Sunday, October 29, 2006

Hindsight: Esau's tips on hunger control

Hebrews just keeps messing with me. That's what makes the Bible so beautiful. It gets inside and does its thing, and if we let it have its way, it brings life and light to all our dead, dark places. This book is no exception--chapter after chapter, it bowls me over. I love it.

Case in point. My journey into chapter 12 on Thursday morning followed a Wednesday of great struggle with temptation. It was the kind of temptation that is most discouraging because you are keenly aware of how little you really want to do the right thing, of how much you are believing sin's promises to meet a need or to satiate an often intense hunger. Ease the ache just this once, right? When the hunger is overwhelming, that seems perfectly sensible. But here's what I read that morning.

"See that no one is...godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears." (12:16-17)

A single meal. If you look back at the scene of the crime, found way back in Genesis 25, you'll find Esau exclaiming, "Look, I am about to die! What good is the birthright to me?" I'm sure he wasn't at death's door, but nonetheless the guy was clearly overcome by his hunger. He could see nothing else. So when his brother offered the ludicrous trade of birthright for stew, he took it. And that was the end of it. No matter how many tears of regret were to follow, all the rights of the firstborn were lost forever to his decieving little brother.

A single meal. Makes us want to shake our heads at Esau's stupidity. But that's where Hebrews messes with me. It demands that I ask myself (and the Bible should always be demanding questions of us) what my own overwhelming hungers are. What are the cravings in me that overcome me to the point of tunnel vision? What are the things that leave me crying, "I am about to die! What good is anything else to me?"

If I take an honest look at this verse as a whole, I have to admit that this is a crucial question for me. It should be for any of us, because of what Esau lost. It is crucial because, even though we may not have a weasely brother named Jacob, we do have a nasty deceiver that is ever so glad to suggest that we trade our inheritance as children of God for a bag of cheetos to tide us over until dinner. He wants us to trade our birthright of purity and true love for a single moment of sexual fulfillment. He wants us to trade in the inheritance of trusting relationships for the tension-easing lie that gets us out of a momentary squeeze. He wants us to trade a body free from addictions for a cocktail of relief.

Our enemy knows exactly when to meet us coming in the door, exactly when we are feeling so hungry we think we just might die. Unless we, too, have taken an honest look at those hungers and can escape the tunnel vision that accompanies ignorance, we are going to be surrendering our inheritance left and right. And though God delights in making things new, there are just some things we can't quite get back, no matter how many tears are shed.

I think this idea will be messing with me for a while. It leaves me asking questions about what my appetites are, and what truths might lie behind them. About how I can learn to distinguish my real desire from the easy-fix facade the enemy presents to me as a counterfiet. And about how much I have really taken in the awesome wonder of all that is my birthright as a child of God. If I really grasped that gift, I have a feeling I'd find myself saying a little more often, "Screw the cheetos--I stand to inherit a banquet hall!"

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