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When Hairy Met Tricky
Selling Out What Is Sacred
A young surfer walking along a California beach was deep in prayer when all of a sudden he said aloud, "Lord, grant me one wish!" The clouds parted and a booming voice said, "Because you have tried to be faithful I will grant you one wish!" The young surfer said, "Build a bridge to Hawaii so I can drive over anytime I want to."
The Lord answered, "Your request is very materialistic. Think of the logistics of that kind of undertaking: the supports required to reach the bottom of the Pacific, the concrete and steel it would take! I can do it, but it is hard for me to justify your desire for worldly things. Take a little more time to think of another wish. In fact, wish for something that will benefit you spiritually and enrich your life—a wish you think would also honor and glorify me.”
The young surfer thought for a long time and finally said, "Lord, I wish that I could understand women. I want to know what they feel inside, what they are thinking when they give me the silent treatment, why they cry, what they mean when they say 'nothing,’ and how I can make a woman truly happy?"
After a few minutes God said, "How many lanes do you want on that bridge?"
What kind of perspective in life creates the illusion that the material universe is all there is? Why do so many people limit their lives in pursuit of the insignificant material stuff without giving serious thought to the rich spiritual reality? Genesis 25:19-34 recounts the story of Esau, a man who fell under the spell of this kind of illusion. He despised a wish-come-true for many; something that would have benefited him spiritually and enriched his life as well as the lives of generations after him.
These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what good is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Your Typical Materialist
Esau was a man who was given a head start in life. He was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. And it was common knowledge that his father loved him. He enjoyed all the privileges of being Isaac’s eldest son. His life was to be dedicated and devoted to God. As the firstborn child, he could someday look forward to the special position of leadership he would obtain within his clan and culture. He was aware that God himself had sworn to bless all the nations of the earth through the seed of his grandfather Abraham. From Esau’s perspective, he was the legitimate heir of all these covenant promises. From Isaac’s point of view, Esau was the seed with a spiritual title deed.
There are many people who are given names due to a peculiar look, significant event or unique characteristic. When I was a kid in my old neighborhood, I had a friend whose name was Raymond. When he would walk, his rear end would wag about like a duck. So we called Ray ‘Waggy Butt.’ In high school, Jeric, my oldest brother, had a friend whose name was Danilo. During an unwarranted clay fight in the art room one day, Danilo, who was hiding behind the ceramic kiln, peered out to see if the coast was clear and BANG! One lump of clay landed right between his eyes. He cried out, “Hey man, you hit ma’ fohead!” From then on Danilo was called ‘Fohead.’ Phillip is a longtime friend from the Philippines. We met in elementary school, hung out in high school, and pursued our college degrees in Pasadena. There were many instances when I’d find myself broke or without my wallet. Phillip was always there to pitch in for me as well as others during those awkward situations. You could always count on Phillip to cough up the money you needed to borrow momentarily. He behaved like a father figure with our group so we called him ‘Papa.’ Any time you found yourself short of cash, “Just call Papa and he’ll take care of you.” That name has stuck to him after all these years.
Likewise, Isaac’s firstborn son was named Esau because his entire body was like a hairy mantle. He was a man of the great outdoors who loved the thrill of the hunt and its reward: the savory taste of wild game. He may have been skillful in his hunt, but uncontrollable in his want. It was a fact that he loved both way too much. If Esau was a man of the open country who lived life large, his twin brother was the exact opposite. Jacob was a quiet man who chose safe indoor activities. He was your typical homebody. And although Isaac favored Esau, Jacob happened to be a mama’s boy.
One day Esau came in from a hunting trip, famished from his exploits. Jacob, whose name means ‘he grasps the heel’ (figuratively, he deceives), happens to be his tricky twin brother. Jacob was well aware of Esau’s habits as well as his voracious appetite. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jacob intentionally set Esau up in a ‘bait and switch’ scheme. Being true to his name, he literally grabbed the opportunity of deception. When Hairy met Tricky, a simple trade was brought to the table: Esau’s birthright in exchange for a hearty bowl of homemade ‘thick and chunky’ lentil soup. In Esau’s eyes, it was a deal to end all deals. He didn’t flinch. He was sold on the idea, sealing it with a handshake. He swore his birthright away. After that it was bon appetite monsieur. What good was it for a man to gain his whole birthright, yet forfeit his aching appetite? Esau reasoned it out saying, “I am about to die; of what good is a birthright to me?”
