May 03 - Short Term Gain, Long Term Pain

May 03, 2015

Short Term Gain, Long Term Pain

Genesis 25:27-34

Short term gain, long term pain
May 3rd, 2015
Genesis 25:27-34

Genesis = Beginning (or origin, creation.  Hebr. Bereschith = In the beginning)

1-11 – primeval history

1 – the beginning of the universe and the earth

2-11 – the beginning of humanity
        2-3 Adam and Eve
        4 Cain and Abel
        5 Seth’s descendants
6 – 9 Noah
10-11 Noah’s descendants to Babel

12-50 – patriarchal history (the beginning of the nation of Israel)

12-36 – Abraham (Avraham) / Isaac (Yitzhak) / Jacob (Ya’akov)/renamed Israel (Yisra’el) by God

37-50 – Joseph (Yossef) and his brothers

If we look back at the three main patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we can find God making three promises to each of them that signify the beginning of the nation of Israel and the covenant that God will make with the nation.  

God’s promise to Abraham 

I will make you into a great nation … and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. … To your offspring I will give this land.        Genesis 12:2,3,7

God’s promise to Isaac

For to you and your descendants I will give all of these lands …. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands.  And through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.                         Genesis 26:3-4

God’s promise to Jacob

I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.  Your descendants will be (as numerous) as the dust of the earth. … All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.                                    Genesis 28:13-14

The three reoccurring motifs in these promises are:
    Nation (lots of offspring)
    Being a blessing to ALL other nations

This last point is sometimes forgotten.  In Isaiah, the servant songs make mention that the servant of YHWH will be a light for the Gentiles, the non-Jews, as he opens the eyes of the blind, frees captives, sets prisoners free (Isa 42:6-7), and brings God’s salvation to the ends of the earth (Isa 49:6).  This servant will establish justice on earth and allow the nations to put their hope in God’s law (Isa 42:4).  God’s law will go from him and God’s justice will become a light to the nations and the nations will look to God and wait in hope for him (51:4-5).  All the nations to the ends of the earth will see God’s salvation and his strength as he redeems Jerusalem (52:10).  From the ends of the earth people will sing a new song to God and give glory to him (Isa 42:10-12).

From the NT perspective, all of these promises came true in Jesus the Messiah.  As the apostle Paul wrote to the churches in the Roman province of Galatia:

If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, those who inherit based on the promise that was made.                  Galatians 3:29

Descendants (Nation)    Children in God’s family
Land                Eternal home
Blessing to Nations    Good news to the nations

Circumcision        Indwelling Holy Spirit

The promise, as Paul understood it, was that Abraham and his offspring would inherit the world (Rom 4:13), which would also include forgiveness from sins (Rom 4:7-8) and eternal life (Rom 4:17).  

The sign of the Old Covenant was circumcision.  The sign of the New Covenant is the Holy Spirit (Gal 4:6).

This morning I want us to take a closer look at twin boys who were born to Abraham and Sarah (Heb. Sara).  Esau, was first to be born, followed immediately by Jacob.  Esau (Heb. Esaw) was red in complexion and covered in hair – as if he had fur.  Some people envision that he was red headed, but it likely spoke about his skin colour.

His name is a word related to the Hebrew term for “hairy.”  The word “Jacob” (Heb. Ya’akov) literally means “grasper of the heel,” an idiomatic expression in Hebrew used to indicate someone who deceives or cheats others, someone who can’t be trusted – another lovely name for a child.  

27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skilled hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, who stayed among the tents.  28 Isaac (Yitzhak, their father), who liked the taste of wild game, loved Esau more.  But Rebekah (Rivkah, their mother) loved Jacob more. 

Just like Abraham, Isaac was a nomad who travelled with his flocks and lived in tents.  Jacob did not seem to be a very adventurous type.  He was the stereotypical momma’s boy who himself cooked, something that, in that day, was something the women did.  

Esau, on the other hand was the man’s man.  Physically he was a much more imposing figure than his twin because, as the story progresses, Jacob was always afraid of him.

29 Once, when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau returned famished from the open country.  30 He said to Jacob, “I am famished.  Quick, give me some of that red stew.”  This is also why Esau was called Edom (which means “red”).  

During the time when Israel was a kingdom, Edom had been established to the South of Israel.  

Edom was also aptly named “red” because of the reddish rock found in it, for example, around the capital Petra.

Esau did not have a very successful hunting trip it seems.  He likely had been out hunting for a number of days, and was very hungry.  He wanted to have some of the red lentil dish that Jacob was preparing at the time.  Now you would think that one brother would be more than willing to share some food with his sibling.  Even more so if they are twin brother.  However, that wasn’t the case with Jacob.   

