begins here on earth. However, this segment of our existence is merely ferrying us to the unseen and unparalleled eternal mansions that Jesus is preparing for us. It’s a pretty fantastic prospect, full of mystery and the call to follow a map laid out by the One Who knows the way to that country. Saying you trust Jesus for heaven without seeking and following Him on earth is building your house on the sand – a very risky strategy!
There are so many illustrations the Holy Spirit gives us to highlight the importance of “setting our affections on things above”, but I happen to be reading about Esau. He was, it seems, a cool dude – manly, frank, generous, quick to anger and quick to forgive – and a good cook. He seems a much more attractive person than his conniving brother Jacob. And yet he falls into the shadows of the divine momentum. We cannot help but wonder what God is thinking. Like so many other puzzles of God’s ways, we are confused. Jacob and his mother conspire to cheat his brother out of a rightful inheritance and yet Jacob and not Esau ends up the Jewish patriarch. Hmmmm. What is the deal?
Hebrews tells us, using Esau as an example, to protect our appreciation for the things of God lest we miss out on His highest and the best. “Be careful too, that none of you …. loses his reverence for the things of God and then, like Esau, is ready to sell his birthright to satisfy the momentary hunger of his body.” Hebrews 12:16 Apparently what God noticed was Jacob’s appreciation for the birthright, a foreign concept in our present day economy. Yet to the Jew “early on, God established the importance of being in the line of those chosen to inherit the promises of salvation. To possess the divine birthright and be part of this chosen seed was the greatest blessing any one could hope to receive.” (Ligonier Ministries) “The birthright is a long way off, very unsubstantial, very ideal, and the thing that is nearest him ( a meal), though it be small, shuts out from his view the far greater thing that lies beyond. Esau had at least a show of reason. He said: ‘I am ready to die, and what will my birthright do for me?’ Better a thousand times that he, or we, should die as animals that we may live as the sons of God, than that we should buy existence at the price of true life.” (Alexander Maclaren) Read that last sentence again. Wow! Immediate physical gratification displaced delayed spiritual reward. What a picture of sin! Isn’t that how it usually works with us? We abandon conviction for gratification. The story would be different if Esau had valued the prize entrusted to him!
But God seems pretty harsh here, as Esau is denied despite the fact that he later recognized his error and sought to recover the blessing, even coming to the point of tears. Some decisions have irrecoverable consequences. This startles us into reevaluating our present day drift into a grace that does NOT teach us to “deny ungodliness and worldly desires” (Titus 2:11), but rather to assume that God will overlook every bad choice. Hebrews would indicate that there is a need to examine our hearts to “see if there be in any of us an evil heart of unbelief” and to carefully refocus. Esau’s commitment to things unseen was derailed by appetite that was not filtered through faith. What is our ”mess of pottage”? It is probably fragrant, enticing, and seemingly crucial for our well being. Our often quoted friend CS Lewis contends, however, that “everything that is not eternal is eternally useless”.
For all of us rascal Jacobs out there God offers hope as we cling obediently to His promise, but we also learn through Jacob’s arduous journey and losses that there is a very dear price to be paid for taking things into our own hands. The Lord indeed disciplines His disciples! Let’s be people of faith who give proper reverence to kingdom values, those who “by faith and patience inherit the promises”. That’s a tall order, but we can help each other to fulfill it. In fact, he commands us to!
Bonus Reading from Voice Insert to Hebrews 12:
The Bible is a brutally honest book. It contains stories of liars, murderers, and adulterers; and these are the good guys. If we read the Bible looking only for positive role models, we’ll be quickly disappointed. But if we are honest with ourselves and confess our own faults, we will find in Scripture, particularly in the First Testament, that we have much in common with many broken saints of the past. But we must not stay broken. We must follow their path to transformation through repentance and faith. Repentance means a change of heart, a change of mind, and ultimately a change of how we live. God’s grace comes to us and enables us to turn away from sin and to turn back to Him.