If this crucial scenario were set to a play, at this point we would hear the audience gasp in horror—for a verbal oath in those days was all that was required to make any transaction legal and binding. Shouts would ring out, “No way Esau! It’s a trick! Bad trade! Walk away! You wouldn’t dare sell your birthright for a measly meal would you?” The audience is holding its breath long enough for Esau to retract his request and come to his senses. But Esau wasn’t fooling around. He was dead serious! He caved in to the cunning culinary cuisine of Jacob. In spite of the fact that his life was divinely set apart to fulfill God’s purposes, this momentary decision was the result of a lifetime devoted to feeding his appetite and desecrating what is holy. God’s ‘precious pearls of promise’ were thrown to a hairy swine named Esau. Esau did not hesitate to trample over his birthright under foot as he made a beeline to the bowl. The scriptures said, “Thus Esau despised his birthright.”
Esau is your typical materialist. He lived for the moment. The physical, not the spiritual, mattered most. Therefore he willingly exchanged the spiritual for the sensual, the eternal for the temporal, what he could not see for what he could see. Thus, his god was his stomach and he sold his sacred God-given birthright to appease his insatiable appetite.
What Is Real?
Esau would have felt right at home in our century. Ours is a materialistic world, not just in our drive to accumulate stuff, but also in a far deeper sense: our inability to perceive what is real and valuable.
There once was a Velveteen Rabbit who was fat and bunchy as any rabbit should be. His coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers and his ears were lined with pink satin. On Christmas morning, the rabbit was given as a gift to a boy who loved him for at least two hours, for he was the best of all his toys. But in the excitement of unwrapping the other presents, the Velveteen Rabbit was soon forgotten. For a long time, he lay in one corner of the nursery and being only made of velveteen, he was snubbed by some of the more exotic, expensive, high-tech toys. Among them all, the poor little rabbit was made to feel very insignificant and ordinary. The only person who was kind to him was the Skin Horse.
“What is real?” asked the rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”[i]
As Christians, we breathe a sigh of relief to be free of the despair and foolishness of people who don’t understand. Those who see the form but not the substance, the event without the meaning. In their eyes, people become statistics, families are just a ‘potpourri of people’ living under one roof, kids are labeled as ‘rug rats,’ and in the eyes of Esau, his birthright simply became an unnecessary burden—an easy ticket to a hearty meal. He did not hold dear, but despised his divine inheritance thereby disrespecting its Giver. The reality of the eternal is veiled to those who are perishing. In 1 Corinthians 2:14 it says, “Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
In the very act of ‘walking in the Spirit of God,’ we are acknowledging the supernatural, the transcendent, the Eternal Reference Point in our lives. We place our faith in Someone we have never met, and accept his payment for the unseen, fallen nature harbored deep within us. We have been cleansed from sins we could never measure and ushered into a kingdom that is not yet fully revealed.
Unfortunately, many of us suffer from ‘tunnel vision.’ We are caught up in a culture that is devoted to the now: it is forever denying a look back to the past and refusing to face the future. Although we sincerely believe in the unseen world, we nonetheless build our lives upon the same materialistic principles held by any modern day unbeliever. Just listen to all the television commercial slogans out there: “Looking out for number one.” “Life’s short, play hard.” “You gotta taste it all.” And so on and so forth. Even in the Brian de Palma 1983 film Scarface,[ii] Tony Montana, the greed-ridden, rags-to-riches, heroin-snorting Cuban gangster says, “Me, I want what’s coming to me.” If we as Christians are trapped in this ‘worldly web’ where reality is defined by our five senses, we will not be moved to give our lives over to the eternal.
There will be a serious inconsistency as we ‘walk the wire’ between theory and practice. On Sunday we sing together with the saints, “All to Jesus I surrender” and come Monday morning we sing with the Stones, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” When this kind of compromise takes place we end up living, in practical terms, in the shoes of the materialist. Our mindset is often much like that of Christ’s disciples who, when confronted with the problem of how to feed the five thousand hungry people, immediately concluded that they must be sent to the nearest Jack-in-the-Box!
The God Of Getting Ahead
How does our vision become so fuzzy? Why is it that we believe the eternal realm exists and yet we live as though it does not? Part of the answer can be found in the Old Testament god-makers who insisted that reality must have shape and substance. We are repulsed at the descriptions given by Isaiah and Jeremiah concerning those “who fashion graven images.” Our minds are quick to point out that this superstitious practice is base, primitive and barbaric. Yet the gods of modern men and women are only slightly less blatant. Instead of carved images in the shape of calves, frogs, and birds, we fashion images of ourselves. Instead of depending on the power behind a statue of molten gold, we depend on the power behind the almighty dollar. We hang our hope on the ‘altar of achievement’ to give us security and significance—expensive exotic cars, pricey real estate, fat bank accounts, fancy club memberships, etc. The kingdom of God is easily exchanged for the American Dream.