31 Jacob replied, “Pay me by selling me your birthright immediately.”  32 Esau told him, “Look, I’m dying of hunger, what good is my birthright to me?”  33 But Jacob persevered, “First, swear to me right now.”  So Esau swore an oath to Jacob and in this way sold his birthright to his brother.  34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew.  Esau ate, drank and then got up and left.  That is how Esau showed contempt for his birthright

True to his name, sneaky wanted to get something from his brother.  And it was something of importance.  In the Mosaic Law, the first born son would get a double portion of the inheritance when compared to his brothers (Deut 21:17).  

Some of you may remember the story that Jesus told about two sons and their father.  The younger of the two sons asked for his portion of the inheritance long before his father was on his death bed, which would have been considered extremely rude, since inheritances were only to be received at the time of the father’s death.

The fact that his father honoured the request, meant that, according to the law, this second-born received a third of his father’s possessions.  It also means, as the parable is at pains to point out, that the remaining two-thirds would eventually go to the older son (Luke 15:12,31). 

However, in Abraham’s days, the division of the father’s property seems even crasser than in the days of Moses.  The first-born son would receive the great bulk, the vast majority, of his father’s possessions and other sons would only receive a gift or payment and would need to go and live their lives somewhere else.  They had to move away and make their own way in life (Deut 25:5-6).  If the father was wealthy, the first-born son would immediately be wealthy after his father passed away.  And we are told specifically in Genesis that Isaac was very wealthy (Gen 26:13).

In the case of Esau, he would have to wait until Isaac died that he would be able to take advantage of his birthright as the first born.  At the time of our story Isaac was still a relatively young man, and he lived to be 180 years old (Gen 35:28), so it might have been quite a wait.

That may explain in part why Esau was so willing to give up the right of the firstborn.  He wanted immediate gratification – a point to which we will return.  But if he had thought about it logically, the reason would have told him that instant gratification of his desires will cost him a fortune.   

[He may also have thought that he would receive the first blessing of his father, which would have put him in charge of the family (rule over his brothers - Gen 27:29,37) and would make him the one who would be the beneficiary and heir of the Abrahamic covenant (becoming a nation and living in the land of Canaan), even if he did not receive the inheritance.  Little did he know that Jacob would steal this from him as well by deceiving their blind dad into thinking that Jacob was Esau.   

As it is, Esau ate and drank, pleased his palate, satisfied his appetite, and then carelessly got up and went his way, without any serious thought, or any regret, about the bad bargain he had just made.

This, in fact, is the point of the story, and really the verse that I found most compelling.  Esau showed contempt, literally, despised, his birthright and, in this way, his inheritance by putting so little value on it that he was willing to lose it for a bowl of stew.

The author of the NT book of Hebrews picks up on this verse to point out that even those who consider themselves Christians can be like him.

See to it that no one is … unholy, like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.  For you know that, later on, he was rejected when he desired to inherit the blessing -even though he sought for it with tears - because he found no way to repent.        Hebrews 12:15-17]

Like Esau, we often take for granted our blessings and opportunities.  If we grew up with wealthy parents, we can easily take for granted the privileges and perks that come with wealth:  World travel, expensive presents, designer clothes, living in a villa, private schools, and the like.

On the other hand, we could end up despising the privileged position of our parents.  I remember the time when the Red Army Faction was founded back in the early 70’s.  What shocked the authorities and the general public at that time was that all of its leaders came from affluent homes.  They were children of privilege. 

Something similar can be true if we grew up in a Christian home.  We could easily take for granted the idea that God loves us, or that Jesus died for our sins.  It is something that we may acknowledge verbally, but in reality our faith may be little more than a side-bar to living our lives for the gratification of our desires.  

For those of us who grew up in secular or atheistic homes, choosing to believe in God and what was done for us on the cross, then living out our beliefs, was something new and exciting.  It is something that we personally chose to do, quite apart from, or maybe in spite of our parents or our family of origin. 

[I clearly remember the day that I was told by the woman who raised me that she was really disappointed in me because I was throwing my life away as a pastor.  Anything else seemed better to her. 

But for those of us who grew up in a home where our parents went to church, tithed, and prayed, where we were always immersed in religion, it may all seem so, well, humdrum and commonplace.  It’s easy to ignore it, possibly with the background thought that when we are old and close to death, which seems an eternity away, we could always revisit the issue.  ]

Of course there is another dynamic that comes into play, but which doesn’t really figure in the story with Esau.  Human beings have a desire for autonomy, and particularly in adolescent there can be rebellion against anything we are told we MUST believe or do.  Most people resent it when they have to live according to the expectations of others rather than their personal convictions.  But that is the topic for another day.

[And this rebellion can either be through open defiance or passive aggressive behaviour, simply agreeing but then not following through with it.  

Unfortunately, our idea of freedom is being able to do whatever they want, rather than being free to do the things they actually know to be right.  And so, they might act in direct contradiction to clear family standards and values. 

Adolescent rebellion begins as a result of the desire for independence.  It is a developmental norm, a transition from childhood to adulthood.  Unfortunately, many times the kind of rebellion is informed by friends and peers.  

For those who grow up in Christian homes, rebellion may be exacerbated as individuals spend time with their non-religious friends who do not have to follow the behavioural rules that they are told to follow.  No one seems to care if their non-Christian friends have sex, get drunk, smoke, smoke up, or swear.  And it appears that there are no negative side-effects, no repercussions, to the way that they are conducting their lives.  

Of course parents hope is that their children will grow up and develop their own deeply held positive and constructive beliefs, to the point where it becomes irrelevant if these are popular with their friends.  But that is a topic for another day.]

There are all kinds of things that we can throw away because our focus is on short term gain.  For example, Jesus makes this point with regard to our eternal souls,

What does it matter if you gain the whole world and in the process lose your soul?            Mark 8:36

But we can do this in other ways as well.  Jesus spoke of those who have been given talents by God, who expects them to use them (parable of the talents – Matt 25:14-30).  In the parable, Jesus makes the point that everything we are and possess comes from God.  So we can either simply use the resources of our time and material wealth, our skills, talents, and gifts, our opportunities and abilities to achieve something of purpose, or to bury it.

So let me give you an illustration that speaks of the procrastination monkey. This illustration is by a Tim Urban – so all the credit goes to him.  To begin with, imagine the brain of a non-procrastinator.

Pretty normal, right?  Now imagine the brain of a procrastinator.

Notice that the difference is that the procrastinator has a monkey living with him, the instant gratification monkey.  This may be cute if the procrastinator had the first clue how to own and deal with monkeys.  Unfortunately he doesn’t and subsequently this is what happens

Let’s watch a bunch of YouTube videos on creatures of the deep sea and then go on to a YouTube spiral that takes us through Richard Feynman talking about String Theory and ends with us watching interviews with Justin Bieber’s mother.

Then we’ll reorganize our to-do list, check sock prices on Amazon and split up our i-photo albums into smaller, more specific, albums.

By then it’s 2:00 and we have an appointment at 4:30, so it’s really too late to start any work at that point.

The instant gratification monkey can be at the wheel, not only of our thinking, but of our lives.  The fact is, that the Instant Gratification Monkey should be the last creature in charge of decisions—he thinks only about the present, ignoring lessons from the past and disregarding the future altogether, and he concerns himself entirely with maximizing the ease and pleasure of the current moment:

Why would we continue jogging, he thinks, when we could stop, which would feel better?

Why would we practice that instrument when it’s not fun? 

Why would we use a computer for work when the internet is sitting right there waiting to be played with? 

When it came to filling his stomach rather than being hungry and getting a real benefit in the future, Esau had the instant gratification monkey firmly implanted in his brain.  

And so can we: eat whenever you’re hungry, sleep whenever you’re tired, play a computer game whenever you want the feeling of success, and don’t do anything difficult or unpleasant.  

The procrastinator may continue to have good intentions about controlling the monkey, but he puts forth a hapless effort, using the same ineffective methods that he’s used for years, and deep down, he knows the monkey will win.  Telling the procrastinator to be more self-disciplined or to change his habits may do nothing to motivate him to actually put up a real fight.

There is one thing that may scare the instant gratification monkey away.  It’s called the panic monster.  The panic monster only wakes up when a deadline gets too close, or when there’s danger of public humiliation, or the boss’ patience runs out, or there is some other really scary consequence.

How else could you explain the same person who can’t write a paper’s introductory sentence over a two-week span suddenly has the ability to stay up all night, fight exhaustion, and write eight pages?  

Why else would an extraordinarily lazy person begin a rigorous workout routine other than a Panic Monster attack about becoming less attractive or the threat of a heart attack?

And these are the lucky procrastinators—there are some who don’t even respond to the Panic Monster, and in the most desperate moments they end up running up the tree with the monkey, entering a state of self-annihilating shutdown.

Of course, this is no way to live. Underachieving until panic sets in is highly stressful way to live life.  Even if the procrastinator can hold down a job, the other things in life that are important to him—getting in shape, cooking elaborate meals, learning to play the guitar, writing a book, reading, making a bold career switch, volunteering oversees —never happen because the Panic Monster doesn’t usually get involved with those things. 

But it is exactly those things that make our lives richer and bring happiness and fulfillment to us and those around us.  

When it came to filling his stomach rather than being hungry and getting a real benefit in the future, Esau had the instant gratification monkey firmly implanted in his brain.  It would cost him a lot.

The way that you and I can deal with our instant gratification monkey would take up another sermon or two.  They would deal with effective planning, breaking down a task to simple steps, enjoying real accomplishments to the point where fake accomplishments are no longer so attractive, breaking down a task, creating your own panic monsters, getting rid of the distractions, and the like.  

But for today, I have one closing question for you:  


It may be low self-esteem, the fear of failure, contempt for the familiar,