Modern men and women may not slaughter animals or pay homage to their gods in the form of statues, but we just as readily sacrifice family life, depth with God, personal integrity, and relationships with struggling unbelievers before the ‘god of getting ahead.’ When we begin to offer such sacrifices, we sell out cheaply that which is holy. Our faith is tied up to this world and our prayers, though heavenbound, simply bounce off the ceilings. What is real and valuable to the ‘Esaus of this earth’ is what we can see and experience now; the god who can immediately satisfy the hunger pangs of their stomachs.
The global recession that is upon us today, though crushing, comes in the form of a blessing in disguise. It tears down the misdirected trust that we may have erected to the shallow and temporal things of this world. Granted we have all suffered a substantial blow in our finances, there are painful yet valuable lessons that we can learn in light of this crisis. The experience is equipping our eyes with a set of lenses that corrects a myopic view of our little kingdoms, allowing us to reassess and realign our priorities with the kingdom of God.
On the other hand, people whose eyes can see beyond the tangible and the immediate can appreciate what is small, long-range or hidden. Instant gratification is to be avoided at all costs. Never underestimate the pearl of great price. When the towering Goliath “looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods” (1 Sam 17:42-43). With a trusty, leather-worn sling and five smooth stones, David’s God had the last laugh. Likewise, Esau could not see beyond what was right in front of him. The author of Hebrews warns Christians concerning the character of Esau saying, “See to it that no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal” (12:16). For this reason, we read in the book of Malachi 1:2-3 concerning God’s testimony against this immoral and godless man: “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.”
What is it that causes someone to sell his or her birthright for a bag of beans? How can one possibly exchange the spiritual riches in Jesus Christ for the temporal taste of lentil stew? It has been said “there is a Judas hidden in the heart of every Christian…and if the price is right, we would willingly sell our Lord out to the highest bidder.” Those who are drawn and lured away by one bowl of soup or thirty pieces of silver actually think that they are being realistic. But spiritually speaking, those same ones who seek after such things in this life will forever remain thirsty and empty.
In the world of sales there’s a saying that goes “The bitterness of poor quality lingers on long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” That thought is so applicable to our text. There are consumers that are notorious for seeking the bargain basement rock-bottom prices. After all, it’s within their consumer rights to complain and haggle over the cost in the hope that the seller will ‘dive his or her price.’ Consumers come armed with their bargaining chips: “It’s too high, I can’t afford it, your competitor is selling it for way less or have you got anything that meets my budget.” In the process of negotiating, they sacrifice the sweetness of good quality for the bitterness of poor product.
But what of us? What is our divine birthright as Christians? What are spiritual blessings for those who wait? In Hebrews 6:14 God said to Abraham, “I will surely bless you and multiply you.” We are the descendants of Abraham, the multiplied heirs of the certainty of God’s promises. Today we stand alongside Abraham as his spiritual children. In Romans 8:29 God has “also predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son,” Jesus Christ, who is “the firstborn within a large family.” In Ephesians 1:11-12 it says, “In Christ, we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purposes of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope in Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.”
Presently, God has promised us the pleasure of his company in a way Esau could never have experienced. In Hebrews 13:5 it says, “Never will I leave you or forsake you.” And in 12:8 it says, “since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” Perhaps the greatest danger facing us today is that we, as God’s spiritual branches, would cut ourselves off from the True Vine, Jesus Christ (Jn 15:5), and cling to the ‘worthless vine of worldliness’ while our birthright—our eternal inheritance, our place in the kingdom—slips right through our fingers.
In the succeeding chapters in the book of Genesis, Esau eventually comes to his senses and realizes that Jacob cheated him out of his father’s blessing. Esau is stunned beyond belief and full of remorse. We can feel his anguish when he bursts out with a loud and bitter cry, “Bless me, me also, father…Have you only one blessing, father? Bless me, me also, father!” (27:34, 38). But it was too late. In Hebrews 12:17 it says, “when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears.” Esau had long since made his choice. He paid for hungering after what is cheap. Someone once wrote, “He who provides for this life but takes no care for eternity is wise for a moment but a fool forever.”[iii]
[i] Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit (Doubleday & Company, Inc.: New York, 1922).
[ii] Brian de Palma, dir., Scarface, 170 min. Universal Pictures, 1983.
[iii] John Tillotson.
© 2009, Gicky Soriano. All rights reserved.